V. I.   Lenin

How the “Spark” Was Nearly Extinguished[1]

Written: Written beginning of September 1900
Published: First published in 1924 in Lenin Miscellany I. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 4, pages 331-349.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). 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.README


I first went to Zurich. I arrived alone without having seen Arsenyev (Potresov). P. B. Axelrod met me in Zurich with open arms and I spent two days in a heart-to-heart talk with him. The conversation was as between friends who had not seen each other for a long time; we spoke about anything and everything, in no particular order, and not at all in the manner of a business discussion. Indeed, in regard to practical matters, there is not much that Axelrod mitsprechen kann,[2] but it was quite evident that he gravitated towards G. V. Plekhanov, from the manner in which he insisted on setting up the printing-press for the magazine in Geneva. Generally speaking, Axelrod was very “flattering” (excuse the expression), he said that our enterprise meant everything to them, that it meant their revival, that “we” would now be able to counteract Plekhanov’s extremism. I took particular note of the last remark, and the entire subsequent “history” has proved that those were words of especial significance.

I went to Geneva. Arsenyev warned me to be particularly cautious with Plekhanov, who was terribly wrought up over the split[9] and very suspicious. My conversation with him did indeed show that he really was suspicious, distrustful, and rechthaberisch to the nec plus ultra.[3] I tried to observe caution and avoided all “sore” points, but the constant restraint that I had to place on myself could not but greatly   affect my mood. From time to time little “frictions” arose in the form of sharp retorts on the part of Plekhanov to any remark that might even in the least degree cool down or soothe the passions that had been aroused (by the split). There was also “friction” over questions concerning the tactics of the magazine, Plekhanov throughout displaying complete intolerance, an inability or an unwillingness to understand other people’s arguments, and, to employ the correct term, insincerity. We declared that we must make every possible allowance for Struve, that we ourselves bore some guilt for his development, since we, including Plekhanov, had failed to protest when protest was necessary (1895, 1897). Plekhanov absolutely refused to admit even the slightest guilt, employing transparently worthless arguments by which he dodged the issue without clarifying it. This diplomacy in the course of comradely conversations between future co-editors was extremely unpleasant. Why the self-deception with the pretence that he, Plekhanov, had in 1895 been “ordered [??] not to shoot” (at Struve) and that he was accustomed to doing as he was ordered (really!)?[10] Why the self-deception with the assertion that in 1897 (when Struve wrote in Novoye Slovo that his object was to refute one of the fundamental theses of Marxism) he had not opposed it, because he never could (and never would) conceive of polemics between collaborators[11] in one and the same magazine? This insincerity was extremely irritating, the more so by the fact that in the discussion Plekhanov sought to make it appear that we did not desire to carry on a ruthless fight against Struve, that we desired to “reconcile everything,” etc. A heated discussion arose over the question of polemics in general in columns of the magazine. Plekhanov was opposed and refused to listen to our arguments. He displayed a hatred towards “the Union-Abroad people” that bordered on the indecent (suspecting them of espionage, accusing them of being swindlers and rogues, and asserting that he would not hesitate to “shoot” such “traitors,” etc.). The remotest suggestion that he went to extremes (for example, my allusion to the publication, of private letters[12] and to the imprudence of such a procedure) roused him to a high pitch of excitement and manifest irritability. It became evident that he and we were becoming increasingly disgruntled.   But with him it expressed itself, among other things, in the following: We had a draft prepared of an editorial declaration (“In the Name of the Editorial Board”),[4] in which we explained the aims and the programme of the publications. This was written in an “opportunist” spirit (from Plekhanov’s point of view)—polemics between members of the staff were to be permitted, the tone was modest, allowance was made for the possibility of a peaceful ending of the controversy with the “economists,” etc. The declaration laid stress on our belonging to the Party and on our desire to work for its unification. Plekhanov had read this declaration together with Arsenyev and Zasulich before my arrival; he had read it and raised no objection to the content. He had merely expressed a desire to improve the style, to elevate the tone, without changing the trend of the ideas. A. N. Potresov had left the declaration with him for this purpose. When I arrived,Plekhanov did not say a word to me about the matter, but when I visited him a few days later, he returned the declaration to me with an air of—Here you are, in the presence of witnesses, I return it to you intact; you see I have not lost it. I inquired why he had not made the suggested changes. He replied evasively that it could be done later, that it would not take long and was not worth doing at the time. I took the declaration, made the changes myself (it was a rough draft outlined when I was still in Russia), and read it a second time to Plekhanov (in the presence of Vera Zasulich), this time asking him point-blank to take the thing and correct it. Again he resorted to evasions and turned the job over to Vera Zasulich who was sitting beside him (an altogether strange suggestion, since we had never requested her to work on the statement, besides which, she could not have made the corrections, i.e., have “elevated” the tone and given the declaration the character of a manifesto).

