V. I.   Lenin

A Liberal Labour Party Manifesto



The above would be a fit title for N. R-kov’s article in Nasha Zarya, No. 9–1O.[1]

Painful though it is for Marxists to lose in the person of N. R-kov, a man who, in the years when the movement was on the upgrade served the workers’ party faithfully and energetically, the cause must take precedence over all personal or factional considerations, and over all recollections, however “pleasant”. The interests of the cause compel us to admit that thanks to the straightforwardness, clarity, and completeness of its views, the manifesto of this new liquidator serves a very useful purpose. N. R-kov enables and compels us to pose the extremely important and cardinal question of “two parties” irrespective of any material relating to the “conflict” and to do so on a purely ideological basis, largely outside even the division into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. After R-kov’s article, liquidationism can no longer be discussed as formerly for he has definitely raised the question to a higher plane. Further more, after N. R-kov’s article, liquidationism cannot be merely discussed; for what we have before us is the most comprehensive plan imaginable of immediate practical action.

N. R-kov begins with an exposition of the “principal objective task in Russia”; he then passes on to an appraisal of the revolution, after which he analyses the present situation and in this connection discusses every class in clear and precise terms, and winds up with a quite explicit description of the entire nature of the new “open political workers’ association”, which, he says, must be formed and “actually put into effect” without delay. In short, R-kov   begins at the very beginning and by consecutive stages arrives at the very end, as is to be expected of anyone who has any realisation of the serious political responsibility he bears for his words and deeds. And it must be said in fairness to R-kov that from beginning to end he most consistently substitutes liberalism for Marxism.

Take the starting-point of his arguments. He regards it as “absolutely beyond doubt or dispute” that “the principal objective task in Russia at present is the completion of the change from grossly predatory semi-feudal economic practices to civilised capitalism”. In his opinion it is debatable whether Russia has reached a position in which, “although the possibility of social upheavals is not excluded, these upheavals are not indispensable or inevitable in the near future

We consider it to be absolutely beyond doubt or dispute that this is a purely liberal way of presenting the question. The liberals confine themselves to the question of whether we are going to have a “civilised capitalism” or not, whether there are going to be “upheavals” or not. The Marxist refuses to confine himself to this. He demands an analysis that will show which classes, or strata of classes in the bourgeois society that is emancipating itself, are pursuing this or that definite line in this emancipation—what, for example, are the political forms of the so-called “civilised capitalism” which they are creating. Both in times of “upheaval” and during their undoubted absence, Marxists pursue a line different in principle from liberalism—that of creating truly democratic ways of life, not just “civilised” ways in general. We are all striving for “civilised capitalism”, say the liberals, posing as a party that stands above classes. We Marxists, however, must tell the workers and democrats that our understanding of the term “civilisation” differs from that of the liberals.

R-kov presents us with an even more vivid and typically “professorial” distortion of Marxism when he criticises the “superficial observers” who “think that our revolution has failed”. “The weak-nerved intelligentsia as a whole,” says R-kov, “has always and everywhere indulged in snivelling and whining, followed by moral prostration, renegacy, and mysticism.” The “thoughtful observer”, on the other hand,   knows that “the raging of reaction often expresses profound social change”, that “new social groups and forces take shape and mature in the epoch of reaction”.

Thus reasons R-kov. In presenting the question of “renegacy” he has managed to display so much philistinism (even though accompanied by learned verbiage) that no trace is left of the connection between the counter-revolutionary sentiments in Russia and the position and interests of definite classes. Not a single Vekhi contributor, i.e., the most rabid counter-revolutionary liberal, will dispute the fact that new forces are maturing in the period of reaction; not a single contributor to the liquidationist five-volume publication, which the best of the Mensheviks turned away from,[2] will refuse to subscribe to this. The actual face and the class character of our counter-revolution have vanished from the arguments of our historian, and only hackneyed and hollow phrases remain about some intellectuals being weak-nerved while others are thoughtful observers. R-kov failed to take notice of a question of the utmost importance to a Marxist—namely, how our revolution demonstrated the various methods of action and the various aspirations of the different classes, and why this has given rise to a “renegade” attitude towards the struggle for “civilisation” on the part of other bourgeois classes.

