V. I.   Lenin

The Crisis of Menshevism

The advocacy of a non-party labour congress and blocs with the Cadets is undoubtedly a sign of something in the nature of a crisis in the tactics of the Mensheviks. Being opposed on principle to all their tactics in general, we, of course, could not ourselves decide whether this crisis had ripened sufficiently to break out on the surface, so to speak. Comrade Y. Larin has come to our assistance in his latest and most instructive pamphlet: A Broad Labour Party and a Labour Congress (Moscow, 1906, book depot of Novy Mir Publishers).

Comrade Y. Larin often speaks in the name of the majority of the Mensheviks. He styles himself—and with full right—a responsible representative of Menshevism. He has worked both in the South and in the most “Menshevik” district of St. Petersburg, Vyborg District. He was a delegate to the Unity Congress. He was a regular contributor to Golos Truda and Otkliki Sovremennosti. All these facts are extremely important in forming an opinion of the pamphlet, the value of which lies in the author’s veracity, but not in his logic; in the information he supplies, but not in his arguments.


A Marxist must base his arguments on tactics on an analysis of the objective course of the revolution. The Bolsheviks, as we know, made an attempt to do so in the resolution on the present situation which they submitted to the Unity Congress.[1] The Mensheviks withdrew their own resolution on this subject. Comrade Larin evidently feels that such questions must not be shelved and he makes an attempt to trace the course of our bourgeois revolution.

He divides it into two periods. The first, covering the whole of 1905, is the period of the open mass movement. The second, starting with 1906, is the period of agonisingly slow preparation for the “actual triumph of the cause of liberty”, “the realisation of the aspirations of the people”. In this period of preparation the countryside is the decisive factor; because its aid was not forthcoming the “disunited cities were crushed”. We are experiencing “an internal, outwardly passive-seeming, growth of the revolution”.

“What is called the agrarian movement—the constant ferment which does not develop into widespread attempts at an active offensive, the minor struggles with the local authorities and landlords, the suspension of tax payments, punitive expeditions—all this constitutes the course most advantageous to the peasantry, not from the point of view of economising forces, perhaps, which is doubtful, but from the point of view of results. Without completely exhausting the rural population, bringing it, on the whole, more alleviation than defeats, it is seriously sapping the foundations of the old regime and creating conditions that must inevitably compel it to capitulate, or fall, at the first serious test, when the time comes.” And the author points out that in two or three years’ time there will be a change in the personnel of the police force and the army, which will be replenished with recruits from the discontented rural population; “our sons will be among the soldiers”, as a peasant told the author.

Comrade Larin draws two conclusions. (1) In our country “unrest in the countryside cannot subside. The Austrian 1848 cannot be repeated here.” (2) “The Russian revolution is not taking the course of an armed uprising of the people in the real sense of the term, like the American or Polish revolutions.”

Let us consider these conclusions. The author’s grounds for the first are too sketchy and his formulation of it too inexact. But in substance, he is not far from the truth. The outcome of our revolution will actually depend most of all on the steadfastness in struggle of the millions of peasants. Our big bourgeoisie is far more afraid of revolution than of reaction. The proletariat, by itself, is not strong enough to win. The urban poor do not represent any independent interests, they are not an independent force compared with the proletariat and peasantry. The rural population has the decisive role, not in the sense of leading the struggle (this is out of the question), but in the sense of being able to ensure victory.

If Comrade Larin had properly thought out his conclusion and had linked it up with the whole course of development of Social-Democratic ideas on our bourgeois revolution, he would have found himself confronted with an old proposition of the Bolshevism that he hates so much: the victorious outcome of the bourgeois revolution in Russia is possible only in the form of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. In effect, Larin has arrived at the same point of view. The only thing that prevents him from admitting it openly is that Menshevik quality which he himself castigates, namely: hesitant and timid thinking. One need only compare Larin’s arguments on this subject with those of the Central Committee’s Sotsial-Demokrat to be convinced that Larin has come close to the Bolsheviks on this question. Sotsial-Demokrat went to the length of saying that the Cadets are the urban, non-Estate, progressive bourgeoisie, while the Trudoviks are the rural, Estate, non-progressive bourgeoisie! Sotsial-Demokrat failed to notice the landlords and counter-revolutionary bourgeois among the Cadets, failed to notice the non-Estate, urban democrats (the lower strata of the urban poor) among the Trudoviks!