Thus matters went on until the conference (the conference of the entire Emancipation of Labour group: Plekhanov, Axelrod, and Zasulich, and we two, our third man being absent[13]). Finally Axelrod arrived and the conference began. On the question of our attitude towards the Jewish Union (the Bund), Plekhanov displayed extreme intolerance and   openly declared it to be an organisation of exploiters who exploit the Russians and not a Social-Democratic organisation. He said that our aim was to eject this Bund from the Party, that the Jews are all chauvinists and nationalists, that a Russian party should be Russian and should not render itself into “captivity” to the “brood of vipers,” etc. None of our objections to these indecent speeches had any result and Plekhanov stuck to his ideas to the full, saying that we simply did not know enough about the Jews, that we had no real experience in dealing with Jews. No resolution on this question was adopted. We read the “declaration” together at the conference. Plekhanov’s behaviour was very odd. He remained silent, he suggested no changes, he did not take a stand against the idea in the declaration that polemics be permitted, and in general seemed to withdraw, precisely to withdraw. He did not wish to participate, and only casually threw in a venomous, malicious remark to the effect that he (meaning they, i.e., the Emancipation of Labour group of which he is dictator), of course, would have written a different sort of declaration. This remark, uttered in passing, after a sentence in connection with a different matter, struck me as being particularly repellent; a conference of co-editors is in session and one of them (who has been twice asked to submit his own draft or to suggest changes to ours) suggests no emendations, but sarcastically observes that he, of course, would not have written so (in so timid, modest, and opportunistic a manner, he wished to say). This showed clearly enough that normal relations did not exist between him and us. Subsequently—let me pass over the less important issues of the conference—the question of our attitude towards Bobo[14] and M. I. Tugan-Baranovsky came up. We were in favour of a conditional invitation(we were inevitably driven to this by the bitterness Plekhanov displayed; we wanted him to see that we desired a different attitude. His incredible bitterness drove one instinctively, as it were, to protest and to defend his opponents. Zasulich aptly remarked that Plekhanov always argued in a manner that aroused his readers’ sympathy for his opponent). Very coldly and drily Plekhanov declared that he completely disagreed, and he demonstratively remained silent throughout the whole of our fairly protracted conversation with Axelrod and Zasulich,   who were not disinclined to agree with us. The whole morning passed in what might be called a very tense atmosphere. It became clear beyond doubt that Plekhanov was presenting an ultimatum to us—to choose between him and those “rogues.” Seeing that things were coming to such a pass, Arsenyev and I agreed to give way and at the very opening of the evening session declared that “on the insistence of Plekhanov” we had withdrawn our proposal. This declaration met with silence (as if it were a matter of course that we could do nothing else but give way!). This “ultimatum atmosphere” (as Arsenyev later described it) greatly irritated us—Plekhanov’s desire to have unlimited power was obvious. A little before that, in a private conversation about Bobo (when Plekhanov, Arsenyev, Zasulich, and I were taking an evening walk in the woods), Plekhanov, after a heated discussion, said, laying his hand on my shoulders, “But, gentlemen, I am not putting any conditions; we shall discuss all this together at the conference and together we will decide.” I was touched by this at the time. But at the conference the very opposite happened; Plekhanov stood aside from the comradely discussion, maintained an angry silence, and by his silence obviously “put conditions.” To me it seemed to be a sharp display of insincerity (although I did not at the moment formulate my impressions so clearly), while Arsenyev declared outright: “I will never forgive him this concession!” Saturday came. I do not remember exactly what we spoke about that day, but in the evening, when we were all walking together, a fresh conflict flared up. Plekhanov proposed that a certain person (as yet unpublished in our literature, but in whom he claims to see philosophical talent; the person is unknown to me, except for a blind worship of Plekhanov) be assigned the writing of an article on a philosophical subject. Plekhanov went on to say: “I shall advise the person to begin the article with a remark against Kautsky somewhat as follows—a fine fellow, indeed! has already become a ’critic’ and publishes philosophic articles by ’critics’ in Neue Zeit[15] but does not give full scope to ’Marxists’ [read: Plekhanov].” Arsenyev, on hearing the proposal for a sharp attack upon Kautsky (who had been invited to contribute to the magazine), became indignant and heatedly opposed it on the grounds that it was uncalled for. Plekhanov became puffed up and irate, I   seconded Arsenyev, Axelrod and Zasulich remained silent. Half an hour later, Plekhanov departed (we had accompanied him to the steamer), in the final moments he had sat in silence, his brow black as a cloud. As soon as he left us, we felt as though a weight had been lifted from us all, and the discussion proceeded in a “friendly spirit.” The next day, Sunday (today is September 2, Sunday. It happened only a week ago!!! But to me it seems like a year! How remote the thing has become!), we arranged to meet, not in our cottage, but at Plekhanov’s. We came to the place, Arsenyev arriving first, I later. Plekhanov had sent Axelrod and Zasulich to inform Arsenyev that he declined to be co-editor, desiring to be just a contributor. Axelrod left, and Zasulich, quite put out and confused, murmured to Arsenyev: “Georg is displeased, he declines....” I entered. The door was opened for me by Plekhanov, who offered me his hand with a rather queer smile and then walked out. I stepped into the room and found Zasulich and Arsenyev sitting there, their faces wearing a strange expression. “Well, ladies and gentlemen,” said I, “how goes it?” Plekhanov entered and invited us into his room. There he stated that it would be better if he were a contributor, an ordinary contributor, for otherwise there would be continual friction, that evidently his views on things differed from ours, that he understood and respected our, Party, point of view, but could not share it. Better, therefore, that we be the editors and he a contributor. We were amazed to hear this, positively amazed, and began to argue against the idea. Thereupon Plekhanov said: “Well, if we are to be together, how shall we vote; how many votes are there?” “Six.” “Six is not a practical number.” “Well, let Georg have two votes,” suggested Zasulich, “otherwise he will always be alone—two votes on questions of tactics.” We agreed to that. Upon that Plekhanov took the reins of management in his hands and with the air of editor-in-chief began apportioning departments among those present and assigning articles to this one and that in a tone that brooked no objection. We sat there as if we had been ducked; mechanically we agreed to everything, unable as yet to comprehend what had taken place. We realised that we had been made fools of; that our remarks were becoming more and more halting; that Plekhanov “waved them aside” (not refuting   them but waving them aside) more and more easily and carelessly; that “the new system” was de facto tantamount to his complete domination; and that Plekhanov understood this perfectly, not hesitating to domineer over us without ceremony. We realised that we had been fooled and utterly defeated, but were as yet unable to get a full grasp of our position. Yet no sooner did we find ourselves alone, no sooner had we left the steamer and were on our way to the cottage, than the lid flew off and we broke out in a wild and furious tirade against Plekhanov.

