Under a hail of terrible blows from an enemy armed to the teeth, right in the midst of political difficulties against which no other detachment of our international army has had to fight, constantly pulled away from its course by powerful undercurrents, Russian Social Democracy “is still moving,” progressing, going forward, not just as the party of Russia”s liberation, but also as the Party of the proletariat.
The principled conciliation of revolutionary-democratic and socialist tasks – expressing two independent historical currents – and the tactical co-ordination of these tasks on the basis of their reconciliation: this is the enigma which the destiny of Russian society has placed before our Party.
The Russian revolutionary movement as a whole has never abandoned the field of struggle between these two tendencies. They are the direct cause for the first serious organisation, Zemlya y Volya, splitting in two. The thinking of revolutionary populism flailed desperately about in the grip of the fundamental contradiction. It never emerged from it. Only Marxism was able to do so while it took up the revolutionary task on which populism had come to grief.
“The Russian revolutionary movement will triumph as a workers’ movement or it will not triumph at all.” We understood this idea at the outset, and we have made it the content of our revolutionary practice. But this exhausts only one side of the question. The other can be formulated as follows: the Russian revolutionary movement must, when it has triumphed as a workers movement, be transformed without delay into a process of political self-determination of the proletariat: otherwise Russian Social Democracy as such is an historical aberration.
Putting the workers forward as the main revolutionary force, and making the revolution their political schooling: here lies the source of all differences, the focus of all the internal troubles which up to now have so seriously wracked our Party. The first publication of the first Social Democratic group, Socialism and Political Struggle, already raised this problem, and resolved it, in this way giving Russian Social Democracy its theoretical right to existence.
The first document advocating the idea of a single Social Democratic force in Russia, the Manifesto of the First Congress, endeavored to give a programmatic formulation to the Marxist reconciliation of the basic “antinomy” of the Russian revolutionary movement. “Taking as the supreme task for the whole Party,” says the Manifesto, “the conquest of political freedom, Social Democracy marches towards the goal which the first leaders of Narodnaya Volya had already clearly set themselves. But the ways and means chosen by Social Democracy are different. This choice is determined by the fact that it wishes consciously to be and to remain the class movement of the organised working masses.” It could not have been better put. Social democracy “wishes consciously to be and to remain the class movement of the proletariat”; this subjective ambition, not yet carried out politically, gives it the starting point from which it can evaluate and criticise, judge and condemn, adopt or reject “all means and all paths” of struggle for political freedom. Social Democracy is still far from having taken the road of independent proletarian politics: the content of its work, yesterday and today, is still totally determined by the “supreme task” among the immediate tasks of the Party, the “conquest of political freedom.” But both yesterday and today, Social Democracy consciously wishes “to be and to remain” the class party of the proletariat, that is, to be and to remain precisely a Social Democratic Party.
This is the tribute which a section of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia has paid and continues to pay to the class doctrine of the international revolutionary proletariat, to Marxism, which for them answers above all the “democratic” and not the “proletarian” question, namely, “where are the forces to be found which are capable of taking up the struggle against the autocracy”; to Marxism which has however already placed its political consciousness under the control of the class interests of the proletariat by thrusting the intelligentsia towards the proletariat, the champion of the fight for political freedom.
If we recall the past and consider the changes of currents and tendencies and the bitter struggle between them, in which some “revolutionary” observers have tried to discern a symptom of the “decomposition of our Party,” it can be noted with a profound feeling of moral and political satisfaction that the alternating of mutually exclusive tendencies has, in general, always been dominated by the same directing idea: Social Democracy “consciously wishes to be and to remain the class movement of the organised working masses.” Without any doubt, Social Democracy has more than once moved away from this goal in some of its statements; but in general these indisputably heretical statements have been the result of the aspirations of a young, as yet unconsolidated Party, to resolve the contradiction between the colossal importance of the revolutionary goal and the limitations of the revolutionary means, even if this meant that the problematic of basic tasks had to suffer.
The existence of the objective conditions for this “self-limiting” behaviour, which potentially implies giving in politically, was indisputably to result in the development of its own internal logic, leading those who were yesterday partisans of the proletarian cause to detach themselves from it today and go over to the enemy camp: this phenomenon is precisely the result of the simplifying methodology of “Economism” (of which we shall speak again further on). But what we wish to establish immediately is: that the decisive criterion in our internal party struggles has been the class struggle of the proletariat, and the leitmotif of those internal struggles has always been to reproach various adversaries with “objectively betraying the proletariat to the advantage of bourgeois democracy.”
Starting from just this standpoint, the pamphlet On Agitation (which in our literature inaugurated the period of “Economism”) accuses the propagandists of Social Democracy of limiting their action to separating conscious workers from the mass: “European history,” this pamphlet says, “shows that when the conditions of a mass workers’ movement come to maturity, but the real representatives of their interests keep away, the masses of workers find themselves other leaders,not theoreticians but practitioners who will lead them at the expense of constituting themselves as a class.”
The Iskra tendency, which replaced “Economism,” marched under the following banner: “... Every cult of spontaneity in the workers movement,” writes for example the author of What Is To Be Done? popularising the theses of Axelrod and Plehkanov, “means thereby a strengthening of the ideology of the bourgeoisie over the workers.” The same author mentions that Iskra has more than once accused Rabocheye Dyelo “indirectly preparing the ground for the transformation of the workers’ movement into an instrument of bourgeois democracy.” Finally, Comrade Axelrod, giving in his two “pamphlets” his evaluation of the political situation of our Party, states that if Comrade Lenin”s so-called “plans” were carried out, we would at best have a revolutionary political organisation of the democratic bourgeoisie trailing behind it the working masses of Russia. (Iskra No.57)
Moreover, it must be borne in mind that in each case similar accusations come from both sides. The “propagandists” accuse the “Economisits” of limiting themselves to arousing the workers without giving them socialist consciousness, and so of just turning them into cannon fodder for the interests of the bourgeoisie. The “Economists” accuse Iskra of trying to detach the “political” dimension from the “economic” situation, and thus of taking the class character away from the workers’ struggle. Finally, Lenin finds no other way of compromising his present adversaries (Axelrod and his political friends) in the eyes of the Party, than to accuse them of “opportunism” on organisational questions, an opportunism which cannot be reconciled with the class interests of the proletariat and signifies the introduction into our Party of the seeds of bourgeois individualism.
It would nonetheless be completely mistaken to think that these “stereotyped” accusations simply neutralise each other, or worse still, that they represent only an expression of agreed Party phraseology. In the absence of such a “stereotype”, the struggle between the two currents would inevitably have led to a split in our Party. As Bakunin wrote: “It is absurd to worry about whether communion should be carried out in two kinds or not, when what is at issue is throwing Christianity as a whole out of the window.” Only the possibility of appealing to a superior authority recognised by both sides, the class interests of the proletariat, makes it impossible to regulate all conflicts “by internal means.”
