V. I.   Lenin

The Crisis of Menshevism


The contrast which Larin draws between an apparatus-party and a vanguard-party, or, in other words, between a party of fighters against the police and a party of class-conscious political fighters, seems profound and permeated with the “pure proletarian” spirit. In actual fact, however, it is the very same intellectualist opportunism as the analogous contrast drawn in 1899-1901 by the supporters of Rabochaya Mysl and the Akimovites.[4]

On the one hand, when there are objective conditions for a direct revolutionary onslaught by the masses, the   Party’s supreme political task is “to serve the spontaneous movement”. To contrast such revolutionary work with “politics” is to reduce politics to chicanery. It means exalting political action in the Duma above the political action of the masses in October and December; in other words, it means abandoning the proletarian revolutionary standpoint for that of intellectualist opportunism.

Every form of struggle requires a corresponding technique and a corresponding apparatus. When objective conditions make the parliamentary struggle the principal form of struggle, the features of the apparatus for parliamentary struggle inevitably become more marked in the Party. When, on the other hand, objective conditions give rise to a struggle of the masses in the form of mass political strikes and uprisings, the party of the proletariat must have an “apparatus” to “serve” these forms of struggle, and, of course, this must be a special “apparatus”, not resembling the parliamentary one. An organised party of the proletariat which admitted that the conditions existed for popular uprisings and yet failed to set up the necessary apparatus would be a party of intellectualist chatterboxes; the workers would abandon it and go over to anarchism, bourgeois revolutionism, etc.

On the other hand, the composition of the politically guiding vanguard of every class, the proletariat included, also depends both on the position of this class and on the principal form of its struggle. Larin complains, for example, that young workers predominate in our Party, that we have few married workers, and that they leave the Party. This complaint of a Russian opportunist reminds me of a passage in one of Engels’s works (I think it is in The Housing Question, Zur Wohnungsfrage). Retorting to some fatuous bourgeois professor, a German Cadet, Engels wrote: is it not natural that youth should predominate in our Party, the revolutionary party? We are the party of the future, and the future belongs to the youth. We are a party of innovators, and it is always the youth that most eagerly follows the innovators. We are a party that is waging a self-sacrificing struggle against the old rottenness, and youth is always the first to undertake a self-sacrificing struggle.

No, let us leave it to the Cadets to collect the “tired” old men of thirty, revolutionaries who have “grown wise”, and   renegades from Social-Democracy. We shall, always be a party of the youth of the advanced class!

Larin himself blurts out a frank admission why he regrets the loss of the married men who are tired of the struggle. If we were to collect a good number of these tired men into the Party, that would make it “somewhat sluggish, putting a brake on political adventures” (p. 18).

Now, that’s better,, good Larin! Why dissemble and deceive yourself. What you want is not a vanguard-party, but a rearguard-party, so that it will be rather more sluggish. You should have said so frankly.

“... Putting a brake on political adventures....” Revolutions have been defeated in Europe too; there were the June days of 1848 and the May days of 1871; but there has never been a Social-Democrat or a Communist who thought it proper to declare the action of the masses in a revolution to be an “adventure”. This became possible when among revolutionary Marxists there were enrolled (not for long, we hope) spineless, craven Russian philistines, called the “intelligentsia”, if you please, who have no confidence in themselves and become despondent at every turn of events towards reaction.

“...Putting a brake on adventures!” If that is so, then the first adventurer is Larin himself; for he calls “minor struggles” the course most advantageous to the revolution; he is trying to make the masses believe that the tide of revolution is rising, that in two or three years the army will be filled with discontented peasants, and that the “old regime will collapse” at “the first serious test”!

But Larin is an adventurer in another, much worse and pettier sense. He advocates a labour congress and a “non party party” (his expression!). Instead of the Social-Democratic Party he wants an “All-Russian Labour Party”— “labour”, because it must include the petty-bourgeois revolutionaries, the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Polish Socialist Party, the Byelorussian Hromada,[5] etc.