But before relating the substance of this tirade and what it led to, I shall go back a bit. Why did the idea of Plekhanov’s complete domination (quite apart from the form it assumed) rouse us to such indignation? Previously we had thought that we would be the editors, and they—close collaborators. I had proposed (back in Russia) that the matter be formally submitted in this manner, but Arsenyev had objected to a formal proposition and suggested that we go about it “in a friendly way” (which would achieve the same result), to which I agreed. But both of us were in accord on the point that we were to be the editors, because the “old ones” were extremely intolerant, in addition to the fact that they would not be able to perform painstakingly the drudgery of editorial work. These were the only considerations that guided us, for we were quite ready to accept their ideological guidance. The conversations I had had in Geneva with those of Plekhanov’s younger comrades and adherents closest to him (members of the Sotsial-Demokrat group,[16] long-standing adherents of Plekhanov, active Party workers, not working men, but simple, industrious people entirely devoted to Plekhanov) —these conversations strengthened my conviction (and Arsenyev’s) that this was exactly how we should arrange the matter. Those adherents had told us without equivocation that it was desirable to have the editorial office in Germany, where we would be more independent of Plekhanov, and that to allow the old ones to have practical control of the editorial work would bring about terrible delays, if not the collapse of the entire enterprise. For the very same reasons, Arsenyev was unconditionally in favour of Germany.