If therefore the fundamental criterion by which all tendencies operate in our Party has always been basically all the same, that is, the class interests of the proletariat, on the other hand the method of evaluation does not always correspond to this criterion, far from it, and its primitivism, better than anything else, characterises the primitivism of our political experience. Each new tendency casts the previous one into anathema. For the bearers of new ideas, each preceding period seems no more than a gross deviation from the correct path, an historical aberration, a sum of errors, the result of a fortuitous combination of theoretical mystifications.
The author of the pamphlet On Agitation considers that the “first steps of the Russian Social Democrats were wrong.” His aim is to liquidate this period of tactical errors. The author of What Is To Be Done? goes back precisely to the period of “Economism” seems to him to be only the index of a temporary and accidental decline, in relation to the situation which would have existed if the intervention of the police had not stopped the work of the group of Comrade Lenin”s friends.
Of course, certain people such as Comrade Axelrod, have always been able to see things from the historical point of view, even in what concerns the complex question of the internal development of the Party. But they have always been isolated. Whole tendencies have behaved towards each other in an almost “metaphysical” way, mutually excommunicating each other. The so-called “minority” in fact represents the first case in which the spokesman of a new tendency have tried consciously to establish themselves, not on the corpses, but on the shoulders of their predecessors, by considering themselves in the perspective of the whole development of the Party. And this is a good sign: both for the “minority” and for the whole Party. And the representatives of the “minority” are the spokesmen of the progressive tendencies of this maturation.
Naturally it is pointless to stress that the historical standpoint of Marxists has nothing to do with the “historicist-conservative” standpoint to which, according to Marx, History, like the God of Israel to his servant Moses, shows only its posterior. This outlook as a whole gets entangled totally in the problematic of empirical-casual necessity, the logical consequence of which is political quietism. Marxists, on the other hand, adopt the standpoint of dialectic necessity which is always active and revolutionary, which explains not only every new situation in relation to the previous one, but is also able to show, in each of them, on the one hand the elements of development and movement, on the other the elements of immobilisation and reaction. This standpoint of dialectical materialism as against the historicist-conservative standpoint, does not deprive us of the right to judge and to take sides, but contrary to the idealist standpoint, demands that our judgement be based on the internal tendencies of development itself, and find in it forces capable of overcoming the internal contradictions, and of supplying the theoretical “evaluation” which sees us into the future.
It is just as necessary to apply this method to the development of the internal tendencies in the Party as to the development of bourgeois society as a whole. It is necessary to be a Marxist not only in “external politics” but also in “internal politics.” In the first case the general conclusions of Marxism are already worked out and can be taken as models. In the second case they can be worked out by the constant application of the dialectical method
This is very difficult for a young Party like ours. We do not mean by this that in old Parties, like the German party, all the leaders are philosophically developed politicians – far from it – but controversies, struggles, mistakes, and disillusionment have there subjected the collective thinking to a dialectical polishing. This wisdom, which has grown up to some extent spontaneously, often hinders the elaboration of new political methods, but at the same time preserves the Party from the application of tactical procedures which represent a “violation” of its Party traditions.
Our Party has for almost a year now been in a period of stagnation. The question “What Is To Be Done?” is posed to all thinking comrades. For all those concerned with this problem, it is clear that the causes of the stagnation are very deep, that the Party has to overcome a sort of organic malady. But the question “What Is To Be Done?” cannot be resolved “by abstract reason,” It can only be posed and resolved in a given historical perspective. What do we represent? What have we inherited from the past? We must give a reply to these questions. But this means that before resolving the questions of our immediate future, we must glance back over the recent past: the period of “Economism” and the old Iskra.
The evolution of the “Marxist” intelligentsia
The “Economists” found themselves faced with a politically virgin proletariat, and this determined their simplified political methodology. The Western socialist parties had had to liberate the proletariat from its political subjugation to the left wing of the bourgeoisie under whose leadership it had already fought more than once: but the many political tasks relating to such a situation did not exist at all for our “Economists”. When the revolutionary wing of our bourgeoisie had, under the influence of the complete historical decomposition of purely democratic ideology, lost the ability to reply to the prophetic question: What is to be done now? They were obliged, given the historical situation in Russia, to adopt socialism as the starting point in the struggle for democracy. But it is precisely because socialism had absorbed all the elements of revolutionary democracy that it lost the capacity for opposing these elements, and thus developing its real political nature. The absence of competition from the radical bourgeoisie for influence over the proletariat, for a time enabled it to rest content with the crudest tactical methods, and fostered twisted, simplified ideas about the perspective of the political development of the working class, to which was opposed the notion of a “single reacting mass.” In this view the working class would develop gradually, methodically, with mathematical regularity, day after day, from the simple to the complex, and starting with the demand for boiling water to make tea, reach the demand for the transfer of all factories into the hands of productive workers.
Such a simplistic system of ideas, and the tactics in keeping with it, were incapable of strengthening class consciousness, either in the Marxist intelligentsia or among the revolutionary elements of the proletariat. Such a system was unable to supply them with the means of political counter-pressure to radical democracy. And if, at the beginning of the century, during the upsurge, a radical-democratic movement full of initiative had existed alongside Social Democracy, it would have had every chance of unseating our Party. Attention has several times been drawn to this. A second fact is also beyond dispute. A bourgeois-radical organisation cannot rise up all at once just by revolutionary inspiration alone. To show itself to be armed at the critical moment, it would have to have armed itself in the preceding period: but it could only do so by fighting, directly or indirectly, against Social Democracy. The existence of a bourgeois-revolutionary party, influencing the intelligentsia and the proletariat at the same time (or at least actively endeavoring to do so), would have made any simplification of the tasks of a socialist party – a simplification bearing the hallmark of Economism – completely impossible. If Russian Marxism had not found a proletariat lying politically fallow, with no-one having staked a claim to it, it could not have resolved the question so easily, by demanding this fallow without further ado as its own domain; it would have had to show, and show politically, that this really was itsfield; it would have been obliged, by the very logic of political competition, to oppose its socialist class policy to democratic policy.
In this sense, history has more than once facilitated our Party”s first steps. But as nothing is given free, even the “ease” of our first gains has become the cause of political fragility. The “Economists”, by their political practice, themselves gave rise to and provoked their own political adversaries; but as a result of what we have explained above, they made not the slightest effort to put the masses on their guard against them. Still more, they did not even believe they could possibly come into existence. Nonetheless they did emerge. However primitive the tactical methods of “Economism” may have been, however inadequate was the action it undertook for the objective of opposing the proletarian masses to the State in all its aspects (that is, all its class aspects as well as all aspects “above class”), it all the same proved to be a powerful weapon for leading the masses to confront the domination of the colossal apparatus of police repression. Awakening broad layers of the proletariat, the “Economists” made it the main reservoir of revolutionary energy.
