Plekhanov and Lenin

I happened at the time to be abroad. I as a young Social-Democrat, and two of my friends, were introduced to Plekhanov. We were still young, quite fledglings, but we sympathised with all our heart with Comrade Lenin. We read his ‘What Is To Be Done?’and knew that it was the gospel of the adherents of the Iskra. In the face of, this, Plekhanov attempted, in his conversations with us, to pour ridicule upon Lenin. He would say: ‘You are following him, but he has taken up such a line that in a few weeks he will only be fit to be put up as a scarecrow in the orchards. Lenin has raised the banner of struggle against me, Plekhanov, against Zassulich, and Deutch. Don’t you see that this is an unequal struggle? Lenin is practically finished. He was done for the moment that he broke with us, the old timers, with the “Emancipation of Labour Group”. He is coming to the end of his tether.’Such were Plekhanov’s words, and they did make a certain impression upon us, the youngsters. Plekhanov, while speaking, kept severely moving his eyebrows, and we felt very frightened. We would go to Comrade Lenin and innocently complain to him: ‘This and that is what Plekhanov says.’Then he would laugh and would console us: ‘we’ll count our chickens when they are hatched; the fight still lies ahead, we shall see whom the workers will follow.’

‘One step forward, two steps backward-such was the characterization which Lenin gave of the evolution of the Menshevik wing of the party. One step forward-that was the advance from Economism to Iskraism; two steps back-that was the retrogression from Iskraism to the liberal ideas of ‘legal Marxism’which had found their resurrection in Menshevism. No wonder Comrade Lenin took up a merciless fight against this relapse into the opportunist disease. As a counter-weight to the new ‘Iskra’, which passed into the hands of the Mensheviks, and of which Lenin ceased to be co-editor, he established the first Bolshevik paper Vperyod[Forward]. It was at first a very small sheet which was published on the pennies collected abroad. At that time the Mensheviks had n their hands a tremendous machinery, as well as the whole authority of Plekhanov and other 'ikons', innumerable papers and pamphlets as well as the Central Committee, the Central Organ and the Council of the Party. Comrade Lenin began to blast this Menshevik fortress with his little machine-gun called Vperyod. He fired so far, and he aimed so well, that in a, pretty short time not a trace was left of Plekhanov's heavy artillery, and by 1905, it became quite obvious that all that was alive in dike Russian proletariat would follow the Bolsheviks.

In the summer of 1905 the first congress of the Bolsheviks (its official name was the Third Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party) took place, the first historic meeting which laid the foundations of the present Communist Party. It was then that Lenin for the first time observed that in the forthcoming revolution we would not stop at and with a bourgeois republic. Already at that time Lenin spoke of the rottenness of the European Social Democratic parliamentariansm. Already at that time Comrade Lenin expressed the view that our revolution would stand on the border between the bourgeois and Socialist revolution.

It was hard in those days to be a Bolshevik. Not only the Russian, but also the international conditions, pressed heavily upon us. Bebel, for instance, who was respected by Lenin as a working-class leader of genius, would use every suitable and unsuitable occasion to reproach Lenin for being against Plekhanov. How could Plekhanov ever be an opportunist? At the same time Axelrod was busy telling everybody who was inclined to listen that Lenin was a second edition of Netchayev. (Netchayev was an early Russian anarchist who organised a conspiracy at the end of the ‘sixties by unscrupulous means, which included dealings with the Czar’s police and fraudulent practice upon N’s own comrades, ostensibly for the good of the movement.) And that Lenin in his fight against the ‘elder statesmen’ was only pursuing ambitious aims. The entire atmosphere of international Social Democracy was hostile to Bolshevism.

Next: Bebel and the Bolsheviks