V. I. Lenin

Notes of a Publicist


7. Pro-Party Menshevism and its Evaluation

The last question which we must consider in order to understand the “unity crisis” in our Party is the question of so-called pro-Party Menshevism and the appraisal of its significance.

The views held by the non-factionalists, i.e., by those who wish to be regarded as outside the factious—Yonov and Trotsky (Pravda No. 12, and the Vienna resolution)—are very characteristic in this respect. Trotsky determinedly and persistently ignores pro-Party Menshevism (this was already pointed out in No. 13 of the Central Organ), while Yonov reveals the “cherished” idea of his fellow-thinker by declaring that the significance of “Comrade Plekhanov’ s” utterances (Yonov refuses to notice any other pro-Party Mensheviks) consists in their “reinforcing” the factional struggle of the Bolsheviks and in advocating that “martial law be declared in the Party”.

That this position of Yonov and Trotsky is wrong should have been obvious to them for the simple reason that it is refuted by facts. From No. 13 of the Central Organ{1} we see that in no fewer than seven of the groups abroad assisting the Party (in Paris, Geneva, Berne, Zurich, Liége, Nice, San Remo), the Plekhanovites, or more correctly, the pro-party Mensheviks, rose against Golos and demanded the fulfilment of the decisions of the plenum, demanded that Golos cease publication and pointed out the liquidationist nature of the ideological position taken up by Golos in No. 19–20. The same process is taking place among the Party workers in Russia, though perhaps less conspicuously. It is ridiculous to keep silent about these facts. To attempt, despite them, to represent Plekhanov’s struggle against the Golosists as a, journalistic “factional” struggle means—objectively—taking the side of the group of independent legalists against the Party.

The obviously false and untenable position taken up by the above-mentioned “conciliators” should have opened their eyes to the fact that they are wrong in their point of departure, namely, that the political significance of the unity reached at the plenum lies in the agreement with “given persons, groups and institutions”. We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by the outward forms of Party events and their individual peculiarities; it is necessary to appraise the ideological and political significance of what is taking place. Judging by outward appearances the agreement was made with specified Golosists But the basis, the condition for agreement was the adoption by the Golosists of Plekhanov’s position; that is evident from the analysis given above of the resolution on the state of affairs in the Party.[2] Outwardly it was the Golosists who appeared as the representatives of Menshevism in the Party—judging, for example, by the composition of the Central Organ. In reality, after the plenum the Central Organ began to transform itself into an organ of “collaboration” between the pro-Party Bolsheviks and the Plekhanovites, with the Golosists in full opposition. The result was a zigzag in the development of Party unity; at first there was something in the nature of an indiscriminate, conciliatory mass without a clear definition of the ideological basis for unity, but later on the logic of political tendencies gained the upper hand, the sifting of the independents from the Party was accelerated by the maximal concessions that were made to the Golosists at the plenum.

When I heard at the plenum and saw in Golos (No. 19–20, p. 18) fierce attacks on the slogan “an agreement between the strong factions for the fight against the liquidators of the Right and of the Left” (this slogan is put in quotation marks by Golos, but for some reason it is not stated openly that I defended this slogan both before and at the plenum)—I   thought to myself: “abwarten!” “wait and see”. Just wait, gentlemen of Golos, you are reckoning “without your host”. The point is not that the plenum offered the opportunity of taking part in the agreement to everyone, and not only to the “strong” factions, strong because of their ideological and political position. The point is, will your “host”, i.e., the groups of independent-legalists, allow this opportunity to become a reality?

Some months have elapsed, and only the blind can fail to see now that, in reality, it is precisely the “agreement between the strong factions” that constitutes Party unity and drives it forward “despite all obstacles”. That is how it should be, that is the only way it can be in view of the real relationship of forces in the Party. No doubt, in the near future, either all the leading organs of the Party will be formally reconstructed in such a way as to express this agreement, or the life of the Party and the progress of its unity will, proceed for a time irrespective of its leading organs.

No doubt, at first sight, it may seem strange to call the pro-Party Mensheviks a “strong faction”, for at the present moment—at any rate abroad—the Golosists are apparently stronger. However, we Social-Democrats judge strength not by the statements of the emigrant groups, not by the way the Menshevik writers group themselves, but from the stand point as to, which position is objectively correct, and which is condemned by the logic of the political situation to subordination to the “independents”. From 1898 to 1900, the Rabocheye Dyelo-ists were stronger than the Iskrists both abroad and in Russia, yet they did not constitute a “strong faction”.

Now that the Golosists have mobilised all their forces against Plekhanov and brought out all their slop-pails to pour on him—including Mr. Potresov and the recollections of show Martov was “offended” in 1901–03 (sic!)—the impotence of the Golosists becomes particularly obvious. Axelrod and Co. were hopelessly behind the times politically when they published abroad, in April, a, symposium of personal abuse against Plekhanov, while in Russia Nasha Zarya in its February issue and Vozrozhdeniye in its March issue had already shifted the question to a completely different   plane, and Plekhanov in No. 13 of the Central Organ had already passed from the history of his clashes with the Golosists to a fight against their present-day policy. The Golosists, in recalling old “insults” (right up to 1901!), are floundering as helplessly as the Vperyodists, who are still appealing to the kind-hearted to protect them from the Bolshevik Centre.

