V. I.   Lenin

Two Letters

Published: Proletary, No. 39, November 13 (26), 1908. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1973, Moscow, Volume 15, pages 286-302.
Transcription\Markup: A. Blunden
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2000). 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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We print in the present issue of Proletary a letter from an otzovist worker[1] published in No. 5 of Rabocheye Znamya with a note from the editors saying that they do not share his views, and regard the letter as an article for discussion; and secondly a letter from Mikhail Tomsky, a St. Petersburg worker, which our paper has just received. We print both letters in full. We are well aware that there may be malicious critics capable of wrenching separate passages or phrases from their context, in one or other of these letters, and of grossly misinterpreting them, drawing conclusions from them remote from the intentions of both authors, who were writing hurriedly, in the most unfavourable conditions of secrecy. But it is not worth taking notice of such critics. Any person who is seriously interested in the state of the working-class movement and the condition of Social-Democracy in Russia at the present time will most probably agree with us that both letters are remarkably characteristic of two tendencies among our class-conscious workers. These two tendencies are revealing themselves at every turn in the life of all the Social-Democratic organisations of St. Petersburg and Moscow. And as the third tendency, the tendency of Menshevism, which is frankly and openly—or secretly and shamefacedly—burying the Party, is scarcely represented at all within the local organisations, we can say that the clash between these two tendencies is the topic of the day in our Party. That is why it is necessary to dwell in full detail on the two letters.

Both writers recognise that our Party is going through a crisis, not only of organisation but also of ideology and   policy. This is a fact which it would be stupid to hide. We must clearly realise its reasons and understand the way to combat it.

Let us begin with the St. Petersburg worker., It is clear from his whole letter that there are two reasons for the crisis, in his opinion. On the one hand, the lack of Social- Democratic leaders from among the workers has had this result, that the almost mass desertion of the Party by the intellectuals has meant in many places a break-down of the organisation, incapacity to rally and close its ranks, grown thin through heavy repression and the apathy and fatigue of the masses. On the other hand, in the author’s opinion, our propaganda and our agitation greatly exaggerated “the present situation”, i. e., they concentrated on questions of revolutionary tactics of the moment and not on the preaching of socialism, not on developing the Social- Democratic consciousness of the proletariat. “Workers became revolutionaries, democrats, anything but socialists”; and when the wave of the general democratic, i. e., bourgeois-democratic movement subsided, they left the ranks of the Social-Democratic Party in very large numbers. The St. Petersburg worker links this view with a sharp criticism of “groundless” “invention” of slogans, and with a demand for more serious propaganda work.

We consider that, in arguing against one extreme, the writer sometimes falls into the other; but by and large his point of view is unquestionably and completely correct. It cannot be said that it was a “mistake” to make “whole campaigns” out of topics of the day. This is exaggerated. This means forgetting yesterday’s conditions from the point of view of present-day conditions, and in fact the writer corrects himself by admitting that “the moment of direct actions by the proletariat is, of course, an exceptional question”. Let us take two such actions, as far as possible differing in character and separated in time: the boycott of the Bulygin Duma in the autumn of 1905 and the elections to the Second Duma at the beginning of 1907. Could a proletarian party, at all alive and vital, not concentrate its principal attention and main agitation at such a time on the slogans of the day? Could a Social-Democratic Party which was leading the masses of the proletariat at both   these moments not concentrate its internal struggle on slogans which would determine the immediate action of the masses? To enter the Bulygin Duma or to thwart it? To go into the elections for the Second Duma in a bloc with the Cadets, or against the Cadets? It is sufficient to put these questions clearly, and to recall the conditions of this not distant past, to shed all doubt about the reply. The fierce struggle for this or that slogan came about, not because of a “mistake” by the Party—no, it was aroused by the objective necessity for a swift and solid decision, in conditions when there was no unity in the Party, and when there were two lines of tactics, two ideological cur rents in the Party, a petty-bourgeois opportunist one and a proletarian revolutionary one.

