Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


P. Little Annoyances Should Not Stand in the Way of a Big Pleasure

The League’s rejection of the resolution declaring that its Rules must be endorsed by the Central Committee (League Minutes, p. 105) was, as the Party Congress majority at once unanimously noted, a “crying violation of the Party Rules”. Regarded as the act of men of principle, this violation was sheer anarchism; while in the atmosphere of the post-Congress struggle, it inevitably created the impression that the Party minority were trying to “settle scores” with the Party majority (League Minutes, p. 112); it meant that they did not wish to obey the Party or to remain within the Party. And when the League refused to adopt a resolution on the Central Committee statement calling for changes in its Rules (pp. 124-25), it inevitably followed that this assembly, which wanted to be counted an assembly of a Party organisation but at the same time not to obey the Party’s central institution, had to be pronounced unlawful. Accordingly, the followers of the Party majority at once withdrew from this quasi-Party assembly, so as not to have any share in an indecent farce.

The individualism of the intellectual, with its platonic acceptance of organisational relations, which was revealed in the lack of steadfastness over Paragraph 1 of the Rules thus in practice reached the logical end I had predicted even in September, that is, a month and a half before, namely, the point of disrupting the Party organisation. And at that moment, on the evening of the day the League Congress ended, Comrade Plekhanov announced to his colleagues on both the Party’s central institutions that he could not bear to “fire on his comrades”, that “rather than have a split, it is better to put a bullet in one’s brain”, and that, to avert a greater evil, it was necessary to make the maximum personal concessions, over which, in point of fact (much more than over the principles to be discerned in the incorrect position on Paragraph 1), this destructive struggle was being waged. In order to give a more accurate characterisation of Comrade Plekhanov’s right-about-face, which has acquired a certain general Party significance, I consider it advisable to rely not on private conversations, nor on private letters (that last resort in extremity), but on Plekhanov’s own statement of the case to the whole Party, namely, his article “What Should Not Be Done” in No. 52 of Iskra, which was written just after the League Congress, after I had resigned from the editorial board of the Central Organ (November 1, 1903), and before the co-optation of the Martovites (November 26, 1903).

The fundamental idea of “What Should Not Be Done” is that in politics one must not be too stiff-necked, too harsh and unyielding; that it is sometimes necessary, to avoid a split, to yield even to revisionists (among those moving towards us or among the inconsistents) and to anarchistic individualists. It was only natural that these abstract generalities should arouse universal perplexity among Iskra readers. One cannot help laughing when reading the proud and majestic statements of Comrade Plekhanov (in subsequent articles) that he had not been understood because of the novelty of his ideas and because people lacked a knowledge of dialectics. In reality, “What Should Not Be Done” could only be understood, at the time it was written, by some dozen people living in two Geneva suburbs whose names both begin with the same letter.[8] Comrade Plekhanov’s misfortune was that he put into circulation among some ten thousand readers an agglomeration of hints, reproaches, algebraical symbols, and riddles which were intended only for these dozen or so people who had taken part in all the developments of the post-Congress struggle with the minority. This misfortune befell Comrade Plekhanov because he violated a basic principle of that dialectics to which he so unluckily referred, namely, that there is no abstract truth, that truth is always concrete. That is why it was out of place to lend an abstract form to the perfectly concrete idea of yielding to the Martovites after the League Congress.

