V. I.   Lenin

Old Truths That Are Ever New

Published: Zvezda, No. 25, June 11, 1911. Signed: V. Ilyin. Published according to the Zvezda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 211-215.
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

The incidents that prevented the workers’ delegates from attending the second congress of factory doctors in Moscow are known to readers from press reports.[1] We are not in a position to dwell here on the details of those incidents or to comment upon their significance. We shall merely note the instructive reflections that appeared in Rech of April 14, i.e., on the day the congress opened, in a leading article which was written on the eve of these events.

It is to be regretted,” wrote the organ of the Constitutional-Democratic Party, “that outside obstacles are placed in the way of such participation [participation by representatives of the workers]. The fate likely to befall some too fiery speakers is all too well known. As a result, the representatives of the workers insist on talking about their difficulties in concentrating on special questions, the impossibility of organising proper representation at the congress, about the obstacles put in the way of their organisations, and many other things of a like nature which are far removed from the programme of the congress and the discussion of which distracts attention from the questions on the agenda and sometimes leads to undesirable consequences. The charged atmosphere explains also the intolerance shown by workers’ representatives to ’bourgeois’ speakers, to all the measures taken by the government, and to the possibility of collaboration with representatives of other social groups.”

This whole tirade is a characteristic example of feeble lamentations whose impotence is explained, not by the chance composition or by any special features of the given liberal party, of the given question, etc., but by causes of a more profound nature—by the actual conditions in which the liberal bourgeoisie in general finds itself in twentieth century Russia. The liberal bourgeoisie is longing for the   kind of “regime” under which it could have dealings with workers not likely “to make too fiery speeches” and who are fairly “tolerant” in their attitude towards the bourgeoisie, towards the idea of collaboration with the bourgeoisie, and “to all the measures taken by the government”. It is longing for a regime under which these unassuming workers “collaborating” with it could “concentrate on the special questions” of social policy and would meekly agree to confine themselves to patching up the threadbare cloak of bourgeois solicitude for “the younger brother”. In a word, the Russian liberals are longing for something like the present regime in England or in France, as distinct from that of Prussia. In England and France the bourgeoisie holds full sway, and it exercises its rule practically (with few exceptions) by itself, whereas in Prussia it is the feudal landowners, the Junkers, and the monarchist militarists, who are in the ascendancy. In England and France the bourgeoisie makes particularly frequent, free and wide use of the services of men of proletarian origin or traitors to the cause of the proletariat (John Burns, Briand) in the capacity of “collaborators” who “concentrate”, undisturbed, “on special questions” and who teach the working class to maintain an attitude of “tolerance” to the rule of capital.

There is not the slightest doubt that the English and French systems are much more democratic than the Prussian; that they are much more favourable for the struggle of the working class, and have to a much greater degree eliminated the medieval institutions which distract the attention of the working class from its principal and real adversary. There is not the slightest doubt, therefore, that support for all aspirations to remodel our country along Anglo-French, rather than Prussian, lines is in the interests of the Russian workers. But we must not confine ourselves to this indisputable conclusion, as is so often done. Only here does the disputed question or questions begin—the dispute is with democrats of various shades.

The aspirations must be given support. To support him who is weak and who wavers, it is necessary to sustain him with something more solid and to dispel the illusions that prevent him from seeing his weakness and understanding its causes. One does not give support to the urge towards bourgeois democracy   by strengthening those illusions and by adding one’s voice to the feeble lamentations of the weak,inconsistent and wavering adherents of democracy, but, on the contrary, one deprives that urge of its force. The bourgeoisie of England and then of France, in the middle of the seventeenth and the late eighteenth century respectively, did not lament the “intolerance” of the younger brother, and made no wry faces over the “too fiery speakers” among the representatives of that younger brother, but they themselves supplied the most fiery speakers (and not only speakers) who inculcated a feeling of contempt for the advocacy of “tolerance”, for weak lamentations, for vacillation and irresolution. Among those fiery speakers there were men who, in the course of centuries, have served as beacons and guides to humanity, despite historical limitations and often the naïveté of their ideas regarding the means of salvation from every kind of misfortune.

The German bourgeoisie, like the Russian, also lamented the fact that the speakers representing the “younger brother” were “too fiery”—and it left behind it in history a model of abasement, infamy, and flunkeyism for which it was rewarded with kicks administered by the “Junkers”. The difference in the attitude of the two bourgeoisies was not due, of course, to the “characteristics” of different “races”, but to the different levels of economic and political development which caused one of them to fear the “younger brother”, and made it vacillate impotently between deprecating the violence of feudalism and censuring the “intolerance” of the workers.

