Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

What Is To Be Done?



Dogmatism And “Freedom of Criticism”

A. What Does “Freedom of Criticism” Mean?

“Freedom of criticism” is undoubtedly the most fashionable slogan at the present time, and the one most frequently employed in the controversies between socialists and democrats in all countries. At first sight, nothing would appear to be more strange than the solemn appeals to freedom of criticism made by one of the parties to the dispute. Have voices been raised in the advanced parties against the constitutional law of the majority of European countries which guarantees freedom to science and scientific investigation? “Something must be wrong here,” will be the comment of the onlooker who has heard this fashionable slogan repeated at every turn but has not yet penetrated the essence of the disagreement among the disputants; evidently this slogan is one of the conventional phrases which, like nicknames, become legitimised by use, and become almost generic terms.”

In fact, it is no secret for anyone that two trends have taken form in present-day international[1] [1] Incidentally, in the history of modern socialism this is a phenomenon, perhaps unique and in its way very consoling, namely, that the strife of the various trends within the socialist movement has from national become international. Formerly, the disputes between Lassalleans and Eisenachers,[24] between Guesdists and Possibilists,[25] between Fabians and Social-Democrats, and between Narodnaya Volya adherents and Social-Democrats, remained confined within purely national frameworks, reflecting purely national features, and proceeding, as it were, on different planes. At the present time (as is now evident), the English Fabians, the French Ministerialists, the German Bernsteinians, and the Russian Critics – all belong to the same family, all extol each other, learn from each other, and together take up arms against “dogmatic” Marxism. In this first really international battle with socialist opportunism, international revolutionary Social-Democracy will perhaps become sufficiently strengthened to put an end to the political reaction that has long reigned in Europe? —Lenin Social-Democracy. The conflict between these trends now flares up in a bright flame and now dies down and smoulders under the ashes of imposing “truce resolutions”. The essence of the “new” trend, which adopts a “critical” attitude towards “obsolete dogmatic” Marxism, has been clearly enough presented by Bernstein and demonstrated by Millerand.

Social-Democracy must change from a party of social revolution into a democratic party of social reforms. Bernstein has surrounded this political demand with a whole battery of well-attuned “new” arguments and reasonings. Denied was the possibility of putting socialism on a scientific basis and of demonstrating its necessity and inevitability from the point of view of the materialist conception of history. Denied was the fact of growing impoverishment, the process of proletarisation, and the intensification of capitalist contradictions; the very concept, “ultimate aim”, was declared to be unsound, and the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat was completely rejected. Denied was the antithesis in principle between liberalism and socialism. Denied was the theory of the class struggle, on the alleged grounds that it could not be applied to a strictly democratic society governed according to the will of the majority, etc.

Thus, the demand for a decisive turn from revolutionary Social-Democracy to bourgeois social-reformism was accompanied by a no less decisive turn towards bourgeois criticism of all the fundamental ideas of Marxism. In view of the fact that this criticism of Marxism has long been directed from the political platform, from university chairs, in numerous pamphlets and in a series of learned treatises, in view of the fact that the entire younger generation of the educated classes has been systematically reared for decades on this criticism, it is not surprising that the “new critical” trend in Social-Democracy should spring up, all complete, like Minerva from the head of Jove. The content of this new trend did not have to grow and take shape, it was transferred bodily from bourgeois to socialist literature.

To proceed. If Bernstein’s theoretical criticism and political yearnings were still unclear to anyone, the French took the trouble strikingly to demonstrate the “new method”. In this instance, too, France has justified its old reputation of being “the land where, more than anywhere else, the historical class struggles were each time fought out to a decision...” (Engels, Introduction to Marx’s Der 18 Brumaire).[12] The French socialists have begun, not to theorise, but to act. The democratically more highly developed political conditions in France have permitted them to put “Bernsteinism into practice” immediately, with all its consequences. Millerand has furnished an excellent example of practical Bernsteinism; not without reason did Bernstein and Vollmar rush so zealously to defend and laud him. Indeed, if Social-Democracy, in essence, is merely a party of reform and must be bold enough to admit this openly, then not only has a socialist the right to join a bourgeois cabinet, but he must always strive to do so. If democracy, in essence, means the abolition of class domination, then why should not a socialist minister charm the whole bourgeois world by orations on class collaboration? Why should he not remain in the cabinet even after the shooting-down of workers by gendarmes has exposed, for the hundredth and thousandth time, the real nature of the democratic collaboration of classes? Why should he not personally take part in greeting the tsar, for whom the French socialists now have no other name than hero of the gallows, knout, and exile (knouteur, pendeur et deportateur)? And the reward for this utter humiliation and self-degradation of socialism in the face of the whole world, for the corruption of the socialist consciousness of the working masses – the only basis that can guarantee our victory – the reward for this is pompous projects for miserable reforms, so miserable in fact that much more has been obtained from bourgeois governments!

He who does not deliberately close his eyes cannot fail to see that the new “critical” trend in socialism is nothing more nor less than a new variety of opportunism. And if we judge people, not by the glittering uniforms they don or by the highsounding appellations they give themselves, but by their actions and by what they actually advocate, it will be clear that “freedom of criticism” means’ freedom for an opportunist trend in Social-Democracy, freedom to convert Social-Democracy into a democratic party of reform, freedom to introduce bourgeois ideas and bourgeois elements into socialism.

“Freedom” is a grand word, but under the banner of freedom for industry the most predatory wars were waged, under the banner of freedom of labour, the working people were robbed. The modern use of the term “freedom of criticism” contains the same inherent falsehood. Those who are really convinced that they have made progress in science would not demand freedom for the new views to continue side by side with the old, but the substitution of the new views for the old. The cry heard today, “Long live freedom of criticism”, is too strongly reminiscent of the fable of the empty barrel.

We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!