And see how our “offended” ones, who in 1910 are raving at the very thought of a “Lenin-Plekhanov” agreement (their terminology!) in just the same way as Maximov did a year ago over the same thing, are more and more betraying themselves. Like Maximov, the Golosists try to make it appear that it is a question of almost a personal agreement “between Lenin and Plekhanov”, moreover the actions of the latter are explained as a “wild caprice” (p. 16 of the “Necessary Supplement”), as the “transformation of Saul into Paul”, as “fluttering”, etc., etc. By recalling Plekhanov’s “five years of activity” (ibid.) as a Menshevik, Martov is doing his utmost to compromise him (retrospectively) for this fluttering, without noticing that by doing so he is disparaging himself most of all.

In the very same “Necessary Supplement”, the collective editorial board of Golos assures us (p. 32) that Plekhanov was “great” precisely during the above-mentioned five-year period (1904–08). Just see what follows from this. The Mensheviks proclaim Plekhanov to be “great” not because of his activity during the twenty years (1883–1903) when he remained true to himself, when he was neither a Menshevik nor a Bolshevik, but the founder of Social-Democracy, but because of his activity during the five years when, as the Mensheviks themselves admit, he was “fluttering,” i.e., was not following a consistent Menshevik line. It follows that his “greatness” consisted in that he did not sink entirely into the morass of Menshevism.

But it is precisely the five-year history of Menshevism, which Axelrod and Martov recalled to their own disadvantage, that furnishes a number of facts which help to explain the split among the Mensheviks by causes other than those petty, personal causes stressed by Martov.

Plekhanov co-opted Axelrod and Martov in 1903, declaring in Iskra No. 52, in an article entitled “What Should   Not Be Done”, that he wanted to manoeuvre with the opportunists and, by these manoeuvres, reform them. And in so doing he resorted to the most extreme attacks on the Bolsheviks. At the end of 1904 he tried to save Axelrod, who had obviously slipped into liberalism (“The Plan of the Zemstvo Campaign”), but did it in such a manner as to avoid saying a single word about such gems as proclaiming demonstrations before the Zemstvo members to be “the highest type of demonstration” (in the pamphlet Letter to the Central Committee, published for Party members only). In the spring of 1905 Plekhanov became convinced of the hopelessness of these “manoeuvres”, left the Mensheviks and started Dnevnik, advocating reunion with the Bolsheviks. Number 3 of Dnevnik (November 1905) is not Menshevik at all.

Having wasted about a year and a half on manoeuvres with the opportunists within the Party (from the end of 1903 to the spring of 1905), Plekhanov, from the beginning of 1906 and during 1907, engaged in manoeuvring with the Cadets. In this he went to far greater opportunist extremes than the other Mensheviks. But when Plekhanov, who proclaimed the tactics of “manoeuvring” at the time of the First Duma and after its dispersal (see Dnevnik No. 6), proposed an agreement between the revolutionary parties for a struggle for a constituent assembly, Proletary (No. 2 of August 29, 1906, in the article, “Vacillating Tactics”) immediately pointed out that this position was not Menshevik at all.{3}

At the London Congress in the spring of 1907, Plekhanov (according to Cherevanin’s account, already cited by me in the preface to the symposium Twelve Years) fought the organisational anarchism of the Mensheviks.{4} He wanted a “labour congress” as a manoeuvre for the development of the Party and not against the Party. During the second half of 1907, as we learn from Martov in the “Necessary Supplement”, Plekhanov “had to expend a good deal of eloquence” to uphold the need for an illegal (i.e., Party) Menshevik organ in opposition to Axelrod (who apparently   preferred legal organs, which in fact were non-Party). In 1908, the conflict over Potresov’s article served as an occasion for his break with the liquidators.

What do these facts prove? They prove that the present split among the Mensheviks is not accidental but inevitable. “Manoeuvring” does not exonerate the one who made mistakes for the sake of carrying out manoeuvres, and I withdraw nothing of what I wrote against those mistakes of Plekhanov. However, “manoeuvring” explains why it is easy for some Mensheviks to go over to the independents, while for others it is difficult and even impossible. A Social-Democrat who by his manoeuvres leads the working class to follow the Cadets does it no less harm than he who acts in this way because of his immanent gravitation towards opportunism. But whereas the former will be able and will manage to call a halt in time, the latter will end up in the ditch. A Russian proverb says: make a certain person pray and he will do it with such zeal that he will bang his forehead against the ground! Plekhanov might have said: make the Potresovs and the Dans go to the Right for the sake of a manoeuvre and they will go to the Right on principle.

