V. I.   Lenin

The Crisis of Menshevism


A “theory of passivity” is the term that might he applied to Larin’s arguments about a “passive” revolution that is preparing the “collapse of the old regime at,the first serious test”. And this “theory of passivity”, a natural product of timid thinking, has left its mark on the whole pamphlet of our penitent Menshevik. He asks: Why, considering its enormous ideological influence, is our Party so weak organisationally? It is not, he replies, because our Party is a party of intellectuals. This old, “bureaucratic” (Larin’s expression) explanation of the Mensheviks is quite worthless. Because, objectively, in the present period there has been no need for a different kind of party, and the objective conditions for a different kind of party have not existed. Because for a “policy of spontaneous outbursts”, such as the policy of the proletariat was at the beginning of the revolution, no party was needed. All that was needed was a “technical apparatus to serve the spontaneous movement” and “spontaneous moods”, to conduct propaganda and agitational work in the intervals between revolutionary outbursts. This was not a party in the European sense, hut “a narrow—120,000 out of nine million—association of young working-class conspirators”; few married men; the majority of the workers who are ready for public activities are outside the Party.

Now the period of spontaneous outbursts is passing away. Calculation is taking the place of mere temperament. In place of the “policy of spontaneous outbursts”, a “policy of planned action” is arising. Now we need “a party of the European type”, a “party of objectively planned, political action”. In place of an “apparatus—party” we need a “van guard-party”, “that would be the rallying point for all those suitable for active political life that the working class can produce from its ranks”. This is the transition to a “European party based on calculated action”. The “sound realism of European Social-Democracy” is taking the place of “official Menshevism with its half-hearted and hesitating measures, its despondency and failure to understand its own position”. “Its voice has been making itself quite audible for some time now through Plekhanov and Axelrod—strictly speaking the only Europeans in our ’barbarian’ environment....” And, of   course, the substitution of Europeanism for barbarism promises success in place of failure. “Wherever spontaneity prevails, mistakes in judgement and failures in practice are inevitable.” “Where there is spontaneity, there is utopianism; where there is utopianism, there is failure.”

In these arguments of Larin’s we see again the glaring discrepancy between the tiny kernel of a correct, although not new, idea, and the enormous husk of sheer reactionary incomprehension. A spoonful of honey in a barrel of tar.

It is an unquestionable and indisputable fact that as capitalism develops, as experience of bourgeois revolution or revolutions, and also of abortive socialist revolutions, accumulates, the working class of all countries grows, develops, learns, becomes trained and organised. In other words: it advances from spontaneity to planned action, from being guided merely by mood to guidance by the objective position of all classes, from outbursts to sustained struggle. All this is true. It is as old as the hills, and is as applicable to Russia of the twentieth century as to England of the seventeenth century, to France of the thirties of the nineteenth century, and to Germany at the close of the nineteenth century.

But the trouble with Larin is that he is quite incapable of digesting the materials which our revolution provides the Social-Democrat. Like a child with a new toy, he is entirely taken up with contrasting the outbursts of Russian barbarism with European planned activity. Uttering a truism that applies to all periods in general, he does not understand that his naive application of this truism to a period of direct revolutionary struggle becomes with him a renegade attitude towards the revolution. This would be tragicomical, if it were not that Larin’s sincerity left no shadow of doubt that he is unconsciously echoing the renegades of the revolution.

Spontaneous outbursts of barbarians, planned activity of the Europeans.... This is a purely Cadet formula and a Cadet idea, the idea of the traitors to the Russian revolution, who go into raptures over “constitutionalism” like Muromtsev, who declared: “The Duma is part of the government”, or the lackey Rodichev, who exclaimed: “It is presumption to hold the monarch responsible for the pogrom.” The Cadets have created a whole literature written by renegades (the   Izgoyevs, Struves, Prokopoviches, Portugalovs, et tutti quanti) who have reviled the folly of spontaneity, i.e., revolution. The liberal bourgeois, like the famous animal in the fable, is simply unable to lift his eyes and understand that it is only due to the “outbursts” of the people that we still possess even a shadow of liberty.