B. The New Advocates of “Freedom of Criticism”

Now, this slogan (“freedom of criticism”) has in recent times been solemnly advanced by Rabocheye Dyelo (No. 10), organ of the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad, not as a theoretical postulate, but as a political demand, as a reply to the question, “Is it possible to unite the Social-Democratic organisations operating abroad?”: “For a durable unity, there must be freedom of criticism” (p. 36).

From this statement two definite conclusions follow: (1) that Rabocheye Dyelo has taken under its wing the opportunist trend in international Social-Democracy in general, and (2) that Rabocheye Dyelo demands freedom for opportunism in Russian Social-Democracy. Let us examine these conclusions.

Rabocheye Dyelo is “particularly” displeased with the “inclination of Iskra and Zarya to predict a rupture between the Mountain and the Gironde in international Social-Democracy”.[2]

“Generally speaking,” writes B. Krichevsky, editor of Rabocheye Dyelo, “this talk of the Mountain and the Gironde heard in the ranks of Social-Democracy represents a shallow historical analogy, a strange thing to come from the pen of a Marxist. The Mountain and the Gironde did not represent different temperaments-, or intellectual trends, as the historians of social thought may think, but different classes or strata – the middle bourgeoisie, on the one hand, and the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat, on the other. In the modern socialist movement, however, there is no conflict of class interests; the socialist movement in its entirety, in all of its diverse forms (Krichevsky’s italics), including the most pronounced Bernsteinians, stands on the basis of the class interests of the proletariat and its class struggle for political and economic emancipation” (pp. 32-33).

A bold assertion! Has not Krichevsky heard of the fact, long ago noted, that it is precisely the extensive participation of an “academic” stratum in the socialist movement in recent years that has promoted such a rapid spread of Bernsteinism? And what is most important – on what does our author found his opinion that even “the most pronounced Bernsteinians” stand on the basis of the class struggle for the political and economic emancipation of the proletariat? No one knows. This determined defence of the most pronounced Bernsteinians is not supported by any argument or reasoning whatever. Apparently, the author believes that if he repeats what the most pronounced Bernsteinians say about themselves his assertion requires no proof. But can anything more “shallow” be imagined than this judgement of an entire trend based on nothing more than what the representatives of that trend say about themselves? Can anything more shallow be imagined than the subsequent “homily” on the two different and even diametrically opposite types, or paths, of party development? (Rabocheye Dyelo, pp. 34-35.) The German Social-Democrats, in other words, recognise complete freedom of criticism, but the French do not, and it is precisely their example that demonstrates the “bane of intolerance”.

To this we can only say that the very example B. Krichevsky affords us attests to the fact that the name Marxists is at times assumed by people who conceive history literally in the “Ilovaisky manner”.[13] To explain the unity of the German Socialist Party and the disunity of the French Socialist Party, there is no need whatever to go into the special features in the history of these countries, to contrast the conditions of military semiabsolutism in the one with republican parliamentarism in the other, to analyse the effects of the Paris Commune and the effects of the Exceptional Law Against the Socialists, to compare the economic life and economic development of the two countries, or to recall that “the unexampled growth of German Social-Democracy” was accompanied by a strenuous struggle, unique in the history of socialism, not only against erroneous theories (Mühlberger, Dühring,[3] the Katheder-Socialists[14]), but also against erroneous tactics (Lassalle), etc., etc. All that is superfluous! The French quarrel among themselves because they are intolerant; the Germans are united because they are good boys.

And observe, this piece of matchless profundity is designed to “refute” the fact that puts to rout the defence of the Bernsteinians. The question whether or not the Bernsteinians stand on the basis of the class struggle of the proletariat is one that can be completely and irrevocably answered only by historical experience. Consequently, the example of France holds greatest significance in this respect, because France is the only country in which the Bernsteinians attempted to stand independently, on their own feet, with the warm approval of their German colleagues (and partly also of the Russian opportunists; cf. Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 2-3, pp. 83-84). The reference to the “intolerance” of the French, apart from its “historical” significance (in the Nozdryov[15] sense), turns out to be merely an attempt to –hush up very unpleasant facts with angry invectives.

Nor are we inclined to make a present of the Germans to Krichevsky and the numerous other champions of “freedom of criticism”. If the “most pronounced Bernsteinians” are still tolerated in the ranks of the German party, it is only to the extent that they submit to the Hanover resolution,[16] which emphatically rejected Bernstein’s “amendments”, and to the Lubeck resolution, which (notwithstanding the diplomatic terms in which it is couched) contains a direct warning to Bernstein. It is debatable, from the standpoint of the interests of the German party, whether diplomacy was appropriate and whether, in this case, a bad peace is better than a good quarrel; in short, opinions may differ as to the expediency of any one of the methods employed to reject Bernsteinism, but that the German party did reject Bernsteinism on two occasions, is a fact no one can fail to see. Therefore, to think that the German example confirms the thesis that “the most pronounced Bernsteinians stand on the basis of the class struggle of the proletariat, for political and economic emancipation”, means to fail completely to understand what is going on under our very eyes.[4]

Nor is that all. As we have seen, Rabocheye Dyelo demands “freedom of criticism” and defends Bernsteinism before Russian Social-Democracy. Apparently it convinced itself that we were unfair to our “Critics” and Bernsteinians. But to which ones? who? where? when? What did the unfairness represent? About this, not a word. Rabocheye Dyelo does not name a single Russian Critic or Bernsteinian! We are left with but one of two possible suppositions. Either the unfairly treated party is none other than Rabocheye Dyelo itself (this is confirmed by the fact that in the two articles in No. 10 reference is made only to the wrongs suffered by Rabocheye Dyelo at the hands of Zarya and Iskra). If that is the case, how is the strange fact to be explained that Rabocheye Dyelo, which always vehemently dissociated itself from all solidarity with Bernsteinism, could not defend itself without putting in a word in defence of the “most pronounced Bernsteinians” and of freedom of criticism? Or some third persons have been treated unfairly. if this is the case, then what reasons may there be for not naming them?