Neither should things be represented as though not enough was being done at the time for the propaganda of socialism and for spreading knowledge of Marxism among the masses. That would be untrue. It is precisely at that period, from 1905 to 1907, that a mass of serious theoretical Social- Democratic literature—mainly translated—was disseminated in Russia on a scale which will yet bear fruit. We must not be sceptics, we must not impose our own impatience on the masses. Such quantities of theoretical literature cast in so short a time among the virgin masses who had been as yet scarcely touched by a socialist pamphlet, are not digested all at once. The Social-Democratic booklet is not lost. It has been sown. It is growing. And it will bear its fruits—perhaps not tomorrow or the day after, but a little later; we cannot alter the objective conditions in which a new crisis is growing—but it will bear, fruit.

Nevertheless there is a profound truth in the main idea of the writer. The truth consists in this, that in a bourgeois-democratic revolution there is inevitably a certain interweaving of proletarian-socialist and petty-bourgeois- democratic (both opportunist-democratic and revolutionary-democratic) elements and tendencies. There could be no first campaign of a bourgeois revolution in a capitalistically developing “peasant” country without the objective fusion of certain proletarian sections and certain petty- bourgeois sections making itself felt. And we are now going through a process of necessary sorting-out, demarcation,   new crystallisation of the genuinely proletarian-socialist elements, their cleansing from those who had “attached themselves to the movement” (what the Germans call Mitläufer) only because of an “arresting” slogan on the one hand, or for the sake of a joint struggle with the Cadets for a “Duma with full powers”, on the other.

This sorting-out is taking place, in varying degrees, in both wings of the Social-Democrats. One cannot get away from the fact that the ranks have been thinned both among the Mensheviks and among the Bolsheviks! We must not be afraid to admit it. There cannot be the least doubt, of course, that the disintegration and demoralisation which can be seen in the ranks of the Right wing of the Party has been avoided by the Left wing. And this is not an accident. Lack of stability in principles could not but facilitate collapse. Events will ultimately show in practice where and how the greatest unity of organisation, proletarian loyalty, Marxist consistency have been preserved. Experience resolves such arguments—not words or promises or pledges. The fact remains that disunity and wavering exist, and this fact calls for an explanation. And there can be no other explanation than the necessity of a new sorting out.

Let us illustrate this thought with small examples— the composition of the “prison population” (as the lawyers call it), i. e., the make-up of the people who are in prison, in exile, on hard labour or in emigration for political reasons. That composition does correctly reflect the reality of yesterday. And can there be any doubt that the composition of the “politicals” in places remote and not so remote, is distinguished at present by a tremendous variety of political views and moods, a hotchpotch and utter confusion? The revolution raised up to political life such deep- lying sections of the people, it often brought out on to the surface so many casuals, so many “knights for a day”, so many newcomers, that it was quite inevitable that very many of them should lack any kind of integrated outlook on the world. Such an outlook cannot be shaped in the course of a few months of feverish activity—and the average “life expectancy” of most of the revolutionaries during the first period of our revolution probably does not exceed a   few months. Therefore a new sorting-out among the new social layers, the new groups, the new revolutionaries awakened by the revolution is quite inevitable. And this sorting-out is going on. For example, the burial of the Social-Democratic Party, which a number of Mensheviks are attempting, really means that these worthy gentry are burying themselves as Social-Democrats. We certainly need not fear this sorting-out.. We should welcome it, we should help it. Let there be snivelling from the flabby-minded, who here and there will begin shouting: Again struggle! Again internal friction! Again polemics! Our reply is that without unremitting struggle no genuinely proletarian, revolutionary Social-Democracy has ever built up any where. With us in Russia it is building up even in the present difficult circumstances, and that process will be successful. The guarantee for this is the whole capitalist development of Russia, the impact of international socialism on us, the revolutionary tendency of the first campaign of 1905-07.

In the interests of this new sorting-out a strengthening of theoretical work is essential. The “present moment” in Russia is precisely one in which the theoretical work of Marxism, its deepening and expansion, are dictated not by the state of mind of this or that individual, not by the enthusiasm of one or another group, and not even by the external police conditions which have condemned many to elimination from “practical work"—but by the whole objective state of affairs in the country. When the masses are digesting a new and exceptionally rich experience of direct revolutionary struggle, the theoretical struggle for a revolutionary outlook, i.e., for revolutionary Marxism, be comes the watchword of the day. Therefore the St. Peters burger is a thousand times right when he emphasises the necessity of deepening socialist propaganda, of working out new questions, of encouraging and developing in every possible way the study groups which are turning out real Social-Democrats, Social-Democratic leaders of the masses, from amongst the workers themselves. Here the role of the local Party cells—the very mention of which throws Dan and Co. into epileptic convulsions—is exceptionally great, and the “professional revolutionaries” so hateful to the   opportunist intellectuals are called upon to play a new and gratifying part.