And Larin, naively uncritical, trails behind the liberals. Larin does not understand that there are two sides to the question he raises: (1) the contrast between a spontaneous struggle and a planned struggle of the same dimensions and forms, (2) the contrast between a revolutionary (in the narrow sense) period and a counter-revolutionary or “only constitutional” period. Larin’s logic is atrocious. He contrasts a spontaneous political strike not to a planned political strike, but to planned participation in, let us say, the Bulygin Duma. He contrasts a spontaneous uprising not to a planned uprising, but to planned trade union activity. Consequently, his Marxist analysis is converted into a flat and philistine apotheosis of counter-revolution.

European Social-Democracy is the “party of objectively planned political activity”, prattles Larin ecstatically. Oh, child! He does not notice that he is going into raptures over the particularly limited field of “activity” to which the Europeans were compelled to confine themselves in a period when there was no directly revolutionary struggle. He does not notice that he is going into raptures over the planned nature of a struggle waged within legal limits and decrying the spontaneity of a struggle for the power and authority which determine the limits of what is “legal”. He compares the spontaneous uprising of the Russians in December 1905, not with the “planned” uprisings of the Germans in 1849 and of the French in 1871, but with the planned growth of the German trade unions. He compares the spontaneous and unsuccessful general strike of the Russians in December 1905, not with the “planned” and unsuccessful general strike of the Belgians in 19O2,[1] but with the planned speeches of Bebel or Vandervelde in the Reichstag.

That is why Larin fails to understand the historic progress of the mass struggle of the proletariat signalised by the strike in October 1905 and the uprising in December 1905. Whereas the retrogression of the Russian revolution (temporary, on   his own admission) expressed in the necessity of preparatory activity within the limits of the law (trade unions, elections, etc.) he elevates into progress from spontaneous to planned activity, from moods to calculation, etc.

That is why, in place of the moral drawn by a revolutionary Marxist (that instead of a spontaneous political strike we must have a planned political strike, instead of a spontaneous uprising we must have a planned uprising), we find the moral drawn by a renegade-Cadet (instead of the “folly of spontaneity”—strikes and uprisings—we must have systematic submission to the Stolypin laws and a planned deal with the Black-Hundred monarchy).

No, Comrade Larin, if you had mastered the spirit of Marxism, and not merely its language, you would know the difference between revolutionary dialectical materialism and the opportunism of “objective” historians. Recall, for instance, what Marx said about Proudhon. A Marxist does not renounce the struggle within the limits of the law, peaceful parliamentarism and “planned” compliance with the limits of historical activity set by the Bismarcks and the Bennigsens, the Stolypins and the Milyukovs. But a Marxist, while utilising every field, even a reactionary one, for the fight for the revolution, does not stoop to glorifying reaction, does not forget to fight for the best possible field of activity. Therefore, the Marxist is the first to foresee the approach of a revolutionary period, and already begins to rouse the people and to sound the tocsin while the philistines are still wrapt in the slavish slumber of loyal subjects. The Marxist is therefore the first to take the path of direct revolutionary struggle, marching straight to battle and exposing the illusions of conciliation cherished by all kinds of social and political vacillators. Therefore, the Marxist is the last to leave the path of directly revolutionary struggle, he leaves it only when all possibilities have been exhausted, when there is not a shadow of hope for a shorter way, when the basis for an appeal to prepare for mass strikes, an uprising, etc., is obviously disappearing. Therefore, a Marxist treats with contempt the innumerable renegades of the revolution who shout to him: We are more “progressive” than you, we were the first to renounce the revolution! We were the first to “submit” to the monarchist constitution!

