V. I.   Lenin

Marxism and Nasha Zarya[1]

Written: Written after January 22 (February 4), 1911
Published: First published in Sovremennaya Zhizn (Baku), No. 3, April 22, 1911. Signed: V. Ilyin. Published according to the Sovremennaya Zhizn text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 54-59.
Translated: Dora Cox
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.README

In a review of the press appearing in Zvezda, No. 4, it was correctly stated that at the present moment all Marxist circles are interested in the question of liquidationism and in assessing the problem of the hegemony of the proletariat; and that if the polemics over this important question are to bear fruit, they must deal with principles, they must not be the “ad hominem and malicious polemics carried on by Nasha Zarya”.

I fully share this opinion and shall, therefore, pass over in complete silence the tricks resorted to by that magazine to imply that one can understand only whom the controversy is about, but not what it is about (Nasha Zarya, No. 11–12, p. 47). I shall take Nasha Zarya itself for a year—just up to its first anniversary and try to examine what it is about and what the magazine has to say on this score.

The first issue of Nasha Zarya appeared in January 1910. In the second issue, which appeared in February, Mr. Potresov already declared that the controversy between the Machians and the Marxists, and the question of liquidationism were included among the “trivialities”. “I ask the reader,” wrote Mr. Potresov, “whether it is possible that there can exist, in this year of 1909, as something that is actually real and not a figment of a diseased imagination, a liquidationist tendency, a tendency to liquidate what is already beyond liquidation and actually no longer exists as an organised whole” (p. 61).

By this unsuccessful attempt to evade the issue, Mr. Potresov supplied the best corroboration, one startling in its Herostratean boldness, of the view which he intended to refute. In January and February 1910, Mr. Potresov must   have known that his opponents would not agree with his appraisal of the actual state of affairs. Consequently, it could not be dismissed as something “which no longer exists” since the non-existent cannot be appraised. The question is not whether in actual practice one-tenth, or one-twentieth, or one-hundredth, or any other fraction equals nought, it is whether there exists a trend which regards that fraction as superfluous. The question is whether there is a difference in principle as to the significance of the fraction, what attitude should be taken toward it, should it be increased, etc. By replying to this question that there is “nothing”, “nought”, and that “nought is but nought”, Mr. Potresov fully expressed the liquidationist trend whose existence he denies. His sally was remarkable only for its particular “malice” (as it was aptly put in the press review in Zvezda, No. 4), for its lack of straightforwardness and journalistic clarity. But it is precisely because it is not a matter of, personalities, but of a trend, that Moscow rushed to the assistance of St. Petersburg. The Moscow Vozrozhdeniye,[2] No. 5, of March 30, 1910, quoted Mr. Potresov approvingly and added on its own behalf: “There is nothing to liquidate and for ourselves we may add, the dream of resuscitating that hierarchy, in its old”, etc., “shape is nothing but a harmful, reactionary utopia” (p. 51).

It is quite obvious that it is not a question of the old shape, but of the old substance. It is quite obvious also that the question of “liquidating” is inseparably connected with the question of “resuscitating”. Vozrozhdeniye went just one little step farther than Mr. Potresov; it expressed the same idea a little more clearly, more straightforwardly and more honestly. It dealt with trends and not with personalities. Persons may be evasive rather than straightforward, but trends are certain to reveal themselves in the most varied circumstances, shapes and forms.

Take, for instance, Mr. Bazarov, who was a Bolshevik once and perhaps still considers himself one—all kinds of strange things happen in our days. In the April issue of Nasha Zarya he refuted Mr. Potresov, and did this so success fully, so fortunately (for Potresov) that he declared literally that “the notorious question of hegemony” is “the biggest and yet most trivial misunderstanding” (p. 87). Note:   Mr. Bazarov refers to that question as “notorious”, i.e., one that had been raised before, that was already known in April 1910! We note this fact, it is very important. We note that Mr. Bazarov’s statement that “there will be no question of hegemony” (p. 88) if among the petty bourgeoisie in town and countryside there is “a sufficiently radical sentiment against political privileges”, etc., and if it is “permeated with a strongly nationalistic spirit”, actually amounts to a complete failure to understand the idea of hegemony and to a renunciation of this idea. It is precisely the concern of the leader to fight “nationalism” and to drive it out of those “sentiments” of which Bazarov speaks. The success of this work cannot be measured by immediate, direct results achieved today. There are times when the results of the resistance to nationalism, of resistance to the spirit of decay, and of resistance to liquidationism—which, incidentally, is as much a manifestation of bourgeois influence on the proletariat as is the nationalism which at times affects a section of the workers—there are times when these results begin to tell only after years, perhaps even after very many years. It happens that a spark merely smoulders for many years, a spark which the petty bourgeoisie regard and proclaim as non-existent, liquidated, extinguished, etc., but which actually lives and feeds the spirit of resistance to despondency and renunciation, and manifests itself after a protracted period of time. Everywhere and always, opportunism clutches at the minute, at the moment, at today, for it is unable to appreciate the connection between “yesterday” and “tomorrow”. Marxism, on the other hand, demands a clear awareness of this connection, an awareness that expresses itself not in words alone but in deeds. That is why Marxism cannot be reconciled with the liquidationist trend in general, and particularly with the denial of hegemony.