But even here, while defending an absolutely correct idea, Mikhail Tomsky partly falls into the other extreme. Thus, he is wrong when he strikes out of the list of “serious questions” a study of the experience of the revolution during these three years, a study of the practical lessons of the direct struggle of the masses, a summing up of the results of revolutionary-political agitation, etc. Here, most probably, there is simply a gap. in the writer’s statement of his case, or minor mistakes due to the conditions in which his letter was hastily written. This study, this summing up before the widest possible working-class audience, are much more important than the question of “local courts”, “local self-government” and suchlike “reforms” in Stolypin’s Russia about which bureaucrats and liberals love to chatter. Such “reforms” under a Black-Hundred Duma and a Black-Hundred autocracy are bound to be a farce.

But Mikhail Tomsky is absolutely right when he strongly objects to the “invention of slogans” in general, and such slogans as “down with the Duma” or “down with the Duma group” in particular. He is a thousand times right when he contrasts this “floundering” with sustained Social-Democratic work of organisation, propaganda and agitation to strengthen the Social-Democratic Party, to reinforce its traditions so hateful to the opportunists, to maintain continuity in its work, to extend and stabilise the influence of this Party, the old Party (rage, editors of the opportunists’ Golos!) over the masses of the proletariat.

This brings us to the letter of the Moscow comrade and to criticism of its main point, namely, the far-famed “otzovism”. We have repeatedly come out in Proletary against otzovism, ever since the time when a minority of the Bolsheviks at the Moscow conference moved their well-known resolution on this question (see Proletary, No. 31). We now have before us, also in the name of a minority of the Moscow Bolsheviks, a first systematic attempt to make out a case for otzovism. Let us look at it more closely.

The otzovist comrade starts from the correct premise t.hat the objective tasks of a bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia have not been achieved, and that “the revolution   has not been liquidated”. But from this correct premise he draws wrong conclusions. “To what should our Party adapt itself?” he asks. “To years of stagnation, or to a new social upsurge?” And this is where he goes wrong. From the fact that the revolution has not been liquidated there follows the inevitability of a new bourgeois-democratic upsurge—and only that. But it does. not follow from this either that this upsurge will wholly follow the pattern of the old grouping of elements among bourgeois democracy (a re-grouping might take much longer than we and our opponent might like), or that a “social upsurge” (it were better to say: revolutionary upsurge) is impossible after, say, a year of stagnation. We have gone through not less than a year of stagnation, and we are still experiencing it. The otzovist comrade himself admits that “it is difficult and even impossible to say what will be that external cause which will set in motion ... the masses”. Moreover, in inviting the Party “to adapt our tactics and organisation to it Ito the revolution, i. e., to a revolutionary upsurge I, and not to the political moment of stagnation we are going through”, the writer is himself proposing that the organisation should be reconstructed in keeping with the moment of stagnation, with the frantic police repressions, with the impossibility of direct and immediate contacts between our committees and the masses of workers. There is no doubt that in conditions of an upsurge the author would. not put forward such a plan of organisation or make it a key issue. Consequently, he is in fact refuting his own statement of the question, he is, by his practice, making an amendment to his theory. This happened because he stated his theoretical premise wrongly. From the inevitability of a new upsurge there follows the necessity of maintaining both our old programme and the old revolutionary watch words of all our mass work, the necessity of systematically preparing the Party and the masses for new revolutionary battles. But it does not follow from this whether the up surge has or has not already begun, and whether we have to “adapt ourselves” to its opening stage, or to its highest point. In 1897, in 1901, and at the beginning of 1905, it was absolutely true that a new revolutionary upsurge was inevitable (after the weak upsurges in the early sixties and   late seventies); but at these three moments the revolutionary Social-Democrats knew how to adapt their tactics to the varying conditions of mounting crisis. In 1897 we rejected the “plan” of a general strike, as a. phrase—and we were right. In 1901 we did not make the slogan of insurrection the order of the day. After January 9, 1905, both this slogan and a mass strike were correctly made the order of the day by the revolutionary Social-Democrats. We do not wish to imply by any means that a new upsurge is bound (or even “likely”) to be as slow. On the contrary, all the facts and all the experience of revolutions in Europe oblige us to expect a tempo incomparably more rapid than in the years 1897-1905. The fact remains that at different moments of the upsurge the revolutionary Social-Democrats always put forward different slogans. The mistake of the otzovist comrade is that he forgets this experience of revolutionary Social-Democracy.

