V. I.   Lenin

Those Who Would Liquidate Us

Re: Mr. Potresov and V. Bazarov



The philosophical struggle of the materialists, the Marxists, against the Machists, i.e., against the idealists, is also classed by Mr. Potresov as “triviality”. Mr. Potresov is highly indignant over the “orgy” of philosophising (“Oh, my friend Arkady Nikolayevich, spare me your eloquence!”[2]) and, in this connection mentioning Plekhanov and myself as representing the materialists, he describes us as “political figures of yesterday”. I had a good laugh over this expression. There is so much obvious and amusing boasting in this that our hare really deserves a bit of the bear’s ear.[1] Plekhanov and others—“political figures of yesterday”! The political figures of today are apparently Potresov and his “gang”. Charming and frank.

Whenever Arkady Nikolayevich accidentally speaks with out eccentricity or grimaces, he defeats himself superbly. Just make a little effort, Arkady Nikolayevich, and try to think: you deny the existence of liquidationism as a political trend, as a trend which distinguishes, not Menshevism from Bolshevism, but Potresov and Co. from Plekhanov and the Bolsheviks jointly. And yet, while you deny this, you at the same time describe Plekhanov and myself as “political figures of yesterday”. Look how clumsy you are: Plekhanov and I together may be called political figures of yesterday, precisely because we think that the organisation of yesterday, as a form of yesterday’s movement (yesterday’s in its principles) is necessary today. Plekhanov and   I differed sharply, and we still differ on questions of what steps that organisation of yesterday, working on the basis of that movement of yesterday, should have taken at one juncture or another; but we are drawn together by the struggle against those who today deny the very principles of yesterday’s movement (this includes also the question of hegemony, of which more later), deny the very foundations of yesterday’s organisation.

Well, Arkady Nikolayevich, are you still unable to understand what is meant by liquidationism? Do you still think that Plekhanov and I have been drawn together by some Machiavellian plot or by a malicious desire to substitute a “struggle on two fronts” for the “defeat” of liquidationism?

But, to return to the “orgy of philosophising”.

We know,” writes Mr. Potresov, “what a deep impression on the consciousness of German Social-Democracy was made, at the time by Engels’s struggle against Dühring, and how theses, seemingly most abstract, were actually of vital and concrete significance to the German working-class movement....” The most abstract theses were of vital and concrete significance! Another bit of phrase-mongering and nothing else! Try to explain, if you “know”, what was the “vital and concrete significance” of Engels’s thesis that Dühring’s philosophical reflections on time and space were wrong! The trouble with you is that, like a schoolboy, you learned by rote, that “Engels’s controversy with Dühring was of great significance”; but you have not thought about its meaning, and therefore you repeat what you have learned by rote in a wrong and utterly distorted form. It is wrong to say that “the most abstract theses [of Engels against Dühring] were actually of vital and, concrete significance to the German working-class movement”. The significance of Engels’s most abstract theses was that they explained to the ideologists of the working class what was erroneous in the shift from materialism towards positivism and idealism. If, instead of high-sounding, but hollow, phrases about “a deep impression” or the “vital and concrete significance” of “the most abstract theses”, you had given such an exposition (that is, one more or less definitive from the philosophical standpoint) of Engels’s views, you would have seen   at once that the reference to Engels’s controversy with Dühring goes against you.

We know,” Mr. Potresov continues, “what part the struggle against subjective sociology played in the history of the formation of Russian Marxism.” ... And what about the part played by Lavrov’s and Mikhailovsky’s positivist and idealist doctrines in the errors of subjective sociology? Every shot of yours, Arkady Nikolayevich, misses its mark. If you cite an historical parallel, you must single out and point out exactly what is similar in the different events; if not, what you get will not be an historical comparison but words cast to the winds. If we take the historical parallel you cite, we must ask: would the “formation” of Russian Marxism have been possible without Beltov’s[3] explanation of the principles of philosophical materialism and of their importance in refuting Lavrov and Mikhailovsky? There can only be one answer to this question, and that answer, if we are to use the historical parallel in order to draw conclusions with regard to the controversy with the Machists—goes against Mr. Potresov.

...“But precisely because we know all this [why, of course! haven’t we just seen what it amounts to when Mr. Potresov writes: “We know all this”?], we want to see a living and real connection established at last between the philosophical controversy we are dealing with, and the Marxist social and political trend, its problems and requirements. Meanwhile”—here follows a reference to Kautsky’s letter in which it was said that Machism is a Privatsache (a private affair), that the controversy over it is a “fata morgana”, etc.

The reference to Kautsky is typical of philistine judgement. The point is not that Kautsky is “unprincipled”, as Mr. Potresov remarks sarcastically (à la Izgoyev), but that Kautsky does not know, nor does he claim to know, the state of affairs in regard to Russian Machism. In his letter Kautsky admits that Plekhanov is well versed in Marxism, and expresses his own conviction that idealism cannot be reconciled with Marxism, and that Machism is not idealism (or that not every form of Machism is idealism). It is obvious that Kautsky is mistaken on the last point, particularly as regards Russian Machism. But it is a pardonable mistake on his part, for he has never studied Machism as a whole, and   his opinion was expressed in a private letter obviously writ ten as a warning against exaggerating the differences. But a Russian Marxist writer, who, under such circumstances, refers to Kautsky, merely betrays a philistine laziness of mind and cowardice in the fight. In 1908, when the letter was written, Kautsky may have hoped that in a certain interpretation Machism could be “reconciled” with materialism. But to refer to Kautsky in connection with this question in Russia in 1909–10 means to undertake the task of reconciling the Russian Machists with the materialists. Does Mr. Potresov or anybody else really undertake this task in all seriousness?