I broke off my description of how the “Spark” was nearly extinguished at the point where we were returning home on   the evening of Sunday, August 26 (New Style). As soon as we found ourselves alone, after leaving the steamer, we broke out into a flood of angry expressions. Our pent-up feelings got the better of us; the charged atmosphere burst into a storm. Up and down our little village we paced far into the night; it was quite dark, there was a rumbling of thunder, and constant flashes of lightning rent the air. We walked along, bursting with indignation. I remember that Arsenyev began by declaring that as far as he was concerned his personal relations with Plekhanov were broken off once and for all, never to be restored. He would maintain business relations with him, but as for personal relations—fertig.[5] Plekhanov’s behaviour had been insulting to such a degree that one could not help suspecting him of harbouring “unclean” thoughts about us (i.e., that he regarded us as Streber[6] ). He trampled us underfoot, etc. I fully supported these charges. My “infatuation” with Plekhanov disappeared as if by magic, and I felt offended and embittered to an unbelievable degree. Never, never in my life, had I regarded any other man with such sincere respect and veneration, never had I stood before any man so “humbly” and never before had I been so brutally “kicked.” That’s what it was, we had actually been kicked. We had been scared like little children, scared by the grown-ups threatening to leave us to ourselves, and when we funked (the shame of it!) we were brushed aside with an incredible unceremoniousness. We now realised very clearly that Plekhanov had simply laid a trap for us that morning when he declined to act as a co-editor; it had been a deliberate chess move, a snare for guileless “pigeons.” There could be no doubt whatever about that, for, had Plekhanov sincerely feared to act as a co-editor because he would be a stumbling-block and might rouse useless friction between us, he would not a moment later have revealed (and brutally revealed) the fact that his co-editorship was absolutely the equivalent of his sole editorship. And since a man with whom we desired to co-operate closely and establish most intimate relations, resorted to chess moves in dealing with comrades, there could be no doubt that this man   was bad, yes, bad, inspired by petty motives of personal vanity and conceit—an insincere man. This discovery—and it was indeed a discovery—struck us like a thunderbolt; for up to that moment both of us had stood in admiration of Plekhanov, and, as we do with a loved one, we had forgiven him everything; we had closed our eyes to all his short comings; we had tried hard to persuade ourselves that those shortcomings were really non-existent, that they were petty things that bothered only people who had no proper regard for principles. Yet we ourselves had been taught practically that those “petty” shortcomings were capable of repelling the most devoted friends, that no appreciation of his theoretical correctness could make us forget his repelling traits. Our indignation knew no bounds. Our ideal had been destroyed; gloatingly we trampled it underfoot like a dethroned god. There was no end to the charges we hurled against him. It cannot go on like this, we decided. We do not wish, we will not, we cannot work together with him under such conditions. Good-bye, magazine! We will throw everything up and return to Russia, where we will start all over again, right from the very beginning, and confine ourselves to the newspaper. We refuse to be pawns in the hands of that man; he does not understand, and cannot maintain comradely relations. We did not dare undertake the editorship ourselves; besides, it would be positively repulsive to do so now, for it would appear as though we really coveted the editor’s post, that we really were Streber, careerists, and that we, too, were inspired by motives of vanity, though in a smaller way.... It is difficult to-describe adequately what our feelings were that night—such mixed, heavy, confused feelings. It was a real drama; the complete abandonment of the thing which for years we had tended like a favourite child, and with which we had inseparably linked the whole of our life’s work. And all because we had formerly been infatuated with Plekhanov. Had we not been so infatuated, had we regarded him more dispassionately, more level-headedly, had we studied him more objectively, our conduct towards him would have been different and we would not have suffered such disaster, in the literal sense of the word, we would not have received such a “moral ducking,” as Arsenyev correctly expressed it. We had received the most bitter lesson of our lives, a   painfully bitter, painfully brutal lesson. Young comrades “court” an elder comrade out of the great love they bear for him—and suddenly he injects into this love an atmosphere of intrigue, compelling them to feel, not as younger brothers, but as fools to be led by the nose, as pawns to be moved about at will, and, still worse, as clumsy Streber who must be thoroughly frightened and quashed! An enamoured youth receives from the object of his love a bitter lesson— to regard all persons “without sentiment,” to keep a stone in one’s sling. Many more words of an equally bitter nature did we utter that night. The suddenness of the disaster naturally caused us to magnify it, but, in the main, the bitter words we uttered were true. Blinded by our love, we had actually behaved like slaves, and it is humiliating to be a slave. Our sense of having been wronged was magnified a hundredfold by the fact that “he” himself had opened our eyes to our humiliation....