This could not fail to bring about a whole string of consequences. Bourgeois “society” is politically linked to the revolutionary masses through the revolutionary intelligentsia, the most sensitive layer within it. It is the barometer of the degree of political awakening of “the people.” And the wave of student movements has never been so high. On its crest appeared some heroic, audacious figures in whom society, gripped by mixed feelings of hurt and pride, recognised its own children. The democratic movement began its march, and in successive waves, from left to right, poured into the political river. The right wing of the democratic movement at once revealed what it was based on: the influential elements in the zemstvo opposition. Riding the waves of the zemstvo intelligentsia appeared a figure who was not in the least heroic. Society”s feelings towards him were ambivalent, made up of self-satisfaction (“That”s our man!”) and the congenital mistrust of the shop-keeping class.
This political process, in which some went to extremes – one section on the gallows at Schlusselberg, another in the quiet provincial streets of Stuttgart (“far from the field of action of the Tsarist police and censors”) – this political process did not of course take place mechanically, but required and engendered a whole series of ideological developments in and through which the political groupings of the intelligentsia involved took shape and were consolidated. This feverish changing of philosophical doctriness and theoretical conceptions, which has taken place during the last fifteen years, is subject to the general logic of human thought and knowledge. But alongside this logic is another, much more dominating and intransigent, the logic of political interest. This last subjects the former to itself and imposes its will and its law on it.
T he starting point for the ideological awakening of broad layers of the intelligentsia, after the lethargy of the 1880s, was marked by the introduction of the idea of “economic materialism” into our legal literature. Marxism arrived, acquired letters after its name and took possession of a vast territory to which in reality it had no historical right. But finally, since Marxism was the irreplaceable weapon for struggling against populism, which had become totally reactionary, and also gave an overall theoretical justification for their natural penchant for Europeanising Russian social life, the intelligentsia, and in particular its increasingly strong right wing, freed itself, at first timidly and then with more and more assurance, from the proletarian-revolutionary conclusions of Marxism. “Self-liberation” appeared in the form of “a pitiless re-examination of dogma” and the “pulverisation of Marxism,” as the late Mikhailovsky maliciously put it. But this effective process of “pulverisation,” whatever the idealists of the positivist or “metaphysical” schools think of it, was in fact determined not by the theoretical incapacity of the doctrine, but by social reasons which Marxism alone can explain.
It has already been said above that our Party, after absorbing all the active elements of the democratic movement, had deprived itself of the possibility of coming into opposition with it, which predetermined its primitivism over a long period. But “chase nature away and it comes galloping back”: this divisions between proletarian and bourgeois-democratic elements, which ought to have “concentrated” the class energy of the socialist movement, began to develop it along the lines of a single general doctrine: vulgar Marxism. Moreover, it was not as if the socialist elements had begun to separate from the bourgeois-democratic elements, but rather the latter who under the slogan of “criticism” began actively to purge their thinking of all the class elements of Marxism. Revolutionary doctrine lost its class edge. It was systematically, half-instinctively, half-consciously, blunted by socialist doctrinarism, either within the formal framework of Marxism, or in the form of open “criticism,” when this framework in turn became too cramped.
Marxism, we have said, took over sections of society to which it really had no claim: but was this the case? Is it not rather that these elements took over Marxism to serve their momentary goals? Today it is not necessary to be especially clear-sighted to reply to this question. What Marxism really meant for the objectives of the Russian democratic movement is clearly shown to us by our “idealists” of today, the “critics” of yesterday and the “Marxists” of the day before. Mr. P.G. [Struve – ed.], one of the authors of Problems of Idealism, recognises that Marxism has the merit of having “supplied a new popular programme which is clear and practical.” The same author declares on the previous page that “socialism as such could not (in Chernyshevsky”s time) and cannot now, give a clear popular programme.” In other words, Marxism is recognised as having no merits except where it is not socialism. But what meaning does Marxism have without socialism?
Mr. P.G.”s answer is straight to the point: “The enormous merit [author”s emphasis] of Russian Marxism” is “to have shown scientifically the historical necessity of capitalism in Russia,” that is, to “justify it as an historical necessity.” In other words, Marxism has freed the conscience of the intelligentsia from the duty of protecting anyone or anything from capitalism; Marxism has enabled them to fight for the Europeanisaiton of the social structure; Marxism has given the intelligentsia the theoretical basis of its struggle for political emancipation. Therein lies all its “merit.” One can then understand the following statement by the author about Struve, which at first sight is monstrous (and let it be said in passing that he has an indecent admiration for Struve): Struve, “abandoning positivism, has thereby abandoned Marxism philosophically speaking,” (author”s emphasis). Only philosophically? Yes, “because the scientifically determined results of Marxism and the previous gains of its programme for the masses are not affected by a metaphysical turn,” (Struve”s). Thus the editor of Obvobozhdenie finds himself a “Marxist” in the political sense of the word. It”s the same thing for Mr. Bulgakov. He even rejects “the philosophical social doctrine of Marxism” and starts “from a quite different philosophical basis”: but he too remains loyal to Marxism “in all that concerns the basic questions of concrete social policy.” (From Marxism to Idealism, p.315.)
In fact, Mr. P.G. gives a crude but nonetheless revealing idea of the relationship between Marxism and the Russian intelligentsia in the 1890s. Today, now that many fires have been put out and many leaves have fallen, Mr. P.G. can, in the name of his past, pose the question of the value of Marxism, with the evident intention of making an apologia for the bourgeoisie: the meaning of Marxism is apparently to justify capitalism. Previously, in the first half of the 1890s, Marxism was to the intelligentsia and even to the Hon. P.G., something other than the mere justification of capitalist exploitation. If Mr. P.G. is guilty of treating his own past in a cavalier fashion, though it did have traces of “romanticism” in it, this does not stop him giving a straightforward reply to the following question: what was it about Marxism that gained it admission to most of the literary salons? It is that, as we have just learned, it supplied a whole “popular programme” stripped of all socialism.
