V. I.   Lenin

Preface to the Pamphlet by Voinov (A. V. Lunacharsky) on the Attitude of the Party Towards the Trade Unions[5]

Written: Written in November 1907
Published: First published in 1933 in Lenin Miscellany XXV. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 13, pages 161-168.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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Comrade Voinov s pamphlet on the attitude of the socialist party of the proletariat towards the trade unions is open to a good deal of misconstruction. There are two reasons for this. In the first place, the author, in the ardour of his fight against a narrow and incorrect conception of Marxism, against an unwillingness to take into consideration the new needs of the working-class movement and take a broader and more profound view of the matter, often ex presses himself in too general terms. He attacks orthodoxy—true, orthodoxy in inverted commas, i.e., pseudo-orthodoxy—or German Social-Democracy in general, when, as a matter of fact, his criticism is aimed only at the vulgarisers of orthodoxy, only at the opportunist wing of Social-Democracy. Secondly, the author writes for the Russian public, but hardly takes into consideration the various shadings in the formulation under Russian conditions of the questions he examines. Comrade Voinov’s point of view is very far removed from the views of the Russian syndicalists, Mensheviks, and Socialist-Revolutionaries. The inattentive or unconscientious reader, however, can easily cavil at one or another phrase or idea of the writer, seeing that the latter had before his eyes chiefly Frenchmen and Italians and did not undertake the task of dissociating him self from all kinds of Russian muddleheads.

As an example of the latter we would mention the Socialist-Revolutionaries. In Znamya Truda, No. 5, they declare with their usual presumption: ”The Socialist International   approved the point of view on the trade-union movement which we [!] have always [!] maintained.” Let us take the Collected Articles, No. 1 (1907), published by Nasha Mysl. Mr. Victor Chernov takes Kautsky to task, but is silent about the Mannheim resolution and Kautsky’s struggle against the opportunist neutralists! Kautsky’s article, which the S. R. hack writer attacks, was written on the eve of Mannheim.[6] In Mannheim Kautsky opposed the neutralists. The Mannheim resolution “makes a considerable breach in trade-union neutrality” (Kautsky’s expression in an article on the Mannheim Congress published in Die Neue Zeit[7] for October 6,1906). And now, in 1907, along comes a critic, who poses as a revolutionary and calls Kautsky “a great dogmatist and inquisitor of Marxism”, accusing him—quite in unison with the opportunist neutralists!—of tendentiously belittling the role of the trade unions, of a desire to “subordinate” them to the party, and so on. If we add to this that the S.R.’s always stood for non-Party trade unions, and that Znamya Truda, No. 2 for July 12, 1907 carried an editorial saying that “party propaganda has its place outside the union”, we shall get a full picture of the S.R.’s revolutionism.

When Kautsky combated opportunist neutralism and further developed and deepened the theory of Marxism, moving the trade unions leftwards, these gentlemen fell upon him, repeating the catchwords of the opportunists and continuing on the sly to advocate non-partisanship of the trade unions. When the same Kautsky moved the trade unions still further leftwards by amending Beer’s resolution at Stuttgart and laying stress in this resolution on the socialist tasks of the trade unions, the gentlemen of the S. B. fraternity started shouting: the Socialist International has endorsed our point of view!

The question arises, are such methods worthy of members of the Socialist International? Does not such criticism testify to presumption and lack of principle?

A specimen of such presumption among the Social-Democrats is the former revolutionary Plekhanov, who is deeply respected by the liberals. In a preface to the pamphlet We And They he declares with inimitable, incomparable complacency that the Stuttgart resolution (on the trade   unions) with my amendment deprives the London resolution (that of the London Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.) of its significance. Probably many readers, upon reading this declaration of our magnificent Narcissus, will believe that the struggle at Stuttgart was fought precisely over this amendment of Plekhanov’s and that generally speaking this amendment had some serious significance.

In reality, this amendment (“unity of the economic struggle should always be borne in mind”) had no serious significance whatever. It even had no bearing on the essence of the questions in dispute at Stuttgart, on the essence of the differences of opinion in international socialism.

As a matter of fact, Plekhanov’s raptures over “his” amendment have a very vulgar significance—to mislead the reader by drawing his attention away from the really disputable questions of the trade-union movement and to conceal the defeat of the idea of neutralism in Stuttgart.

