V. I.   Lenin

Put Your Cards on the Table[1]

Written: Written on March 12 or 13 (25 or 26), 1912
Published: First published on January 21, 1935 in Pravda, No. 21. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 514-520.
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.
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Our nobility, ministers, members of the Council of State, etc., are well acquainted with the language of the Duchy of Monaco.[2] It is well known who introduced this language to our Council of State! That is why we were somewhat surprised when we came across the expression which heads this article, in Zhivoye Dyelo, No. 8.

But the important thing is not the mode of expression. The prestige among the liquidators of the writer using this expression (L. Martov), the importance of the subject touched on (“put your cards on the table” in relation to the election campaign, its principles, tactics, etc.), all this compels us to take up this slogan, irrespective of how it has been expressed.

Put your cards on the table” is an excellent slogan. And in the first place, we should like to see it applied to the paper Zhivoye Dyelo. Put your cards on the table, gentlemen!

People who are experienced in literary affairs can immediately gauge the character of a publication by its contributors, even by isolated expressions which indicate the trend of the publication if that trend belongs to those in any degree established and well-known. Such people only need to take one glance at Zhivoye Dyelo to realise its adherence to the liquidationist trend.

But it is not so easy for the general public to understand the trend followed by newspapers, particularly when the subjects in question are not theoretical principles, but cur rent politics. It is here that it is very important and appropriate to remember the extremely apt slogan put forward by L. Martov—“Put your cards on the table”. For it so happens that in Zhivoye Dyelo the cards are under the table!


Those ideas which Zhivoye Dyelo is beginning to pro pound have been worked out at all systematically and consistently only in the course of the past two years in Nasha Zarya, Zhizn, Vozrozhdeniye, and Dyelo Zhizni. A considerable amount of material has accumulated in this period. What is lacking are summaries, particularly those produced by the people who for two years have been en gaged in the elaboration of those ideas. What is lacking is an open exposition, by those holding liquidationist views, of the conclusions they have drawn from two years of “work” by Nasha Zarya.

It is precisely at this point that the lovers of talks about an “open workers’ party” turn out to be lovers of a game with hidden cards. You read, for instance, in the leader appearing in No. 8, that “the path of the struggle for the general, for general improvement and basic change in working and living conditions” lies through “the defence of partial [author’s italics] rights”. You read in the same issue about some “Petersburg leaders of the open labour movement”, that they “as previously” will ... “popularise among Social-Democrats those methods for the revival and creation of a proletarian Social-Democratic party which they have hitherto defended”.

Put your cards on the table[ What is this theory of the defence of partial rights? This theory has not been stated in any properly formulated, official, openly announced postulates, recognised by groups, or representatives of groups of workers. Is it, for instance, the theory propounded to us by V. Levitsky in Nasha Zarya, No. 11 for 1911? And then, how can the paper’s readers know what methods were advocated by some unnamed leaders of the open movement, for the “revival and creation of the party”, which apparently has not been created, i.e., does not exist? Why not name those leaders, if they are indeed leaders of an “open” movement, if these words are not merely a conventional phrase?

The question of “methods of revival and creation of the party” is not some incidental question, which can be touched on and resolved in passing among other political questions of interest to any newspaper. On the contrary, this is a basic question, It is impossible to talk about a Party   election campaign, about the election tactics of the Party, about Party candidates, until this question has been resolved; and resolved it must be, in the most unambiguous, positive manner, for apart from a clear-cut theoretical answer, a practical decision is required.

The arguments which we frequently meet with to the effect that during an election campaign the elements of revival and creation of the Party, etc., etc., will emerge or rally, are sophistry, and sophistry of the worst kind. It is sophistry because a party is something organised! There is not and cannot be an election campaign for the working class, without decisions, tactics, a platform, and candidates common to the whole class, or at any rate to its advanced section.

Sophistry of this kind, obscure statements made in the name of anonymous, unknown, and—for the proletariat—elusive open leaders (who does not call himself a “leader of the open labour movement”? How many bourgeois shelter behind this name?)—all this represents a great danger which the worker must be warned against. The danger is that all this talk about “open action” is meant merely as a blind while in reality, the worst form of hidden dictatorship of a group results.

They inveigh against the “underground” although it is there we see open decisions which have now become pretty well known thanks to the bourgeois press (Golos Zemii, Kievskaya Mysl, Russkoye Slovo, Golos Moskvy, Novoye Vremya—how many hundreds of thousands of readers have now been openly informed of quite definite decisions, which mean genuine unity in the election campaign). It is those who cry out against the underground or for “open political activity” who provide an example of people leaving one shore and not landing on the other. The “old” has been abandoned, but there is only talk of the “new”.

