Zvezda, No. 33, December10, 1911.
Signed: V. Ilyin.
Published according to the Zvezda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, , Moscow, Volume 17, pages 388-392.
Translated: Dora Cox
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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Nik. Nikolin’s article in Zvezda, No. 29, characteristically entitled “The New in the Old”, raises a number of extremely interesting and important questions. A discussion on these questions is undoubtedly desirable in order to lay down an exact, clear, and definite line of conduct for adherents to the Russian working-class democratic movement.
The chief shortcoming of Nik. Nikolin’s article is that many of his propositions are extremely vague. The author says, without explaining why, that “on many points” he would “perhaps disagree” with me. I, for my part, must say that none of Nikolin’s propositions call for disagreement, since he never makes outspoken statements.
Thus, for instance, Nikolin comes out dead against people who believe that “our present situation ... is approximately what it was at the beginning of the twentieth century”. According to his interpretation, people holding such an opinion deny that there is something new in the old. Of course, they are wrong if they deny that. And, of course, Nikolin is a thousand times right when he says that there is something new in the old which it is necessary to take into consideration and make use of. But Nikolin says no thing as to what the new consists of, as to how exactly it is to be taken into consideration, etc. On the other hand, it is not clear from the passages he quotes what exactly his opponents mean by the word “approximately”. If the new in the old is to be taken into consideration in the same way as the Russian Marxists did exactly three years ago in their appraisal of the political situation created after the three years of storm and stress (i.e., after 1905–07), then, in my opinion, it would not be wrong to say: “our present situation is approximately what it was at the beginning of the twentieth century”. If, however, people put forward a proposition of this kind without, at first, giving a precise, clear, and definite appraisal of the situation and the problems involved, then, of course, it is wrong.
The old problems, the old methods of solving them, and new ways of preparing for the solution—that, it seems to me, is how, approximately, the answer given three years ago could be formulated. From the standpoint of this answer, participation in the Third Duma, which Nik. Nikolin advocates so warmly and so correctly, appears to be absolutely indispensable. The “trend” which repudiates this participation or which hesitates to come out, openly, clearly, and without beating about the bush, in favour of participating in the Third Duma, is taking the name of working-class democracy in vain. Actually this is a trend outside working-class democracy, for it represents a “legitimate shade” of anarchist ideas but by no means of Marxist ideas.
Take the question of the “superstructure”. “Formerly,” writes Nik. Nikolin, “it may have seemed that the bureaucracy was the sole and chief enemy of ‘all Russia’; today nobody thinks so any longer.... We are sufficiently well aware that the Markovs, Krestovnikovs, Volkonskys, Purishkeviches, Guchkovs, Khomyakovs, Avdakovs, and their like, are all representatives of that particular social milieu from which the bureaucracy draws its strength and obtains the motives for its activity.”
Nik. Nikolin’s emphasis on the connection of the “bureaucracy” with the upper ranks of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie is quite correct and extremely valuable. Only people who have never given a thought to the new brought by the first decade of the twentieth century, who understand nothing about the interdependence between the economic and the political relations in Russia and about the significance of the Third Duma can deny that this connection exists, deny that the present agrarian policy is bourgeois in character, deny in general that “a step” has been taken “towards the transformation into a bourgeois monarchy”.
But it is not enough to concede that the connection exists, it is necessary to point out what exactly is the actual nature of this connection. The step taken toward the transformation into something new by no means eliminates the old, say, “bureaucratic” regime with its vast self-sufficiency and independence, with its “peculiar nature” which the methods of Tolmachov and Reinbot (etc., et al.) lend it, and with its uncontrolled finances. While “drawing strength” from the support of the upper ranks of the bourgeoisie the bureaucracy is not recruited from the bourgeoisie, but from the old, very old, not only pre-revolutionary (before ‘905), but even pre-Reform (before 1861), landed and office-holding nobility. While it “obtains the motives for its activity” largely from the upper ranks of the bourgeoisie the bureaucracy lends its bourgeois activity a tendency and a form that is purely and solely feudal. For, if there is a difference between the bourgeois character of the Prussian Junker and the American farmer (although both of them are unquestionably bourgeois), there is a no less evident and equally great difference between the bourgeois character of the Prussian Junker and the “bourgeois character” of Markov and Purishkevich. Compared with the latter, the Prussian Junker is quite a “European”!
