V. I.   Lenin

The Crisis of Menshevism


The only “gratifying feature” in Comrade Larin’s pamphlet is his fervent protest against blocs with the Cadets. In another article in this issue the reader will find detailed quotations on this subject, with a description of all the vacillations of Menshevism on this important question.

What interests us here, however, is the general description of Menshevism given by such an “authoritative” witness as the Menshevik Larin. It is in reference to blocs with the Cadets that he protests against “vulgarised, bureaucratic, Menshevism”. “Bureaucratic Menshevism”, he writes, is capable of desiring a “suicidal alliance with the opponents of Social-Democracy in the bourgeois camp”. We do not know whether Larin will be able to show more determination than Martov in defending his views against Plekhanov. However, Larin rebels against “formal” and “bureaucratic” Menshevism on other matters besides blocs with the Cadets. For example, he says of Menshevism, that “everything obsolescent acquires a bureaucratic stamp”!! (p. 65). Menshevism is becoming outlived, making way for “European realism”. “Hence the eternal melancholy, half-heartedness and hesitancy of Menshevism” (p. 62). Concerning the talk about a labour congress he writes: “All this talk bears the impress of a certain reticence, timid thinking, perhaps mere hesitation to utter aloud the thoughts that have matured within” (p. 6), etc.

We already know the underlying basis of this crisis of Menshevism, why it has degenerated into bureaucratism[1] : it is the petty-bourgeois intellectual’s lack of confidence in the possibility of further revolutionary struggle, his fear to admit that the revolution is over, that the reaction has won a decisive victory. “Menshevism was only an instinctive, semi-spontaneous yearning for a party,” says Larin. We say: Menshevism is the spontaneous yearning of the intellectual for a truncated constitution and peaceful legality. Menshevism is an allegedly objective apologia for reaction, emanating from the revolutionary camp.

From the very beginning, as early as in the Geneva newspaper Vperyod[8] (January-March 1905) and in the pamphlet Two Tactics[2] (July 1905), the Bolsheviks presented the question in a totally different way. Being perfectly clear about the contradictory nature of the interests and tasks of the various classes in the bourgeois revolution, they stated openly at the time: It is quite possible that the Russian revolution will end in an abortive constitution. As the supporters and ideologists of the revolutionary proletariat, we shall do our duty to the last—we shall keep to our revolutionary slogans despite the treachery and baseness of the liberals, despite the vacillation, timidity and hesitancy displayed by the petty bourgeois—we shall make the utmost use of all revolutionary possibilities—we shall take pride in the fact that   we were the first to take the path of an uprising and will be the last to abandon it, if this path in fact becomes impossible. At the present moment we are far from admitting that all the revolutionary possibilities and prospects have been exhausted. We openly and straightforwardly advocate an uprising, and stubborn, persistent and long preparation for it.

And when we realise that the revolution is over, we shall say so openly and straightforwardly. We shall then, in full view of the whole people, delete from our platform all our direct revolutionary slogans (such as the constituent assembly). We shall not deceive ourselves and others by Jesuitical sophistries (such as Plekhanov’s “a Duma with full power for the Cadets).[3] We shall not justify reaction and call reactionary constitutionalism a basis for sound realism. We shall say and prove to the proletariat that the treachery of the bourgeoisie and the vacillation of the small proprietors have killed the bourgeois revolution, and that the proletariat itself will now prepare for and carry out a new, socialist revolution. And therefore, the revolution having subsided, i.e., the bourgeoisie having utterly betrayed it, we shall under no circumstances agree to any blocs—not only with the opportunist, but even with the revolutionary bourgeoisie—for the decline of the revolution would convert bourgeois revolutionism into empty phrase-mongering.

That is why we are not in the least perturbed by the angry words which Larin hurls at us in such abundance, when he shouts that Bolshevism is approaching a crisis, that it is played out, that we have always trailed behind the Mensheviks, etc. All these pinpricks only evoke a condescending smile.