We see, therefore, that Rabocheye Dyelo is continuing to play the game of hide-and-seek it has played (as we shall show below) ever since its founding. And let us note further this first practical application of the vaunted “freedom of criticism”. In actual fact, not only was it forthwith reduced to abstention from all criticism, but also to abstention from expressing independent views altogether. The very Rabocheye Dyelo, which avoids mentioning Russian Bernsteinism as if it were a shameful disease (to use Starover’s[17] apt expression), proposes, for the treatment of this disease, to copy word for word the latest German prescription for the German variety of the malady! Instead of freedom of criticism slavish (worse: apish) imitation! The very same social and political content of modern international opportunism reveals itself in a variety of ways according to national peculiarities. In one country the opportunists have long ago come out under a separate flag; in another, they have ignored theory and in fact pursued the policy of the Radicals-Socialists; in a third, some members of the revolutionary party have deserted to the camp of opportunism and strive to achieve their aims, not in open struggle for principles and for new tactics, but by gradual, imperceptible, and, if one may so put it, unpunishable corruption of their party; in a fourth country, similar deserters employ the same methods in the gloom of political slavery, and with a completely original combination of “legal” and “illegal” activity, etc. To talk of freedom of criticism and of Bernsteinism as a condition for uniting the Russian Social Democrats and not to explain how Russian Bernsteinism has manifested itself and what particular fruits it has borne, amounts to talking with the aim of saying nothing.

Let us ourselves try, if only in a few words, to say what Rabocheye Dyelo did not want to say (or which was, perhaps, beyond its comprehension).

C. Criticism in Russia

The chief distinguishing feature of Russia in regard to the point we are examining is that the very beginning of the spontaneous working-class movement, on the one hand, and of the turn of progressive public opinion towards Marxism, on the other, was marked by the combination of manifestly heterogeneous elements under a common flag to fight the common enemy (the obsolete social and political world outlook). We refer to the heyday of “legal Marxism”. Speaking generally, this was an altogether curious phenomenon that no one in the eighties or the beginning of the nineties would have believed possible. In a country ruled by an autocracy, with a completely enslaved press, in a period of desperate political reaction in which even the tiniest outgrowth of political discontent and protest is persecuted, the theory of revolutionary Marxism suddenly forces its way into the censored literature and, though expounded in Aesopian language, is understood by all the “interested”. The government had accustomed itself to regarding only the theory of the (revolutionary) Narodnaya Volya as dangerous, without, as is usual, observing its internal evolution, and rejoicing at any criticism levelled against it. Quite a considerable time elapsed (by our Russian standards) before the government realised what had happened and the unwieldy army of censors and gendarmes discovered the new enemy and flung itself upon him. Meanwhile, Marxist books were published one after another, Marxist journals and newspapers were founded, nearly everyone became a Marxist, Marxists were flattered, Marxists were courted, and the book publishers rejoiced at the extraordinary, ready sale of Marxist literature. It was quite natural, therefore, that among the Marxian neophytes who were caught up in this atmosphere, there should be more than one “author who got a swelled head...”[18]

We can now speak calmly of this period as of an event of the past. It is no secret that the brief period in which Marxism blossomed on the surface of our literature was called forth by an alliance between people of extreme and of very moderate views. In point of fact, the latter were bourgeois democrats; this conclusion (so markedly confirmed by their subsequent “critical” development) suggested itself to some even when the “alliance” was still intact.[5]

That being the case, are not the revolutionary Social-Democrats who entered into the alliance with the future “Critics” mainly responsible for the subsequent “confusion”? This question, together with a reply in the affirmative, is sometimes heard from people with too rigid a view. But such people are entirely in the wrong. Only those who are not sure of themselves can fear to enter into temporary alliances even with unreliable people; not a single political party could exist without such alliances. The combination with the legal Marxists was in its way the first really political alliance entered into by Russian Social -Democrats. Thanks to this alliance, an astonishingly rapid victory was obtained over Narodism, and Marxist ideas (even though in a vulgarised form) became very widespread. Moreover, the alliance was not concluded altogether without “conditions”. Evidence of this is the burning by the censor, in 1895, of the Marxist collection Material on the Question of the Economic Development of Russia.[19] If the literary agreement with the legal Marxists can be compared with a political alliance, then that book can be compared with a political treaty.

The rupture, of course, did not occur because the “allies” proved to be bourgeois democrats. On the contrary, the representatives of the latter trend are natural and desirable allies of Social-Democracy insofar as its democratic tasks, brought to the fore by the prevailing situation in Russia, are concerned. But an essential condition for such an alliance must be the full opportunity for the socialists to reveal to the working class that its interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the bourgeoisie. However, the Bernsteinian and “critical” trend, to which the majority of the legal Marxists turned, deprived the socialists of this opportunity and demoralised the socialist consciousness by vulgarising Marxism, by advocating the theory of the blunting of social contradictions, by declaring the idea of the social revolution and of the dictatorship of the proletariat to be absurd, by reducing the working-class movement and the class struggle to narrow trade-unionism and to a “realistic” struggle for petty, gradual reforms. This was synonymous with bourgeois democracy’s denial of socialism’s right to independence and, consequently, of its right to existence; in practice it meant a striving to convert the nascent working-class movement into an appendage of the liberals.

Naturally, under such circumstances the rupture was necessary. But the “peculiar” feature of Russia manifested itself in the fact that this rupture simply meant the elimination of the Social-Democrats from the most accessible and widespread “legal” literature. The “ex-Marxists”, who took up the flag of “criticism” and who obtained almost a monopoly to "demolish Marxism, entrenched themselves in this literature. Catchwords like “Against orthodoxy” and “Long live freedom of criticism” (now repeated by Rabocheye Dyelo) forthwith became the vogue, and the fact that neither the censor nor the gendarmes could resist this vogue is apparent from the publication of three Russian editions of the work of the celebrated Bernstein (celebrated in the Herostratean sense) and from the fact that the works of Bernstein, Mr. Prokopovich, and others were recommended by Zubatov (Iskra, No. 10). A task now devolved upon the Social Democrats that was difficult in itself and was made incredibly more difficult by purely external obstacles – the task of combating the new trend. This trend did not confine itself to the sphere of literature. The turn towards “criticism” was accompanied by an infatuation for Economism among Social-Democratic practical workers.