One of two things, Comrade Larin. Do you believe that there is already no basis for an uprising or for revolution in the narrow sense of the word? If you do, say so openly and prove it in the Marxist way, by an economic analysis, by an appraisal of the political strivings of the various classes, by an analysis of the significance of the different ideological trends. You have proved it? In that case, we declare that all talk about an uprising is mere phrase-mongering. In that case we shall say: what we had was not a great revolution, but a great bark without a bite. Workers! the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie (including the peasants) have betrayed and forsaken you. But, on the basis they have created in spite of our efforts, we shall work persistently, patiently, and consistently for a socialist revolution, which will not be so half-hearted and wretched, so rich in words and poor in deeds as the bourgeois revolution!

Or do you really believe what you say, Comrade Larin? Do you believe that the tide of revolution is rising, that the minor struggles and the sullen discontent will in a matter of two or three years create a new discontented army and a new “serious test”; that “unrest in the countryside cannot subside”? If so, then you must admit that the “out bursts” express the strength of the people’s anger, and not the strength of backward barbarism—that it is our duty to transform a spontaneous uprising into a planned uprising, and to work persistently and stubbornly for many months, perhaps years, to bring this about, and not to renounce an uprising, as all the Judases are doing.

Your present position, however, Comrade Larin, is precisely one of “melancholy and despondency”, of “hesitant and timid thinking”, of putting the blame for your own passivity on our revolution.

This, and this alone, is implied by your jubilant declaration that the boycott was a mistake. It is a short-sighted and vulgar jubilation. If it is “progressive” to renounce the boycott, then the most progressive people of all are the Right-wing Cadets of Russkiye Vedomosti, who fought against the boycott of the Bulygin Duma and called on the students “to go on with their studies and not meddle with rebellion”. We do not envy this renegade progressiveness. We think that to say that it was a “mistake” to boycott the Witte   Duma (which three or four months before its convocation nobody believed would be convened) and to be silent about the mistake of those who called for participation in the Bulygin Duma, means substituting for the materialism of a revolutionary fighter the “objectivism” of a professor who is cringing to reaction. We think that the position of those who were the last to enter the Duma, to take the roundabout way, after trying really everything on the direct path of struggle, is better than that of those who were the first to call for entering the Bulygin Duma on the eve of the popular uprising which swept it away.

This Cadet phrase about the boycott having been a mistake is particularly unpardonable in Larin’s case since he truthfully relates that the Mensheviks “invented all kinds of shrewd and cunning tricks, ranging from the elective principle and the Zemstvo campaign to uniting the Party by participating in the elections with the object of boycotting the Duma” (57). The Mensheviks called upon the workers to elect members to the Duma, although they themselves did not believe that it was right to go into the Duma. Were not the tactics of those more correct, who, not believing this, boycotted the Duma; who declared that to call the Duma a “power” (as the Mensheviks called it in their resolution at the Unity Congress, before Muromtsev did so) meant deceiving the people; who entered the Duma only after the bourgeoisie had deserted the direct path of boycott and compelled us to take a circuitous route, though not for the same purpose, and not in the same way, as the Cadets?


[1] The Belgian general strike was declared in April 1902 in support of the demand for universal suffrage raised in the Belgian Parliament by representatives of the Labour, Liberal and Democratic Parties. More than 300,000 workers took part in the strike; demonstrations by workers occurred throughout the country. But after Parliament had rejected the electoral reform bill and troops bad fired on demonstrators, the opportunist Labour Party leadership (Vaudervelde and others) capitulated and, under pressure from their “allies” in the liberal-bourgeois camp, called off the general strike. The defeat of the Belgian working class in April 1902 was a lesson to the international labour movement. “The socialist proletariat,” wrote Iskra in No. 21 of June 1, 1902, “will see the practical results that follow from opportunist tactics which sacrifice revolutionary principles in the hope of quick successes. The proletariat will have yet another proof that it will not he able to achieve its aim by any of the methods of political pressure used against t.he enemy unless it is prepared to carry these methods to their logical conclusion.”

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