It is clear that people who put forward considerations of this orderabout Marxism were in no way Marxist, they were – and remain – the philosophical parasites of an aspect of Marxism which they have isolated and separated from the totality, the theoretical “justification,” by means of the intrinsic laws of social development, of a whole given form of social relationships. Such a “justification,” mechanically cut them off from the context of the dialectical conception of the world, may “sanction” extremely conservative conclusions; but in the real Marxist conception, not the falsified one, this “justification” is entirely subordinate to the revolutionary aspect of the materialist dialectic: every form of social relations itself engenders its own contradictions and finally becomes its own victim. “Criticism” then had to deprive Marxism of this second aspect, inherent in its doctrine. Moreover, as purging Marxism of all its “non-scientific” (that is, revolutionary) vestiges soon took on the form of the struggle against the revolutionary Marxists, very quickly all Marxism lost its attraction for Sir P.G.: it became an alien doctrine.
See how eloquently this moment is depicted by one who lived through it: “I felt the ground being gradually taken form under my feet. Of the edifice which even yesterday seemed so harmonious and complete, only a few walls remained. Of course, some demands of a social kind [we already know which – T.], laid down by reality itself, retain their practical value, apart from all theory. Nonetheless, anyone who thinks about it naturally tends to conceive of these disparate demands in a scientific way, and to grasp them intellectually as a unified conception and idea of the world. And the unity which Marxism previously presented was lost.” (Bulgakov, From Marxism to Idealism, Preface, p.XIII). Our scribbler things that in our eyes as Marxists, “all this is reduced to the fact that some illegitimate offshoots of Marxism have for one reason or another (essentially for practical reasons) capitulated to the shadow of idealism for the sake of a peaceful niche in which sweet sounds and prayers resound.” (From Marxism to Idealism, Preface, pp.V and VI.)
This is all rubbish. In the “explanation” (or accusation) which Mr. Bulgakov puts in the mouths of Marxists in relation to himself, the motives of collective psychology are replaced by individual “practical” motivations, and the materialist explanation by an ethical judgement; and idealism, the Credo of broad layers of the intelligentsia, is joined by Messrs. Bulgakov and Berdeyaev, who for “reasons of a practical nature” move towards those peaceful pastures resounding with sweet sounds and prayers. The essentially personal, practical or “religious” “reasons” for which such and such a leader of idealism has moved from certain positions, is a question for the biographers, always presuming that the leaders of “idealism” are of any interest to them. But on the other hand the question of what social and political conditions have produced the psychological problems leading to the “change in ideological ties” of “some illegitimate offshoots of Marxism,” is indisputably within the competence of historical materialism and can only be resolved by it.
We have already said that the doctrine of the proletariat, Marxism, had produced an effect not expected by its creators: it had given the Russian democratic movement the moral right to go with a pure heart and head held high, to “the school of capitalism”; after it took the road of “criticism,” the consciousness of our democratic intelligentsia, which had been awakened to political life by the proletariat, was purified of all respect for sociological doctrine in general and scientific socialism in particular – and this was the consciousness into which Marxism had been injected as the means of struggle against reactionary populism.
Ideological parasitism alone, in the form of a ruthless criticism of Marxism, the doctrine of another social class, cannot on its own ensure the existence of broad layers of the democratic movement in the period of rising opposition, when it is preparing to deploy the greatest political enthusiasm it can muster. We have just heard Bulgakov say that “anyone who thinks about it naturally tends to conceive of these disparate demands in a systematic way, and to grasp them intellectually as a unified conception and idea of the world.” The liberal who “thinks,” after saying goodbye to Marxism, “naturally tends” to build himself a new temple, where he can worship his Lord without being disturbed. But building this philosophical temple with the stones of realist thinking was something absolutely impossible for Mr. Bulgakov and all those who followed the same evolution: for the Russian traditions of realist thinking were inevitably based on Marxism. This was terrifyingly clear to all who had already experienced the struggle against sociological “subjectivism” and populism. Turning to philosophical “realism” meant encountering the Marxism which had just been so carefully and painfully purged of everything “non-scientific” in it – to the point where there was nothing left. To reject Marxism, was to reject the traditions of realist thought in general.
The ideologues of Russian liberalism, having passed fleetingly through the school of Marxism and been “ruined” theoretically by it, found themselves obliged to seek out a spiritual refuge in the clouds of idealist metaphysics, and, to take up Feuerbach”s expression, “in the asylum of theology.”
The liberal “who thinks” naturally tends to conceive the “disparate demands” of the democratic movement in a systematic way. But his class instinct separates him from the historical and social standpoint, which is monopolised by Marxism, the supreme stage of sociological thought. Marxism has transformed the historical and social standpoint into a class standpoint, and thus “includes” the “disparate demands” as the product of class interests. For the liberal or the “democrat who thinks,” adopting such a standpoint would have meant political suicide; they would in effect become in their own eyes representatives of the ruling classes. This is why the necessarily had to look for crutches outside the historical process and class realities; they had to turn to a supra-historic world. From the changing, empirically perceptible “Being” they had to appeal to immutable, permanent “necessity.” They appealed to the categorical imperative of morality to “systematically conceive” and philosophically elaborate these same disparate demands, which the Stuttgart Osvobozhdenie took to formulate. Objectively as much as subjectively, it was absolutely necessary for the ideologues of liberalism to present their programme, not as the crude platform of a “progressive” bourgeoisie, but as the expression of the eternal laws of morality; and we have seen how idealism in response to this absolute necessity, does not abandon its supra-historical position on problems, but with the aid of wretched syllogisms explains that: “the formal principle of morality eliminates ethical conservatism as much as the ethical utopia of perfection on earth. It condemns the very idea of the possibility of a universal harmony of interests and forces, to be reached by bringing about this ideal.” (p288). To put it more briefly still: the categorical imperative, as a guiding principle in politics, “eliminates” intransigent conservatism and “approves” of liberalism. And Mr. Bulgakov, with his own logic, is entirely right to say: “This principle is sufficient to give a basis for the aspirations to liberation of our time." (From Marxism to Idealism, Pref., p.XXXI)
The position is then consolidated. “The imprescriptible rights of Man and the Citizen,” placed under the direct protection of the categorical imperative, must from now on be the basis for a fight on two fronts: today against the Tsarist police, tomorrow against the proletariat; today against absolutism, tomorrow against socialism.
While the moderate liberal wing of the intelligentsia was striving to entrench itself in its ivory towers of metaphysics, some intermediary elements of this intelligentsia, liberated by the same “criticism,” decided that from now on anything goes! Revolutionary democracy in France did not celebrate the festival of the goddess Reason with such joy as our “Socialist-Revolutionary” intelligentsia celebrated its liberation from all its obligations towards theoretical reason. You only have to read the Messenger of the Russian Revolution, the organ of libertarian socialism: a sort of “Socialist-Revolutionary” Decameron, a collection of short stories, artistically inferior to Boccaccio”s, but at the same time incarnating the fiery revolt, the vehement protest of bourgeois “flesh” on its awakening to the tyrannical chains which for a whole period the “orthodox” Church had imposed on it with no recourse to appeal.