Proceeding to our Duma group, the otzovist comrade starts out with the premise: “The natural fulfilment of the Party, its diplomatic representative, so to speak, is the Duma group.” This is wrong. The author exaggerates the significance and the role of the parliamentary group. The author is extolling that role beyond measure, in Menshevik fashion: there must be something in what people say about extremes meeting! From the view that the parliamentary group is the “fulfilment” of the Party the Mensheviks arrive at the conclusion that it is necessary to adapt the Party to the group. The otzovists arrive at the conclusion that such a poor “fulfilment” of the Party is disastrous to the Party. In both cases the premise is false. Nowhere under any conditions, even in the most “ideal” bourgeois-democratic republic, would revolutionary Social-Democracy agree to recognise its parliamentary group either as the “natural fulfilment” of the Party or as its “diplomatic representative”. Such a view is deeply fallacious. We send deputies into bourgeois and bourgeois-Black-Hundred representative institutions not for diplomacy, but for a special type of subsidiary Party work, for agitation and propaganda from a particular rostrum. Even when there is an “ideal” democratic franchise, the parliamentary group of a workers’ party will always bear certain traces of the influence   of the general bourgeois circumstances in which the elections take place: for example, it will always be more “intellectual” than the Party as a whole, and therefore we shall never recognise the group to be the “fulfilment” of the Party. The parliamentary group is not a general staff (if I may be allowed to use a “military” simile side by side with the “diplomatic” one used by the writer), but rather a unit of trumpetors in one case, or a reconnaissance unit in another, or an organisation of some other auxiliary “arm”.

The otzovist comrade has transformed the parliamentary group from a subsidiary Party organisation into the “fulfilment” of the Party in order, by exaggerating the significance of the group, to attribute an entirely wrong character to the activity of the contingent which we have sent into the bourgeois-Black-Hundred Duma.

But possibly the writer would not insist on this “fulfilment”. Elsewhere in his article he says quite rightly: “One of the chief motives which induced the Party to take part in the elections was its hope of using the Duma rostrum for propaganda and agitation.” That is true, and the writer’s objection to this true proposition displays his error most forcibly. He writes: “Events, however, showed that agitation in the Third Duma was of no value at all, first because of the make-up of the group itself, and secondly because the masses are completely indifferent to all that goes on within the walls of the Taurida Palace.”

We shall begin our examination of this proposition, which is so full of errors, from the end. Agitation is of no value at all because the masses are completely indifferent to all that goes on in the Duma. What is this? What does it mean? It would appear, from this monstrous logic, that we should have to “recall” not the parliamentary group but the “masses” for their “indifference"! For, as we all know, what is carried on in the Duma is the policy of the autocracy, the policy of support for tsarism by the Black-Hundred landlord and the Octobrist big capitalist, the policy of servility to tsarism on the part of the liberal Cadet gas-bag. To be indifferent “to all that goes on within the walls of the Taurida Palace” means to be indifferent to the autocracy, to the whole internal and external policy of the autocracy! The writer has once again produced an argument   in the spirit of Menshevism inside out. “If the masses are indifferent, then the Social-Democrats should be indifferent too.” But we are a party leading the masses to socialism, and not at all one which follows every change in mood or depression in the spirits of the masses. All Social-Democratic parties have, had to cope at times with the apathy of the masses, or their infatuation with some error, some fashion (chauvinism, anti-Semitism, anarchism, Boulangism,[2] etc.), but never do consistently revolutionary Social-Democrats yield to every changing mood of the masses. One can and must criticise the bad policy of Social-Democrats in the Third Duma, when they carry on a bad policy there; but to say that the agitation is of no value because of the complete indifference of the masses, means to talk in a non-Social-Democratic way.

