V. I.   Lenin

Vacillating Tactics

Published: Proletary, No. 2, August 29, 1906. Published according to the Proletary text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 179-183.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.README

We have received No. 6 of Plekhanov’s Dnevnik[1]—twelve small pages published in Geneva. We were agreeably surprised to find that this time, for once, the Russian liberal-bourgeois press refrained from praising Plekhanov. The dissolution of the Duma must have dispelled Comrade Plekhanov’s optimism, we thought, when we found the liberal press reporting the appearance of this issue without the usual sympathetic quotations.

Indeed, in No. 6 of his Dnevnik Comrade Plekhanov abandons the position of extreme Right-wing Menshevism which he occupied (with Comrade Rakhmetov) at the time of the Duma. He completely dissociates himself from the attempts of the Mensheviks to weaken the revolutionary slogan “for a constituent assembly” by adding: “through the Duma”, “for the Duma”, etc. Plekhanov rightly argues that the only slogan possible is that for convening a constituent assembly, and he justly criticises the Vyborg Manifesto for its omission of this slogan. Plekhanov also completely dissociates himself from the Menshevik aim of connecting “action” with the Duma at all costs, even if it be a partial instead of a general action, even if it be an immediate and unprepared action instead of a later and more mature one. And lastly, this time Plekhanov not only refrains from adapting the slogans of Social-Democracy to those of the Cadets, or from identifying the latter with the slogans of bourgeois democracy in general, but, on the contrary, straightforwardly and openly criticises the lukewarmness of the Cadets (small wonder the Cadet newspapers are now silent about Plekhanov!) and draws a very forcible contrast between them and the “toiling” peasantry.

This is all very gratifying to us. Only it is a pity that Plekhanov is still evasive and vacillating on a number of tactical points.

Plekhanov justly criticises the authors of the Vyborg Manifesto for “restricting” themselves to an appeal not to pay taxes or furnish recruits for the army, and for striving to keep within the law. They should have said, says Plekhanov, “Prepare, for the time is approaching.” They should have issued the slogan of a constituent assembly.

But refusal to pay taxes, etc., is a means of waging the struggle. The convocation of a constituent assembly is the immediate object of the struggle. In reproaching the Cadets for wanting to restrict themselves only to one means, he should have pointed to other means and analysed the conditions under which they can be applied, their significance, etc. To evade this question, as Plekhanov did, with the re mark “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”, is wrong. The Social-Democratic Party must guide the proletariat not only in presenting the right slogans, but also in choosing the most effective and expedient means of struggle. The Russian revolution has already given us much evidence showing that as the objects of the struggle become wider and as the numbers participating in the struggle increase, there is a corresponding change in the means and methods of struggle, which become more drastic and aggressive. Particularly at a moment like the present, it is our duty not to remain silent on this question, but to make a careful study of various means of struggle, such as: the political strike, the armed uprising, etc. These are burning issues; and the advanced workers are rightly demanding an answer to these questions from us.

Analysing the relation between the interests of the various classes and the demand for a constituent assembly, Plekhanov distinguishes three classes. (1) As regards the proletariat, he states that its class interests entirely coincide with the interests of the nation as a whole. (2) As regards the “toiling peasantry”, he notes the possibility that, under certain circumstances, their interests might diverge from those of the nation as a whole; but he emphasises that “their class interests” demand the convocation of a constituent assembly. (3) As regards “those strata which are represented by the   Constitutional-Democratic Party”, Plekhanov admits that their “class interests” will make them mistrustful of the con vocation of a constituent assembly; that this will prove that they are “reconciled” to the actions of Stolypin & Co., that they are afraid of losing the big landed estates without compensation, etc. And Plekhanov states that he “does not pro pose to prophesy” whether among the Cadets class interests will outweigh the interests of the nation, or vice versa.

Prophecies refer to the future, but the repudiation of the constituent assembly slogan and of the revolutionary struggle for it by the Cadets is a fact of the present. To hush it up is not only futile but harmful. But if it is not hushed up, then obviously it should be admitted that: “The proletariat together with the politically conscious toiling peasantry are opposed to the unreliable and vacillating Cadets.” Plekhanov has now come very close to this tactical line, which logically follows from his present formulation of the question.