Finally, we returned to our respective rooms to go to bed, firmly determined to express our indignation to Plekhanov on the following day, to give up the magazine and go away, retain only the newspaper, and publish the material for the magazine in pamphlet form. The cause would not suffer by this, we thought, and we would avoid having intimate dealings with “that man.”

Next morning I woke up earlier than usual. I was awakened by footsteps on the stairs and the voice of Axelrod who was knocking at Arsenyev’s door. I heard Arsenyev call out in reply and open the door—I heard all this and wondered whether he would have pluck enough to come out with everything immediately. Better to speak out at once, indeed better, than to drag the thing out! I washed and dressed and went to Arsenyev’s room, where I found him at his toilet. Axelrod was sitting in the armchair, his face wearing a somewhat strained expression. “Listen, Comrade X,” said Arsenyev turning to me, “I have told Axelrod of our decision to go back to Russia, and of our conviction that things can not be run like this.” I fully concurred with this, of course, and supported Arsenyev’s statement. We related everything to Axelrod, quite frankly, so much so that Arsenyev even spoke of our suspicion that Plekhanov regarded us as Streber. Axelrod half-sympathised with us generally, shook his head   sadly, and appeared to be greatly perturbed, confused, put out. But hearing this last remark, he began to protest and to shout that our accusation was unfounded; that Plekhanov had many shortcomings, but not this one; that in this matter it was not he who was unjust to us, but we who were unjust to him; that until then he had been prepared to say to Plekhanov, “See what a mess you have made, now clear it up yourself, I wash my hands of the matter,” but he could no longer say this, seeing that we were also unjust. His assurances made little impression upon us, as may be imagined, and poor Axelrod looked pitiful when he finally realised that we were firm in our decision.

We went out together to warn Vera Zasulich. It was to be expected that she would take the news of the “break” (for it did certainly look like a break) very badly. “I fear,” Arsenyev had said to me the previous evening, “I do seriously fear that she will commit suicide....”

I shall never forget the mood in which we three went out that morning. “It’s like going to a funeral,” I thought to myself. And indeed we walked as in a funeral procession—silent, with downcast eyes, oppressed to the extreme by the absurdness, the preposterousness, and the senselessness of our loss. As though a curse had descended upon us! Every thing had been proceeding smoothly after so many misfortunes and failures, when suddenly, a whirlwind—and the end, the whole thing shattered again. I could hardly bring myself to believe it (as one cannot bring oneself to believe the death of a near one)—could it be I, the fervent worshipper of Plekhanov, who was now filled with bitter thoughts about him, who was walking along with clenched teeth and a devilish chill at the heart, intending to hurl cold and bitter words at him and almost to announce the “breaking-off of our relations”? Was this but a hideous dream, or was it reality?

The impression clung to us even during our conversation with Zasulich. She did not display any strong emotion, but she was obviously deeply depressed and she asked us, almost implored us, could we not go back on our decision, could we not try—perhaps it was not so terrible, after all, and it would be possible to set things to rights once we were at work; during the work the repellent features of his character   would not be so apparent.... It was extremely painful to listen to the sincere pleadings of this woman, weak before Plekhanov, but absolutely sincere and passionately loyal to the cause, who bore the yoke of Plekhanovism with the “heroism of a slave” (Arsenyev’s expression). It was, indeed, so painful that at times I thought I would burst into tears.... Words of pity, despair, etc., easily move one to tears at a funeral....