Or maybe “the complete indifference of the masses” does not mean indifference to the policy of tsarism in general? In other words, the masses are indifferent to all that is going on within the walls of the Duma, but are not in different, shall we say, to discussion of the question of street demonstrations, new strikes, insurrection, the inner life of revolutionary parties in general and the Social-Democratic Party in particular? And that is just the trouble with the writer: this, evidently, is just what he thinks, but is obliged not to put this obvious nonsense in so many words! If he really could say and prove that the masses at the present moment are not in the least indifferent to politics in general, but on the contrary have a much more lively interest in more active forms of politics, the question naturally would present itself otherwise. If instead of a year of political lull, of decline and disintegration in all Social-Democratic and all workers’ organisations, we had had a year of obvious interest of the masses in directly revolutionary forms of struggle, we should be the first to admit that we were wrong. Only the “parliamentary cretins” of Menshevism, who hypocritically close their eyes to the experience of the work. of Marx, Lassalle, and Liebknecht in periods of revolution, can stand always and everywhere for participation in any representative institution, without taking into account the conditions of the revolutionary moment. The question of taking part in the Third Duma   or boycotting it, like every other political question, must be considered by Marxists concretely and not abstractly, taking into account the entire revolutionary situation as a whole, and not the pitiably barren argument that, “if representation exists then one must be represented”. A lively interest of the masses in politics would mean that objective conditions existed for a growing crisis, that is, it would mean that a certain upsurge was already visible and when that upsurge gained strength the feeling among the masses would inevitably find expression in mass action.

On the latter question the otzovist comrade makes the following admission: “every change in its [the parliamentary group’s I activity is closely linked with a change in the regime, which we are not at present strong enough to influence”.... Why does the otzovist comrade consider that we are not only powerless at present to change the regime but even to influence it? Evidently because, as a Social-Democrat, he has in mind solely action by the masses of the proletariat, and considers such action at present impossible and any talk about it useless. But look how, in doing so, he tries to shift the blame, i. e., turns an argument which speaks against otzovism against us:

Break through the police barriers which separate the deputies from the masses,” writes the otzovist comrade, “make the parliamentary group come out more sharply and strikingly, in a word, organically fuse its work with the life of the proletariat, and then the workers perhaps will see some positive value in it. But as every change in its activity is closely linked with a change in the regime, which we are not at present strong enough to influence, all dreams of expanding and deepening the work of the group must be abandoned!"

If the expansion and deepening of the work of the Duma group depends on “breaking through the police barriers”, why does the conclusion run that “dreams of improving the group must be abandoned”, and not that dreams of breaking through police barriers must be abandoned? The writer is obviously illogical, and his argument should be amended in the following way: there must be unremitting work to improve all Party activity and all links of the Party with the masses, and the result of this will inevitably be both   that police barriers in general will be broken through, and in particular Party co-operation with the Duma group, Party influence on the group will become stronger. It is as though the writer were demanding that we anti-otzovists should “break through police barriers”, and then perhaps he would agree to give up his otzovism. But is it not clear that thereby he is turning the real interconnection and interdependence of political phenomena upside down? Perhaps (we would reply) you might be right, Comrade Otzovist, if the mass could “at present” not only “influence the regime” (every successful political demonstration will influence the regime) but also break through the barriers, i. e., if the mass could now break through the “barriers” of the Third Duma, it might be useless, perhaps, for the revolutionary Social-Democrats to send their group into this Duma. Perhaps. But you yourself say that this is not the case: you yourself agree that, in present circumstances, hard and serious preparatory work is still needed to turn that possibility into reality.

