V. I.   Lenin

A Caricature of Bolshevism

Published: Supplement to Proletary, No. 44, April 4 (17), 1909. Published according to the Supplement.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1973, Moscow, Volume 15, pages 383-394.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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We have already given a general appraisal of “otzovism” and “ultimatumism” in Proletary, No. 42.[1] Concerning the resolution of the St. Petersburg otzovists (reprinted in this issue) which served as their platform during the election of delegates to the December Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. (and unfortunately was not communicated to Proletary till after the conference) we have to repeat much of what was said there.

This resolution simply teems with fallacious, un-Marxian arguments. Practically every point in it is evidence of the immaturity of its authors’ ideas or of their oblivion of the ABC of Social-Democracy. Point 1: “The first stage of the revolution is concluded....” What does that mean? That a stage in social and economic development is concluded? Probably not. The authors have in mind the end of the stage of direct revolutionary struggle of the masses. We must assume that the otzovists mean that, if we are not to impute to them something totally absurd. If that is the case, then they admit that present conditions are unfavourable for the direct revolutionary struggle of the masses. But although compelled by the force of circumstances to admit this, the otzovists are unable to reason out the conclusions that follow, and cannot, therefore, get their arguments to hang together. “Russia... is moving towards a new revolutionary upswing”.... Quite right! She is only moving towards an upswing, i. e., there is no upswing yet—that is what this means, both in logic and in grammar! It appears, however, that this still non-existing upswing is “characterised by   a sharp conflict”, etc. The result is utter nonsense. The otzovists are incapable of characterising the present. They “characterise” the future, which we are “moving towards”, in order to cover up failure to understand the present. For instance, the “pauperised town petty bourgeoisie” jump into the picture from God knows where, and the reference to them is not backed by even an attempt at an analysis. Why the future upswing should be “characterised” by a sharp conflict of pauperised petty bourgeois is not evident at all. Nor does there appear to be any reason why the pauperised town petty bourgeoisie should be brought in just at this moment. Lumpen-proletarians are sometimes distinguished for their sharp conflicts, and sometimes for their amazing instability and inability to fight. The otzovists’ ideas are utterly con fused, and we are not surprised that at the conference of the R.S.D.L.P. only two Bundists voted with the two otzovists for the insertion of the reference to the “pauperised town petty bourgeoisie”. Our opinion that otzovism is opportunism turned inside out has been magnificently borne out.

With whom will the sharp conflict take place? “With the ruling bloc of the big bourgeoisie and feudalist land lords.” And not with the autocracy? The otzovists cannot distinguish absolutism, which is manoeuvring between these two classes, from the direct rule of the two classes; with the absurd result that the struggle against the autocracy drops out of the picture entirely.

Secret work is going on to organise the forces....” The work of learning the lessons of experience, of digesting new lessons, of accumulating strength may be, and often is, performed in secret; but the organisation of forces cannot be performed in secret even when all work is driven under ground. In 1901-03 the organisation of forces proceeded illegally, but not secretly. The otzovists are merely repeating scraps of parrot-phrases and garbling them in the process.

Point 2: “The solution of this conflict, in view of the strongly developed class antagonisms in Russia, will assume the form of a revolution”.... Class antagonisms in Russia are less strongly developed than in Europe, which is not faced with the task of fighting autocracy. The otzovists fail to see that in trying to broaden their views they are coming closer to their antipodes, the opportunists.

“...a revolution which will lead to an armed uprising....” The otzovists have not yet told us anything distinctly about the object of the struggle, or about the present stage of development of the autocracy; but they make haste to tell us about the means of struggle in order to proclaim them selves “revolutionaries”. This is childish, dear comrades, for you are showing us once again that you have learnt by heart scraps of good phrases, without understanding what they mean. The attitude of the revolutionary Social-Democrats towards insurrection was different in 1897, 1901, and in 1905. It was only after January 9, 1905 that they made it a key issue—although Russia, in 1897 and in 1901, was undoubtedly “moving towards upswing”, towards a “sharp conflict” and towards “revolution”. It is not enough to learn slogans by heart; one must also learn to judge the opportune moment to issue them. To advocate one of the means of struggle at a time when the “upswing” has not begun and “revolution”, in the most strict and direct sense of the term, is still a matter of the future (and the otzovists speak of it in the future: “will assume the form of a revolution”) means only to make oneself into a caricature of a revolutionary Social-Democrat. The resolution adopted by the conference speaks of a developing revolutionary crisis and of the aim of the struggle (conquest of power by the revolutionary classes); more than this cannot and should not be said at the present time.