In an atmosphere “freed” by “criticism” from the intellectual weight of Marxism, broad layers of the intelligentsia felt that they were, after their shattering entry into the sphere of revolutionary struggle, independent of all rigorous “dogma.” But these layers, exemplified by the “Socialist-Revolutionaries,” did not reject Marxism as a whole. Such a rejection would have laid too big an obligation at their door. They contented themselves with exploiting it like bandits, to justify some act or another of political adventurism. The attitude to Marxism of the “Socialist-Revolutionaries” is only the reflection – on the theoretical level – of their attitude towards the proletariat. They did not recognise it as an independent political force, though they did not yet turn their backs on it; they agreed to exploit it politically.
What Europe gave painful birth to, and delivered itself of socially and politically, was easily appropriated by the Russian intelligentsia through books and papers, but alas! at the first change of circumstances, they as easily freed themselves of it. It only had to feel its own revolutionary strength and have an awareness, or at least a presentiment, of its future political importance, in order to immediately bring into play their faculty for ideological regression, not the least foreseen by the Marxists of the 1890s; a regression which took the form of populism masked by historical subjectivism and idealist metaphysics. The “Marxist” ranks diminished more and more. The title of “ex-Marxist” or “ex-Social Democrat” overnight became an entry ticket into the “best houses” of the literary “brothel,” and no one outside a very small group saw that this “title” only signified the desertion of those who had gone over from the army of the proletariat to the enemy camp. Such a changing of camps could only be the act of a political renegade.
It was at this point that our companions of yesterday hastily did up their luggage as if they were afraid of missing the train; the majority of Party members, dedicated body and soul to the cause of the proletariat, were unable to understand the political meaning of the change in the intelligentsia which was taking place before their very eyes. The “Economist” Social Democrats did not put a very high price on Marxism two or three simplified theses which in their eyes, sanctioned their victorious tactics; they acted towards Marxism as a whole with an indifference equivalent to suicide. What is more they were themselves quite receptive to bourgeois “criticism.” T he Party did not have a “theoretical atmosphere” and the practices of “Economism” were steeped in the vitiated atmosphere of legal journalism, with its “Marxism” as apologia for the bourgeoisie, and its “criticism.” It was as a whole the period of the massive flight of the intelligentsia from Marxism, while the massive flight of the intelligentsia from Marxism, while in the background the proletariat masses began to move. From an elementary, evident fact, the Social Democratic Party became a very complicated question.
It is precisely as a complicated question that Iskra treated the question of our Party.
And God said: “Let there be light” and there was light. He separated the heavens from the earth, day from night, bourgeois democracy from proletarian democracy. Primitive chaos disappeared and the reign of revolutionary social democratic politics was installed. Such in biblical language would be the style of statements and addresses of acceptance of the Iskra committees, whose basic characteristic is the absence of all historical perspective. Iskra has not chosen its tasks “arbitrarily”. They have been imposed on it by conditions of the moment, such as we have described them above. The “Economists” had awakened new forces, but found themselves incapable of dominating them. They had aroused a mass movement but had failed in the task by not giving it an unequivocal class character. Through the intermediary of the workers movement, they had awakened the democratic intelligentsia; but they had not brought it under their control; on the contrary, they capitulated to it, when it launched a theoretical campaign against the principles of the independent class policy of the proletariat.
These two facts determined the basic tasks of the whole Iskra period. The second in particular (the rapid growth of the democratic movement) placed an indelible seal on the nature of our first political paper.
In so far as one had confidence in the political capacity of Social Democracy, it was absolutely necessary to push very actively for the political “differentiation” of the democratic intelligentsia, in order to win, in the name of Marxism, the greatest possible number of conscious partisans of the working class. “In the name of Marxism!” is the slogan which dominated all this period, and around it were grouped the revolutionary intelligentsia; it became as terrible a slogan as before it Slovo y Dyelo, “word and deed.”
Iskra has not accomplished miracles. It has not separated the heavens from the earth, nor the land from the sea. But with the support of Zarya, which again took up Marxism, Iskra contributed enormously to the political differentiation of the democratic intelligentsia. The “Economist” period had been one of direct and exclusive struggle for influence over the proletarian masses, a struggle not against other democratic parties, but against the lack of culture of the proletariat itself and against the barbarism of Russian political conditions. The period of Iskra was in its objective political meaning, the period of struggle for influence over the revolutionary intelligentsia with, in the background, a proletariat engaged in the democratic struggle. In this fundamental difference lay the historic “justification” of these two latest periods in the life of our Party. This difference, that is the meaning of the whole Iskra period, is what must above all else be understood by anyone who wants to get even an approximate grasp of the problem of the present differences within our Party.
The period of Iskra was the period of struggle to influence the intelligentsia. Iskra proclaimed that “it is indispensable to differentiate yourself.” And it delimited and differentiated itself. This does not mean that Iskra worked out tactical methods for differentiating the proletariat and the bourgeoisie immediately (in this sense Iskra achieved extremely little); rather, it applied the theoretical basis of Marxism (taken up by Zarya) to “delimit,” within the democratic intelligentsia, the main partisans of the proletariat from the potential partisans of the bourgeoisie. “You must delimit yourself.” Of course, “in the last analysis,” this meant the self-determination of the proletariat in the form of independent class politics. But this “final goal” existed only subjectively; to give it life is the task of the new, rich period which is already dawning for our Party.
The mission of the old Iskra, however, a mission it effectively carried out, consisted of using cutting-edge Marxist doctrine to hold all the elements of the democratic intelligentsia who were not definitively lost to the “idea of the fourth estate.”
We have to make a qualification here. We are considering here the objective mission carried out by Iskra. When we speak of Iskra, we are not thinking of Iskra as it was projected or as it began but as it has become. Subjectively Iskra had fixed itself much broader goals: above all to raise the spontaneous workers movement to the level of a political movement, and then (in the name of the proletariat, the liberating class) to lead “all those to whom the name liberty is dear!” (no.3). A political paper should as a social-democratic paper act as a beacon to the revolutionary proletariat and, as a democratic paper, as a guide to the fighting forces of democracy. But as it has turned out since, it is impossible through literary means to attain political results which are not in line with the balance of political forces. Social Democracy could not fight in the place of the workers, nor a social democratic paper in place of Social Democracy. If Social Democracy, taking into account the extent of its influence over the proletarian masses, and the level of energy and efficiency of its political action, is incapable of carving out a decisive place for itself in the democratic struggle, it is in vain for a social democratic paper to try to drag the whole democratic movement along behind it, solely in the name of the liberating class. History does not allow “substitutions.”