The stand taken by certain Mensheviks fully justifies their appellation, “pro-Party Mensheviks”. They took their stand upon the struggle for the Party—against the independent-legalists. Mr. Potresov and the editors of Golos Sotsial Demokrata in the “Necessary Supplement” vainly try to evade this simple and obvious question.

Engels too fought the S.D.F. (the British Social-Democrats)—says Potresov, wriggling (p. 24). This is sophistry, my dear sir. Engels corrected the Party,{5} but you do not say how the Party is to be corrected; you do not even say straightforwardly whether an illegal Social-Democratic Party is necessary now, whether the R.S.D.L.P. is necessary or not. In front of Stolypin you say: No (Nasha Zarya), but in front of Party members, in the illegal press, you dare not say this, you wriggle and twist.

“Lenin-Plekhanov recommend a war against the new forms of the labour movement” (p. 31), “we start out from... the position, conditions and requirements of the real labour movement” (p. 32)—the editors assure us. Sophistry, my   dear sirs. You yourselves have acknowledged that the plenum did everything to recognise these new forms, and the Bolsheviks, too, by the struggle they waged before the plenum, proved it. What we differ on is not the question whether “new forms are necessary”, whether it is necessary to conduct legal work, or to found legal societies; we do not differ on this at all. What we differ on is whether it is permissible for legalists conducting such work, like the group of Mikhail and Co., like the group of Potresov and Co., to consider themselves Social-Democrats while being independent of the Party of the Social-Democrats, or whether Social-Democratic Party members are obliged to recognise the Party, to advocate the need for it, to work in it, to work on its organisation, to set up illegal Party units everywhere and in all unions for regular communications with the Party, etc. And you understand perfectly well that we differ now—after the plenum—on this account and only on this account.

The Golosists try to represent our efforts to draw closer to the pro-Party Mensheviks, to enter into an agreement with them in order to fight for the Party against the independents, as a personal bloc between “Lenin and Plekhanov”. They violently abuse the author of the article against Potresov, in No. 47–48 of Proletary, for his tone of a “flattering courtier” who, they allege, is “speculating on an agreement” with Plekhanov.

I turn to this article and read on p. 7:

“Of course, all the mistakes committed by Plekhanov during the revolution occurred precisely because he did not consistently carry out the policy which he himself had advocated in the old Iskra."

Let the reader judge what looks more like “flattery” and “speculation”: this blunt indication of what the Bolsheviks regard as Plekhanov’s mistake, or the declaration that Plekhanov was “great” precisely in the period when he was a Menshevik and, according to the Mensheviks, was “fluttering”.

“Plekhanov will be with us,” the editors of Golos Sotsial Demokrata write, when “the time comes again for responsible [Golos’s italics] political actions” (p. 32 of the “Necessary Supplement”).

This betrays political illiteracy, but is clear enough as regards “speculation”. It is illiterate because now is just the time which calls for political actions a hundred times more responsible for the old leaders than during an open struggle when the masses themselves will much more easily find the way. It is clear in the sense of “speculation”, because it expresses readiness to recognise Plekhanov as a Menshevik once more as soon as he starts “manoeuvring” again.

We are surprised that the Golosists do not realise the significance of outbursts of this kind on their part along side, for example, Axelrod’s phrase: “We did not want to stoop” (before Plekhanov) “to the role of toadying flunkeys” (p. 19). You are behaving exactly like the type of people mentioned in your concluding words. Your attitude towards Plekhanov corresponds precisely to the “formula” of such people: “either coats off, or let’s have your hand.”

For five years you have been asking for his “hand”, now on thirty-two double-sized pages you are “smacking his face”, and on the thirty-second page you “express readiness”, you are prepared to recognise him as a Menshevik once more and kiss his hand.

As regards ourselves, we are entitled to say that at the time of his “fluttering”, Plekhanov was never a Bolshevik. We do not and never will consider him a Bolshevik. But we do consider him a pro-Party Menshevik, as we do any Menshevik capable of rebelling against the group of independent-legalists and carrying on the struggle against them to the end. We regard it as the absolute duty of all Bolsheviks in these difficult times, when the task of the day is the struggle for Marxism in theory and for the Party in the practical work of the labour movement, to exert every effort to arrive at a rapprochement with such Social-Democrats.


{1} See pp. 189–90 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] Of the four Menshevik members of the Central Committee who were present at the plenum, two directed all their efforts to winning over the Golosists, in effect to Plekhanov’s position—by making the maximum concessions to them. This does not mean that these two were firm pro-Party men, that they were proof against a return to the Golos camp. It merely means that Menshevism was caught at the moment when it could not as yet renounce the Party principle. —Lenin

{3} See present edition, Vol. 11, pp. 179-83.—Ed.

{4} See present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 94-113.—Ed.

{5} This refers to F. Engels’s article “Der 4. Mai in London” (Arbeiter-Zeitung, Wien, Nr. 21, vom 23.5.1890); see also the letters of Engels to Sorge of November 29, 1886, and May 11, 1889 (Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, pp. 469–73).

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