Those are old truths. But they are ever new, and remain so as long as we are treated, in publications issued by people who profess to be Marxists, to lines like the following:

The failure of the movement of 1905-06 was not due to the ‘excesses’ of the Lefts, for those ‘excesses’ were them selves the consequence of the aggregate of a large number of causes; nor was it due to ‘treachery’ on the part of the bourgeoisie who, everywhere in the West, had ‘betrayed’ at the crucial moment; it was due to the fact that there was no clearly defined bourgeois party which could supersede the obsolete bureaucracy at the helm if government, and which would be strong enough economically and sufficiently democratic to enjoy the support of the people.” And a few lines   further on: “... the weakness of the urban bourgeois democrats who should have become the political centre of attraction for the democratic peasantry...” (Nasha Zarya, No. 3, p. 62, article by Mr. V. Levitsky).

Mr. V. Levitsky is more consistent in his renunciation of the idea of “the hegemony of the proletariat” (“the urban bourgeois democrats”, and no other group, “should have become the centre of attraction”!), or he expresses his ideas more boldly, definitely and consistently than Mr. Potresov, who brushed up his article in The Social Movement to comply with Plekhanov’s ultimatums.

Mr. V. Levitsky argues just like a liberal. He is an in consistent liberal, despite his use of many Marxist phrases. He has no idea that an entirely different social category, not the urban bourgeois democrats, should have become the “centre of attraction for the democratic peasantry”. He forgets that this “should” was a reality during momentous historical periods in England and in France, as well as in Russia—they were of momentous significance although they were of short duration in the latter country; in the two first-named countries it was for the most part the democratic, ultra-democratic and “too fiery” plebeian sections that united the various elements of the “lower classes”.

Mr. V. Levitsky forgets that even in those brief periods of history when these “lower classes” played the role of “centres of attraction for the democratic peasantry”, when they succeeded in wresting this role from the liberal bourgeoisie, they did exercise a decisive influence in determining the degree of democracy the country in question was to enjoy in the succeeding decades of so-called peaceful development. During the brief periods of their hegemony, these “lower classes” trained their bourgeoisie and remoulded it to such an extent that subsequently it was anxious to beat a retreat, but was unable to go farther in this retrograde movement than, say, an upper chamber in France, or certain departures from the principles of democratic elections, and so on, and so forth.

This idea, confirmed by the historical experience of all European countries—the idea that in epochs of bourgeois change (or, more correctly, of bourgeois revolution) the bourgeois democracy of each country is moulded one way or   another, assumes one form or another, becomes trained in one tradition or another, and accepts one or another minimum of democracy, depending on the extent to which, in the decisive moments of the history of the nation, hegemony passes not to the bourgeoisie but to the “lower classes”, to the “plebeian” elements, as was the case in the eighteenth century, or to the proletariat in the nineteenth and twentieth con tunes—this idea is foreign to Mr. V. Levitsky. The idea of the hegemony of the proletariat constitutes one of the fundamental tenets of Marxism; and the liquidators’ departure from these tenets (or even their indifference to them) is a profound source of quite a number of their irreconcilable fundamental differences with the opponents of the liquidationist trend.

Every capitalist country passes through an era of bourgeois revolutions which produces a definite degree of democracy, a definite constitutional or parliamentary regime, a definite degree of independence, love of liberty, and initiative among the “lower classes” in general and the proletariat in particular, a definite tradition permeating the entire political and social life of the country. The particular degree of democracy, or the particular tradition, depends on whether, in the decisive moments, the hegemony belongs to the bourgeoisie or to those at the other end of the scale; it depends on whether it is the former or the latter which (again in those decisive moments) constitutes the “centre of attraction for the democratic peasantry” and, in general, for all intermediary democratic groups and sections.

Mr. V. Levitsky is a past master at coining brilliant formulations which have the effect of at once revealing the ideological foundations of liquidationism, bringing them out clearly and in bold relief. Such was his famous formula: “Not hegemony, but a class party”, which—translated into plain language—means: not Marxism, but Brentanoism (social-liberalism). The two formulas noted in the present article—namely: “the urban bourgeois democrats should have become the centre of attraction for the democratic peasantry” and “the failure ... was due to the fact that there was no clearly defined bourgeois party”—are, undoubtedly, destined to become just as famous.


[1] The workers’ delegates to the second all-Russia congress of factory doctors and representatives of industry were arrested on April 13 (26), 1911, on the eve, of the congress.

Works Index   |   Volume 17 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index
< backward   forward >