St. Petersburg is followed by Moscow. The Menshevik, Mr. Potresov, is followed by the former Bolshevik, Mr. Bazarov. Bazarov is followed by Mr. V. Levitsky, who is a more straightforward and honest opponent than Mr. Potresov. In the July issue of Nasha Zarya, Mr. V. Levitsky writes: “Whereas the previous [form of organisation of the class-conscious workers] was the leadership in the national   struggle for political freedom, the coming one will be the class [Mr. Levitsky’s emphasis] party of the masses who have embarked upon their historic movement” (p. 103).

This one sentence represents a remarkably apt and concentrated expression of the spirit of all the writings of the Levitskys, Potresovs, Bazarovs, of the whole of Vozrozhdeniye, the whole of Nasha Zarya, and the whole of Dyelo Zhizni.[3] The above-quoted passage from Mr. Levitsky could be supplemented, replaced, enlarged upon and illustrated by hundreds of other quotations. It is just as “classical” a phrase as Bernstein’s famous: “The movement is everything, the final aim is nothing”[4]—or like Prokopovich’s (in the Credo of 1899)[5]: the workers should confine them selves to the economic struggle, leaving the political struggle to the liberals.

Mr. Levitsky is theoretically incorrect when he contrasts hegemony with a class party. This contrast alone furnishes sufficient grounds for saying that the party which Nasha Zarya is in actual fact following is not based on Marxism but on liberalism. Only the theoreticians of liberalism through out the world (recall Sombart and Brentano) conceive of a class labour party in the way Mr. Levitsky “conceives” of it. From the standpoint of Marxism the class, so long as it renounces the idea of hegemony or fails to appreciate it, is not a class, or not yet a class, but a guild, or the sum total of various guilds.

But while Mr. Levitsky is unfaithful to Marxism, he is quite faithful to Nasha Zarya, i.e., to the liquidationist trend. What he said about the substance of this trend is the honest truth. In the past (as far as the followers of this trend are concerned) there was “hegemony”; in the future there will not be, nor should there be, any. And what about the present? At present there is the amorphous agglomeration which represents the circle of writers and reader friends of Nasha Zarya, Vozrozhdeniye and Dye to Zhizni, who are engaged, at present, in this year of 1911, in advocating the necessity, the inevitability, the usefulness and the logic of a transition from the past concept of the hegemony of the proletariat to the idea of a class party in the Brentano[6] sense (or, for that matter, in the Struve or Izgoyev sense)   in the future. The fact that amorphism is one of the principles of liquidationism was stated by its opponents in so many words as far back as 1908, i.e., a year before Nasha Zarya came into existence, Since Mr. Mayevsky[7] asks, in December 1910, what is liquidationism, we can refer him to the answer given officially exactly two years ago. In that answer he will find an exact and complete characterisation of Nasha Zarya, although the latter came into existence a year after that. How was this possible? It was possible because it was not, nor is it, a question of personalities, but of a trend, which became apparent in 1907 (see, if you must, the concluding part of the pamphlet by Mr. Cherevanin himself, where he deals with the events of the spring of 19O7[8]), found patent expression in 1908, was appraised by its opponents at the end of 1908, and in 1910 founded for itself an open press organ and organs.

When you say: in the past there was hegemony, but in the future there ought to be a “class party”—you thereby glaringly show the connection between liquidationism and the renunciation of hegemony, and confirm the fact that this trend has broken with Marxism. Marxism maintains: since there was “hegemony” in the past, consequently, the sum of trades, specialities, guilds gave rise to the class; for it is the consciousness of the idea of hegemony and its implementation through their own activities that converts the guilds as a whole into a class. And once they have grown to the level of a “class”, no external conditions, no burdens, no reduction of the whole to a fraction, no rejoicing on the part of Vekhi, and no pusillanimity on the part of the opportunists, can stifle this young shoot. Even if it is not “seen” on the surface (the Potresovs do not see it, or pretend not to see it, because they do not care to see it), it is alive; it lives, preserving the “past” in the, present, and carrying it into the future. Because there was hegemony in the past, Marxists are in duty bound—despite all and sundry renunciators—to uphold its idea in the present and in the future; and this ideological task fully corresponds to the material conditions which have created the class out of guilds and which continue to create, extend and consolidate, it, and which lend strength to its resistance to all “manifestations of bourgeois influence

The magazine Nasha Zarya, however, in the issues published during the year, represents, in a concentrated form, that very expression of bourgeois influence on the proletariat. Liquidationism exists not only as a trend of people who profess to be the supporters of a given class. It represents one of the minor streams in that wide torrent of “regression” which has swept up several classes, is characteristic of the three years 1908-10 and, perhaps, will remain characteristic of a few more years. In the present article I had to confine myself to a definition of this minor stream on the basis of quotations from Nasha Zarya, Nos. 2–7. In future articles I expect to dwell on Nos. 10, 11, and 12 of that magazine, as well as to prove in greater detail that the minor stream of liquidationism is but a part of the torrent of Vekhi doctrines.