Yielding—which Comrade Plekhanov advocated as a new war-cry—is legitimate and essential in two cases: when the yielder is convinced that those who are striving to make him yield are in the right (in which case, honest political leaders frankly and openly admit their mistake), or when an irrational and harmful demand is yielded to in order to avert a greater evil. It is perfectly clear from the article in question that it is the latter case the author has in mind: he speaks plainly of yielding to revisionists and anarchistic individualists (that is, to the Martovites, as every Party member now knows from the League Minutes), and says that it is essential in order to avert a split. As we see, Comrade Plekhanov’s supposedly novel idea amounts to no more than the not very novel piece of commonplace wisdom that little annoyances should not be allowed to stand in the way of a big pleasure, that a little opportunist folly and a little anarchistic talk is better than a big Party split. When Comrade Plekhanov wrote this article he clearly realised that the minority represented the opportunist wing of our Party and that they were fighting with anarchistic weapons. Comrade Plekhanov came forward with the plan to combat this minority by means of personal concessions, just as (again si licet parva componere magnis) the German Social-Democrats combated Bernstein. Bebel publicly declared at congresses of his Party that he did not know anyone who was so susceptible to the influence of environment as Comrade Bernstein (not Mr. Bernstein, as Comrade Plekhanov was once so fond of calling him, but Comrade Bernstein): let us take him into our environment, let us make him a member of the Reichstag, let us combat revisionism, not by inappropriate harshness (à la Sobakevich-Parvus) towards the revisionist, but by “killing him with kindness”—as Comrade M. Beer, I recall, put it at a meeting of English Social-Democrats when defending German conciliatoriness, peaceableness, mildness, flexibility, and caution against the attack of the English Sobakevich—Hyndman. And in just the same way, Comrade Plekhanov wanted to “kill with kindness” the little anarchism and the little opportunism of Comrades Axelrod and Martov. True while hinting quite plainly at the “anarchistic individualists”, Comrade Plekhanov expressed himself in a deliberately vague way about the revisionists; he did so in a manner to create the impression that he was referring to the Rabocheye Dyelo-ists, who were swinging from opportunism towards orthodoxy, and not to Axelrod and Martov, who had begun to swing from orthodoxy towards revisionism. But this was only an innocent military ruse,[1] [1] There was never any question after the Party Congress of making concessions to Comrades Martynov, Akimov, and Brouckère. I am not aware that they too demanded “co-optation”. I even doubt whether Comrade Starover or Comrade Martov consulted Comrade Brouckère when they sent us their epistles and “notes”? in the name of “half the Party”. . . . At the League Congress Comrade Martov rejected, with the profound indignation of an unbending political stalwart the very idea of a “union with Ryazanov or Martynov”, of the possibility of a “deal” with them, or even of joint “service to the Party” (as an editor; League Minutes, p. 53). At the League Congress Comrade Martov sternly condemned “Martynov tendencies” (p. 88), and when Comrade Orthodox[11] subtly hinted that Axelrod and Martov no doubt “consider that Comrades Akimov, Martynov, and others also have the right to get together, draw up Rules for themselves, and act in accordance with them as they see fit” (p. 99), the Martovites denied it, as Peter denied Christ (p. 100: “Comrade Orthodox’s fears” “regarding the Akimovs, Martynovs, etc.”, “have no foundation”). —Lenin a feeble bulwark that was incapable of withstanding the artillery fire of Party publicity.