The principal, cardinal, and fatal mistake which, for instance, M. Alexandrov commits in his well-known pamphlet is that he forgets about the vast self-sufficiency and independence of the “bureaucracy”; and N. R-kov, in No. 9–10 of the liquidationist Nasha Zarya, indulges in this mistake to a point where it is reduced to an absurdity. Only the above-mentioned answer given three years ago contains an exact definition of the extent to which the old persists in the so-called “bureaucratic” regime, and of the changes, or, rather, modifications, that have been introduced by the “new”.
I am by no means opposed to the “exploration of other ways and means”, and I attach vast importance to constant and repeated discussion of the direct answers to the vexed questions, but I cannot refrain, however, from voicing my protest against the contraband that the liquidators, for example, are smuggling in under the flag of “exploration”. It is obvious that the differences of opinion between the “exploring” R-kov and the “exploring” Potresovs, Yezhovs, and Chatskys concern only details of their liberal labour policy. The stand taken by all these “explorers” is that of a liberal, not a Marxist, labour policy! It is one thing to “explore ways” and discuss them from a Marxist standpoint in books, magazines, etc.; and it is a different thing to come out with definite answers in publications giving practical guidance.
Take the question of “romanticism”. Nik Nikolin condemns romanticism as a hopelessly obsolete feature of the “old” and cites the following example: “The liberal thought that he was performing the part of champion of all the oppressed, while the socialist believed that he was backed by all ‘thinking’ and ‘labouring’ Russia”. The example refers to the failure to understand the class struggle, and Nikolin would have been perfectly right, of course, had he said that such a “socialist”—obviously a Narodnik—was really no socialist at all but a democrat who cloaked his democracy with pseudo-socialist phrases. But in speaking of romanticism, one must not overlook the Vekhi, i.e., counter-revolutionary, interpretation of that term which is current in the most widely circulated, namely, the liberal press. We can not help protesting against such an interpretation. We can not help noting the “new” feature, namely, that liberalism in Russia has given rise to the liberal trend of the Vekhi type, the policy which the Milyukovs actually pursue although in words they renounce it for purely diplomatic reasons.
Hence the following practical conclusion of major importance: on the basis of the “new” experience of the first ten years of the twentieth century, the line of demarcation between liberalism and democracy must be drawn more sharply. It is, of course, absurd to “lump the liberal opposition with reaction”, but this conclusion alone (which Nikolin draws), without the one I have just indicated, is decidedly insufficient.
In general, it must be said that it is in his conclusion that Nik. Nikolin commits his chief sin—that of being vague and leaving things unsaid. Take the first part of his conclusion: “Both the unreasonable infatuation with the old methods of action and the emphatically negative attitude to those methods are equally harmful”. In my opinion this is not a dialectical, but an eclectic, conclusion. The unreasonable is unreasonable, and therefore it is always and absolutely harmful—that goes without saying. In order to lend this part of the conclusion a vital, dialectical significance, it would have to be couched in approximately the fob lowing terms: an attempt to justify the refusal to take part in the Third or in, the Fourth Duma by references to the old methods of action would be an extremely grave mistake, a hollow phrase, a meaningless cry, in spite of the fact, or—more correctly—because of the fact, that we must have an emphatically positive attitude to those methods.
It is just in passing, since it is impossible for me to dwell on this question in greater detail, that I have thus indicated how, in my opinion, the second part of the quoted conclusion ought to be corrected.