To proceed. Larin says that unrest in the countryside can not subside. Has he proved it? No. He has entirely left out of account the role of the peasant bourgeoisie, which is being systematically bribed by the government. He has given little thought also to the fact that the “alleviations” obtained by the peasantry (lower rents, “curtailment” of the rights and powers of the landlords and the police, etc.) are intensifying the break-up of the rural population into the counter-revolutionary rich and a mass of poor. Such sweeping generalisations must not be made with such scanty evidence. The sound trite.

But can the proposition that “unrest in the countryside cannot subside” be proved? Yes and no. Yes—in the sense that one can make a thorough analysis of probable developments. No—in the sense that one cannot be absolutely certain of these developments in the present bourgeois revolution. One cannot weigh with apothecary’s scales the equilibrium between the new forces of counter-revolution and revolution which are growing and becoming interwoven in the countryside. Experience alone will completely reveal this. Revolution, in the narrow sense of the term, is an acute struggle, and only in the course of the struggle and in its outcome is the real strength of all the interests, aspirations and potentialities displayed and fully recognised.

The task of the advanced class in the revolution is to ascertain correctly the trend of the struggle, to make the most of all opportunities, all chances of victory. This class must be the first to take the direct revolutionary path and the last to abandon it for more “prosaic”, more “circuitous” paths. Comrade Larin has failed to understand this truth, although he argues at great length and (as we shall see below) not at all cleverly about spontaneous outbursts and planned action.

Let us pass to his second conclusion—concerning an armed uprising. Here Larin is even more guilty of timid thinking. His thoughts slavishly follow the old models: the North American and Polish uprisings. Apart from these, he refuses to recognise any uprising “in the real sense of the term”. He even says that our revolution is not proceeding on the lines of a “formal” (!) and “regular” (!!) armed uprising.

How curious: a Menshevik who won his spurs in a fight against formalism is now talking about a formal armed uprising! If your thoughts are so crushed by the formal and the regular, you have only yourself to blame, Comrade Larin. The Bolsheviks have always taken a different view of the matter. Long before the uprising, at the Third Congress, i.e., in the spring of 1905, they emphasised in a special resolution the connection between the mass strike and an uprising.[2] The Mensheviks prefer to ignore this. It is in vain. The resolution of the Third Congress is actual proof that we foresaw as closely as was possible the specific features of the people’s struggle at the end of 1905. And we did not by any means conceive the uprising as being of “the type” of North America or Poland, where a mass strike would have been out of the question.

Then,after December, we pointed out (in our draft resolution for the Unity Congress[3]) the change in the relation of the strike to the uprising, the role of the peasantry and the army, the inadequacy of local outbreaks in the armed forces and the necessity of reaching an agreement with the revolutionary-democratic elements among the troops.

And events proved once again, in the course of the Duma period, the inevitability of an uprising in the Russian struggle for emancipation.

Larin’s arguments about a formal uprising display an ignorance of the history of the present revolution, or a disregard for this history and its specific forms of insurrection, that is most unbecoming for a Social-Democrat. Larin’s thesis: “The Russian revolution is not taking the course of an uprising” shows contempt for the facts, for both periods of civil liberties in Russia (the October and the Duma periods) were in fact marked by a “course” of uprisings, not of the American or Polish type, of course, but one characteristic of twentieth-century Russia. By arguing “in general” about historical examples of uprisings in countries where rural or urban elements predominated, about America and Poland, and refusing to make the least attempt to study or even note the specific features of the uprising in Russia, Larin repeats the cardinal error of the “hesitant and timid” thinking of the Mensheviks.