How the mysterious “municipal reforms” got here, and represented as “radical reforms” at that, God only knows. Apparently the otzovists themselves do not know what this means.

Point 3: “In view of this, Social-Democracy as a consistently revolutionary party must put non-parliamentary action in the forefront.”...

And yet there are people (the ultimatumists) who are so short-sighted that our disagreements with the otzovists seem to them differences only about practical matters, disagreements over the ways and means of applying a common line of tactics! In the summer of 1907 the disagreement over boycotting the Third Duma might have been regarded merely as a disagreement over methods, and the mistake of the boycottists merely as a mistake in choice of methods   in applying tactics with which all Bolsheviks were agreed. Today, in 1909, it is ridiculous even to suggest such a thing. The mistake of the otzovists and ultimatumists has developed into a deviation from the principles of Marxism. Just think: “In view of this”, i. e., in view of the fact that we are “moving towards” an upswing, and that the conflict “will assume the form of a revolution”, “in view of this” let non-parliamentary action be put in the forefront! Why, comrades, this is merely a jumble of words to cover up a monstrous confusion of ideas! Before you have even said a word about the Duma in your resolution, you have already concocted the conclusion: “in view of this” ... “non-parliamentary action”! In view of the fact that we do not under stand the importance of the Duma and the tasks of the Party at a time when an upswing is maturing, we proclaim that struggle must be outside the Duma—that is the nonsense that the otzovists’ case amounts to. They have repeated, without understanding them, scraps of arguments which the Bolsheviks advanced at a time when non-parliamentary action was not merely being proclaimed, but carried on by the masses; and repeated them at a time when they them selves consider “the first stage of the revolution concluded”, i. e., that for the time being the conditions for direct mass action are absent.

They have learned by heart the sound proposition that work in the Duma must be subordinated to the interests and direction of the working-class movement outside the Duma, and repeat scraps of what they have learned irrelevantly, and in a garbled, scarcely recognisable form.

Instead of emphasising the necessity of continuing— in addition to work in the Duma—to devote maximum effort to persistent, prolonged and painstaking organisation and agitation among the masses outside the Duma—the otzovists, in company with the Socialist-Revolutionaries, raise a “revolutionary” yelp about “non-parliamentary action”, making an onslaught, and so forth.

Direct action is impossible at. the present time,” say the otzovists at the end of the resolution (Point 1), although at the beginning of it they proclaimed a non-parliamentary struggle. If this is not a caricature of Bolshevism, what is?

And work to carry the revolution through to complete victory First, the scrap of an idea about the means of struggle, then its object! ... “and for this purpose to organise the proletariat and the broad masses of the peasant ry”....At a time like the present, when the first and foremost task is to strengthen and rebuild the semi-destroyed Party organisations, this is a mere phrase, comrades!

Point 4 is one of the gems of “otzovism”. “The Party may employ only such forms of organisational and agitational action as do not obscure or weaken the revolutionary struggle

This, according to the “practical” ultimatumists, is the “practical” way of stating the issue! In 1909 the otzovists are compelled to search for theoretical justification and the quest inevitably bogs them down. “Only such forms of action as do not obscure...”—this is a broad hint at the work of the Social-Democrats in the Duma and at their utilisation of semi-legal and legal organisations. It appears, then, that there are some “forms of action” which obscure and others which do not. In order to save people who are unable to think the trouble of using their brains, let us draw up a list of “forms of action” and cross out those which “obscure”—now that will be real revolutionary tactics!