"The composition of the group,” you say. If recall were proposed with a view to changing the composition of the group, this argument might be worth while considering in the light of whether the composition would be improved by new elections upon the resignation of the present group. But the writer has nothing like this in mind. He wants not only to recall the Duma group, but to abolish any representation of Social-Democracy in the Third Duma, declaring participation in the latter to be a mistake. From this point of view to advance “the composition of the group” as a justification for otzovism. is the most unforgivable timidity and lack of faith for a Social-Democrat. Our Party succeeded in making the Black Hundreds choose our Party candidates, the Social-Democrats, from among the worker-electors.[3] Are we then to declare that it is hopeless for these Party workmen to be able to expound their socialism, simply and plainly, from the Duma rostrum? Are we to haul down the flag after a few months of struggle against bourgeois “well-informed persons”[4] (see the excellent description of the harm they do, in the letter about the Duma group published in this issue)? Must we declare that our Party is incapable, in a period of temporary   lull and stagnation, of putting forward worker-Social Democrats who are able to publicly expound their socialism? That is not politics but nervousness. Of course our Duma group itself is mostly to blame for this, because it is precisely by its serious mistakes, and by those mistakes alone, that it drives those who are resentful of it into otzovism. But we will not allow this justified resentment to lead us into a wrong policy. No. We must and shall work hard and persistently to bring the Party and the Duma group closer together, to improve the group itself. We shall not forget that in the experience of international Social-Democracy there were examples of much more prolonged arid much more acute struggle between the group and the Party than we have had during the Third Duma. Remember the Germans. Under the Anti-Socialist Law matters went so far that the parliamentary group made a number of the most deplorable anti-Party opportunist mistakes (voting for the subsidy to the shipping company, etc.). The Party had its weekly central organ abroad, and regularly imported it into Germany. The organisation of the German Social-Democrats at that time, in spite of furious police persecution, in spite of the fact that the situation was less revolutionary, for a number of objective reasons, than in present-day Russia, was incomparably broader and stronger than the present organisation of our Party. And the German Social-Democratic Party fought a long war against its parliamentary group, and won it. The ridiculous supporters of the “youth”, who spent their time on hysterics instead of on improving the parliamentary group, came, as we all know, to a very bad end. And the victory of the Party expressed itself in the subordination of the parliamentary group.

With us in Russia the Party’s struggle with the Duma group to correct the latter’s errors is only just beginning. We have not yet had a single Party conference telling the group firmly and clearly that it must correct its tactics in such-and-such definitely specified respects. We have not as yet a central organ appearing regularly, following every step of the group on behalf of the whole Party and giving it direction. Our local organisations have done still very, very little in that field of work—agitation among   the masses on the subject of every speech of a Social-Democrat in the Duma, explaining every mistake in this or that speech. Yet we are being asked to give it all up, to declare the struggle hopeless, to renounce use of the Duma rostrum at times like the present of 1908. Once again, that is not politics but bad nerves.

No striking acts, you say. About these “striking acts” one must distinguish two things: first, the poor state of information in the Party and, secondly, a most serious mistake of principle in the way the very question of striking acts is put.

On the first question it should be said that so far all who wanted to criticise the group in a business-like way have pointed out a number of unquestionably serious mistakes (the declaration; the voting of millions to Schwartz; the consultation with the Popular Democrats; the recognition of religion as a private matter for the Party; the lack of any statement on the interpellation of the government on October 15, 1908; the lack of any clear criticism of the Cadets, etc.). To hush up these mistakes as the Mensheviks do—they find everything for the best, with the sole exception of Chilikin’s speech—is simply disgusting. We should, not hush up these mistakes but thrash them out publicly, in our local and non-local press, at every meeting, in agitational leaflets spread among the masses after every speech. We have done very little as yet in the way of practical criticism of the group, and acquainting the proletarian masses with such criticism. We must, all of us everywhere, set to work in this respect. And when we do, we shall see that there are a number of speeches by the group, and particularly formulas for calling next business, drawn up on the suggestions of representatives of the Central Committee and in agreement with these representatives, which contain a correct exposition of the programme of the R.S.D.L.P., which are printed in the Reports of the Duma proceedings and in the supplement to Rossiya[5]—and of which not one-hundredth has been used as yet by us in our mass agitation. Needless to say, one should criticise the group, it is dishonest to hush up its mistakes. But all of us have also to strengthen our organisations in the local areas, and develop the agitation to make use of every act by the   Duma group. Only the combination of the two forms of work is activity really worthy of consistent revolutionary Social-Democrats, and only this combination will help us to over come “the moment of stagnation” and hasten the arrival of a new upsurge.