And anyone who acquaints himself with the actual state of affairs at the political juncture we are describing, anyone who gains an insight into Comrade Plekhanov’s mentality, will realise that I could not have acted in this instance otherwise than I did. I say this for the benefit of those supporters of the majority who have reproached me for surrendering the editorial board. When Comrade Plekhanov swung round after the League Congress and from being a supporter of the majority became a supporter of reconciliation at all costs, I was obliged to put the very best interpretation on it. Perhaps Comrade Plekhanov wanted in his article to put forward a programme for an amicable and honest peace? Any such programme boils down to a sincere admission of mistakes by both sides. What was the mistake Comrade Plekhanov laid at the door of the majority? An inappropriate, Sobakevich-like, harshness towards the revisionists. We do not know what Comrade Plekhanov had in mind by that: his witticism about the asses, or his extremely incautious—in Axelrod’s presence—reference to anarchism and opportunism. Comrade Plekhanov preferred to express himself “abstractly”, and, moreover, with a hint at the other fellow. That is a matter of taste, of course. But, after all, I had admitted my personal harshness openly both in the letter to the Iskra-ist and at the League Congress. How then could I refuse to admit that the majority were guilty of such a “mistake”? As to the minority, Comrade Plekhanov pointed to their mistake quite clearly, namely, revisionism (cf. his remarks about opportunism at the Party Congress and about Jauresism at the League Congress) and anarchism which had led to the verge of a split. Could I obstruct an attempt to secure an acknowledgement of these mistakes and undo their harm by means of personal concessions and “kindness” in general? Could I obstruct such an attempt when Comrade Plekhanov in “What Should Not Be Done” directly appealed to us to "spare the adversaries " among the revisionists who were revisionists “only because of a certain inconsistency”? And if I did not believe in this attempt, could I do otherwise than make a personal concession regarding the Central Organ and move over to the Central Committee in order to defend the position of the majority?[2] [2] Comrade Martov put it very aptly when he said that I had moved over avec armes et bagages. Comrade Martov is very fond of military metaphors: campaign against the League, engagement, incurable wounds, etc., etc. To tell the truth, I too have a great weakness for military metaphors especially just now, when one follows the news from the Pacific with such eager interest. But, Comrade Martov, if we are to use military language, the story goes like this. We capture two forts at the Party Congress. You attack them at the League Congress. After the first brief interchange of shots, my colleague, the commandant of one of the forts, opens the gates to the enemy. Naturally, I gather together the little artillery I have and move into the other fort, which is practically unfortified, in order to “stand siege” against the enemy’s overwhelming numbers. I even make an offer of peace for what chance do I stand against two powers? But in reply to my offer, the new allies bombard my last fort. I return the fire. Where upon my former colleague—the commandant—exclaims in magnificent indignation: “Just look, good people, how bellicose this Chamberlain is!” —Lenin I could not absolutely deny the feasibility of such attempts and take upon myself the full onus for the threatening split, if only because I had myself been inclined, in the letter of October 6, to attribute the wrangle to “personal irritation”. But I did consider, and still consider, it my political duty to defend the position of the majority. To rely in this on Comrade Plekhanov would have been difficult and risky, for everything went to show that he was prepared to interpret his dictum that “a leader of the proletariat has no right to give rein to his warlike inclinations when they run counter to political good sense”—to interpret it in a dialectical way to mean that if you had to fire, then it was better sense (considering the state of the weather in Geneva in November) to fire at the majority.... To defend the majority’s position was essential, because, when dealing with the question of the free (?) will of a revolutionary, Comrade Plekhanov—in defiance of dialectics, which demands a concrete and comprehensive examination—modestly evaded the question of confidence in a revolutionary, of confidence in a “leader of the proletariat” who was leading a definite wing of the Party. When speaking of anarchistic individualism and advising us to close our eyes “at times” to violations of discipline and to yield “sometimes” to intellectualist license, which “is rooted in a sentiment that has nothing to do with devotion to the revolutionary idea”, Comrade Plekhanov apparently forgot that we must also reckon with the free will of the majority of the Party, and that it must be left to the practical workers to determine the extent of the concessions to be made to the anarchistic individualists. Easy as it is to fight childish anarchistic nonsense on the literary plane, it is very difficult to carry on practical work in the same organisation with an anarchistic individualist.A writer who took it upon himself to determine the extent of the concessions that might be made to anarchism in practice would only be betraying his inordinate and truly doctrinaire literary conceit. Comrade Plekhanov majestically remarked (for the sake of importance, as Bazarov[9] used to say) that if a new split were to occur the workers would cease to understand us; yet at the same time he initiated an endless stream of articles in the new Iskra whose real and concrete meaning was bound to be incomprehensible not only to the workers, but to the world at large. It is not surprising that when a member of the Central Committee read the proofs of “What Should Not Be Done” he warned Comrade Plekhanov that his plan to somewhat curtail the size of a certain publication (the minutes of the Party Congress and the League Congress) would be defeated by this very article, which would excite curiosity, offer for the judgement of the man in the street something that was piquant and at the same time quite incomprehensible to him,[3] [3] We are having a heated and passionate argument in private. Suddenly one of us jumps in, flings open the window, and begins to clamour against Sobakeviches, anarchistic individualists, revisionists, etc. Naturally, a crowd of curious idlers gathers in the street and our enemies rub their hands in glee. Other of the disputants go to the window too and want to give a coherent account of the whole matter, without hinting at things nobody knows anything about. Thereupon the window is banged to on the plea that it is not worth while discussing squabbles (Iskra, No. 53, p. 8, col. 2, line 24 up). It was not worth while beginning in " Iskra" on a discussion of “squabbles”, Comrade Plekhanov[12]—that would be nearer the truth! —Lenin and inevitably cause people to ask in perplexity: “What has happened?” It is not surprising that owing to the abstractness of its arguments and the vagueness of its hints, this article of Comrade Plekhanov’s caused jubilation in the ranks of the enemies of Social-Democracy—the dancing of the cancan in the columns of Revolutsionnaya Rossiya and ecstatic praises from the consistent revisionists in Osvobozhdeniye. The source of all these comical and sad misunderstandings, from which Comrade Plekhanov later tried so comically and so sadly to extricate himself, lay precisely in the violation of that basic principle of dialectics: concrete questions should be examined in all their concreteness. The delight of Mr. Struve, in particular, was quite natural: he was not in the least interested in the “good” aims (killing with kindness) which Comrade Plekhanov pursued (but might not achieve); Mr. Struve welcomed, and could not but welcome, that swing towards the opportunist wing of our Party which had begun in the new Iskra, as everybody can now plainly see. The Russian bourgeois democrats are not the only ones to welcome every swing to wards opportunism, even the slightest and most temporary, in any Social-Democratic party. The estimate of a shrewd enemy is very rarely based on sheer misunderstanding: you can tell a man’s mistakes by the people who praise him. And it is in vain that Comrade Plekhanov hopes the reader will be inattentive and tries to make out that the majority unconditionally objected to a personal concession in the matter of co-optation, and not to a desertion from the Left wing of the Party to the Right. The point is not that Comrade Plekhanov made a personal concession in order to avert a split (that was very praiseworthy), but that, though fully realising the need to join issue with the inconsistent revisionists and anarchistic individualists, he chose instead to join issue with the majority, with whom he parted company over the extent of the possible practical concessions to anarchism. The point is not that Comrade Plekhanov changed the personal composition of the editorial board, but that he betrayed his position of opposing revisionism and anarchism and ceased to defend that position in the Central Organ of the Party.