Take legal literature, for instance, dear comrades. Does this “form of organisational and agitational action” obscure, or does it not? Of course it does, under the Stolypin regime. Then it must be eliminated according to the otzovists, who do not know how to distinguish the conditions in which revolutionary Social-Democrats may resort to the most varied forms of action, and therefore talk nonsense. “The Party must pay special attention to the utilisation and reinforcement of existing organisations and the formation of new illegal, semi-legal and, where possible, legal organisations that could serve as its strongholds,” declares the resolution of the conference, proposed and carried by the Bolsheviks. This resolution is as remote from otzovism as heaven is from earth. “Only such forms as do not obscure”— is just a hollow phrase: a mere “yelp”, and not a revolutionary utterance. The formation of illegal Party “workers’ committees” to utilise “semi-legal and, where possible, legal organisations”—these are the tactics of revolutionary   Social-Democrats who take into account what “forms of organisational and agitational action” are prescribed by the present situation, and who are able to display methods of genuine Social-Democratic activity in the most diverse “forms”.

Down with legal Social-Democratic literature” is a hollow phrase, impracticable and therefore only to the advantage of the opportunists—who are perfectly well aware that it is impracticable. It is difficult to draw a line between Social-Democrats who are ready to answer to the Party for their legal writings and non-Party literary hacks; but it is possible, and it provides a real line of activity for those who want to work with the Party. “Down with the legal Duma group, down with legal organisations”—these are hollow phrases which are only to the advantage of the opportunists who would be glad to rid themselves of Party control. To keep on exercising this control, “utilising” legal organisations, rectifying every mistake and tactical blunder committed by Social-Democrats—this is Party work, which we and all those who wish to carry out the decisions of the conference will continue to do.

The end of Point 4: “strenuously opposing all deals between the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie and the autocracy.”

Ugh! The otzovists will insist on inappropriately repeating scraps of ideas drawn from Bolshevik literature. Really, comrades, you must try to make out what’s what! In the period of the First and Second Dumas, the government was still groping its way towards such deals, while the Cadets were recommending deals to the people as slogans of “struggle” (slogans which misled even the Menshevik Social- Democrats). At that time a resolute struggle against any deals was really the slogan of the day, the task of the moment, the exposure of fraud. Today tsarism has found the way to conclude the deal, and has already done so, with those classes which the otzovists themselves refer to as a “bloc”; and moreover no one is deceived by the deal which has been concluded in the Third Duma. To make the task of “strenuously opposing all deals” the pivot of our agitation today means making oneself a caricature of Bolshevism.

Point 5: “Our Duma cannot be .regarded as a parliament working in an environment of political liberty, and with a measure of freedom for the class struggle of the proletariat, but is merely a deal between tsarism and the big bourgeoisie”.... This contains two mistakes. It is wrong to say “not a parliament but a deal”, for quite a number of the world’s parliaments are nothing more than a deal between the bourgeoisie (at various stages of development) and various survivals of medievalism. We had to, and did, fight to prevent Russia’s first parliament from being a Black-Hundred and Octobrist parliament; but once it became such in spite of our efforts—and history obliged us to pass through this stage—it is childish to try to exorcise this unpleasant reality with exclamations and declamations. Secondly: according to the authors of the resolution, if there is a “measure of freedom” then it is a “parliament”; if not, it is a “fraud”. This is a vulgar—democratic view, worthy of a Cadet but not of a Marxist. Under the Third Duma there is much less freedom than there was under the Second; but the Third Duma is a less fictitious parliament, because it more truly reflects the actual relation between the state authority and the present ruling classes. As long as power is in the hands of the tsar and the feudalist landlords, there can be no other parliament in bourgeois Russia. It might befit Cadets to try to brush this bare truth under the carpet, but not Social-Democrats.

Point 6, by way of an exception, is correct. But this is precisely an exception which proves the reverse rule, because ... because on this point the otzovists are expounding, not their own ideas, but the .ideas of the anti-otzovists who carried the resolutions at the conference.

Conclusions. Point (a) “The Duma being ... a deal ... and a weapon of the counter-revolution” .... Quite right! ... “only serves to bolster up the autocracy”.... This “only” is wrong. The autocracy has staved off its downfall by organising such a Duma in time: but it has riot been strengthened thereby, rather on the contrary, advanced in its decay. The Duma, as a “screen”, is more effective than many an “exposure”, because for the first time, on a thou sand and one issues, it reveals tsarism’s dependence on the counter-revolutionary sections of society; it is for the first   time demonstrating en grand how close is the alliance between Romanov and Purishkevich, between tsarism and the “Union of the Russian People”, between the autocracy and the Dubrovins, the Iliodors and the Polovnyovs.