To proceed. In emphasising “the absence of striking acts”, the writer says that “the impression has been created Ion whom? on some Mitläufers who don’t understand the ABC of Marxism?] that the Social-Democrats have accepted the existing situation, and are thinking of peaceable cultural work. The existence of the group has become a demonstration, as it were, that the revolution has been buried—if not in words then ... in practice. Wrong though that opinion may be, we can refute it not by arguments but by facts.” And the only “fact” which the writer proposed as a means of “reconstructing” all the tactics of “emphasising” the Social-Democratic attitude to the Duma in the eyes of the masses, is recall of the group! It would appear that to recall the group from the Duma is regarded as a “fact” which refutes the “burial of the revolution”, and as a “striking act” which emphasises the new tactics!

Our reply is that the writer misunderstands the general significance of “striking acts” and “striking” slogans. When we Bolsheviks were carrying on a boycott of the Bulygin Duma in 1905, the slogan was right not because it was “striking” but because it accurately expressed the objective situation: the existence of an upsurge, which tsarism was trying to divert by promising a consultative Duma. When in the summer of 1906 we released the slogan of “an executive committee of the Left to support insurrection and no support to the demand of a Cadet Ministry”, this slogan was right not because it was “striking”, but because it accurately expressed the objective situation; events proved that the Cadets were hindering the struggle, that their secret negotiations with Trepov in June 1906 expressed the manoeuvres of the government, that the real fight took place, and was bound to take place, on a different field, after the Duma had been dissolved, namely, on the field of armed struggle (Sveaborg and Kronstadt, as the culmination of the soldiers’ and peasants’ mutinies). When in 1907 we were fighting for the slogan of no bloc with the Cadets, but a bloc against   the Cadets, this slogan was correct not because it was “striking”, but because it accurately expressed the objective conditions of the moment. The elections in St. Petersburg, and the sum total of voting (and debate) in the Second Duma, proved that the “Black-Hundred menace” was a fiction, and that in reality the struggle was against the Cadets and the reactionaries together, not together with the Cadets against the reactionaries.

Undoubtedly some people joined us during the revolution not because they understood the Marxist criterion of the correctness of Social-Democratic slogans and tactics, but only because they were “striking”. That today, when the wave has ebbed, there remain and will remain only real Marxists, does not frighten us but rejoices us. And we invite the otzovist comrade to think carefully over his argument that the burial of the revolution must be disproved not by words but by facts—and therefore let us recall the Duma group! His argument is absolutely wrong. To recall the group by way of emphasising the fact that the revolution has not been buried, means the burial of those “revolutionaries” who are capable of applying such a policy. For that kind of “revolutionariness” expresses confusion and impotence in that painful, difficult and slow work which is dictated “at present” by objective conditions, and which cannot be simply dismissed or passed over in silence.

In conclusion we would point out that the otzovist comrade himself, at the end of his letter, proposes a five-point plan of immediate work which correctly expresses the tasks of the moment.and refutes his own wrong tactics. We say again: the practice of the otzovist comrade is better than his theory. He is unquestionably right when he says that a strong illegal organisation is necessary. He will not insist, probably, on the utterly impracticable “appointment” of local Committee-men by the Central Committee. We should not forget that the professional revolutionary from among the Social-Democratic workers is coming to take the place or rather coming to the aid of the professional revolutionary from among the intellectuals (furious though this makes the Mensheviks, it is a fact); consequently the new illegal organisation will not entirely resemble, and must not entirely resemble, the old one. We think likewise   that the expression “to break the Party cells away from each other” in the last sentence of the first point is an awkward phrase which has slipped in by accident, and which it would be quite wrong to find fault with. After all, a Social-Democratic illegal organisation will not break away but bring together the local Party cells which at present are separated from each other. The otzovist comrade is quite right when he emphasises the special importance of socialist propaganda and the opinion poll method of agitation. “Everyday links between the masses and the Party”, “drawing the masses into discussion of our agitation slogans"—these are the real topics of the day. Recognition of such topical questions shows better than any argument, and in spite of all “invented” slogans (as M. Tomsky aptly puts it) that the course of events confronts all of us, both anti-otzovists and otzovists, with one essential practical task, one “slogan” of revolutionary Social-Democracy. This is the ideological strengthening of socialism, the organisational strengthening of the illegal workers’ party with leaders from among the workers themselves, the development of many-sided Social-Democratic agitation among the masses. This work, when tackled more and more energetically, will unite us all, It will pull together, discipline, correct our Duma group better than dozens of mere ultimatums. It will vitalise our work. It will resurrect the atmosphere of vigorous revolutionary activity. It will teach us to gauge exactly the rise of the tide and to determine its symptoms. It will scatter like the dust all the dead, thought-up, “invented” slogans of otzovism!