As to the Central Committee, which at this time was the sole organised representative of the majority, Comrade Plekhanov parted company with it then exclusively over the possible extent of practical concessions to anarchism. Nearly a month had elapsed since November 1, when my resignation had given a free hand to the policy of killing with kindness. Comrade Plekhanov had had every opportunity, through all sorts of contacts, to test the expedience of this policy. Comrade Plekhanov had in this period published his article “What Should Not Be Done”, which was—and remains—the Martovites’ sole ticket of admittance, so to speak, to the editorial board. The watchwords—revisionism (which we should contend with, but sparing the adversary) and anarchistic individualism (which should be courted and killed with kindness)—were printed on this ticket in imposing italics. Do come in, gentlemen, please, I will kill you with kindness—is what Comrade Plekhanov said by this invitation card to his new colleagues on the editorial board. Naturally, all that remained to the Central Committee was to say its last word (that is what ultimatum means—a last word as to a possible peace) about what, in its opinion, was the permissible extent of practical concessions to anarchistic individualism. Either you want peace—in which case here are a certain number of seats to prove our kindness, peaceableness, readiness to make concessions, etc. (we cannot allow you any more if peace is to be guaranteed in the Party, peace not in the sense of an absence of controversy, but in the sense that the Party will not be destroyed by anarchistic individualism); take these seats and swing back again little by little from Akimov to Plekhanov. Or else you want to maintain and develop your point of view, to swing over altogether to Akimov (if only in the realm of organisational questions), and to convince the Party that you, not Plekhanov, are right—in which case form a writers’ group of your own, secure representation at the next Congress, and set about winning a majority by an honest struggle, by open controversy. This alternative, which was quite explicitly submitted to the Martovites in the Central Committee ultimatum of November 25, 1903 (see State of Siege and Commentary on the League Minutes[4] ), was in full harmony with the letter Plekhanov and I had sent to the former editors on October 6, 1903: either it is a matter of personal irritation (in which case, if the worst comes to the worst, we might even “co-opt”), or it is a matter of a difference of principle (in which case you must first convince the Party, and only then talk about changing the personal composition of the central bodies). The Central Committee could the more readily leave it to the Martovites to make this delicate choice for themselves since at this very time Comrade Martov in his profession de foi (Once More in the Minority) wrote the following:

The minority lay claim to only one honour, namely, to be the first in the history of our Party to show that one can be ’defeated’ and yet not form a new party. This position of the minority follows from all their views on the organisational development of the Party; it follows from the consciousness of their strong ties with the Party’s earlier work. The minority do not believe in the mystic power of ’paper revolutions’, and see in the deep roots which their endeavours have in life a guarantee that by purely ideological propaganda within the Party they will secure the triumph of their principles of organisation.” (My italics.)

What proud and magnificent words! And how bitter it was to be taught by events that they were—merely words.... I hope you will forgive me, Comrade Martov, but now I claim on behalf of the majority this “honour” which you have not deserved. The honour will indeed be a great one, one worth fighting for, for the circles have left us the tradition of an extraordinarily light-hearted attitude towards splits and an extraordinarily zealous application of the maxim: “either coats off, or let’s have your hand!”