The manner in which the connection between, and interdependence of, legal criticism and illegal Economism arose and grew is in itself an interesting subject, one that could serve as the theme of a special article. We need only note here that this connection undoubtedly existed. The notoriety deservedly acquired by the Credo was due precisely to the frankness with which it formulated this connection and blurted out the fundamental political tendency of Economism – let the workers carry on the economic struggle (it would be more correct to say the trade unionist struggle, because the latter also embraces specifically working class politics) and let the Marxist intelligentsia merge with the liberals for the political “struggle.” Thus, trade-unionist work “among the people” meant fulfilling the first part of this task, while legal criticism meant fulfilling the second. This statement was such an excellent weapon against Economism that, had there been no Credo, it would have been worth inventing one.

The Credo was not invented, but it was published without the consent and perhaps even against the will of its authors. At all events, the present writer, who took part in dragging this new “programme” into the light of day,[6] has heard complaints and reproaches to the effect that copies of the resume of the speakers’ views were distributed, dubbed the Credo, and even published in the press together with the protest! We refer to this episode because it reveals a very peculiar feature of our Economism – fear of publicity. This is a feature of Economism generally, and not of the authors of the Credo alone. It was revealed by that most outspoken and honest advocate of Economism, Rabochaya Mysl, and by Rabocheye Dyelo (which was indignant over the publication of “Economist” documents in the Vademecum[20]), as well as by the Kiev Committee, which two years ago refused to permit the publication of its profession de foi,[7] together with a repudiation of it,[8] and by many other individual representatives of Economism.

This fear of criticism displayed by the advocates of freedom of criticism cannot be attributed solely to craftiness (although, on occasion, no doubt craftiness is brought into play: it would be improvident to expose the young and as yet frail shoots of the new trend. to attacks by opponents). No, the majority of the Economists look with sincere resentment (as by the very nature of Economism they must) upon all theoretical controversies, factional disagreements, broad political questions, plans for organising revolutionaries, etc. “Leave all that to the people abroad!” said a fairly consistent Economist to me one day, thereby expressing a very widespread (and again purely trade-unionist) view; our concern is the working-class movement, the workers, organisations here, in our localities; all the rest is merely the invention of doctrinaires, “the overrating of ideology”, as the authors of the letter, published in Iskra, No. 12, expressed it, in unison with Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10.

The question now arises: such being the peculiar features of Russian “criticism” and Russian Bernsteinism, what should have been the task of those who sought to oppose opportunism in deeds and not merely in words? First, they should have made efforts to resume the theoretical work that had barely begun in the period of legal Marxism and that fell anew on the shoulders of the comrades working underground. Without such work the successful growth of the movement was impossible. Secondly, they should have actively combated the legal “criticism” that was perverting people’s minds on a considerable scale. Thirdly, they should have actively opposed confusion and vacillation in the practical movement, exposing and repudiating every conscious or unconscious attempt to degrade our programme and our tactics.

That Rabocheye Dyelo did none of these things is well known; we shall have occasion below to deal with this well-known fact in detail and from various aspects. At the moment, however, we desire merely to show the glaring contradiction that exists between the demand for “freedom of criticism” and the specific features of our native criticism and Russian Economism. It suffices but to glance at the text of the resolution in which the Union of Russian Social Democrats Abroad endorsed the point of view of Rabocheye Dyelo.

“In the interests of the further ideological development of Social-Democracy, we recognise the freedom of criticism of Social-Democratic theory in Party literature to be absolutely necessary insofar as the criticism does not run counter to the class and revolutionary character of this theory” (Two Conferences, p. 10).

And the motivation? The resolution “in its first part coincides with the resolution of the Lubeck Party Congress on Bernstein”. . . . In the simplicity of their souls the “Unionists” failed to observe what a testimonium paupertatis (attestation of poverty) they betray with this copying. . .. “But ... in its second part, it restricts freedom of criticism much more than did the Lubeck Party Congress.”

The resolution of the Union Abroad, then, is directed against the Russian Bernsteinians? If it is not, then the reference to Lubeck would be utterly absurd. But it is not true to say that it “restricts freedom of criticism”. In adopting their Hanover resolution, the Germans, point by point, rejected precisely the amendments proposed by Bernstein, while in their Lubeck resolution they cautioned Bernstein personally, by naming him. Our “free” imitators, however, make not a single allusion to a single manifestation of specifically Russian “criticism” and Russian Economism. In view of this omission, the bare reference to the class and revolutionary character of the theory leaves far wider scope for misinterpretation, particularly when the Union Abroad refuses to identify “so-called Economism” with opportunism (Two Conferences, p. 8, Paragraph 1). But all this, in passing. The main thing to note is that the positions of the opportunists in relation to the revolutionary Social-Democrats in Russia are diametrically opposed to those in Germany. In that country, as we know, the revolutionary Social-Democrats are in favour of preserving that which exists – the old programme and the tactics, which are universally known and have been elucidated in all their details by many decades of experience. But the “Critics” desire to introduce changes, and since these Critics represent an insignificant minority, and since they are very timid in their revisionist efforts, one can understand the motives of the majority in confining themselves to the dry rejection of “innovations”. In Russia, however, it is the Critics and the Economists who are in favour of preserving that which exists: the “Critics” want us to go on regarding them as Marxists and to guarantee them the “freedom of criticism” they enjoyed to the full (for, in fact, they never recognised any kind of party ties,[9] [9] The fact alone of the absence of public party ties and party traditions, representing as it does a cardinal difference between Russia and Germany, should have warned all sensible socialists against blind imitation. But here is an instance of the lengths to which “freedom of criticism” goes in Russia. Mr. Bulgakov, the Russian Critic, utters the following reprimand to the Austrian Critic, Hertz: “Notwithstanding the independence of his conclusions, Hertz on this point on the question of co-operative societies) apparently remains excessively bound by the opinions of his party, and although he disagrees with it in details, he dare not reject the common principle” (Capitalism and Agriculture, Vol. II, p. 287). The subject of a politically enslaved state, in which nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand of the population are corrupted to the marrow by political subservience and completely lack the conception of party honour and party ties, superciliously reproves a citizen of a constitutional state for being excessively “bound by the opinions of his party”! Our illegal organisations have nothing else to do, of course, but draw up resolutions on freedom of criticism.... —Lenin and, moreover, we never had a generally recognised party body that could “restrict” freedom of criticism, if only by counsel); the Economists want the revolutionaries to recognise the sovereign character of the present movement" (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, p. 25), i.e., to recognise the “legitimacy” of that which exists; they want the “ideologists” not to try to “divert” the movement from the path that “is determined by the interaction of material. elements and material environment” (“Letter” in Iskra, No. 12); they want to have that struggle recognised as desirable “which it is possible for the workers to wage under the present conditions”, and as the only possible struggle, that “which they are actually waging at the present time” (“Separate Supplement” to Rabochaya Mysl, p. 14). We revolutionary Social-Democrats, on the contrary, are dissatisfied with this worship of spontaneity, i.e., of that which exists “at the present moment”. We demand that the tactics that have prevailed in recent years he changed; we declare that “before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation” (see announcement of the publication of Iskra).[10] In a word, the Germans stand for that which exists and reject changes; we demand a change of that which exists, and reject subservience thereto and reconciliation to it.