[1] Otzovists (from the Russian word otozvat—recall)—the name given to a group of the Bolsheviks (Bogdanov, Pokrovsky, Lunacharsky, Bubnov and others), who demanded that the Social-Democratic deputies in the Third Duma should be recalled and that work in the legal organisations should be stopped. In 1908 the otzovists formed a group of their own and waged a struggle against Lenin. They emphatically refused to sit in the Duma and work in the trade unions, co-operative societies and other mass legal and semi-legal organisations of the workers. They strove to shut themselves up within the framework of the illegal organisation, to tear the Party away from the non-Party masses and expose it to the attacks of reaction. Lenin called the otzovists “liquidators of a new type” and “Mensheviks inside out”.

A variety of otzovism was ultimatumism. The ultimatumists differed only in form from the otzovists. They proposed that an ultimatum should first be presented to the Social-Democratic group in the Duma and if it was not complied with, the Social-Democratic deputies should be. recalled from the Duma.

Ultimatumism was virtually otzovism in disguise. Lenin called the ultimatumists “shame-faced otzovists”.

In the spring of 1909 the otzovists, ultimatumists and the god-builders formed a promotion group to organise an anti-Party school. on the Island of Capri (Bogdanov, Alexinsky, Lunacharsky and others). Actually this group was the centre of the anti-Party faction of otzovists, ultimatumists, and god-builders.

A meeting of the extended editorial board of Proletary held in June 1909 adopted a decision that “Bolshevism, as a definite tendency in the R.S.D.L.P., has nothing in common with otzovism or ultimatumism” and called upon the Bolsheviks to resolutely combat this defection from revolutionary Marxism. Bogdanov (Maximov) the guiding spirit of otzovism, was expelled from the ranks of the Bolsheviks.

[2] Boulangism—a reactionary chauvinist movement in France in the late nineteenth century, so named after General Boulanger who headed it.

By criticising the policy of the ruling party of moderate Republicans and pretending to oppose the Monarchists, Boulanger   sought to win popularity among the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat and to use their dissatisfaction with the government for his own careerist purposes. Boulanger was in secret contact with the Monarchists, from whom he received subsidies.

The Boulangist movement was not supported by the masses and broke up.

[3] The elections to the Duma were indirect and had several stages. They were conducted separately for various groups of the population known as curias—they were the landowner, urban, peasant and worker curias.

At the final stage of the election campaign the electors of all the curia gathered at a Gubernia Election Meeting where the election of deputies to the Duma took place. The number of deputies from each curia was fixed beforehand. Thus, if all the electors of a worker curia nominated a Social-Democrat, the rest of the participants in the Gubernia Election Meeting, were obliged to vote for him.

[4]Well-informed persons”—a group of intellectuals who acted as advisers to the Social-Democratic group in the Third Duma. Most of them were liquidators and revisionists, such as A. N. Potresov and S. N. Prokopovich. Taking advantage of the fact that the leaders of the Bolshevik Party were working underground and were unable to take a legal part in the activities of the Duma group, the “well-informed persons” tried to direct the group’s activities into anti-Party channels, as a result of which arose the question of dispensing with their services.

[5] Rossiya (Russia)—a Black-Hundred police-ridden daily, published in St. Petersburg from 1905 to 1914. In 1906 it became the official organ of the Ministry of the Interior.

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