Look deeper into his structure of “passive” revolution. Undoubtedly, there may be long periods of preparation for a new upsurge, a new onslaught, or new forms of struggle. But don’t be doctrinaire, gentlemen; consider what this “constant ferment” in the countryside means in addition to the “minor struggles”, the “punitive expeditions” and the change in the personnel of the police force and troops! Why, you do not understand what you yourselves are saying. The situation you describe is nothing more nor less than protract ed guerrilla warfare, interspersed with a series of outbursts of revolt in the army of increasing magnitude and unity, You keep on using angry and abusive language about the “guerrilla fighters”, “anarchists”, “anarcho-Blanquist-Bolsheviks”, and so forth, yet you yourselves depict the revolution as the Bolsheviks do! Change in the personnel of the army, its remanning with “recruits from the discontented rural population”. What does this mean? Can this “discontent” of the rural population clothed a sailors’ jackets and soldiers’ uniforms fail to come to the surface? Can it fail to manifest itself when there is “constant ferment” in the soldiers’ native villages, when “minor struggles” on one side and “punitive expeditions” on the other are raging in the country? And can we, in this period of Black-Hundred pogroms, government violence and police outrages, conceive of any other manifestation of this discontent among the soldiers than military revolts?

While repeating Cadet phrases (“our revolution is not taking the course of an uprising”; this phrase was put into circulation by the Cadets at the end of 1905; see Milyukov’s Narodnaya Svoboda[4]), you at the same time show that a new uprising is inevitable; “the regime will collapse at the first serious test”. Do you think that a serious test of the regime is possible in a broad, heterogeneous, complex, popular movement without a preliminary series of less important, partial tests; that a general strike is possible without a series of local strikes; that a general uprising is possible with out a series of sporadic, minor, non-general uprisings?

If recruits from the discontented rural population are increasing in the armed forces, and if the revolution as a whole is advancing, then insurrection is inevitable in the form of extremely bitter struggle against the Black-Hundred troops (for the Black Hundreds are also organising and training themselves, do not forget this! Do not forget that there are social elements which foster Black-Hundred mentality!), a struggle both of the people and of a section of the armed forces. So it is necessary to get ready, to prepare the masses and to prepare ourselves, for a more systematic, united and aggressive uprising—that is the conclusion that follows from Larin’s premises, from his Cadet fairy-tale about passive (??) revolution. Larin admits that the Mensheviks “put the blame for their own melancholy and despondency on the course of the Russian revolution” (p. 58). Exactly! Passivity is the quality of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, not of the revolution. Those are passive who admit that the army is being filled with recruits from the discontent ed rural population, that constant ferment and minor struggles are inevitable, and yet, with the complacency of Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka,[5] console the workers’ party with the statement: “the Russian revolution is not taking the course of an uprising”.

But what about the “minor struggles”? You, my dear Larin, think that they are the “course most advantageous to the peasantry from the point of view of results”? You maintain this opinion in spite of the punitive expeditions, and even include the latter in the most advantageous course? But have you given even the slightest thought to what distinguishes this minor struggle from guerrilla warfare? Nothing, esteemed Comrade Larin.

In your preoccupation with the ill-chosen examples of America and Poland you have overlooked the specific forms of struggle engendered by the Russian uprising, which is more protracted, more stubborn and has longer intervals between big battles than uprisings of the old type.

Comrade Larin has become completely confused, and his conclusions are all at sixes and sevens. If there are grounds for revolution in the countryside, if the revolution is expanding and drawing in new forces, if the army is being filled with discontented peasants, and if continual ferment and minor struggles persist in the countryside, then the Bolsheviks are right in their fight against shelving the question of an uprising. We do not advocate an uprising at all times and under all circumstances. But we do demand that the thoughts of a Social-Democrat should not be hesitant and timid, If you admit that the conditions for an uprising exist, then recognise the uprising itself and the special tasks that confront the Party in connection with it.

To call minor struggles “the most advantageous course”, i. e., the most advantageous form of the struggle of the people in a specific period of our revolution, and at the same time to refuse to admit that the Party of the advanced class is confronted by active tasks which arise out of this “most advantageous course”, reveals either inability to think or dishonest thinking.


[1] Draft resolution of the Bolsheviks for the Unity Congress “The Present Stage of the Democratic Revolution” (see present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 150-54).

[2] See present edition, Vol. 8, pp. 373-74.

[3] This refers to the draft resolution for the Unity Congress on an armed uprising (see present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 151-53).

[4] Narodnaya Svoboda (People’s Freedom)—a newspaper, organ of the Cadet Party, published in St. Petersburg in December 1905.

[5] Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka—hero of Gogol’s story Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka and his Aunt, whom the author depicts as a narrow-minded, complacent person interested in nothing.

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