Individuals have left and will leave the Bolsheviks, but there cannot be any crisis in our trend. The fact is that right from the very beginning we declared (see One Step Forward, Two Steps Back[4] ): we are not creating a special “Bolshevik” trend, always and everywhere we merely uphold the point of view of revolutionary Social-Democracy. And right up to the social revolution there will inevitably always be an   opportunist wing and a revolutionary wing of Social-Democracy.

A cursory glance at the history of “Bolshevism” is sufficient to convince anyone of that.

1903-04. The Mensheviks advocate democracy in organisation. The Bolsheviks call this intellectualist phrase mongering, as long as the Party does not come out openly. In the Geneva pamphlet (1905), the Menshevik who signed himself “A Worker”[9] admits that in fact there was no democracy among the Mensheviks. The Menshevik Larin admits that their “talk about the elective principle” was “sheer invention”, an attempt to “deceive history”, and that, in fact, in the Menshevik “St. Petersburg group there was no elective principle even as late as the autumn of 1905” (p. 62). And immediately after the October Revolution the Bolsheviks were the first to announce, in Novaya Zhizn,[10] the actual introduction of democracy in the Party.[5]

End of 1904. The Zemstvo campaign. The Mensheviks trail behind the liberals. The Bolsheviks (in spite of the frequently circulated fable to the contrary) do not reject good demonstrations” before the Zemstvo councillors, but they reject the “poor arguments of the intellectuals,[6] who said that there were two contending forces in the arena (the tsar and the liberals), and that demonstrations before the Zemstvo councillors were a higher type of demonstration. Now the Menshevik Larin admits that the Zemstvo campaign was “sheer invention” (p. 62), that it was a “shrewd and cunning trick” (p. 57).

Beginning of 1905. The Bolsheviks openly and straight forwardly raise the question of an uprising and of preparing for it. In a resolution adopted at the Third Congress they predict the combination of the strike with an uprising. The Mensheviks are evasive and try to wriggle out of the tasks of an uprising; they talk about arming the masses with the fervid desire to arm themselves.

August-September 1905. The Mensheviks (Parvus in the new Iskra) call for participation in the Bulygin Duma. The Bolsheviks call for an active boycott of this Duma, for direct advocacy of an uprising.

October-December 1905. The popular struggle in the form of strikes and insurrection sweeps away the Bulygin Duma. The Menshevik Larin admits in a written declaration at the Unity Congress that when the tide of the revolution was at its height the Mensheviks acted like Bolsheviks. In the rudimentary bodies of the provisional government we, the Social-Democrats, sat side by side with the revolutionary bourgeoisie.

Beginning of 1906. The Mensheviks are despondent. They have no faith in the Duma and no faith in the revolution. They appeal for participation in the Duma elections in order to boycott the Duma (Larin, p. 57). The Bolsheviks do their duty as revolutionaries, do their utmost to achieve the boycott of the Second Duma, in which nobody in revolutionary circles had any confidence.

May-June 1906. The Duma campaign. The boycott has failed owing to the treachery of the bourgeoisie. The Bolsheviks conduct their revolutionary work on new, though worse ground. During the Duma period the whole people see still more clearly the difference between our tactics, the tactics of the revolutionary Social-Democrats, and opportunism: criticism of the Cadets in the Duma, the struggle to free the Trudoviks from Cadet influence, criticism of parliamentary illusions, advocacy of a revolutionary rapprochement among the Left groups in the Duma.

July 1906. The dissolution of the Duma. The Mensheviks lose their heads, declare for an immediate demonstration strike and partial actions. The Bolsheviks protest. Larin, referring to this, says nothing about the protest of the three members of the Central Committee which was published for Party members only. What Larin says about this incident is not true. The Bolsheviks point out the futility of a demonstration, and advocate an uprising at a later date.[7] The Mensheviks, in conjunction with the revolutionary bourgeoisie, sign appeals for an uprising.

End of 1906. The Bolsheviks realise that the treachery of the bourgeoisie makes it necessary to take a circuitous path and go into the Duma. Down with all blocs! Above all, down with blocs with the Cadets! The Mensheviks are in favour of blocs.

