V. I.   Lenin

Polemical Notes

Published: Mysl, No. 4. March 1911. Published according to the Mysl text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 164-167.
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 an article entitled “The Results of the Artisans’ Congress” in Nasha Zarya, No. 2, Mr. B. Bogdanov formulates his conclusions as follows:

The striving to break with the old underground and embark upon really open public and political activity—such is the new feature which also characterises the latest phase of our labour movement.” (P. 73.) “At a moment of heightened activity in public life, on the eve of by-elections in Moscow and general elections to the Fourth State Duma, the fact is very keenly felt that the politically organised section of the proletariat exercises no influence. The entire activity of the organised workers during recent years has been directed to ward the revival of this independent political force. Consciously or unconsciously, all the participants of this movement are becoming agents of the reviving party of the proletariat. But the task of its organised section is not so much to accelerate this movement, not so much to give it formal shape prematurely, as to contribute to its development and lend it the greatest possible scope by drawing the widest possible masses into it and by resolutely breaking with the inactivity of the underground and its stupefying atmosphere.” (Pp. 74–75.)

Only in newspapers of the Novoye Vremya type, and possibly also in the writings of embittered renegades to liberalism like Mr. Struve and Co., have we hitherto met with such howls about the “stupefying” atmosphere, and similar hysterical cries and appeals to “break” with it. Hitherto it has been the rule for that political press which is considered in any way decent and honest, not to use a particular platform to attack things that cannot be defended from that same platform. For over a year now, however, the crowd of liquidators, which includes B. Bogdanov, Levitsky, Potresov, and others, has been successfully “overcoming” this antiquated democratic prejudice, systematically choosing for their appeals to “break resolutely”, etc., only those platforms which assure them a monopoly in any discussion on   the point at issue. It only remains for us to place on record this “well-protected” war waged against the “stupefying atmosphere” and—to pillory the warriors.

The Bogdanovs, Levitskys, and Potresovs juggle with facts when they refer to the workers’ urge to act openly and then draw their own conclusion that the workers are striving to break with the “stupefying atmosphere”. They rely for the success of their jugglery on its being impossible for us, the opponents of liquidationism, to make public the facts, known to the Bogdanovs, which testify to the indignation of the workers who at various congresses come out openly against intellectuals who advocate “breaking” with the underground. At the beginning of 1911, the workers, to their great honour be it said, are striving to engage in open political activity just as energetically as they were, for example, at the beginning of 1905; but neither then nor now have the workers ever revolted against the “stupefying atmosphere”, nor have they ever wanted “to break” with it. The only ones who may be correctly said to be striving to “break resolutely” are the renegade intellectuals.

Indeed, the reader would do well to reflect on the following fact. A group of writers has been vociferating, particularly since January 1910, about a “striving to break with the old”, and to “embark upon really open political activity”. During this period alone, this group has published more than twenty issues of its own magazines (Nasha Zarya, Vozrozhdeniye, Zhizn, Dyelo Zhizni), not to mention books, pamphlets, and articles in journals and newspapers that are not specifically liquidationist in character. How then, may it be asked, are we to account for the fact that writers who have been working so energetically in the journalistic field, and who speak with so much conviction of the need “resolutely to break with the old” and to “embark upon really open political activity” have so far themselves, in their own group, not ventured, not plucked up the courage to “break resolutely” with “the old” and to “embark upon really open political activity” with a programme, platform and tactics that would mark a “resolute break” with the “stupefying atmosphere”?

What kind of a comedy is this? What hypocrisy! They speak of “the revival of this political force”, rail at “the stupefying   atmosphere”, demand a break with the old, preach really open political activity”, and at the same time refrain from substituting for it any programme, any platform, any tactics and any organisation! Why is it that our legalists, our would-be Marxists, lack even as much political honesty as was displayed by the Peshekhonovs and other publicists contributing to Russkoye Bogatstvo[1] who began to speak of the stupefying atmosphere and of the need to “embark upon really open political activity” much earlier (beginning from 1905–06) and who practised what they preached, actually “broke resolutely with the old”, actually came out with an “open” programme, an “open” platform, “open” tactics and an “open” organisation?

Honesty in politics is the result of strength; hypocrisy is the result of weakness. The Peshekhonovs and Co. are a force among the Narodniks, therefore they come out really “openly”. The Bogdanovs, Levitskys, Potresovs and Co. are weak among the Marxists and at every step are repulsed by the class-conscious workers; that is why they play the hypocrite, take cover and do not venture to come out openly with a programme and tactics of “really open political activity”.

The Peshekhonovs and Co. are so strong among the Narodniks that they carry their wares under their own flag. The Bogdanovs, Levitskys, Potresovs, and Martovs are so weak among the Marxists that they are compelled to smuggle in their goods under a foreign flag. In their petty intellectualist magazine (Nasha Zarya) they summon up courage and shout: there is no “hierarchy”, we must “resolutely break with the old” and “embark upon really open political activity”. But when they face the workers, our liquidators act according to the saying: A lion among the lambs becomes a lamb among the lions.

When facing the workers our heroes, who show such enthusiasm for “open political activity” act anything but openly and do not offer any open programme, tactics or organisation. Hence the reason for the wise diplomacy of Mr. Bogdanov, who, in summarising “the results” of the artisans’ congress, offers the advice “not ... to accelerate” the movement for really open political activity, “not ... to give it formal shape prematurely”. It looks as if Mr. Bogdanov   has tried to give formal shape to his liquidationist plans, and present them to the workers, but burned his fingers in the attempt. This defecting intellectual met with a rebuff from the workers who, even when they err, act more straightforwardly and demand a straightforward answer (“You want us to break with the old? Well, why not come out openly and honestly with what you propose in its place?”). And Mr. B. Bogdanov, like the fox in Krylov’s fable, consoles himself by saying—sour grapes! We must not give the new a formal shape prematurely; while breaking with the old we must keep on waving its flag when we go to the workers—don’t hurry with the new.

You may say that this means sitting between two stools. But such is precisely the nature of all opportunism. That is precisely what characterises the bourgeois intellectual of today who plays at Marxism. Mr. Struve played at Marxism from 1894 to 1898. The Bogdanovs, Levitskys and Potresovs have been playing at Marxism from 1908 to 1911. The liquidators today, like the Economists of those days, serve as the channel for that same bourgeois influence among the proletariat.


[1] Russkoye Bogatstvo (Russian Wealth)—a monthly magazine published in St. Petersburg from 1876 to the middle of 1918. From the early 1890s it was the organ of the liberal Narodniks. From 1908 Russkoye Bogatstvo became factually the organ of the semi-Cadet Popular Socialist Party.

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