The democratic movement has not allowed itself to be fettered by purely literary means, for this activity is precisely the field in which the intelligentsia is the strangest and therefore the most independent. To bring out two papers like Ozvobozhdenie and Revolyutsionnaya Rossya, following the living example of Iskra, and thus to eliminate all even “temporary” obligation towards the Party of the proletariat, was the work of one or at the most two years.
In as much as the democratic movement had supplied itself with its “ideological” weaponry, the political retardation of the working class was expressed in the fact that its own Party at the time ran the risk of being, if not entirely at least partially, dissolved into the democratic movement. Iskra, wishing to remain faithful to the cause of the proletariat, found itself no longer constrained to rally the democratic movement “in the name of the proletariat” but to detach itself from it, “in the name of Marxism.” Willy-nilly, it was obliged to devote most of its work to the “delimitation” which originally Zarya alone was to have carried out. Iskra was intended, according to the original plan, to be the leadership of the general, common democratic struggle, under the hegemony of the party of the proletariat, but it was in fact transformed into a self-defence organ of the Social Democratic intelligentsia, by virtue of its objective task which was to bring the proletariat in the general democratic struggle behind its own banner. This turn, half-spontaneously carried out, gave the paper its bellicose and “furiously polemical” air, which one thinks of whenever the name Iskra is pronounced. In its issue no. 35, Iskra by means of an excellent article by Comrade Starover, established a balance sheet of the objective changes which had come about, and which had influenced the physiognomy of the journal. “The turnabout which ahs taken place at the top of the democratic movement,” Starover says, “is an accomplished fact. The idea that the proletariat was to lead the struggle for freedom has been replaced by another, giving the proletariat only a subordinate role.” (“The two faces of democracy”)
The critique of “Economism,” and of populist, terrorist and nationalist prejudices, took up the lion”s share of Iskra”s work. Iskra, as has been said, was not a political but a polemical paper. It has been accused of fighting, not so much against the autocracy as against other factions of the revolutionary movement. It would inevitably flow from such a reproach, were the argument to be consistent, that Iskra had no political ideas to propagate other than those shared by the democratic movement as a whole; in or words, that it should agree to dissolve the idea of class into democratic ideology. For Social Democrats that would have meant the abandonment of all perspective of their own. Iskra, luckily for the Party, did not do this. On the contrary, it devoted the greatest attention to the “factional differences of opinion within the intelligentsia.” In fighting against populism, terrorism and nationalism, Iskra showed the intelligentsia the road of struggle for the historic interests of the proletariat. What was directly incumbent upon Iskra was not the task of politically delimiting the proletariat, but of clarifying the intelligentsia about the historic interests of this class.
When Lassalle was waging a bitter struggle against the “progressives,” he was fighting directly for the influence over workers already engaged in the democratic fight, among whom the “progressives” had organised partisans. But when we fight against populism and idealism, what we have directly in mind is not the workers, but the intelligentsia which will at first move away from us in order to go to the workers, with its petty-bourgeois populism or its bourgeois liberalism. Iskra did not bring the “Socialist-Revolutionaries” before the political tribunal of the proletariat as Lassalle had done with the “progressives” (and our committees only did it to an insignificant extent); it only condemned them theoretically from the standpoint of the class interests of the proletariat, and only in this sense indirectly, in the name of the proletariat.
If some caviling adversary went to great lengths to demonstrate that the old Iskra committed a whole series of theoretical mistakes, ruining a whole “generation” of Social Democrats in first flower, and that if these mistakes had been corrected along the lines suggested, the Party would at the present time be experiencing a powerful growth, all we could do is shrug our shoulders. This is not where the crux of the problem lies. It does not lie in the theoretical neglect (for example of the relation between “spontaneity” and “consciousness”); the basis of the problem is not so much in these questions as in the politically limited character of the mission imposed on a group of Social Democrats by the class interests of the proletariat in a given historical period. It concerns the rapid and feverish process of the transfer and regroupment of the democratic intelligentsia which dispersed without trace all elements which up until then had been tied together in an undifferentiated whole by the subjective aspiration towards “being and remaining” (the conscious instrument) of the “class movement of the revolutionary masses.”
It is not enough to recognise the historical merits of Iskra, still less to enumerate all its unfortunate or ambiguous statements. We have to go further still: to understand the historically limited character of the role played by Iskra. It has contributed a lot to the process of differentiating the revolutionary intelligentsia; but it has also hampered its free development. The salon debates, the literary polemics, the intellectual disputes over a cup of tea, were all translated by it into the language of political programmes. In a materialist sense, it gave form to the multitude of theoretical and philosophical support for given class interests; and it was in using this “sectarian” method of differentiation that it won to the cause of the proletariat a good part of the intelligentsia; finally it consolidated its “booty” with the various resolutions of the Second Congress on the questions of programme, tactics and organisation.
All this work is however only a prelude to real political work by Social Democracy. At present the question is posed as follows: what is the central task of the new movement? Must it continue differentiation – within the now limited framework of the intelligentsia, linked to Social Democracy by a common programme – or is it necessary to work out methods for bringing about the immediate political separation of the real (and not imaginary) proletariat from the (real) bourgeoisie?
We insist on the second answer. The Party to be created, for which the old Iskra brought together these few members of the intelligentsia, must see to the immediate resolution of this task, a task which consists of politically detachingthe proletariat from the bourgeoisie. For us this task is basic, and alone gives an explanation and justification for the work of Iskra, but was scarcely envisioned by it or by the practitioners of that period.
It is true that the Party is now at least drawing closer to the proletariat for the first time. In the time of “Economism” the work was entirely directed towards the proletariat, but in the first place it was still not yet Social Democratic political work. During the period of Iskra, the work took on a Social Democratic character, but it was not directed straight towards the proletariat (and in so far as it was, it had only a “primitive-democratic” character which we will speak of later). It is only now that Social Democracy as such turns towards the proletariat as such.
Defining the present situation in this way, we can understand by the very way the problem is posed, not only the possibility, but the very necessity of the present differences within the Party. Each period has its own routine and tends to impose its own tendencies on the movement as a whole. The “Economists,” starting from mental confusion, identified the “trade union and professional movement” which they led with the Social Democratic movement; in the same way the “Iskraists” too often identified the struggle for the recognition of the principle of the class politics of the proletariat with the actual practice of these politics, and this identification finally led them to neglect totally their immediate task; that is, the carrying into practice of the political principles of the proletariat, which were in fact generally accepted in terms of day-to-day politics. But we shall speak of this again below.