That the Duma sanctions the crimes of tsarism is beyond doubt; but it is the sanction of particular classes, on be half of particular class interests, and it is the duty of the Social-Democrats precisely to use the Duma rostrum to reveal these instructive truths of the class struggle.

The eight months’ proceedings of the Third Duma have shown that the Social-Democrats cannot make use of it.”

Here is the very essence of otzovism, the error of which our “ultimatumists” are only covering up, confusing the issue by their ridiculous equivocation—that since we have spent so much energy on creating a Duma group, we must not recall it lightly!

There is a straightforward question, and evasions won’t do: have these eight months’ proceedings proved that it is possible to make use of the rostrum of the Duma, or not? The otzovists’ reply is wrong. In spite of the immense difficulties involved in Party guidance of the Duma group, it has beyond question proved the possibility of making use of the Duma as a platform. To be daunted by difficulties and mistakes is timidity; it is intellectual “yelping”, whereas what we want is patient, consistent and persistent proletarian effort. Other socialist parties in Europe encountered even greater difficulties at the beginning of their parliamentary activity, and made many more mistakes, but they did not shirk their duty. They succeeded in overcoming the difficulties and in correcting their mistakes.

(b) “Our Duma group ... persistently pursuing opportunist tactics, could not and cannot be a staunch and consistent representative of the revolutionary proletariat.”

The grandest truths can be vulgarised, otzovist comrades, the noblest aims can be reduced to mere phrase-mongering— and that is what you are doing. You have degraded the fight against opportunism into mere phrase-mongering, and are thereby only playing into the hands of the opportunists. Our Duma group has made and is making mistakes, but by its very work it has proved that it “could and can” staunchly and consistently represent the proletariat—could and can,   when we, the Party, guide it, help it, appoint our best men to lead it, draw up directives, and draft speeches, and explain the harmful and fatal effects of taking advice from the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia who, not only in Russia but all over the world, always gain easy access to all kinds of institutions on the parliamentary fringe.

Have the courage to admit, comrades, that we have as yet done far too little to provide this real guidance of the work of the Duma group, to help it with deeds. Have the courage to admit that we can do ten times as much in this direction, if we succeed in strengthening our organisations, consolidating our Party, bringing it closer to the masses, creating Party media exercising a constant influence on large sections of the proletarians. That is what we are working for, that is what everybody must work for who wants to fight opportunism in deeds and not in words.

The otzovists have reduced the struggle against opportunism in the Duma group to a mere phrase. They have learned words by rote without understanding the difference between anarchist and Social-Democratic criticism of opportunism. Take the anarchists. They all pounce on every mistake every Social-Democratic member of parliament makes. They all shout that even Bebel once made a speech in an almost patriotic spirit, once took up a wrong stand on the agrarian programme, and so on and so forth. True, even Bebel made opportunist mistakes in his parliamentary career. But what does this prove? The anarchists say that it proves that all the workers’ M.P.s should be recalled. The anarchists rail at the Social-Democratic members of parliament and re fuse to have anything to do with them, refuse to do anything to develop a proletarian party, a proletarian policy and proletarian members of parliament. And in practice the anarchists’ phrase-mongering converts them into the truest accomplices of opportunism, into the reverse side of opportunism.

Social-Democrats draw quite a different conclusion from their mistakes—the conclusion that even Bebel could not become Bebel without prolonged Party work in training up real Social-Democratic representatives. They need not tell us, “We have no Bebels in our group.” Bebels are not born. They have to be made. Bebels don’t spring fully formed like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, but are created by the Party   and the working class. Those who say we have no Bebels don’t know the history of the German Party: they don’t know that there was a time, under the Anti-Socialist Law, when August Bebel made opportunist blunders and that the Party corrected him, the Party guided Bebel.[2]

(c) “The continued presence of the Social-Democratic group in the Duma ... can only do harm to the interests of the proletariat ... lower the dignity and influence of the Social-Democrats.” To show how “quantity passes into quality” in these preposterous exaggerations, and how anarchist phrases grow out of them (irrespective of whether our otzovist comrades, desire it or not), we need only refer to Belousov’s speech during the 1909 budget debate. If such speeches are considered as “harmful”, and not as proof that the rostrum of the Duma can and must be utilised, then our disagreement ceases to be a mere difference of opinion about the character of a speech, and becomes a disagreement concerning, the fundamental principles of Social-Democratic tactics.