The Stockholm Congress of the B.S.D.L.P. (1906), at which the Mensheviks won the day, adhered to the point of view of trade-union neutrality. The London Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. took a different stand and proclaimed the necessity of working towards partisanship of the unions. The Stuttgart International Congress adopted a resolution, which “puts an end to neutrality once and for all”, as Kautsky rightly expressed it.[1] Plekhanov went into the Commission of the Stuttgart Congress to defend neutrality, as described in detail by Voinov. And Clara Zetkin wrote in Die Gleichheit, the mouthpiece of the women’s labour movement of Germany, that “Plekhanov attempted by rather unconvincing arguments to justify a certain limitation of this principle”[2] (i.e., the principle of close alignment of the unions with the Party).

Thus, the principle of neutrality which Plekhanov advocated was a failure. His arguments were considered “unconvincing” by the German revolutionary Social-Democrats.   And he, self-admiringly, declares: “my” amendment was adopted and the resolution of the London Congress loses its significance....

Yes, yes, but, on the other hand, the Nozdrev presumption[8] of a socialist respected by the liberals apparently does not lose any of its significance.

Comrade Voinov is wrong, I believe, in saying that the German orthodox socialists consider the idea of storming harmful and that orthodoxy “had all but adopted the whole spirit of the new Economism”. This cannot be said of Kautsky, and Comrade Voinov himself admits the correctness of Kautsky’s views. While blaming the Germans for “saying too little about the role of the trade unions as organisers of socialist production”, Comrade Voinov mentions else where the opinion of Liebknecht senior, who recognised this role in the most emphatic terms. Another mistake of Comrade Voinov was to believe Plekhanov when the latter said that Bebel deliberately omitted mention of the Russian revolution in his speech of welcome, and that Bebel did not want to speak about Russia. These words of Plekhanov’s were simply crude buffoonery on the part of a socialist who is deeply respected by the liberals and should not for a moment have been taken seriously, should not have evoked even the possibility of believing that there was an iota of truth in them. For my part I can testify that during Bebel’s speech, Van Kol, a representative of the socialist Right wing who sat next to me in the Bureau, listened to Bebel specially to see whether he would mention Russia. And as soon as Bebel had finished, Van Kol turned to me with a look of surprise; he did not doubt (nor did a single serious member of the Congress) that Bebel had forgotten Russia accidentally. The best and most experienced speakers some times make slips. For Comrade Voinov to call this forgetfulness on the part of the veteran Bebel “characteristic”, is, in my opinion, most unfair. It is also profoundly unfair to speak in general about the “present-day” opportunistic Bebel. There are no grounds for such a generalisation.

To avoid misunderstandings, however, let me say at once that if anyone tried to use these expressions of Comrade   Voinov’s against the revolutionary German Social Democrats, this would be seizing dishonestly oh particular words. Comrade Voinov has abundantly proved by his whole pamphlet that he is on the side of the German revolutionary Marxists (like Kautsky), that he is working together with them to get rid of old prejudices, opportunist clichés, and short-sighted complacency. That is why even in Stuttgart, I lined up with Comrade Voinov on all essentials and agree with him now regarding the entire character of his revolutionary criticism. He is absolutely right in saying that we must now learn from the Germans and profit by their experience. Only ignoramuses, who have still learned nothing from the Germans and therefore do not know the ABC, can infer from this a “divergence” within revolutionary Social-Democracy. We must criticise the mistakes of the German leaders fearlessly and openly if we wish to be true to the spirit of Marx and help the Russian socialists to be equal to the present-day tasks of the workers’ movement. Bebel was undoubtedly mistaken at Essen as well when he defended Noske, when he upheld the division of wars into defensive and offensive, when he attacked the method of struggle of the “radicals” against. Van Kol, when he denied (with Singer) the failure and fallacy of the German delegation’s tactics at Stuttgart. We should not conceal these mistakes, but should use them as an example to teach the Russian Social-Democrats how to avoid them and live up to the more rigorous requirements of revolutionary Marxism. And let not the Russian anarchist and syndicalist small fry, the liberals, and S.R.’s crow over our criticism of Bebel. We shall tell these gentlemen: “Eagles sometimes fly lower than hens, but hens can never fly as high as eagles!”