When Lenin took up Kautsky”s absurd idea of the relationship between the “spontaneous” and the “conscious” elements of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat, he was only giving a crude definition of the tasks of his epoch. He spoke to the intelligentsia which – given the complexity of the problems raised – was the only public for Zarya (and Iskra), and which could provide the spark. He said to them: “First we will infuse you with Marxism, as a concentrated dose of consciousness, we will steep you in mistrust for bourgeois democracy, and then to work, into the attack on spontaneity!” This is precisely where the task lay: to “fill” the intelligentsia with Marxism, tie them hand and foot to stop them getting away, betraying, and openly attacking Marx – in other words, stop them from breathing! It was moreover an extremely urgent task, since the Marxist intelligentsia were melting away before our very eyes, slipping through our fingers to go to the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the liberals.
We do not of course mean that Iskra, carried away by the work of “differentiating” the intelligentsia, went so far as to ignore its main tasks and fix its sights on “a different class of the population.” Not at all! The intelligentsia which Iskra was running after was in the first place the Party itself. The instinct for political conservatism was the drive behind the struggle against “criticism” Bernsteinism, terrorism, populism and idealism, all the ideologies which involved an element of disturbance and break-up in the milieu in which Iskra was hoping to build a united party. Between a small group of eminent Social Democrats and the awakened working class there was a layer of undecided members of the intelligentsia, among whom “our own” people could not be recognised in the “chaos.” Our political paper was not an organ which immediately led the political struggle of the proletariat, but a principled political platform which served within the intelligentsia to delimit the Marxist section from that which was half-Marxist and from that which was scarcely influenced by Marxism at all.
Nonetheless, it must be borne in mind that Iskra received an appreciable and very precious inheritance from the “Economist” period: the awakened masses of the urban proletariat.
On this historical basis, the struggle for influence over the intelligentsia was a profoundly different task from that facing the Emancipation of Labour Group in the 1880s and part of the 1890s. What was required then was to demonstrate the inevitable development of capitalism in Russia and deduce from it the historical legitimacy of the existence of Social Democracy in Russia. To complete this task what was needed was not a paper but a journal, not Iskra but the Social Democrat became propagandists of scientific socialism. The problem posed before Iskra was something quite different. It had to train not propagandists but political leaders for a mass movement which already existed. This aim could not be achieved just by the theoretical exposition of the methods of Marxism, but by demonstrating its validity from the “current” phenomena of social and political life. But the exposé of these methods, as well as the use made of them journalistically, was wholly and immediately to serve only one goal: to strengthen and politically train the Marxist intelligentsia.
We have still not exhausted the whole content of the last period. The urban masses, spontaneously awakened (the inheritance of “Economist” agitation), by their very existence not only determined the methods of getting a hold on the intelligentsia, but above all demanded that direct attention be paid to them. “Unknown to its leaders,” No.3 of Iskra wrote, “the proletariat charged into battle when it observed that the radical section of society was seriously ready for a trial of strength with the regime Russian Social Democracy will have to consider as the basis of its practical activity this obvious aspiration of the working masses to participate actively in the struggle for liberation undertaken by the whole of the Russian democratic movement; it will have to, if it doesn”t want to miss the boat, if it doesn”t want to abandon its right to the leadership of the proletarian movement and turn it over to other political forces.” And Russian Social Democracy effectively made this “aspiration of the working masses” the basis of its political activity.
The practice of the Party has in a sense been completely transformed during the Iskra period, but not, of course, only under the influence of Iskra: in place of the movement of “trade” strikes, scarcely going beyond the limits of the separate trades, has come a systematic political agitation among the proletariat by means of generalised political “denunciations.” This difference is so sharp that it can be conceived – and is – as a difference between trade unionism and the class politics of the proletariat. In this perspective the relationship between Iskra”s work and the Party”s, and therefore the role of Iskra, are presented in an extremely simplistic way: the revolutionary social-democratic paper directly leads the revolutionary social-democratic policy of the proletariat. Such a view is as false as it is seductive.
It was absolutely impossible for the Party, in the field of political practice, to carry out all the tasks proposed by Iskra and Zarya. You cannot simply “turn on” social democratic tactics anywhere at any time. Even the mere fact of the existence of the proletariat would not be enough. It is absolutely, qualitatively necessary that broad layers of the proletariat be engaged in democratic politics. But such a proletariat did not exist. Russian Social Democracy had first to create this state of class politics by carrying out the historical tasks of the bourgeois democratic movement: that is, the spontaneous awakening of the proletariat (the “political” period). The method of political “denunciations” was to serve to give these awakened instincts the character of a conscious civic protest. Therefore, however different from each other was the content of the two preceding periods, they were nonetheless alike in objectively representing the result of bourgeois-democratic work – carried out in the name of the principles of socialism and undertaken, subjectively, for purely socialist motives.
If the theoreticians and publicists of “Economism” ruthlessly furled in the banner of socialism, the Zarya-Iskra group on the other hand is completely innocent of this sin against the Holy Spirit: they set for themselves, and for the whole Party, a task which is common to the whole of international Social Democracy: the unification of the workers’ movement and of socialism (Iskra no.1); they developed this theme theoretically and polemically in their publications and assembled their supporters around this task and the need to understand it. But the work which they carried out among the proletariat (not only their work, but also that of their “adversaries,” for all were moved by the same objective requirements), was completely consumed with the task of freeing the consciousness of the working masses “from the yoke of secular political prejudices, from blind faith in the government, in the mercy of the Tsar, and the mistaken belief that proletarians are equal citizens with the rest, in a society which lives off their labour.” (No.1) Zarya in the field of theory, Iskra in the field of journalism and programmatic polemics, showed the direct relationship between an “equal citizen under the law” and a proletarian, and once this relationship was established, they taught their audience socialist politics. But the political life of the awakened masses was not imbued with the consciousness of this relationship; it was completely taken up with the slogans of emancipation in general “(If I like Iskra so much,” a worker from Petersburg writes, “it is because they consider the worker as a citizen. That”s very important!” (Iskra No.14)
To claim that Iskra had directly led the political life of the proletariat in the sense of drawing on the immediate experiences of the movement and giving immediate answers to immediate needs, would be historically quite wrong. In the work of “differentiation” among the intelligentsia, Iskra has effectively played a leading role: it was theoretically armed to the teeth, and in this type of struggle theoretical armoury was everything. But this struggle itself was not everything. The proletarian theory of political development cannot substitute for a politically developed proletariat. This truth manifested itself not only in Iskra”s unfortunate attempt to its earlier period to subject all tendencies of the democratic movement to the hegemony of social democracy “in the name of the proletariat”; it was also evident in the total inability of Iskra to fertilise the movement of the proletariat itself by the intellectual contribution it had made to the thinking of the revolutionary intelligentsia.
