V. I.   Lenin

The Russian Radical is Wise After the Event

Published: Published October 18, 1906 in Vestnik Zhizni, No. 12. Signed: N. Lenin. Published according to the text in the magazine.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 236-240.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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Tovarishch of September 20 publishes an extremely instructive “conversation” between a Cadet and a certain more Left politician (a Trudovik?) who expresses the point of view of Mr. V. V. Kh—ov,[1] a contributor to that paper. This is how the radical takes the Cadet to task:

“Is it not the other way round?” he asks the Cadet, who was declaiming that only confidence in one’s rights can make one strong. “Is it not strength that makes one confident in the inviolability of right?” “The activities of your Party ... I regard as political quixotry.... You have been bolstering up fictions.” “Your constitutional illusions are to blame.... All that you said, and your way of saying it, created undue confidence in the power of the Duma. And this has certainly not facilitated the accumulation of social forces.... I always wished when I heard your speeches, in and outside the Duma, that you would stop treating the Duma as a constitutional body and regard it merely as an organ of the public will that was in conflict with another will.... The situation demanded most of all the organisation of our forces.... The Duma should have exerted every effort to create for itself the apparatus that the law had not given it.... You are exposing your Achilles’ heel—constitutional illusions.... I always had occasion to be convinced of one thing alone, and that is, how deeply constitutional fictions have eaten into your Party.... I am scolding [you, the Cadets] because you had ceased to feel that you were one of the combatants, and were acting, so to speak, as liquidators of the struggle.   You proposed in a casual way what in other countries materialised as a result of a struggle between the rival forces.”

An instructive statement, is it not? Only it is a pity that our valiant Bernsteinian “picked” a rather stupid Cadet to rounce in “conversation”. There are some who are a bit marter. There are some who closely watch Menshevik literature, particularly the writings of Plekhanov. Such a Cadet would have answered his opponent differently.

He would have said: My dear Radical! Qui prouve trop, ne prouve rien. He who proves too much, proves nothing. And you are undoubtedly proving far too much from the point of view of your own case. Did you not support us in the Duma elections and fight the boycotters? Now these elections put you under certain obligations. The keynote of these elections was entirely what you now call “constitutional illusions” (fie, fie, have you been reading Bolshevik literature?). Why, I could show you, my dear Radical, a nice passage—and more than one—in your own paper Tovarishch where you (not necessarily you personally, but your Party colleagues) assured the credulous Russian philistine that bad Cabinet Ministers would have to resign if the party of “people’s freedom” won the elections. What’s that? You don’t remember, my dear Radical? But we remember it very well. You could not take part in elections, my dear Sir, unless you promised to be loyal, unless you swore to use only constitutional methods of struggle. As for us, the party of people’s freedom, we make promises solely in order to carry them out, and for no other reason!

You say we had too much faith in the power of the Duma, that this did not help us to accumulate “our own” forces? But for God’s sake read Plekhanov, whom you certainly regard as an authority. After all, it is you, your colleagues, and not the Cadets, who are fond of stating in private conversation that they are really quite Social-Democrats in all respects and would have declared themselves such if ... if the Social-Democrats as a whole had entirely adopted Plekhanov’s standpoint. And was it not Plekhanov who said at the Unity Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party that only anarchists can shout about constitutional illusions? Did not Plekhanov move a resolution in which   the Duma was not only referred to as a power—and this title was confirmed by the Unity Congress of the Social-Democrats!!—but as a power “created by the tsar himself and sanctioned by law”? Did not Plekhanov himself write in the esteemed organ of the Mensheviks–and you gentlemen of Nasha Zhizn have always praised these tendencies of the Mensheviks!—that constructive work in the Duma has the most agitational effect? And you applauded Plekhanov; in the press you admired his “courage” (yes, that is exactly how you expressed it) in combating “Blanquism”! You have not managed, literally, to wear out your shoes since that happened, and yet you yourselves are already repeating these deplorable Blanquist fallacies!!

If the Cadet had defended himself like this, his defence would have been an attack, and the radical would have been utterly discomfited....

By his present guerrilla attack on constitutional illusions this radical reminds us of the hero of the popular epic who greeted a funeral procession with the cry: “Many happy returns of the day.” Just think: when was the struggle against constitutional illusions a vital and urgent necessity? Obviously, when they were flourishing and could, and in fact did, cause widespread harm by tempting the “small fry”. In other words, when the masses might have imagined, and could not but imagine, that there was a constitution, whereas there was none at all. This was exactly the situation during the elections to the First Duma and while the Duma was sitting, i.e., from March to June 1906. It was then that constitutional illusions caused widespread harm. At that time, however, only the Bolshevik Social-Democrats systematically combated them, swimming against the stream. At that time Kh—ov and other contributors to “Nasha Zhizn” fostered these illusions, “warring” with the Bolsheviks, and scolding them for their sharp criticism of the Cadets.

Now, the Duma is dissolved. The Cadets are defeated. No one even imagines that there is such a thing as a constitution. Now even not very noble animals may kick the Cadets (“I scold them”—see the “conversation”) and curse constitutional illusions at every fifth word. Ah, my dear Radicals! Your action comes too late!

The case of Kh—ov & Co. provides an illuminating example of how people who regard themselves as enlightened politicians, and even as free.thinkers or radicals, drift with the tide, helpless and without convictions, flabby and powerless. From March to June 1906 they fostered constitutional illusions, calling the Duma a power, trailing behind the Cadets, turning up their noses disdainfully at ruthless criticism of this, then fashionable, party. In September 1906 they “scold” the Cadets and “war” against constitutional illusions without realising that they are lagging behind again, that this is not enough now, and that what is needed is a direct call for a definite (determined by the preceding course of historical development) form of revolutionary struggle.

It would be well if the example of these gentlemen taught the Russian intelligentsia, which so prolifically produces such jelly-fish, to realise how harmful opportunism is. Very often this word is wrongly regarded as “merely a term of abuse” and no attempt is made to grasp its meaning. The opportunist does not betray his party, he does not act as a traitor, he does not desert it. He continues to serve it sincerely and zealously. But his typical and characteristic trait is that he yields to the mood of the moment, he is unable to resist what is fashionable, he is politically short sighted and spineless. Opportunism means sacrificing the permanent and essential interests of the party to momentary, transient and minor interests. A slight revival of industry, a relative improvement in trade and a slight revival of bourgeois liberalism, and the opportunist begins to shout: Don’t frighten the bourgeoisie away, don’t fight shy of it, drop your “phrase-mongering” about social revolution! The Duma has assembled, a police-constitutional “spring” is in the air—and lo! the opportunist is already calling the Duma a power, hastening to curse the “fatal” boycott and hurrying forward with the slogan: support the demand for a Duma, i.e., a Cadet, Cabinet. As soon as the tide turns, the opportunist, just as sincerely, and just as inopportunely, begins to “scold” the Cadets and demolish constitutional illusions.

If such moods characteristic of the intelligentsia prevail it will be impossible to adopt a consistent policy worthy of   a genuinely revolutionary class and to pursue it steadfastly through all minor deviations and waverings so as to prepare for a selflessly bold and determined battle with the enemy. That is why the class-conscious proletariat must be critical of the intelligentsia which is coming over to its side and must learn to wage a ruthless struggle against opportunism in politics.


[1] V. V. Kh—ov is V. V. Khizhnyakov.

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