(I) “Launch a wide campaign ... for the slogan: ’Down with the Third Duma"’

We have already said in Proletary, No. 39, that this slogan, which for a time appealed to some anti-otzovist workers, is wrong.[3] It is either a Cadet slogan, calling for franchise reform under the autocracy, or a repetition of words learned by rote from the period when liberal Dumas were a screen for counter-revolutionary tsarism, designed to prevent the people from seeing clearly who their real enemy was.

(II) “Recall ... the Duma group; this will emphasise both ... the character of the Duma and the revolutionary tactics of the Social-Democrats."

This is a paraphrase of the proposition advanced by the Moscow otzovists, that the recall of the Duma group will emphasise that the revolution is not dead and buried. Such a conclusion—we repeat the words of Proletary, No. 39, “emphasises” only the burial of those Social-Democrats who   are capable of arguing in this way. They bury themselves thereby as Social-Democrats; they lose all feeling for genuine proletarian revolutionary work; and for that reason they are so painfully contorting themselves to “emphasise” their revolutionary phrases.

(III) “Devote all efforts to organisation and preparation for open ... struggle Land therefore renounce open agitation from the rostrum of the Duma! I... and to propaganda”, etc., etc.

The otzovists have forgotten that it is unseemly for Social-Democrats to refuse to conduct propaganda from the rostrum of the Duma.

At this point they give us the argument repeated by some ultimatumists, that “there is no sense in wasting energy on hopeless work in the Duma, let us use all our forces more productively”. This is not reasoning, but sophistry, which— again irrespective of whether the authors desire it or not— leads to anarchist conclusions. For in all countries the anarchists, pointing to the mistakes committed by Social- Democratic members of parliament, argue that it is “a waste of time to bother with bourgeois parliamentarism” and call for the concentration of “all these forces” on organising “direct action”. But this leads to disorganisation and to the shouting of “slogans” which are futile because they are isolated, instead of conducting work in every field on the widest possible scale. It only seems to the otzovists and ultimatumists that their argument is new, and applies only to the Third Duma. But they are wrong. It is a common argument heard all over Europe, and it is not a Social-Democratic argument.

Thus, otzovism and ultimatumism are a caricature of Bolshevism. What gave rise to this caricature? Of course, the fallacies of Bolshevism as a whole, the Menshevik has tens to declare. Such a conclusion, undoubtedly, is very “profitable” for the Mensheviks. Unfortunately for them, however, objective facts do not corroborate, but refute it. The objective facts are that in the development not only of Bolshevism, but of Russian Marxism in general, there was a period when Marxism was caricatured, and that Russian   Marxism grew strong and developed in struggle with these growing pains, pains which accompanied the expansion of its sphere of influence. Russian Marxism was born at the beginning of the eighties of the last century in the works of a group of political emigrants (the Emancipation of Labour group).

But Marxism did not become a trend of Russian social thought and a constituent part of the working-class movement in Russia until the middle of the nineties of the last century, when a “wave” of Marxian literature and of a Social-Democratic working-class movement arose in Russia. And what happened? This wave carried with it a caricature of Marxism in the shape of Struvism on the one hand and Rabocheye Dyelo-ism and Economism on the other. Marxism grew and matured because it did not conceal the disagreements in its ranks, did not play the diplomat (as the Mensheviks do with Maslov, Cherevanin, Kuskova, Prokopovich, Valentinov, Yermansky and Co.), but waged a victorious campaign against the caricature, which had been engendered by the deplorable conditions of Russian life and the turning- point in the historical development of socialism in Russia. And Bolshevism will grow up and become strong, making no attempt to conceal the incipient distortion of its principles by a caricature engendered by the deplorable conditions of Russian life and the turning-point in the counter-revolutionary period, but openly explaining to the masses into what a bog the otzovists and ultimatumists would lead the Duma group and the Party.


[1] See pp. 356–59 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] We hope to deal with this illuminating history and with its condemnation of German trends akin to our otzovists in a separate article. —Lenin

[3] See pp. 286–302 of this volume—Ed.

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