Iskra did indeed influence this rebirth of practice, directly or indirectly, in the course of the past three or four years. But only to give directives which are evaluated in terms of practice and slogans taken up in practice. Iskra – considered abstractly – did not need to be Iskra: it could just have been a revolutionary paper. As for the complex political ideas Iskra contributed in the capacity of a “spark,” they were less important for the present than for the future. These ideas, which were not directly transformed into practice, prepared, in the consciousness of leading elements in the Party, the intellectual premises for fixing the tactical tasks of proletarian revolutionary politics, on the “material” basis created by the efforts of the preceding “generations” in the Party.
We have said that for the reactivation of practice which took place during the last period revolutionary democratic ideology in abstracto was insufficient. But if the “entry” of the proletariat into the sphere of “man and citizen” was to lead to the process of self-determination of the proletariat as a class, it was absolutely indispensable to create the vast and complex ideological armoury of scientific socialism, the only armoury capable of opposing the different forms of bourgeois-democratic ideology and irrevocably linking to the historic cause of the proletariat, the leading personnel of the movement, that is, the elements coming from the democratic intelligentsia.
Some specific but extremely significant examples show to what extent Iskra operated unequally in the ideological “differentiation” of the intelligentsia and the political self-determination of the proletariat. Iskra, with ruthless severity towards all “hesitation” on the part of intellectuals, gave proof of considerable and even inadmissible indulgence towards any statements by the proletarian elements awakened to politics. Iskra maintained an almost approving silence when a Petersburg worker showed his extreme joy at the complete ending of talks on surplus-value (and therefore also on socialism); at the same time, it fell with all the weight of its theoretical wrath on the Socialist-Revolutionaries who had suddenly decided on a “not too doctrinaire” definition of the class, as a category defined by distribution and not by production. Iskra freely quoted workers asking to be taught without delay “how to go into battle”; at the same time it poured our the most biting irony against the “historic turn” in which workers were advised to form into “assault battalions.” In fact, the war-cry “form battalions!” was an abstract response to an abstract question: “How do we go into battle?”
This is to be explained above all by the fact that Iskra, basically, due to the imbalance between its “theory” and its “practice,” had two types of criteria. It was necessary to fetter the intelligentsia without delay with the seven times tied knot of socialist doctrine; but on the other hand the proletariat, “freed from surplus-value” and becoming aware of the “rights of man and of the citizen,” was not mentioned for itself, but so that by its revolutionary qualities, it might march – if I may put it this way – behind the “tailist” intellectuals (Khvostites).
At the present time, we are responsible, not only for what will happen in the future, but also to some extent for what has happened in the past. On our future “behaviour” depends not only the fate of Russian Social Democracy in the coming years but also the value of the work in the direction of socialism which is carried out up to today.
So that all the preceding work should not be lost from a socialist point of view (therefore not only from a revolutionary point of view), it is above all necessary that we should appreciate the two main conditions of our activity latterly; below are the masses politically awakened and linked to us by traditions now ten years old; above, is absolute respect for Marxism, as a method of political thinking; on the one hand out of fear, on the other for reasons of conscious choice. These two elements must become the essential elements for further work. The appeals heard here and there purely and simply to “liquidate” one or the other of these premises, must be rejected decisively, once and for all, as an absurd attempt to abandon all that political culture which we have won at the cost of great efforts, and without which we would find ourselves as poor and naked as Job.
Iskra and Zarya have accomplished no miracle; in history, in effect, there are no miracles. But every member of the Party who is sufficiently a Marxist not to demand that Marxist writings accomplish miracles, can view with pride the polemical campaign of the preceding period.
The work of restoring Marxism from its coating of “criticism” was carried out by Zarya with Comrade Plekhanov, of course, at its head. Vera Zasulich showed the intelligentsia all the idealism which was to be found in our Russian materialist socialism, directing her gentle but mortal irony against the new idols of the intelligentsia; and she brought the intelligentsia back to the service of the proletariat. Starover won over the declassé intellectual, showing him his own image, finely idealised, in the way Marx did. Martov, the Dobrolyubov of Iskra, was to cast on our poor, unformed, inexpressive social life such a clear and direct light that the political, i.e. class structures of this social life stood out with piercing clarity. And where it was necessary to decide, consolidate, tie down, or fix a running know, where “fluctuations” had to be prevented, it was Comrade Lenin who stepped in, with resolution and talent.
And Comrade Axelrod?” you will ask. This is what is so interesting: during the whole of this period Comrade Axelrod did not play a very active role, for it was not his period. The faithful, farsighted guardian of the interests of the proletarian movement, he was the first to sound the alarm on the threshold of the period on which Iskra has left its exact and brilliant mark.
By the very structure of his though, and not only by his conception of the world, by his political “state of mind” rather than by conformity to the “programme,” Axelrod is a genuine proletarian ideologue, in the sense in which they are to be found only in Germany. He is not capable of acting subjectively towards the intelligentsia, but only objectively. He does not speak with the intelligentsia, only about them. The intelligentsia is not for him the audience to whose feelings he must appeal, it is only a political force whose weight he must measure. This is why during this period, which hinged entirely around the evaporating Marxist intelligentsia, P.B. Axelrod could play no active role, not only because of the large number of his “articles” (Axelrod in general does not express himself in articles so much as in condensed mathematical formulae from which others, Lenin included, write many articles), but doe to the place occupied in Iskra’s literary campaign by the use of Axelrod”s tactical “formulae.” The direct search for tactical methods for the political self-determination of the proletarian in the historical and social context of absolutism, a search which was Comrade Axelrod”s “own line” throughout this period, was never so to speak placed on the agenda, for it was work to do with “internal differentiation.” Comrade Axelrod intervened again at the end of the “Iskraist period to say: “That is enough! Now it is necessary to radically change the centre of gravity of our work; it is indispensable to politically put into circulation, in a living way, the potential force which Iskra has won to the cause of the proletariat!” Axelrod”s “notes” in Nos.56 and 57 of Iskra announce the beginning of a new period in our movement.
It may seem strange to hear me speaking about Iskra in terms of an obituary: Iskra lives, works and is fighting. I think nonetheless that I am right to speak of two Iskras, one of them in the past tense. The new Iskra is a direct offshoot of the old Iskra (and to some degree the object of my pamphlet is to make this explicit). But they are separated by an abyss. And this is not because anyone was misled, made a mistake and was corrected, and still less because anyone left, but because there have been three years of conflict which have left deep traces on the political physiognomy of all the protagonists – three interesting years full of life, which will not be repeated, and so much the better, since we have before us a whole stretch of still more lively and interesting years.
Last updated on: 19.4.2007