A little over two years ago Mr. Struve, who at that time defended the revolution, wrote about the necessity of open revolutionary action and maintained that the revolution must assume power—this Mr. Struve wrote in Osvobozhdeniye,[9] No. 71 (published abroad): “In comparison with the revolutionism of Mr. Lenin and his associates the revolutionism of the West-European Social-Democracy of   Bebel, and even of Kautsky, is opportunism”. I answered Mr. Struve at the time: “When and where did I ever claim to have created any sort of special trend in international Social-Democracy not identical with the trend of Bebel and Kautsky?” (Two Tactics, p. 50 of the Russian edition).[3]

In the summer of 1907 in a pamphlet on the question of boycott of the Third Duma, I had to point out that it would be basically wrong to identify Bolshevism with boycottism or boyevism.

Now, on the question of the trade unions, equally strong emphasis should be placed on the fact that Bolshevism applies the tactics of revolutionary Social-Democracy in all fields of struggle, in all spheres of activity. What distinguishes Bolshevism from Menshevism is not that the former “repudiates” work in the trade unions or the co-operative societies, etc., but that the former takes a different line in the work of propaganda, agitation, and organisation of the working class. Today activity in the trade unions undoubtedly assumes tremendous importance. In contrast to the neutralism of the Mensheviks we must conduct this activity on the lines of closer alignment of the unions with the Party, of the development of socialist consciousness and an understanding of the revolutionary tasks of the proletariat. In Western Europe revolutionary syndicalism in many countries was a direct and inevitable result of opportunism, reformism, and parliamentary cretinism. In our country, too, the first steps of “Duma activity” increased opportunism to a tremendous extent and reduced the Mensheviks to servility before the Cadets. Plekhanov, for example, in his everyday political work, virtually merged with the Prokopovich and Kuskova gentry. In 1900, he denounced them for Bernsteinism, for contemplating only the “posterior” of the Russian proletariat (Vademecum for the editorial staff of Rabocheye Dyelo, Geneva, 1900). In 1906-07, the first ballot papers threw Plekhanov into the arms of these gentlemen, who are now contemplating the “posterior” of Russian liberalism. Syndicalism cannot help developing on Russian soil as a reaction against this shameful conduct of “distinguished” Social-Democrats.

Comrade Voinov, therefore, is quite correct in taking the line of calling upon the Russian Social-Democrats to learn from the example of opportunism and from the example of syndicalism. Revolutionary work in the trade unions, shifting the emphasis from parliamentary trickery to the education of the proletariat, to rallying the purely class organisations, to the struggle outside parliament, to ability to use (and to prepare the masses for the possibility of successfully using) the general strike, as well as the “December forms of struggle”,[10] in the Russian revolution—all this comes very strongly into prominence as the task of the Bolshevik trend. And the experience of the Russian revolution immensely facilitates this task for us, provides a wealth of practical guidance and historical data making it. possible to appraise in the most concrete way the new methods of struggle, the mass strike, and the use of direct force. These methods of struggle are least of all “new” to the Russian Bolsheviks, the Russian proletariat. They are “new” to the opportunists, who are doing their utmost to erase from the minds of the workers in the West the memory of the Commune, and from the minds of the workers in Russia the memory of December 1905. To strengthen these memories, to make a scientific study of that great experience,[4] to spread its lessons among the masses and the realisation of its inevitable repetition on a new scale— this task of the revolutionary Social-Democrats in Russia opens up before us prospects infinitely richer than the one-sided “anti-opportunism” and “anti-parliamentarism” of the syndicalists.

Against syndicalism, as a special trend, Comrade Voinov levels four accusations (p. 19 onwards of his pamphlet), which show up its falsity with striking clearness: (1) the   "anarchistic looseness of the organisation”; (2) keeping the workers keyed up instead of creating a firm “stronghold of class organisation”; (3) the petty-bourgeois-individualistic features of its ideal and of the Proudhon. theory; (4) a stupid “aversion to politics”.

There are here not a few points of resemblance to the old “Economism” among the Russian Social-Democrats. Hence I am not so optimistic as Comrade Voinov in regard to a “reconciliation” with revolutionary Social—Democracy on the part of those Economists who have gone over to syndicalism. I also think that Comrade Voinov’s proposals for a “General Labour Council as a superarbiter, with the participation in it of Socialist-Revolutionaries, are quite unpractical. This is mixing up the “music of the future” with the organisational forms of the present. But I am not in the least afraid of Comrade Voinov’s perspective, namely: “subordination of political organisations to a class social organisation” ... “only when [I am still quoting Comrade Voinov, stressing the important words]... all trade-unionists will have become socialists”. The class instinct of the proletarian mass has already begun. to be manifested in Russia with full force. This class instinct already provides tremendous guarantees both against the petty-bourgeois woolliness of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and against the Mensheviks’ servility to the Cadets. We can already boldly assert that the mass workers’ organisation in Russia (if it were to be created and in so far as it is for a minute created, if only by elections, strikes, demonstrations, etc.) is sure to be closer to Bolshevism, to revolutionary Social-Democracy.