No, Comrade Larin, we have no need to be ashamed of this course of the struggle between the revolutionary and the opportunist wing of Russian Social-Democracy!


[1] Another instance of the irony of history! Ever since 1903 the Mensheviks have been shouting about the “formalism” and “bureaucratism” of the Bolsheviks. Since then they have always been in possession of the “bureaucratic” and “formal” prerogatives of the Party as a whole. And now a Menshevik confirms that Menshevism has degenerated into bureaucratism. The Bolsheviks could not have wished for a better rehabilitation of themselves. Larin is not looking for the bureaucratism of Menshevism where in fact it is rooted. The source of this bureaucratism is that opportunism which under the guise of “Europeanism” is being instilled into the Mensheviks by Axelrod and Plekhanov. There is no trace of “Europeanism” in the reflected ideology and habits of the Swiss petty bourgeois. Petty-bourgeois Switzerland is the servants’ ball of the real Europe, the Europe of revolutionary traditions and in tense class struggle of the broad masses. Bureaucratism was fully revealed in Plekhanov’s presentation of the question of a labour congress (a labour congress versus a Party congress), against which Larin is so fervently and sincerely protesting.—Lenin

[2] See present edition, Vol. 9, pp. 15-140.—Ed.

[3] See p. 333 of this volume—Ed.

[4] See present edition, Vol. 7, pp. 203-425.—Ed.

[5] See present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 29-39—Ed.

[6] The Geneva Vperyod, No. 1, (January 1905), contained a feuilleton which criticised the “plan of a Zemstvo campaign”; it was entitled “Good Demonstrations of Proletarians and Poor Arguments of Certain Intellectuals”. (See present edition, Vol. 8, pp. 29-34.—Ed.)—Lenin

[7] See pp. 128-30 of this volume—Ed.

[8] Vperyod (Forward)—an illegal Bolshevik newspaper published in Geneva from December 22, 1904 (January 4, 1905) to May 5 (18), 1903. Eighteen numbers appeared. The newspaper’s organiser, editor and guiding spirit was V. I. Lenin. Other members of the editorial board were V. V. Vorovsky, M. S. Olminsky, and A. V. Lunacharsky.

The outstanding part played by Vperyod in combating Menshevism, re-establishing the Party principles, and formulating and elucidating the issues posed by the rising revolution was acknowledged in a special resolution of the Third Party Congress, which recorded a vote of thanks to the editorial board.

[9] Lenin is referring to the pamphlet Workers and Intellectuals in Our Organisations, which appeared under the pseudonym “Rabochy” (“Worker”) in Geneva in 1904 with a preface by P. B. Axelrod. The author of the pamphlet opposed Lenin’s organisational plan for building the Party but was compelled to admit that the “democratism” of the Mensheviks amounted actually to a struggle for leading positions in the Party. A detailed characterisation of the pamphlet was given by Lenin in his article “Fine Words Butter No Parsnips”. “The pamphlet shows admirably how the knights of the ’fine phrase’ are exposed by their own followers,” wrote Lenin. (See present edition, Vol. 8, p. 58.)

[10] Novaya Zhizn (New Life)—the first legal Bolshevik newspaper, published in St. Petersburg as a daily from October 27 (November 9) to December 3 (16), 1905. On his return to St. Petersburg from emigration in early November Lenin took over the editorship. Novaya Zhizn was actually the Central Organ of the R.S.D.L.P. Closely associated with the paper were V. V. Vorovsky, M. S. Olminsky, A. V. Lunacharsky and others. Maxim Gorky contributed many articles and gave the paper considerable financial assistance.

Lenin’s first article “The Reorganisation of the Party” appeared in Novaya Zhizn, No. 9, November 10 (23), 1905. Then, over a dozen other articles of V. I. Lenin’s were printed. The newspaper attained a daily circulation of about 80,000. It suffered continual persecution; 15 issues out of 27 were confiscated and destroyed. After No. 27 of December 2 (15), Novaya Zhizn was closed down by the government. The last issue, No. 28, appeared illegally.

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