V. I.   Lenin

A Liberal Labour Party Manifesto



It was necessary to dwell at particular length on R-kov’s appraisal of the role of the various classes, because here we have the ideological roots of our unqualified disagreement. The practical conclusions which R-kov draws, with rare fearlessness and straightforwardness, it must be said in all fairness to him, are interesting primarily because they reduce the author’s “theory” to an absurdity. R-kov is a thousand times right, of course, when he connects the question of the possibility of an open political organisation of the workers with an appraisal of the situation, with an estimate of fundamental alterations in the political system. But the trouble is that instead of pointing out such alterations in real life, he is only able to present us with amiable professorial syllogisms: the transition to “civilised capitalism” “presupposes” the necessity for an open political organisation of the workers. It is easy to put this on paper, but in real life the Russian political regime will not become a whit more “civilised” because of it.

Progressism, even if of the most moderate variety, will undoubtedly have to extend the all too narrow confines existing at present.” To this we answer: the progressism of the Cadets in the Fourth Duma will not have to, and can not “extend” anything so long as elements far removed from the Cadets do not bestir themselves in a manner very dissimilar to that customary in the Duma.

Unless such an organisation exists,” says R-kov, referring to an open and broad political organisation of the workers, “the struggle is bound to assume an anarchistic character harmful, not only to the working class, but to the civilised bourgeoisie as well.”

We shall not dwell on the last part of the phrase, comment will only spoil this “gem”. As for the first part, it is historically wrong. There was no anarchism in Germany in 1878–90, although there was no “open and broad” political organisation in existence.

Further, R-kov is a thousand times right when he puts forward a concrete plan for an open political workers’ “organisation” and suggests that it be inaugurated by the founding of a “political association for the protection of the interests of the working class”. He is right in the sense that only empty phrase-mongers can prattle for months and years about the possibility of an “open” party, with out taking the first simple and natural step to launch it. R-kov is not a phrase-monger; he is a man of deeds and, as such, starts at the beginning and goes the whole hog.

But the point is that his “deeds” are liberal deeds, and the “banner” which he is “unfurling” (see p. 35 of the article we are quoting) is the banner of a liberal labour policy. It is immaterial that the programme of the association which R-kov wants to found provides for “the establishment of a new society based on the public ownership of the means of production”, etc. Actually, the recognition of this great principle did not prevent a section of the German Social-Democrats in the sixties from pursuing a “royal-Prussian labour policy”, nor does it prevent Ramsay MacDonald (leader of the British “Independent Labour Party”—meaning independent of socialism) from pursuing a liberal labour policy. When R-kov speaks of the political tasks of the immediate period, of our present period, it is a system of liberal principles that he propounds. The “banner” which R-kov is “unfurling” was unfurled by Prokopovich, Potresov, Larin, etc., long ago, and the more this banner is unfurled” the clearer does it become to one and all that what we have before us is a dirty liberal rag worn to shreds.

There is not a grain of utopia in all this,” R-kov tries to persuade us. We must needs reply with a paraphrase of a well-known saying: “You are a great utopian, but your utopia is tiny”. Indeed, it would be rather frivolous perhaps to reply to an obviously frivolous statement other than with a joke. How is it possible to regard as other than utopian the suggested foundation of an open workers’   association at a time when absolutely peaceful, tame, non-political trade unions are being suppressed? How can one write about the role of the various classes in a way that is liberal from A to Z and yet assure the readers that this does not moan creeping into a regime of renovated Tolmachovism? The good R-kov goes out of his way to declare: “There is no advocacy of any violence in this; there is not a word, not a thought about a violent revolution being necessary, because in reality, too, no such necessity may ever arise. If anyone, blinded by reactionary frenzy, took it into his head to accuse the members of such an ‘association’ of striving for violent revolution, the whole burden of an absurd, unfounded and juridically flimsy accusation of this sort would fall upon the head of the accuser”!

N. R-kov has an eloquent pen, just like Mr. P. B. Struve who, in 1901, hurled similar terrifying thunderbolts “upon the heads” of those who persecuted the Zemstvo.[1] What a picture—N. R-kov trying to prove to the accusing Dumbadzes that, since he now harbours no “thoughts”, the burden of the juridically flimsy accusations will fall upon the Dumbadzes’ own heads! Yes, indeed, we have no parliament as yet, but we have parliamentary cretinism galore. Apparently such members of the new association as the Marxist Gegechkori or even the non-Marxist but honest democrat Petrov the Third would be summarily expelled at the very first meeting of the new association—provided the assembled members are not dispatched, by mistake, to various chilly places before the meeting opens.

The Nasha Zarya “liquidators” are rejoicing because R-kov has joined their ranks. But the enthusiastic liquidators do not realise how ardent is the embrace which the newly-won liquidator R-kov brings to them. It is so ardent and so powerful that this much can be vouched for—liquidationism will be smothered by R-kov’s ardent embrace just as the labour congress was smothered by Y. Larin’s ardent embrace. Y. Larin perpetrated that bloodless murder by the simple device of writing a pamphlet, after which people, primarily out of fear of the embarrassment involved, began to be wary of defending the idea of a labour congress. After the new “manifesto” of liquidationism published by R-kov in Nasha Zarya, people, primarily out of fear of the embarrassment   involved, will begin to be wary of defending the idea of an open liquidationist party.

And, since we must find at least one point on which to agree with R-kov, that idea does contain a “grain” of non-utopianism. Remove your professorial blinkers, my dear sir, and you will then see that the “association” which you intend to “actually put into effect” (after the burden of your admonitions has fallen “upon the heads” of the Mymretsovs[2]) already exists—that it has been in existence for two years. And you yourself already belong to it! The magazine Nasha Zarya (not as a collection of so much printed matter, but as an ideological group) is just such an “association for the protection of the interests of the working class”. An open and broad organisation of workers is a utopia; but “open” and frank magazines of opportunist intellectuals are not a utopia—not by any means. In their own way they are undoubtedly protecting the interests of the working class; but to anyone who has not ceased to be a Marxist it is obvious that theirs is an “association” for protecting, in a liberal manner, the interests of the working class as conceived by the liberals.


[1] Lenin is referring to the preface to S. Y. Witte’s “The Autocracy and the Zemstvo” written by P. B. Struve (signed: R.N.S.) which he criticised in “The Persecutors of the Zemstvo and the Hannibals of Liberalism”

[2] Mymretsov—a character from G. I. Uspensky’s Budka (The Centry Box) a coarse and boorish type of policeman from an out-of-the-way small town of tsarist Russia.

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