Comrade Voinov rightly regards the “labour congress” adventure as a “frivolous” affair. We shall work hard in the trade unions, we shall work in all fields to spread the revolutionary theory of Marxism among the proletariat and to build up a “stronghold” of class organisation. The rest will come of itself.


[1] Vorwärts, 1907, No. 209, Beilage, Kautsky’s report to the Leipzig workers on the Congress in Stuttgart. See Kalendar dlya vsekh, 1908, Zerno Publishers, p. 173, my article on the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart. (See pp. 87-88 of this volume.—Ed.) —Lenin

[2] See Kalendar dlya vsekh, p. 173, as well as the collected articles of Zarnitsky (St. Petersburg, 1907), which gives a complete translation of this article from Die Gleichheit. —Lenin

[3] See present edition, Vol. 9, p. 66.—Ed.

[4] It is natural that the Cadets should be eagerly studying the history of the two Dumas. It is natural that they should regard the platitudes and betrayals of Rodichev-Kutlerov liberalism as gems of creation. It is natural that they should falsify history by drawing a veil of silence over their negotiations with the reaction, etc. It is unnatural for the Social-Democrats not to eagerly study October-December 1905, if only because each day of that period meant a hundred times more to the destinies of all the peoples or Russia and the working class in particular than Rodichev’s “loyal” phrases in the Duma. —Lenin

[5] The Preface to the Pamphlet by Voinov (A. V. Lunacharshy) on the Attitude of the Party Towards the Trade Unions was written by Lenin in November 1907. Lunacharsky’s pamphlet was never published.

[6] This refers to the Mannheim Congress of the German Social-Democratic Party held September 23-29 (new style), 1906. The chief item on the agenda was the question of the mass political strike, which the German Social-Democrats, at their Jena Congress in 1905, recognised as the most important method of political struggle.   Mention was made in this connection of the trade unions, which rejected the idea of a mass political strike as being anarchistic. The Mannheim Congress did not openly condemn the opportunist position of the trade unions, but recommended all party members to join trade-union organisations, and trade-union members to join the S D. Party “in order to infuse the spirit of Social-Democracy into the trade-union movement”.

[7] Die Neue Zeit—the theoretical journal of the German Social-Democratic Party, published in Stuttgart from 1883 to 1923. Up to October 1917 it was edited by Karl Kautsky and subsequently by Heinrich Cunow. Some of the works of Marx and Engels were first published in its columns, among them Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme and Engels’s Contribution to the Critique of the Draft Social-Democratic Programme of 1891. Engels regularly helped the editors with suggestions and advice and often criticised them for departures from Marxism. Contributors included August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring, Clara Zetkin, Paul Lafargue, G. V. Plekhanov, and other leading figures in the German and international labour movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Beginning with the late nineties, after the death of Engels, the Neue Zeit made a regular practice of publishing articles by revisionists, notably Bern stein’s series “Problems of Socialism”, which launched the revisionists’ campaign against Marxism. During the First World War the journal adopted a Centrist stand, in effect supporting the social-chauvinists.

[8] Nozdrev—a character from Gogol’s Dead Souls, typifying a bullying landlord and cheat.

[9] Osvobozhdeniye (Emancipation)—a fortnightly journal published abroad from June 18 (July 1), 1902 to October 5 (18), 1905 under the editorship of P. Struve. It was the organ of the Russian liberal bourgeoisie and expounded the ideas of moderate monarchist liberalism. In 1903, the Osvobozhdeniye League was formed around the journal, taking definite shape in January 1904 and existing until October 1905. Together with the Zemstvo constitutionalists, the Osvobozhdeniye liberals formed. the core of the Constitutional-Democratic Party (the Cadets), which was founded in October 1905, and became the chief party of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie in Russia.

[10] This refers 16 the armed uprising of the workers against the autocracy in December 1905.

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