We left Axelrod and Zasulich. We lunched, dispatched letters to Germany saying that we were coming and that they were to stop the machine; we had even sent a telegram about the matter (prior to our conversation with Plekhanov!!), and neither, of us doubted for a moment that we had done right.

After lunch, at the appointed hour, we again went to the house of Axelrod and Zasulich, where Plekhanov was due to be by now. As we approached, the three of them came out to meet us. We greeted each other in silence. Plekhanov tried to start an extraneous conversation (we had asked Axelrod and Zasulich to warn him of our intention, so that he would know all about it), we returned to the room and sat down. Arsenyev began to speak—drily, briefly, and with restraint. He said that we despaired of the possibility of carrying on with relations such as they had developed on the previous evening; that we had decided to return to Russia to consult the comrades there, since we no longer dared to decide the matter ourselves, and that for the time being we would have to abandon the idea of publishing the magazine. Plekhanov was very calm and restrained, and apparently had complete command of himself; he did not show a trace of the nervousness betrayed by Axelrod and Zasulich (he had been in bigger battles than this! we thought to ourselves, gazing at him in fury). He inquired what it was all about. “We are in an atmosphere of ultimatums,” replied Arsenyev, and he expounded the idea at greater length. “Were you afraid that after the first issue I would go on strike before we got out the second?" asked Plekhanov aggressively. He thought we would not dare to say a thing like that. But I too was calm and cool, as I replied: “Is that very much different from what Arsenyev said? Isn’t that what he said?” Plekhanov seemed to bristle under the words. He had not expected such a dry tone and direct accusation.

“Well, if you have decided to leave, what is there to discuss?” he said. “I have nothing to say, my position is a very curious one. All you do is talk of impressions and nothing else. You have the impression that I am a bad man. I cannot help that.”

“We may be to blame,” I said, desiring to turn the conversation away from this “impossible” subject, “for having rushed across in this headlong manner without first sounding the ford.”

“Not at all,” replied Plekhanov. “To speak quite frankly, you are to blame (perhaps Arsenyev’s state of nervousness may have had something to do with it) for attaching too much importance to impressions to which no importance whatever should have been attached.” After a moment’s silence we said that we could confine ourselves to publishing pamphlets for the time being. Plekhanov angrily retorted: “I haven’t thought about pamphlets and am not thinking of them. Don’t count on me. I shall not sit idle with my arms folded if you go away. I may take up some other enterprise before you return.”

Nothing so much lowered Plekhanov in my eyes as this statement when later I recalled it and turned it over in my mind. This was such a crude threat and such a badly calculated attempt to intimidate us, that it simply “finished” Plekhanov as far as we were concerned and exposed his “policy” towards us: give them a good scare and that will suffice....

But we did not pay the slightest attention to his threat. I simply pressed my lips tight in silence: very well, if this is how you would have it, then à la guerre comme à la guerre[7] ; but you must be a fool if you cannot see that we have changed, that we have undergone a transformation overnight.

Perceiving that his threats were ineffective, Plekhanov tried another manoeuvre—for what else can it be called, when a few moments later he stated that the break with us would spell for him complete abandonment of political activity, that he would give up political work and devote himself to science, to purely scientific literature, for if he could not   work with us, it meant that he would not be able to work with anybody.... Having found threats to be unavailing, he tried flattery! But coming as that did alter threats, it could only produce a feeling of revulsion.... The conversation was very brief and nothing came of it. Seeing this, Plekhanov switched the conversation to Russian atrocities in China, but he was almost the only one who spoke and very soon we parted company.

Our conversation with Axelrod and Zasulich after Plekhanov’s departure was neither interesting nor important; Axelrod wriggled and tried to prove that Plekhanov was also crushed and that the sin would be on our heads if we left in this manner, etc., etc. In a tête-à-tête with Arsenyev, Zasulich confessed that “Georg” was always like that. She confessed to her “slavish heroism,” but admitted that it would “teach him a lesson” if we went away.

We spent the rest of the evening in a state of idleness and depression.