[1] This article was published in No. 3 of Sovremennaya Zhizn (Contemporary Life), a Bolshevik legal weekly socio-political magazine published in Baku from March 26 (April 8) to April 22 (May 5), 1911, under the editorship of S. G. Shahumyan. Three issue appeared,   but after the confiscation of the third issue, the magazine was closed down by the government.

[2] Vozrozhdeniye (Regeneration)—a legal Menshevik-liquidator magazine, published in Moscow from December 1908 to July 1910; it was replaced by the magazines Zhizn (Life) in 1910 and Dyelo Zhizni (Life’s Cause) in 1911.

[3] Dyelo Zhizni (Life’s Cause)—a legal magazine of the Menshevik liquidators, published in St. Petersburg from January to October 1911.

[4] This refers to the thesis of Eduard Bernstein, an outspoken exponent of revisionist ideas, founder of Bernsteinism, the anti-Marxist, opportunist trend in international Social-Democracy, which arose at the end of the nineteenth century in Germany.

[5] The reference is to the thesis of the Economists developed in their programme Credo, written in 1899 by Y. D. Kuskova.

Economism was an opportunist trend in Russian Social-Democracy at the turn of the century, a Russian variety of international opportunism. The newspaper Rabochaya Mysl (Workers’ Thought) (1897–1902) and the magazine Rabocheye Dyelo (The Workers’ Cause) (1899–1902) were organs of the Economists.

The Economists limited the tasks of the working-class movement to the economic struggle for higher wages, better working conditions, etc., asserting that the political struggle was the affair of the liberal bourgeoisie. They denied the leading role of the party of the working class, considering that it should merely observe the spontaneous development of the movement and record events. Deferring to the “spontaneity” of the working-class movement, they belittled the importance of revolutionary theory and class-consciousness, and claimed that socialist ideology could develop from the spontaneous working-class movement; they denied the necessity for bringing socialist consciousness into the working-class movement from without, by the Marxist party, and thus, they actually cleared the way for bourgeois ideology. They championed the existing scattered, isolated study circles with their parochial amateurish approach, encouraged disunity in the Social-Democratic ranks, and opposed the creation of a centralised working-class party. Economism threatened to turn the working class away from the path of class, revolutionary struggle, and to convert it into a political appendage of the bourgeoisie.

Comprehensive criticisms by Lenin of the Economist standpoint are to be found in a number of his articles. They include “A Protest by Russian Social-Democrats” (directed against the Credo; written in 1899, while Lenin was in Siberian exile, and signed by 17 other exiled Marxists), “A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy”, “Apropos of the Profession de foi” and “A Talk with Defenders of Economism” Lenin’s What Is To Be Done?   brought about the ideological rout of Economism A major part in the struggle against the Economists was also played by the newspaper Iskra.

[6] Lujo Brentano (1844-1931)—the German bourgeois economist, the author of a variety of bourgeois distortion of Marxism known as Brentanoism. Brentano advocated “social peace” in capitalist society, the possibility of overcoming the social contradictions of capitalism without resorting to the class struggle, maintaining that the solution of the working-class problem lay in the organisation of reformist trade unions and the introduction of or legislation and that the interests of workers and capitalists could be reconciled.

A theory analogous to that of Brentanoism was propounded in Russia by the chief representative of “legal Marxism”, P. B. Struve, in an attempt to use Marxism in the interests of the bourgeoisie. Lenin pointed out that “Struveism” takes “from Marxism all that is acceptable to the liberal bourgeoisie” and rejects its “living soul”, its revolutionary nature. Struve was in complete agreement with the vulgar political economy preached abroad, and ascribed to capitalism aims which were foreign to it, namely the fullest satisfaction of man’s needs; he invited people to “learn from capitalism”, and openly advocated Malthusian ideas. According to Lenin, Struve was the “great master of renegacy, who, darting with opportunism, with ‘criticism of Marx’, ended in the ranks of counter-revolutionary bourgeois national-liberalism”.

Among Struve’s followers was the bourgeois publicist A. S. Izgoyev whom Lenin called, as he did Struve, a “hack writer for the landlords and capitalists”.

[7] Mayevsky—the Menshevik V. A. Gutovsky.

[8] Lenin is referring to Cherevanin’s pamphlet The London Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. in 1907, at the end of which the author criticised the decision of the Congress on the question of the labour congress and non-Party workers’ organisations from the liquidationist standpoint.

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