Larin is an admirer of Axelrod. But he has done him a disservice. He has so exalted Axelrod’s “youthful energy”, his “true party courage” in fighting for a labour congress, he has embraced him so fervently, that ... he has smothered him in his embraces! Axelrod’s nebulous “idea” of a labour   congress has been killed by a naive and truthful, practical party worker who has gone and blurted out everything that should have been concealed for successful advocacy of a labour congress. A labour congress means “taking down the signboard” (p. 20 in Larin’s pamphlet, for whom Social-Democracy is a mere signboard); it means merging with the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the trade unions.

Quite right, Comrade Larin! Thank you at least for speaking the truth! The labour congress really does mean all that. It would lead to that even against the wish of its conveners. And it is just for that reason that a labour congress now would be a petty opportunist adventure. Petty—for there is no broad idea underlying it, nothing but the weariness of intellectuals who are tired of the persistent struggle for Marxism. Opportunist—for the same reason, and also because thousands of petty bourgeois of far from settled opinions would be admitted into the labour party. An adventure—for under present conditions such an attempt will bring about, not peace or constructive work, or collaboration between the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Social-Democrats— to whom Larin kindly assigns the role of “propagandist societies within a broad party” (p. 40)—but only endless aggravation of strife, dissension, splits, ideological confusion, and actual disorganisation.

It is one thing to predict that the Socialist-Revolutionary “Centre” must come over to the Social-Democrats when the Popular Socialists and Maximalists drop out[1] ; it is a different thing to climb after an apple which is only in process of ripening, but is not yet ripe. You will either break your neck, my dear sir, or upset your stomach with sour fruit.

Larin bases his arguments on “Belgium”, as did, in 1899, R. M. (the editor of Rabochaya Mysl) and Mr. Prokopovich (when he was going through the “spontaneous outbursts” of a Social-Democrat and had not yet “grown wise” sufficiently to become a “systematically acting” Cadet). Larin’s booklet has a neat appendix in the shape of a neat translation of the Rules of the Belgian Labour Party! But our good Larin   forgot to “translate” to Russia the industrial conditions and history of Belgium. After a series of bourgeois revolutions, after decades of struggle against Proudhon’s petty-bourgeois quasi-socialism, and with the enormous development of industrial capitalism, possibly the highest in the world, the labour congress and the labour party in Belgium marked a transition from non-proletarian socialism to proletarian socialism. In Russia, at the height of a bourgeois revolution, which is inevitably breeding petty-bourgeois ideas and petty-bourgeois ideologists, and with growing “Trudovik” trends among closely related sections of the peasantry and the proletariat, with a Social-Democratic Labour Party that has a history of nearly one decade, a labour congress is a badly conceived invention, and fusion with the Socialist-Revolutionaries (who knows, there may be 30,000 of them, or perhaps 60,000, says Larin artlessly) is an intellectual’s whimsy.

Yes, history can be ironic! For years the Mensheviks have been trumpeting about the close connection between the Bolsheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries. And now the Bolsheviks reject a labour congress precisely because it would obscure the difference in the points of view of the proletarians and the small proprietors (see the resolution of the St. Petersburg Committee[6] in Proletary, No. 3). And the Mensheviks stand for merging with the Socialist-Revolutionaries in connection with the advocacy of a labour congress. This is unique!

“I do not want to dissolve the party in the class,” pleads Larin. “I only want to unite the vanguard, 900,000 out of nine million” (pp. 17 and 49).

Let us take the official factory returns for 1903. The total number of factory workers was 1,640,406. Of these, 797,997 were in factories employing over 500 workers each, and 1,261,363 in factories employing over 100 workers each. The number of workers in the largest factories (800,000) is only a little smaller than the figure Larin gives for the workers’ party united with the Socialist-Revolutionaries!

Thus, although we already have from 150,000 to 170,000 members in our Social-Democratic Party, and notwithstanding the 800,000 workers employed in large factories, the workers of big mining enterprises (not included in this total)   and the multitude of purely proletarian elements employed in trade, agriculture, transport, etc., Larin has no hope that we in Russia can soon win for Social-Democracy 900,000 proletarians as Party members?? Monstrous, but true.