He writes: “All the parties which are taking part in this movement [the struggle for a constituent assembly] should immediately come to an agreement for mutual assistance.” Quite right! Which parties are these? Those to the Left of the Cadets, and which should be called the parties of the revolutionary bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democrats (for the constituent assembly slogan is a revolutionary slogan, in contrast to the oppositional and “loyal” slogan of the Cadets: “A new Duma as soon as possible”). Thus, a fighting agreement between the party of the proletariat and the parties of the revolutionary democrats.

That is just what we have always insisted on. It only re mains for us to express the wish that Plekhanov will hence forth consistently carry out this policy. And carrying it out consistently means making this fighting agreement conditional not only on the recognition of the revolutionary-democratic slogan (a constituent assembly), but also on the recognition of the revolutionary means of struggle for which our movement has already matured, and which it will inevitably have to apply in fighting for a constituent assembly, in other words, the recognition of a people’s uprising. Further, to make the constituent assembly slogan really clear and not merely to repeat it, we must raise the question of a   provisional revolutionary government. By failing to raise this question Plekhanov fails to delimit properly the interests of the “toiling” peasantry and the class interests of “those strata which are represented by the Cadet Party”. By failing to raise this question Plekhanov leaves a yawning gap in our propaganda and agitation, for every agitator will be asked: Who, in the opinion of the workers’ party, is to convene the constituent assembly?

As we have already stated, Plekhanov quite groundlessly evades the question of an uprising as well as the question of the means of struggle in general. lie writes: “At the present time an uprising could only be an outbreak of popular indignation, only a riot, which would easily be suppressed by the authorities; but what we want is not riots or outbreaks; we want a victorious revolution.”

This is just as if Nogi, in August 1905, had said: “What we want is not an attack on Port Arthur, but the capture of Port Arthur.” Untimely attacks may be contrasted to timely attacks, ill-prepared to well-prepared attacks; but attacks in general cannot be contrasted to “capturing” a fortress. That would be a mistake. It would be an evasion of the question of the means of capturing the fortress. And it is precisely this mistake Comrade Plekhanov makes.

Either he is not saying all he thinks, or he himself is not clear about the question.

The difference between a demonstration strike and a strike for an uprising is clear. The difference between “partial mass expressions of protest” and a general, all-Russian action is clear. So is the difference between partial and local risings and a general, all-Russian uprising, supported by all the revolutionary parties and elements. If you call demonstrations, partial protests, partial risings—“outbreaks”, people will understand what you mean, and your protests against “putsches” will be perfectly justified.

But to say: “we want not outbreaks, but a victorious revolution”, means to say nothing. Even worse, it is a platitude made to sound significant. It is a resounding but meaning less phrase intended to befuddle the reader. It would be very difficult to find two sane revolutionaries who would not agree that we want “not outbreaks, but a victorious revolution”. But neither would it be very easy to find two sane   revolutionaries who would agree as to what particular means of struggle at what particular moment would be, not an “outbreak”, but a real step towards a victorious revolution. Plekhanov does not make much progress by looking wise and repeating things which nobody has any doubt about and evading the really difficult part of the problem.

In conclusion, we must add that Plekhanov naturally has a passing “thrust” at the Bolsheviks: they are “Blanquists”, because they boycott the Duma, and “frivolous”, because, he alleges, they were unaware (until enlightened by Comrade Plekhanov in No. 6 of his Dnevnik) that it was necessary to increase activities among the troops. We think it sufficient just to mention these thrusts; they are not worth answering. If Comrade Plekhanov imagines that by his present tactics he is strengthening the Menshevik wing in our Party and weakening the Bolsheviks, we have no objection to leaving him in this state of blissful delusion.


[1] Dnevnik Sotsial-Demokrata (Diary of a Social-Democrat)—a non-periodical organ published by Plekhanov in Geneva from March 1905 to April 1912. In all sixteen issues were brought out, at considerable intervals. Publication was resumed in Petrograd in 1916, but only one issue appeared.

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