Let us turn to the main issue—R-kov’s appraisal of the present situation based on an estimate of the position of all the classes. He begins with the “representatives of our big landowning class”, of whom he says: “Not so long ago the bulk of them were [were!] real feudal landowners, typical landed aristocrats. At present only a few of these last Mohicans have survived. This small handful is still grouped around Purishkevich and Markov the Second, and are impotently [!] spluttering the venom of despair.... The majority of our big landowners, noblemen and commoners, who are represented in the Duma by the Nationalists and the Right Octobrists, are gradually and steadily being converted into an agricultural bourgeoisie.”

Such is R-kov’s “appraisal of the situation”. It is obvious that this appraisal is a mockery of reality. In actual fact, the “handful ... grouped around Purishkevich and Markov the Second” are not powerless, but all-powerful. It is precisely   their power and their revenue that the present social and political institutions of Russia protect; it is their will that prevails in the last analysis; it is they who constitute the element determining the entire line of activity and the entire character of the so-called bureaucracy from top to bottom. All this is so generally known, the actual domination in Russia by this very handful is so striking and common, that it requires a truly boundless liberal self-delusion to forget it. R-kov’s error is, first, in ridiculously exaggerating the “conversion” of feudal economy into bourgeois economy, and, secondly, in forgetting a “trifle”—just the sort of “trifle” that distinguishes a Marxist from a liberal—namely the intricacy and spasmodic nature of the process of adaptation of the political superstructure to economic transformation. To explain these two errors of R-kov’s it is sufficient to cite the example of Prussia where to this day, despite the considerably higher level of development of capitalism in general, and of the conversion of the old landowning economy into bourgeois economy in particular, the Oldenburgs and the Heidebrands are still omni potent and control state power, their social substance permeating, as it were, the entire Prussian monarchy, the entire Prussian bureaucracy! To this day, sixty-three years after 1848, and despite the unprecedentedly rapid development of capitalism, the law governing the Landtag elections in Prussia is still so framed as to ensure the domination of the Prussian Purishkeviches. Yet for Russia, six years after 1905, R-kov paints an Arcadian idyll of the “powerlessness” of the Purishkeviches!

The point is that painting an Arcadian idyll about the “steady” conversion of the Purishkeviches and the “triumph of a quite moderate bourgeois progressism” is the main theme of all of R-kov’s reflections. Take his ideas on present-day agrarian policy. “There is no more striking and widespread illustration” of the conversion (of feudal economy into bourgeois economy) than this policy, declares R-kov. The system of splitting farms into strips isolated from each other is being abolished, and “the elimination of land hunger in twenty agricultural gubernias in the black-earth belt presents no difficulties to speak of, it constitutes one of the urgent tasks of the day, and apparently it will   be settled by a compromise among various groups of the bourgeoisie

This anticipated inevitable compromise on the agrarian question already has a number of precedents.”

Here you have a complete sample of R-kov’s method of political reasoning. He begins by eliminating the extremes, without any supporting data, merely because of his liberal complacency. Then he goes on to declare that a compromise among the various groups of the bourgeoisie is not difficult, and is likely. Then he winds up by saying that such a compromise is “inevitable”. By this method one could prove that “upheavals” were neither likely nor indispensable in France in 1788 and in China in 1910. To be sure, a compromise among the various groups of the bourgeoisie presents no difficulties, if we assume that Markov the Second has been eliminated not only in R-kov’s complacent imagination. But to assume this would mean adopting the stand point of the liberal who is afraid to dispense with the Markovs and who thinks that everybody will always share his fear.

To be sure, a compromise would be “inevitable” if (the first “if”) there were no Markovs; and if (the second “if”) we assume that the workers and the peasants who are being ruined are politically sound asleep. But then, again, would not such an assumption (the assumption of the second condition) mean accepting the liberals’ wish as reality?


[1] The reference is to N. Rozhkov’s article “The Present Situation in Russia and the Main Task of the Working-Class Movement at the Present Moment”. Another article by Lenin, “From the Camp of the Stolypin ‘Labour’ Party”, is also a criticism of Rozhkov (see pp. 354–59 of this volume).

[2] This refers to The Social Movement in Russia;

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