But Larin’s lack of faith is only another example of the intellectual’s timid thinking.

We are quite sure that this object can be attained. As a counterblast to the adventure of a “labour congress” and a “non-party party” we put forward the slogan: for a fivefold and tenfold increase of our Social-Democratic Party, only let it consist mainly and almost exclusively of purely proletarian elements, and let it be achieved solely under the banner of revolutionary Marxism.[2]

Now, after a year of the great revolution, when all sorts of parties are growing by leaps and bounds, the proletariat is becoming an independent party more rapidly than ever. The Duma elections will assist this process (if we do not enter into opportunist blocs with the Cadets, of course). The treachery of the bourgeoisie in general, and of the petty bourgeoisie in particular (the Popular Socialists), will strengthen the revolutionary Social-Democratic Party.

We shall reach Larin’s “ideal” (900,000 Party members), and even exceed it, by hard work on the present lines, and not by adventures. It is certainly necessary now to enlarge the Party with the aid of proletarian elements. It is abnormal that we should have only 6,000 Party members in St. Petersburg (in St. Petersburg Gubernia there are 81,000 workers in factories employing 500 workers and over; in all, 150,000 workers); that in the Central Industrial Region we should have only 20,000 Party members (377,000 workers in factories employing 500 and over; in all, 562,000 workers).   We must learn to recruit[3] five times and ten times as many workers for the Party in such centres. In this respect Larin is certainly quite right. But we must not fall a prey to intellectualist cowardice or intellectualist hysteria. We shall achieve our aim by following our own Social-Democratic path, without plunging into adventures.


[1] See pp. 199-200 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] It would be unwise to take the trade unions into the Party, as Larin proposes. This would only restrict the working-class movement and narrow its base. We shall always be able to unite a far greater number of workers for the struggle against the employers than for support of Social-Democratic policy. Therefore (in spite of Larin’s wrong assertion that the Bolsheviks have declared against non-party trade unions), we stand for non-party trade unions, as the author of the “Jacobin” (Jacobin—in the opinion of the opportunists) pamphlet What Is To Be Done? advocated as far back as 1902. (See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 347-529.—Ed).—Lenin

[3] We say “learn to recruit”, for the number of Social-Democratic workers in such centres is undoubtedly many times the number of Party members. We suffer from routine, we must fight against it. We must learn to form, where necessary, lose Organisationen—looser, broader and more accessible proletarian organisations. Our slogan is: for a larger Social-Democratic Labour Party, against a non-party labour congress and a non-party party!—Lenin

[4] Rabochaya Mysl—an Economist group which published the newspaper Rabochaya Mysl (Workers’ Thought). It appeared from October 1897 to December 1902, edited by K. M. Takhtarev and others.

The group advocated frankly opportunist views. It opposed the political struggle of the working class and restricted the tasks of the working-class movement to “the interests of the moment”, to demands for individual partial reforms, chiefly of an economic nature. Glorifying “spontaneity” in the working-class movement, it opposed the creation of an independent proletarian party and belittled the importance of revolutionary theory and class-consciousness, maintaining that socialist ideology could grow out of the spontaneous movement.

The views of the Rabochaya Mysl group, as a Russian variety of international opportunism, were criticised by Lenin in the article “A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy”, in the book What Is To Be Done? (see present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 255-85 and Vol. 5, pp. 347-465), and also in his Iskra articles.

Akimovites—supporters of one of the representatives of “Economism”, the extreme opportunist V. P. Akimov (Makhnovets).

[5] The Byelorussian Socialist Hromada—a title assumed by a petty-bourgeois, nationalist organisation of the Narodnik type which arose in 1902.

[6] Lenin is referring to the resolution on a labour congress adopted at a meeting of workers from various districts of St. Petersburg in the beginning of September 1906. The meeting was convened by the St. Petersburg Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.

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