The big pleasure (of having a united Party) was bound to outweigh, and did outweigh, the little annoyances (in the shape of the squabbling over co-optation). I resigned from the Central Organ, and Comrade Y (who had been delegated by Plekhanov and myself to the Party Council on behalf of the editorial board of the Central Organ) resigned from the Council. The Martovites replied to the Central Committee’s last word as to peace with a letter (see publications mentioned) which was tantamount to a declaration of war. Then, and only then, did I write my letter to the editorial board (Iskra, No. 53) on the subject of publicity.[5] If it comes to talking about revisionism and discussing inconsistency, anarchistic individualism, and the defeat of various leaders, then, gentlemen, let us tell all that occurred, without reservation—that was the gist of this letter about publicity. The editorial board replied with angry abuse and the lordly admonition: do not dare to stir up "the pettiness and squabbling of circle life " (Iskra, No. 53). Is that so, I thought to myself: “the pettiness and squabbling of circle life”?... Well, es ist mir recht, gentlemen, there I agree with you. Why, that means that you directly class all this fuss over “co-optation” as circle squabbling. That is true. But what discord is this?—in the editorial of this same issue, No. 53, this same editorial board (we must suppose) talks about bureaucracy, formalism, and the rest.[6] [6] As it subsequently turned out, the “discord” was explained very simply—it was a discord among the editors of the Central Organ. It was Plekhanov who wrote about “squabbling” (see his admission in “A Sad Misunderstanding”, No. 57), while the editorial, “Our Congress”, was written by Martov (State of Siege, p. 84). They were tugging in different directions. —Lenin Do not dare to raise the question of the fight for co-optation to the Central Organ, for that would be squabbling. But we will raise the question of co-optation to the Central Committee, and will not call it squabbling, but a difference of principle on the subject of “formalism”. No, dear comrades, I said to myself, permit me not to permit you that. You want to fire at my fort, and yet demand that I surrender my artillery. What jokers you are! And so I wrote and published outside of Iskra my Letter to the Editors (Why I Resigned from theIskraEditorial Board),[7] briefly relating what had really occurred, and asking yet again whether peace was not possible on the basis of the following division: you take the Central Organ, we take the Central Committee. Neither side will then feel “alien” in the Party, and we will argue about the swing towards opportunism, first in the press, and then, perhaps, at the Third Party Congress.

In reply to this mention of peace the enemy opened fire with all his batteries, including even the Council. Shells rained on my head. Autocrat, Schweitzer,[10] bureaucrat, formalist, supercentre, one-sided, stiff-necked, obstinate, narrow-minded, suspicious, quarrelsome.... Very well, my friends! Have you finished? You have nothing more in reserve? Poor ammunition, I must say....

Now comes my turn. Let us examine the content of the new Iskra’s new views on organisation and the relation of these views to that division of our Party into “majority” and “minority” the true character of which we have shown by our analysis of the debates and voting at the Second Congress.


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

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

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

[4] I shall not, of course, go into the tangle Martov created ovor this Central Committee ultimatum in his State of Siege by quoting private conversations and so on. This is the “second method of struggle” I described in the previous section, which only a specialist in nervous disorders could hope to disentangle. It is enough to say that Comrade Martov insists that there was an agreement with the Central Committee not to publish the negotiations, which agreement has not been discovered to this day in spite of a most assiduous search. Comrade Travinsky, who conducted the negotiations on behalf of the Central Committee, informed me in writing that he considered me entitled to publish my letter to the editors outside of Iskra.

But there was one phrase of Comrade Martov’s that I particularly liked. That was the phrase “Bonapartism of the worst type”. I find that Comrade Martov has brought in this category very appropriately. Let us examine dispassionately what the concept implies. In my opinion, it implies acquiring power by formally legal means, but actually in defiance of the will of the people (or of a party). Is that not so Comrade Martov? And if it is, then I may safely leave it to the public to judge who has been guilty of this “Bonapartism of the worst type”: Lenin and Comrade Y[13], who might have availed themselves of their formal right not to admit the Martovites, but did not avail themselves of it, though in doing so they would have been backed by the will of the Second Congress—or those who occupied the editorial board by formally legitimate means (“unanimous co-optation”), but who knew that actually this was not in accordance with the will of the Second Congress and who are afraid to have this will tested at the Third Congress. —Lenin

[5] See pp. 115-18 of this volume.—Ed.

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

[7] See pp. 119-25 of this volume.—Ed.

[8] Probably Carouge and Cluse, where the supporters of the majority and the minority lived.

[11] Orthodox—pseudonym of the Menshevik Lyubov Axelrod.

[9] Bazarov—the main character in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons.

[12] Together with Lenin’s “Letter to Iskra” (pp. 115-15 of this vol ume), Iskra, No. 53 (November 25, 1903) had printed an editorial reply written by Plekhanov. Lenin in his letter proposed a full discussion in the paper of the differences of principle between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Plekhanov rejected this, describing the differences as “the squabbling of circle life”.

[13] Y was L. Y. Galperin (also referred to as Ru, Valentin, and Konyagin), a Central Organ delegate to the Party Council, afterwards co-opted to the Central Committee.

[10] Schweitzer, J. B. (1833-1875)—a leader of the German Lassal leans in the sixties; after Lassalle’s death, president of the German General Labour League, of which he made himself virtual dictator, arousing widespread resentment among the membership.

  O. After the Congress. Two Methods of Struggle | Q. The New Iskra. Opportunism In Questions Of Organisation  

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