This “slight” difference our “free” copyists of German resolutions failed to notice.

D. Engels On the Importance of the Theoretical Struggle

“Dogmatism, doctrinairism”, “ossification of the party – the inevitable retribution that follows the violent strait-lacing of thought” – these are the enemies against which the knightly champions of “freedom of criticism” in Rabocheye Dyelo rise up in arms. We are very glad that this question has been placed on the order of the day and we would only propose to add to it one other:

And who are the judges?

We have before us two publishers’ announcements. One, “The Programme of the Periodical Organ of the Union of Russian Social Democrats Abroad – Rabocheye Dyelo” (reprint from No. 1 of Rabocheye Dyelo), and the other, the “Announcement of the Resumption of the Publications of the Emancipation of Labour Group”. Both are dated 1899, when the “crisis of Marxism” had long been under discussion. And what do we find? We would seek in vain in the first announcement for any reference to this phenomenon, or a definite statement of the position the new organ intends to adopt on this question. Not a word is said about theoretical work and the urgent tasks that now confront it, either in this programme or in the supplements to it that were adopted by the Third Congress of the Union Abroad in 1901 (Two Conferences, pp. 15-18). During this entire time the Editorial Board of Rabocheye Dyelo ignored theoretical questions, in spite of the fact that these were questions that disturbed the minds of all Social-Democrats the world over.

The other announcement, on the contrary, points first of all to the declining interest in theory in recent years, imperatively demands “vigilant attention to the theoretical aspect of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat”, and calls for “ruthless criticism of the Bernsteinian and other anti-revolutionary tendencies” in our movement. The issues of Zarya to date show how this programme has been carried out.

Thus, we see that high-sounding phrases against the ossification of thought, etc., conceal unconcern and helplessness with regard to the development of theoretical thought. The case of the Russian Social-Democrats manifestly illustrates the general European phenomenon (long ago noted also by the German Marxists) that the much vaunted freedom of criticism does not imply substitution of one theory for another, but freedom from all integral and pondered theory; it implies eclecticism and lack of principle. Those who have the slightest acquaintance with the actual state of our movement cannot but see that the wide spread of Marxism was accompanied by a certain lowering of the theoretical level. Quite a number of people with very little, and even a total lack of theoretical training joined the movement because of its practical significance and its practical successes. We can judge from that how tactless Rabocheye Dyelo is when, with an air of triumph, it quotes Marx’s statement: “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.”[21] To repeat these words in a period of theoretical disorder is like wishing mourners at a funeral many happy returns of the day. Moreover, these words of Marx are taken from his letter on the Gotha Programme,[22] in which he sharply condemns eclecticism in the formulation of principles. If you must unite, Marx wrote to the party leaders, then enter into agreements to satisfy the practical aims of the movement, but do not allow any bargaining over principles, do not make theoretical “concessions”. This was Marx’s idea, and yet there are people among us who seek-in his name to belittle the significance of theory!

Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This idea cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity. Yet, for Russian Social-Democrats the importance of theory is enhanced by three other circumstances, which are often forgotten: first, by the fact that our Party is only in process of formation, its features are only just becoming defined, and it has as yet far from settled accounts with the other trends of revolutionary thought that threaten to divert the movement from the correct path. On the contrary, precisely the very recent past was marked by a revival of non-Social-Democratic revolutionary trends (an eventuation regarding which Axelrod long ago warned the Economists). Under these circumstances, what at first sight appears to be an “unimportant” error may lead to most deplorable consequences, and only short-sighted people can consider factional disputes and a strict differentiation between shades of opinion inopportune or superfluous. The fate of Russian Social-Democracy for very many years to come may depend on the strengthening of one or the other “shade”.

Secondly, the Social-Democratic movement is in its very essence an international movement. This means, not only that we must combat national chauvinism, but that an incipient movement in a young country can be successful only if it makes use of the experiences of other countries. In order to make use of these experiences it is not enough merely to be acquainted with them, or simply to copy out the latest resolutions. What is required is the ability to treat these experiences critically and to test them independently. He who realises how enormously the modern working-class movement has grown and branched out will understand what a reserve of theoretical forces and political (as well as revolutionary) experience is required to carry out this task.