We know, and all openly know, that “the methods of revival and creation” spoken of by Zhivoye Dyelo are merely those which have been developed and defended in Nasha Zarya. We know of no others, either stated openly or in any other form. There has been no attempt whatsoever to discuss these methods, openly or otherwise, by representatives of the groups, nor has any formal and properly formulated,   official exposition of these methods been made. They use the words “open”, “openly” in a hundred ways to cover what is really something completely closed in the full meaning of the word, something emanating from a circle, from a coterie of writers.

We know some writers, who are responsible to no one, and are indistinguishable from the free-lances of the bourgeois press. We know their speeches about “methods”, about the liquidation of the “old”.

We know nothing more, and nobody knows anything more about open political activity. Here you have a paradox—it seems to be a paradox, but in reality it is a direct and natural product of all the conditions of Russian life—that through the above-mentioned series of the most widespread bourgeois papers, the masses were informed more accurately, swiftly and directly about “underground” political activities, decisions, slogans, tactics, etc., than about the non-existent decisions of “the leaders of the open movement”!

Or maybe someone will assert that an election campaign can be carried out without formulated decisions? That it is possible for tens and hundreds of thousands of voters scattered all over the country to determine tactics, platform, agreements and candidacies without formulated decisions?

In speaking of “putting cards on the table” Martov touched the liquidators’ raw spot, and it is impossible to over estimate the effort that must be made to warn the workers. The masses are offered ... the thoughts and projects of “leaders of the open movement”, who are not openly named, that is, the Potresovs, Levitskys, Chatskys, Yezhovs, and Larins, without formulated decisions, without any definite replies to practical questions, without the participation of at least tens or hundreds of advanced workers in the discussion of every sentence, every word of the important decisions.

They keep their cards hidden because any attempt to turn them face up would reveal quite clearly to the workers that all this has nothing to do with a working-class party or a working-class policy, that it is preaching by liberal publicists who take a liberal’s attitude to the workers, who liquidate the old and are powerless to provide any thing new to replace it.

The danger is great. Under cover of phrases about the “open” tomorrow, the workers are left not only without an “open” decision, but without any decision at all on the urgent practical problems of the present election campaign, of present-day Party life.

Let class-conscious workers give some thought to this dangerous situation.

P. S. (1) Please send immediately books on the electoral law of June 3, 1907, or another copy of the handbook of 1910.[3] Also the electoral law with the comments of a lawyer. Consult “your people” and send them promptly. Unless I get them I cannot work on the voter’s handbook.[4] (2) I am again receiving Zvezda irregularly. Speak about it again in your dispatch department. Give my (old) address. It mustn’t be sent so irregularly. (3) The article “Fundamentals of a Platform” does not require the approval of the Editorial Board; publish it with the signature and with the subheading “An Essay in Comment”; the Board, must not approve any platform; remember, one clumsy step and a squabble is unavoidable. Let the Board refrain and keep silent. The approval of the platform is the job of quite another body. (4) Send me newspapers, journals, books. It is impossible to work without them. (5) Write and tell me exactly when a daily newspaper is likely to come out, its size, etc. (6) Fight against Zhivoye Dyelo more energetically—then victory is guaranteed. Otherwise things will be bad. Don’t be afraid of polemics. Two or three polemical articles a week are imperative.


[1]Put Your Cards on the Table” was written in Paris in March 1912 for publication in the Bolshevik newspaper Zvezda, but was not   printed at the time. It was sent to the Editorial Board with a covering letter intended as a postscript.

[2] The language of the Duchy of Monaco—the language of gambling.

[3] This refers to the book The State Duma, Third Convocation. Handbook, 1910.

[4] The pamphlet Voter’s Handbook (Our Election Law) was published in St. Petersburg in 1912.

Lenin attached peat importance to the publication of the Voter’s Handbook and compiled and edited the material for this book. In a letter to the Editorial Board of Zvezda dated April 9 (22), 1912, he recommended that the 2nd and 3rd chapters of his article “The Campaign for the Elections to the Fourth Duma” be included He urged that they issue a “serious work” which “would be of value as an effective guide to the elections”. However, the Zvezda editors were able to issue only the first part of the book which dealt with the electoral law and the regulations concerning the elections to the Duma.

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