On the next day, Tuesday, August 28 (New Style), we were due to leave for Geneva, and from there to proceed to Germany. Early in the morning, I was awakened by Arsenyev (a late riser usually). I was surprised. He said that he had slept badly and that he had thought of a last possible scheme by which the matter could somehow be adjusted so that a serious Party enterprise might not be ruined by spoiled personal relations. We would publish a collection, since we had the material ready and had established contact with the printing-house. We would publish this collection under the present undefined editorial relations and see what happened; from this it would be just as easy to pass on to the publication of a magazine as to the publication of pamphlets. If Plekhanov remained stubborn, then, to the devil with him, we would know that we had done all we could.... And thus it was decided.

We went out to inform Axelrod and Zasulich and met them on the way; they were coming to see us. They, of course, readily agreed and Axelrod undertook the task of negotiating with Plekhanov and of obtaining his consent.

We arrived at Geneva and had our last interview with Plekhanov. He adopted a tone which might have suggested that all that had happened was a sad misunderstanding due to   nervousness. He inquired sympathetically after Arsenyev’s health, and nearly embraced him—the latter almost gave a jump. Plekhanov agreed to the publication of a collection. We said that in regard to the editorial arrangements, three variations were possible: 1) we to be the editors, and he a contributor; 2) all of us to be the editors; 3) he to be the editor, and we contributors; that we would discuss all three alternatives in Russia, draw up a plan, and bring it back with us. Plekhanov declared that he absolutely rejected the third variant, that he insisted emphatically that this arrangement be definitely excluded, and that he agreed to the first two. We therefore decided that for the time being, until we submitted our proposal for the new editorial regime, the old system was to remain in force (the six of us to act as co-editors, with Plekhanov apportioned two votes).

Plekhanov then expressed the desire to know precisely what it was that we were dissatisfied with. I remarked that perhaps it would be better to pay more attention to the future rather than to the past. But he insisted that the question be gone into and clarified. A conversation started in which only Plekhanov and I took part, Arsenyev and Axelrod remaining silent. The conversation was carried on rather calmly, even very calmly. Plekhanov said he had noticed that Arsenyev was irritated by his refusal concerning Struve; I remarked that he, on the contrary, had laid down conditions to us, notwithstanding his statement, previously made during our conversation in the woods, that he would impose no conditions. Plekhanov defended himself, saying that he had been silent, not because he was laying down conditions, but because the question was clear as far as he was concerned. I urged the necessity for permitting polemics and the necessity for voting among ourselves. Plekhanov agreed to the latter, but added that voting, of course, was permissible on partial questions, but impossible on fundamental questions. I objected by saying that it would not always be easy to distinguish between fundamental and partial questions, and that it was precisely in drawing such distinctions that the co-editors would have to take a vote. Plekhanov was stubborn. He said that this was a matter of conscience, that the distinction between fundamental and partial questions was perfectly clear, and that there would   be no occasion for taking a vote. And so we got stuck in this dispute as to whether voting should be permitted among the editors on the question of defining what were fundamental and what were partial questions, and we could make no progress. Plekhanov displayed all his dexterity, the brilliance of his examples, smiles, jests, and citations, which compelled us to laugh in spite of ourselves; but he evaded the question without definitely saying “no.” I became convinced that he positively could not concede the point; that he could not abandon his “individualism” and his “ultimatums,” since he would never agree to take a vote on such questions but would present ultimatums.

That evening I departed without again meeting any of the members of the Emancipation of Labour group. We had agreed among ourselves not to relate what had passed to any one except our most intimate friends. We decided to keep up appearances and not give our opponents cause for triumph. Outwardly it was as though nothing had happened; the apparatus must continue to work as it had worked till then, but within a chord had broken, and instead of splendid personal relations, dry, business-like relations prevailed, with a constant reckoning according to the principle: si vis pacem, para bellum.[8]

It will be of interest, however, to mention a conversation I had that same evening with an intimate friend and adherent of Plekhanov, a member of the Sotsial-Demokrat group. I mentioned no word to him about what had occurred; I told him that, we had arranged to publish a magazine, that the articles had been decided on—it was time to set to work. I discussed with him the practical ways of arranging the work. He gave stress to the opinion that the old ones were absolutely incapable of doing editorial work. I discussed with him the “three variations” and asked him directly which in his opinion was the best. Without hesitation, he answered—the first (we to be the editors, they the contributors), but in all probability, he thought, the magazine would be Plekhanov’s and the newspaper ours.