Kautsky is not unprincipled; but Potresov and Co., who want to proclaim Machism “a private affair”, are a model of unprincipledness among Russian Marxists today. Kautsky was quite sincere and not a bit unprincipled when, in 1908, never having read the Russian Machists, he advised them to seek peace with Plekhanov as a man versed in Marxism, and as a materialist; for Kautsky has always declared in favour of materialism and against idealism, and he expressed the same opinion in his letter. But Potresov and Co., who in 1909–10 hide behind Kautsky, have not a grain of sincerity, not a trace of respect for principles.

You say, Mr. Potresov, that you fail to see any living and real connection between the philosophical controversy and the Marxist trend? Well, permit me, a political figure of yesterday, most respectfully to point out to you at least the following circumstances and considerations: (1) The controversy over the question as to what is philosophical materialism and why deviations from it are erroneous, dangerous and reactionary always has “a real and living connection” with “the Marxist social and political trend”—otherwise the latter would not be Marxist, would not be social and political, would not be a trend. Only narrow-minded “realistic politicians” of reformism or anarchism can deny the “reality” of this connection. (2) Considering the wealth and many-sidedness of the ideological content of Marxism, there is nothing surprising in the fact that in Russia, just as in other countries, various historical periods give prominence now to one, now to another particular aspect of Marxism. In Germany before 1848, the philosophical forming   of Marxism was the aspect particularly stressed; in 1848 it was the political ideas of Marxism; in the fifties and sixties it was the economic doctrine of Marxism. In Russia before the revolution, the aspect that was particularly stressed was the application of the economic doctrine of Marxism to Russian reality; during the revolution, it was Marxist politics; since the revolution it is Marxist philosophy. This does not mean that any of the aspects of Marxism may at any time be ignored; it only means that the prevalence of interest in one aspect or another does not depend on subjective wishes, but on the totality of historical conditions. (3) It is not by mere chance that the period of social and political reaction, the period when the rich lessons of the revolution are being “digested”, is also the period when the fundamental theoretical, including the philosophical, problems are of prime importance to any living trend. (4) The progressive trends of Russian thought cannot fall back upon a great philosophical tradition, such as that connected with the Encyclopaedists of the eighteenth century in France, or with the epoch of classical philosophy from Kant to Hegel and Feuerbach in Germany. That is why it was necessary for the advanced class of Russia to sort out its philosophy and there is nothing strange in the fact that the belated “sorting-out” came about after this advanced class had, during the recent great events, fully matured for its independent historical role. (5) This philosophic “sorting out” had been ripening for a long time in other countries as well, because modern physics, for instance, had posed a number of new questions which dialectical materialism had to “cope with”. In this respect, “our” (to use Potresov’s expression) philosophical controversy is of more than just a certain, i.e., Russian, significance. Europe provided material for a “freshening” of philosophical thought; and Russia, which was lagging behind, seized upon this material with particular “eagerness” during the period of enforced lull in 1908–10. (6) Belousov recently said of the Third Duma that it is a sanctimonious body. He grasped correctly the class characteristic of the Third Duma in this respect and justly branded the hypocrisy of the Cadets.

Not accidentally, but of necessity, have our reactionaries in general, and the liberal (Vekhi, Cadet) reactionaries in   particular, “pounced on” religion. The stick and knout alone are not sufficient to serve the purpose; in any case the stick is cracked. Vekhi is helping the advanced bourgeoisie to find a new, ideological stick, a spiritual stick. Machism, as a species of idealism, is objectively a weapon in the hands of the reactionaries, a vehicle of reaction. The struggle against Machism “at the bottom” is therefore not accidental but inevitable in an historical period (1908–10) when “at the top” we see not only the “sanctimonious Duma” of the Octobrists and Purishkeviches, but also sanctimonious Cadets and a sanctimonious liberal bourgeoisie.

Mr. Potresov made the “reservation” that he was “not at present touching” upon the subject of “god-building”.[4] That is precisely what distinguishes the unprincipled and philistine publicist Potresov from Kautsky. Kautsky knew nothing either of the god-building of the Machists or of the god-worshipping Vekhi people, and therefore he could afford to say that not every type of Machism is idealism. But Potresov knows all this, and by “not touching” upon the main thing (the main thing to persons with a narrow “publicist” approach) acts the hypocrite. By proclaiming the struggle against Machism “a private affair” Mr. Potresov and his like are abetting Vekhi in the “social and political” sense.


[1] The allusion is to I. A. Krylov’s fable “The Hare at the Hunt”, in which the hare boasts about how “we” killed the bear.—Tr.

[2] Lenin quotes the words of Bazarov from Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons.

[3] N. Beltov—G. V. Plekhanov’s pseudonym under which his book The Development of the Monist View of History was published in 1895.

[4] God-builders—a religious-philosophical trend hostile to Marxism, which arose during the period of Stolypin reaction among a section of the Party intellectuals who had broken with Marxism after the defeat of the 1905–07 Revolution. The “god-builders” (A. V. Lunacharsky, V. Bazarov, and others) advocated the creation of a new “socialist” religion, attempting to reconcile Marxism with religion. At one time Maxim Gorky was associated with them.

A meeting of the enlarged Editorial Board of Proletary, held on June 8–17 (21–30), 1909, condemned the “god-building” trend and in a special resolution declared that the Bolshevik faction had nothing in common with such distortion of scientific socialism.

The reactionary character of god-building was exposed by Lenin in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, and in letters to Gorky during February-April 1908 and November-December 1913.

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