Thirdly, the national tasks of Russian Social-Democracy are such as have never confronted any other socialist party in the world. We shall have occasion further on to deal with the political and organisational duties which the task of emancipating the whole people from the yoke of autocracy imposes upon us. At this point, we wish to state only that the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory. To have a concrete understanding of what this means, let the reader recall such predecessors of Russian Social Democracy as Herzen, Belinsky, Chernyshevsky, and the brilliant galaxy of revolutionaries of the seventies; let him ponder over the world significance which Russian literature is now acquiring; let him. . . but be that enough!

Let us quote what Engels said in 1874 concerning the significance of theory in the Social-Democratic movement. Engels recognizes, not two forms of the great struggle of Social Democracy (political and economic), as is the fashion among us, but three, placing the theoretical struggle on a par with the first two. His recommendations to the German working-class movement, which had become strong, practically and politically, are so instructive from the standpoint of present-day problems and controversies, that we hope the reader will not be vexed with us for quoting a long passage from his prefatory note to Der deutsche Bauernkrieg,[11] which has long become a great bibliographical rarity:

“The German workers have two important advantages over those of the rest of Europe. First, they belong to the most theoretical people of Europe; and they have retained that sense of theory which the so-called ’educated’ classes of Germany have almost completely lost. Without German philosophy, which preceded it, particularly that of Hegel, German scientific socialism – the only scientific socialism that has ever existed – would never have come into being. Without a sense of theory among the workers, this scientific socialism would never have entered their flesh and blood as much as is the case. What an immeasurable advantage this is may be seen, on the one hand, from the indifference towards all theory, which is one of the main reasons why the English working-class movement crawls along so slowly in spite of the splendid organisation of the individual unions; on the other hand, from the mischief and confusion wrought by Proudhonism, in its original form, among the French and Belgians, and, in the form further caricatured by Bakunin, among the Spaniards and Italians.

“The second advantage is that, chronologically speaking, the Germans were about the last to come into the workers’ movement. Just as German theoretical socialism will never forget that it rests on the shoulders of Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Owen – three men who, in spite of all their fantastic notions and all their utopianism, have their place among the most eminent thinkers of all times, and whose genius anticipated innumerable things, the correctness of which is now being scientifically proved by us – so the practical workers’ movement in Germany ought never to forget that it has developed on the shoulders of the English and French movements, that it was able simply to utilise their dearly bought experience, and could now avoid their mistakes, which in their time were mostly unavoidable. Without the precedent of the English trade unions and French workers’ political struggles, without the gigantic impulse given especially by the Paris Commune, where would we be now?

“It must be said to the credit of the German workers that they have exploited the advantages of their situation with rare understanding. For the first time since a workers’ movement has existed, the struggle is being conducted pursuant to its three sides – the. theoretical, the political, and the practical-economic (resistance to the capitalists) – in harmony and in its interconnections, and in a systematic way. It is precisely in this, as it were, concentric attack, that the strength and invincibility of the German movement lies.

“Due to this advantageous situation, on the one hand, and to the insular peculiarities of the English and the forcible suppression of the French movement, on the other, the German workers have for the moment been placed in the vanguard of the proletarian struggle. How long events will allow them to occupy this post of honour cannot be foretold. But let us hope that as long as they occupy it, they will fill it fittingly. This demands redoubled efforts in every field of struggle and agitation. In particular, it will be the duty of the leaders to gain an ever clearer insight into all theoretical questions, to free themselves more and more from the influence of traditional phrases inherited from the old world outlook, and constantly to keep in mind that socialism, since it has become a science, demands that it be pursued as a science, i.e., that it be studied. The task will be to spread with increased zeal among the masses of the workers the ever more clarified understanding thus acquired, to knit together ever more firmly the organisation both of the party and of the trade unions....

“If the German workers progress in this way, they will not. be marching exactly at the head of the movement – it is not at all in the interest of this movement that the workers of any particular country should march at its head – but they will occupy an honourable place in the battle line; and they will stand armed for battle when either unexpectedly grave trials or momentous events demand of them increased courage, increased determination and energy.”[23]

Engels’s words proved prophetic. Within a few years the German workers were subjected to unexpectedly grave trials in the form of the Exceptional Law Against the Socialists. And they met those trials armed for battle and succeeded in emerging from them victorious.

The Russian proletariat will have to undergo trials immeasurably graver; it will have to fight a monster compared with which an antisocialist law in a constitutional country seems but a dwarf. History has now confronted us with an immediate task which is the most revolutionary of all the immediate tasks confronting the proletariat of any country. The fulfilment of this task, the destruction of the most powerful bulwark, not only of European, but (it may now be said) of Asiatic reaction, would make the Russian proletariat the vanguard of the international revolutionary proletariat. And we have the right to count upon acquiring this honourable title, already earned by our predecessors, the revolutionaries of the seventies, if we succeed in inspiring our movement, which is a thousand times broader and deeper, with the same devoted determination and vigour.



[1] Note: This footnote has been moved into the body of the document.

[2] A comparison of the two trends within the revolutionary proletariat (the revolutionary and the opportunist), and the two trends within the revolutionary bourgeoisie in the eighteenth century (the Jacobin, known as the Mountain, and the Girondist) was made in the leading article in No. 2 of Iskra (February 1901). The article was written by Plekhanov. The Cadets,[26] the Bezzaglavtsi,[27] and the Mensheviks to this day love to refer to Jacobinism in Russian Social-Democracy. But how Plekhanov came to apply this concept for the first time against the Right wing of Social-Democracy – about this they prefer to keep silent or to forget. (Author’s note to the 1907 edition – Ed.) —Lenin

[3] At the time Engels dealt his blows at Duhring, many representatives of German Social-Democracy inclined towards the latter’s views, and accusations of acerbity, intolerance, uncomradely polemics, etc., were hurled at Engels even publicly at a Party Congress. At the Congress of 1877, Most, and his supporters, introduced a resolution to prohibit the publication of Engels’s articles in Vorwarts because “they do not interest the overwhelming majority of the readers”, and VahIteich declared that their publication had caused great damage to the Party, that Duhring too had rendered services to Social-Democracy: “We must utilise everyone in the interests of the Party; let the professors engage in polemics if they care to do so, but Vorwarts is not the place in which to conduct them” (Vorwarts, No. 65, June 6, 1877). Here we have another example of the defence of “freedom of criticism”, and our legal critics and illegal opportunists, who love so much to cite the example of the Germans, would do well to ponder it! —Lenin