As the affair became more and more remote, we began to think of it more calmly, and became convinced that it was   entirely unreasonable to give up the enterprise, that we had for the time being no ground for fearing to undertake the editorship (of the collection), but that indeed it was necessary for us to undertake it, for there was absolutely no other way of making the apparatus work properly, and of preventing the project from being ruined by the disruptive “propensities” of Plekhanov.

By the time we arrived at N.,[17] on September 4 or 5, we had drawn up the plan of the formal relations between us (I had begun to write i1 en route, on the train). That plan made us the editors and them the contributors, with the right to vote on all editorial questions. It was decided to discuss this plan with Yegor (Martov), and then to submit it to them.

Hopes were beginning to rise that the “Spark” would be rekindled.


[1] A play of words on the title of the newspaper Iskra meaning spark.—Ed.

[2] Can contribute.—Ed.

[3] Holding himself to be right to the nth degree.—Ed.

[4] See p. 320 of this’ volume.—Ed.

[5] Finished.—Ed.

[6] Careerists.—Ed.

[7] If it’s war, then the way of war!—Ed.

[8] If you desire peace, prepare for war.—Ed.

[9] The split in the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad, referred to in this passage, occurred at the Second Congress of the Union in April 1900. At the First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P., the Union was recognised as the representative of the Party abroad; the majority of its members, however, adopted the “economist” position, on account of which the Emancipation of Labour group and their supporters left the Congress, broke off relations with the Union, and formed an independent organisation of Russian Social-Democrats abroad under the name of Russian Revolutionary Organisation Sotsial-Demokrat.

[10] By saying that he had been “ordered” not “to shoot” at P. B. Struve in 1895 (in this case he is hinting at A. N. Potresov), G. V. Plekhanov was trying to justify his conciliatory attitude towards the revisionist position of the “legal Marxists.” Lenin considered Plekhanov’s behaviour to be incorrect, because he not only failed to criticise the bourgeois-liberal views of Struve but took the latter under his protection.

[11] Lenin is apparently referring to Struve’s article, “Again on Free Will and Necessity,” published in 1897 in issue No.8 of the magazine Novoye Slovo (New Word). In this article Strove declared himself openly against the Marxist theory of the proletarian revolution. On June 27 (July 9), 1899, Lenin wrote to Potresov: “One thing I do not understand—how could Kamensky (Plekhanov.— Ed.) leave unanswered the articles by Struve and Bulgakov against Engels in Novoye Slovo! Can you explain this to me?”

[12] This passage refers to Vademecum, a collection of articles and documents for the Rabocheye Dyelo Editorial Board (1900) in which Plekhanov published, among other documents, three private letters from Z. M. Kopelson of the Bond and from an “economist” leader, Y. D. Kuskova.

[13] Our third man” was L. Martov (Y. O. Zederbaum) who was in the South of Russia at the time Lenin and Potresov conducted their negotiations with the Emancipation of Labour group and who did not go abroad until March 1901.

[14] Bobo—P. B. Struve.

[15] Die Neue Zeit (New Times)—theoretical publication of German Social-Democracy. Appeared in Stuttgart from 1883 to 1923. Several articles by Frederick Engels appeared in its columns between 1885 and 1895. Engels frequently offered points of advice to the   editors of Die Neue Zeit and severely criticised them for departing from Marxism. In the late 1890s, after Engels’ death, the journal, which expounded Kautskian views, made a practice of publishing articles by revisionists. During the First World War (1914—18) the publication adopted a Centrist position and actually supported the social-chauvinists.

[16] These were former members of the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad who, after the split at the Second Congress of the Union, in April 1900, broke with the opportunist majority and united with the Emancipation of Labour group to form the Sotsial Demokrat group.

[17] N.— the city of Nuremberg which Lenin visited on his way from Geneva to Munich after the conference between the Iskra and the Emancipation of Labour groups.

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