Written: Written in November-December 1902
Published: First published in 1936 in the magazine Proletarskaya Revolutsia, No. 7. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 6, pages 273-277.
Translated: ??? ???
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
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The basic thesis I am advancing against the Socialist-Revolutionaries, and for an appraisal of all aspects of the activities (and of the whole essence) of this trend is as follows: the entire trend of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, and their party as a whole, is nothing but an attempt by the petty-bourgeois Intelligentsia at escamotage of our working-class movement, and, consequently, the whole of the socialist and the whole of the revolutionary movement in Russia.
Let me explain at once why, in this thesis which is so important to me, I could not avoid employing a rare foreign word no doubt incomprehensible to most readers. Escamotage means deception, fraudulent appropriation of the results of the labour of others and thus rendering this labour useless, trickery, swindling, etc. It is not difficult to see why I had to reject these Russian words and choose a foreign word instead. The words “to trick, fool, deceive” are invariably associated in our minds with the idea of a deliberate, conscious lie—that in the first place, and in the second, with the idea of self-seeking, dishonest motives on the part of those who resort to this lie. Yet I am far from the idea of accusing the Socialist-Revolutionaries of anything resembling a conscious lie or dishonest motives. Nothing of the kind. I have no doubt that as a trend, as a “party,” the Socialist-Revolutionaries could have originated (or could have survived since the days of the Narodnaya Volyn), that they could have grown and gained some strength of late, thanks entirely to the fact that they attracted people doubtlessly revolutionary-minded and even quite prepared for heroic self-sacrifice, people in all sincerity willing to lay down their lives in the interests of freedom and the interests of the people. But the fact that people adhere sincerely and by conviction to a certain social and political stand does not in any way predetermine whether this stand is not absolutely false and internally contradictory. Would not the results of the best-intended activity based on this stand prove to be (even though unconsciously and against the will of those who conduct it) “escamotage” of the working-class movement, diverting it from the correct course, decoying it into an impasse, etc.?
I shall try to illustrate my idea by an example. Imagine that we are in a huge, dark, humid, and dense semi-virgin forest. Imagine that only by burning down this forest is it possible to prepare the way for the cultivation of the entire area covered by the forest or surrounded by it, and that it is extremely difficult to procure fire and to sustain it in this forest. It is necessary to dry the timber which is available everywhere in abundance but which catches fire with difficulty, the fire dying easily again and again in the oppressively humid atmosphere. It is necessary to get together the material to be set alight. It is necessary to maintain the fire (combustion), to protect it, to nurture every flash of fire, to let the flame grow, preparing systematically and stubbornly the general conflagration without which the damp and dark forest will not cease to be a forest. This work, however, is very difficult, not only because of the external, atmospheric, conditions, but also because of the great scarcity of the only suitable material which can burn, which cannot cease burning under any circumstances, which has really caught fire and is burning continuously, with a steady flame unlike the numerous flickering lights which lack intrinsic power and which in the past so often flashed into being only to die out after burning for a short time. And now, when this basic inflammable material has begun to burn so well as to cause a general rise in the temperature, thereby lending strength and brightness to a mass of other, flickering little flames, people sudden]y appear and declare with an overweening air: how narrow-minded one must be to believe in the antiquated dogma about the only basic, the only unquestionably reliable inflammable material! How stereotyped it is to consider all the other little flares merely as by-products, as auxiliary elements, and to think it absolutely necessary to cling first of all and most of all to this one material, at any cost! How one-sided it is to keep on endlessly preparing, preparing and preparing the real general conflagration and to allow those outrageous scoundrels, the tree-tops, to shelter and maintain the dampness and gloom. What should be done is to fire flares which will knock down the tree-tops, singe them, frighten all the dark forces and produce such a sensation, such a stir, encouragement and excitation. And these people get to work briskly. With a sigh of relief they heave overboard the antiquated prejudices about some kind of basic inflammable material. With a calm conscience they accept into their ranks all and sundry, without inquiring into their views and opinions, convictions and aspirations: we are a party of action, and it does not matter to us even if some of us have adopted arguments Which tend to extinguish the fire. They call boldly for an undiscriminating attitude towards all kinds of little flames and towards the firing of flares, brushing aside with contempt the lessons of the past; now, they say, there is a great deal more inflammable material, and there fore sheer light-mindedness is permissible!... And so, despite the harm people of this kind are causing to the movement, can it be thought that they are ordinary deceivers? Nothing of the kind! They are not deceivers at all, but simply pyro-technists!
That, incidentally, is my answer to those Socialist-Revolutionaries who have simply interpreted the term “ad venturer” as “swindler” (Mr. Rafailov in Geneva) or “rogue” (Mr. Zhitlovsky in Berne). Gentlemen, I told them, you should not necessarily interpret everything in terms of the criminal code! The adventurism of a revolutionary trend, an internally contradictory, unprincipled, unstable trend which conceals emptiness behind high-sounding promises and is therefore inevitably doomed to bankruptcy, should not be confused with the adventurism of rogues who know very well that they are committing punishable offences and that they are in danger of being exposed for swindling. We have accused you of adventurism, stating plainly and concretely (see Nos. 23 and 24 of Iskra[See pp. 186-207 of this volume.—Ed.]) that it stems from your utter lack of principle in all the basic questions of inter national socialism, from the incredible muddle of views in your hastily concocted agrarian programme served out to the “consumer” under a savoury dressing, from the shakiness and groundlessness of your terrorist tactics. And you reply: look here, we are called adventurers, rogues, swindlers; we are offended, insulted! But these cries, esteemed gentlemen, seem very much to imply that in essence you have nothing to object to.
It may now be asked: where is the proof of the correctness of my thesis? What distinguishing, characteristic features of the entire Socialist-Revolutionary trend should I demonstrate in order to justify the appraisal of the entire trend given in this thesis? If this appraisal is correct, then (it is to be hoped) there is no socialist in the least conscientious and serious who would deny the need for a determined and merciless war against this trend, for its harmfulness to be completely exposed to the widest possible sections of the people. And so, to be able to dig down to the essence of this question and analyse it from every aspect, I suggest that attention be directed mainly and primarily to what should constitute the answers to this question. Let those who wish to disprove the correctness of the appraisal not confine themselves to “complaints” or “amendments,” but answer just as plainly: what are the points which they think require proof in order to corroborate the correctness of the thesis I advanced?
The central point of this thesis (escamotage of the working-class movement by the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia) is the fact of escamotage, or, in other words, the fundamental contradiction between the principles, the programme of the “party,” and its actual attitude towards the process of revolutionising present-day society. The contradiction lies in the fact that in reality the party of “Socialist-Revolutionaries” does not at all adhere to the standpoint of scientific revolutionary socialism (=Marxism) in questions relating to either the international or the Russian working-class movement. In actual fact, the characteristic feature of this “party” is utter lack of principle in all most important fundamental questions of modern socialism.[Here the manuscript breaks off. —Ed.]