[4] It should be observed that Rabocheye Dyelo has always confined itself to a bare statement of facts concerning Bernsteinism in the German party and completely “refrained” from expressing its own opinion. See, for instance, the reports of the Stuttgart Congress[28] in No. 2-3 (p. 66), in which all the disagreements are reduced to “tactics” and the statement is merely made that the overwhelming majority remain true to the previous revolutionary tactics. Or, No. 4-5 (p. 25, et seq.), in which we have nothing but a paraphrasing of the speeches delivered at the Hanover Congress, with a reprint of Bebel’s resolution. An exposition and a criticism of Bernstein’s views are again put olf (as was the case in No. 2-8) to be dealt with in a “special article”. Curiously enough, in No. 4-5 (p. 33), we read the following: “...the views expounded by Bebel have the support of the vast majority of the Congress,” and a few lines thereafter: “ ..David defended Bernstein’s views.... First of all, he tried to show that ... Bernstein and his friends, after all is said and done (sic!), stand on the basis of the class struggle...” This was written in December 1899, and in September 1901 Rabocheye Dyelo, apparently no longer believing that Bebel was right, repeats David’s views as its own! —Lenin

[5] The reference is to an article by K. Tulin directed against Struve. (See Collected Works, Vol. 1, pp. 333-507. – Ed.) The article was based on an essay entitled “The Reflection of Marxism in Bourgeois Literature”. (Author’s note to the 1907 edition – Ed.) —Lenin

[6] The reference is to the Protest of the Seventeen against the Credo. The present writer took part in drawing up this protest (the end of 1899).[29] The Protest and the Credo were published abroad in the spring of 1900. (See “A Protest of Russian Social-Democrats”, Collected Works, Vol. 4, pp. 167-82 –Ed.) It is now known from the article written by Madame Kuskova (I think in Byloye[30]) that she was the author of the Credo and that Mr. Prokopovich was very prominent among the Economists abroad at the time. (Author’s note to the 1907 edition – Ed.) —Lenin

[7] Confession of faith.[31]Lenin

[8] As far as our information goes, the composition of the Kiev Committee has changed since then. —Lenin

[9] Note: This footnote has been moved into the body of the document.

[10] See present edition, Vol. 4, p. 354.—Ed.

[11] Dritter Abdruck, Leipzig, 1875. Verlag der Genossenschaftsbuchdruckerei. (The Peasant War in Germany. Third impression. Co-operative Publishers, Leipzig, 1875.—Ed.) —Lenin

[24] Lassalleans and Eisenachers—two parties in the German working-class movement in the sixties and early seventies of the nineteenth century.

Lassalleans—supporters of Ferdinand Lassalle (1825–1864) and adherents of his theories; Lassalle was a German petty-bourgeois socialist who played an active part in organising (in 1863) the General Association of German Workers, a political organisation that existed up to 1875. The programmatic demands of the Association were formulated by Lassalle in a number of articles and speeches. Lassalle regarded the state as a supra-class organisation and, in conformity with that philosophically idealist view, believed that the Prussian state could be utilised to solve the social problem through the setting up of producers’ co-operatives with its aid. Marx said that Lassalle advocated a “Royal-Prussian state socialism”. Lassalle directed the workers towards peaceful, parliamentary forms of struggle, believing that the introduction of universal suffrage would make Prussia a “free people’s state”. To obtain universal suffrage he promised Bismarck the support of his Association against the liberal opposition and also in the implementation of Bismarck’s plan to reunite Germany “from above” under the hegemony of Prussia. Lassalle repudiated the revolutionary class struggle, denied the importance of trade unions and of strike action, ignored the international tasks of the working class, and infected the German workers with nationalist ideas. His contemptuous attitude towards the peasantry, which he regarded as a reactionary force, did much damage to the German working-class movement. Marx and Engels fought his harmful utopian dogmatism and his reformist views. Their criticism helped free the German workers from the influence of Lassallean opportunism.

Eisenachers—members of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany, founded in 1869 at the Eisenach Congress. The leaders of the Eisenachers were August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, who were under the ideological influence of Marx and Engels. The Eisenach programme stated that the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany considered itself “a section of the International Working Men’s Association and shared its aspirations”. Thanks to the regular advice and criticism of Marx and Engels, the Eisenachers pursued a more consistent revolutionary policy than did Lassalle’s General Association of German Workers; in particular, on the question of German reunification, they followed “the democratic and proletarian road, struggling against the slightest concession to Prussianism, Bismarckism, and nationalism” (see present edition, Vol. 19, “August Bebel”). Under the influence of the growing working-class movement and of increased government repressions, the two parties united at the Gotha Congress in 1875 to form the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany, of which the Lassalleans formed the opportunist wing.

[25] Guesdists and Possibilists—two trends in the French socialist movement arising out of the split in the French Workers’ Party in 1882.

Guesdists—followers of Jules Guesde, constituted the Marxist wing of the movement and advocated an independent revolutionary policy of the proletariat. In 1901 they formed the Socialist Party of France.

Possibilists—a petty-bourgeois, reformist trend that sought to divert the proletariat from revolutionary methods of struggle. The Possibilists advocated the restriction of working-class activity to what is “possible” under capitalism. In 1902, in conjunction with other reformist groups, the Possibilists organised the French Socialist Party.

In 1905 the Socialist Party of France and the French Socialist Party united to form a single party. During the imperialist war of 1944–18, Jules Guesde, together with the entire leadership of the French Socialist Party, went over to the camp of social-chauvinism.

[12] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1959, p. 245.

[26] Cadets—the Constitutional-Democratic Party, the principal bourgeois party in Russia, representing the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie. It was formed in October 1905. Parading as democrats and calling themselves the party of “people’s freedom”, the Cadets tried to win the following of the peasantry. Their aim was to preserve tsarism in the form of a constitutional monarchy. After the victory of the October Socialist Revolution, the Cadets organised counter-revolutionary conspiracies and revolts against the Soviet Republic.

[27] Bezzaglavtsi—from the title of the journal Bes Zaglaviya (Without a Title)—were organisers of, and contributors to, the journal published in St. Petersburg in 1906 by S. N. Prokopovich, Y. D. Kuskova, V. Y. Bogucharsky, and others. The journal openly advocated revisionism, supported the Mensheviks and liberals, and opposed an independent proletarian policy. Lenin called the group “pro-Menshevik Cadets or pro-Cadet Mensheviks”.

[13] Ilovaisky, D. I. (1832–1920)—historian; author of numerous official textbooks of history that were extensively used in primary and secondary schools in pre-revolutionary Russia. In Ilovaisky’s texts history was reduced mainly to acts of kings and generals; the historical process was explained through secondary and fortuitous circumstances.

[14] Katheder-Socialism—a trend in bourgeois political economy that emerged in Germany in the seventies and eighties of the nineteenth century. Under the guise of socialism the Katheder-Socialists preached bourgeois-liberal reformism from university chairs (Katheder). They maintained that the bourgeois state was above classes, that it was capable of reconciling hostile classes and gradually introducing “socialism”, without affecting the interests of the capitalists, while, at the same time, taking the demands of the workers as far as possible into consideration. In Russia the views of the Katheder-Socialists were disseminated by the “legal Marxists”.

[15] Nozdryov—a character In Gogol’s Dead Souls whom the author called “an historical personage” for the reason that wherever he went he left behind him a scandalous “history”.

[16] The Hanover resolution—resolution on “Attacks on the Fundamental Views and Tactics of the Party”, adopted by the German Social-Democratic Party Congress at Hanover, September 27–October 2 (October 9–14), 1899. A discussion of this question at the Congress and the adoption of a special resolution were necessitated by the fact that the opportunists, led by Bernstein, launched a revisionist attack on Marxist theory and demanded a reconsideration of Social-Democratic revolutionary policy and tactics. The resolution adopted by the Congress rejected the demands of the revisionists, but failed to criticise and expose Bernsteinism. Bernstein’s supporters also voted for the resolution.

[28] The Stuttgart Congress of the German Social-Democratic Party held on September 21–26 (October 3–8), 1898, was the first congress to discuss the question of revisionism in the German Social-Democratic Party. A statement from Bernstein (who did not attend) was read to the Congress; it amplified and defended the opportunist views he had previously set forth in a number of articles. There was, however, no unity among his opponents at the Congress. Some (Bebel, Kautsky, and others) called for an ideological struggle and a criticism of Bernstein’s errors, but opposed the adoption of organisational measures toward him. The others, led by Rosa Luxemburg—the minority—urged a more vigorous struggle against Bernsteinism.

[17] Starover (Old Believer)—the pseudonym of A. N. Potresov, a member of the Iskra Editorial Board; he subsequently became a Menshevik.

[18]The Author Who Got a Swelled Head”—the title of one of Maxim Gorky’s early stories.

[19] The reference is to the collection Material for a Characterisation of Our Economic Development, printed legally in an edition of 2,000 copies in April 1895. The collection included Lenin’s article (signed K. Tulin) “The Economic Content of Narodism and the Criticism of It in Mr. Struve’s Book (The Reflection of Marxism in Bourgeois Literature)”, directed against the “legal Marxists” (see present edition, Vol. 1, pp. 333–507).

[29]A Protest by Russian Social-Democrats” was written by Lenin in 1899, in exile. It was a reply to the Credo of a group of “Economists” (S. N. Prokopovich, Y. D. Kuskova, and others, who subsequently became Cadets). On receiving a copy of the Credo from his sister, A. I. Yelizarova, Lenin wrote a sharp protest in which be exposed the real nature of the declaration.

The Protest was discussed and unanimously endorsed by a meeting of 17 exiled Marxists convened by Lenin in the village of Yermakovskoye, Minusinsk District (Siberia). Exiles in Turukhansk District (Siberia) and Orlovo (Vyatka Gubernia) subsequently associated themselves with the Protest.

Lenin forwarded a copy of the Protest abroad to the Emancipation of Labour group; Plekhanov published it in his Vademecum (HandbookEd.) for the Editors of Rabocheye Dyelo.

[30] Byloye (The Past)—a monthly journal on historical problems published in St. Petersburg in 1906–07; in 1908 it changed its name to Minuvshiye Cody (Years Past). It was banned by the tsarist government in 1908, but resumed publication in Petrograd in July 1917 and continued in existence until 1926.

[20] Vademecum for the Editors of Rabocheye Dyelo—a collection of articles and documents compiled and prefaced by G. V. Plekhanov and published by the Emancipation of Labour group in Geneva in 1900; it exposed the opportunist views of the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad and of the Editorial Board of its periodical, Rabocheye Dyelo.

[31] Profession de foi—a manifesto setting forth the opportunist views of the Kiev Committee, issued at the end of 1899. It was identical with the “Economist” Credo on many points. Lenin criticised the document in his article “Apropos of the Profession de foi” (see present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 286–96).

[21] See Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, p. 16.

[22] The Gotha Programme—the programme adopted by the German Social-Democratic Party at the Gotha Congress in 1875 when the Eisenachers and Lassalleans united. The programme suffered from eclecticism and opportunism, since the Eisenachers made concessions to the Lassalleans on the most important points and accepted their formulations. Marx and Engels subjected the Gotha Programme to scathing criticism and characterised it as a retrograde step as compared with the Eisenach Programme of 1869 (See Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, pp. 13–48).

[23] See Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, pp. 652-54.


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