V. I.   Lenin

Controversial Issues




In the preceding articles (Pravda Nos. 289, 299 and 314) we showed that all the Marxists, both in 1908 and in 1910, irrevocably condemned liquidationism as renunciation of the past. The Marxists explained to the working class that liquidationism is the spreading of bourgeois influence among the proletariat. And all the liquidationist publications, from 1909 up to 1913, have flagrantly violated the decisions of the Marxists.

Let us consider the slogan, an “open workers’ party”, or “a struggle for an open party”, which the liquidators are still advocating in Luck and Nasha Zarya.

Is this a Marxist, proletarian slogan, or a liberal, bourgeois slogan?

The answer must be sought not in the attitude or plans of the liquidators or of other groups, but in an analysis of the relation of social forces in Russia in the present period. The significance of slogans is determined not by the intentions of their authors, but by the relation of forces of all the classes in the country.

The feudal-minded land owners and their “bureaucracy” are hostile to all changes making for political liberty. This is understandable. The bourgeoisie, because of its economic position in a backward and semi-feudal country, must strive for freedom. But the bourgeoisie fears the activity of the people more than it fears reaction. This truth was demonstrated with particular clarity in 1905; it is fully under stood by the working class, but not by opportunist and semi-liberal intellectuals.

The bourgeoisie are both liberal and counter-revolutionary. Hence their ridiculously impotent and wretched reformism. They dream of reforms and fear to settle accounts in real earnest with the feudal-minded landowners who not only refuse to grant reforms, but even withdraw those already granted. They preach reforms and fear the popular movement. They strive to oust the landowners, but fear to lose their support and fear to lose their own privileges. It is upon this relation of classes that the June Third system has been built up, which gives unlimited power to the feudal landowners and privileges to the bourgeoisie.

The class position of the proletariat makes it altogether impossible for it to “share” privileges or be afraid of anyone losing them. That is why selfishly narrow, miserable and dull-witted reformism is quite foreign to the proletariat. As to the peasant masses—on the one hand they are immeasurably oppressed, and instead of enjoying privileges suffer from starvation; on the other hand, they are undoubtedly petty bourgeois—hence, they inevitably vacillate between the liberals and the workers.

Such is the objective situation.

From this situation it clearly follows that the slogan of an open working-class party is, in its class origin, a slogan of the counter-revolutionary liberals. It contains nothing save reformism; it does not contain even a hint that the proletariat, the only thoroughly democratic class, is conscious that its task is one of fighting the liberals for influence over democrats as a whole; there is not even a suggestion of removing the foundation of all the privileges of the feudal-minded landowners, of the “bureaucracy”, etc.; there is not a thought of the general basis of political liberty or of a democratic Constitution; instead, this slogan implies the tacit renunciation of the old, and consequently, renegacy and the dissolution (liquidation) of the workers’ party.

In brief. In a period of counter-revolution this slogan spreads among the workers the advocacy of the very thing the liberal bourgeoisie are themselves practising. Therefore, had there been no liquidators, the clever bourgeois Progressists would have had to find, or hire, intellectuals to advocate this to the working class!

Only the foolish people will seek to compare the words of the liquidators with their motives. Their words must be compared with the deeds and the objective position of the liberal bourgeoisie.

Look at these deeds. In 1902, the bourgeoisie was in favour of the underground. It commissioned Struve to publish the underground Osvobozhdeniye. When the working-class movement led to October 17, the liberals and the Cadets abandoned the underground, then repudiated it, and declared it to be useless, mad, sinful and godless (Vekhi).[1] Instead of the underground, the liberal bourgeoisie favoured a struggle for an open party. This is an historical fact, confirmed by the incessant attempts at legalisation made by the Cadets (1905–07) and the Progressists (1913).

Among the Cadets we see “open work and its secret organisation”; the kind-hearted, i.e., unwitting, liquidator,   A. Vlasov, has only retold the deeds of the Cadets “in his own words”.

Why did the liberals renounce the underground and adopt the slogan of “a struggle for an open party”? Was it because Struve is a traitor? No, just the opposite. Struve went over to the other side because the entire bourgeoisie took a turn. And the bourgeoisie turned (1) because it obtained privileges on December 11, 1905,[2] and even on June 3, 1907 obtained the status of a tolerated opposition; (2) because it was it self mortally afraid of the popular movement. The slogan of “a struggle for an open party”, translated from the language of “high politics” into plain and intelligible language, means the following:

Landowners! Don’t imagine that we want to make life impossible for you. No, just move up a little and make room for us bourgeois [an open party 1, we shall then defend you five times more ’intelligently’, ingenuously, ’scientifically’ than the Timoshkins and Sabler’s parsons did.”[3]

The petty-bourgeois Narodniks,[4] in imitation of the Cadets, took up the slogan of “a struggle for an open party”. In August 1906, Messrs. Peshekhonov and Co. of Russkoye Bogatstvo renounced the underground, proclaimed the “struggle for an open party”, and cut the consistently democratic “underground” slogans out of their programme.

Thanks to their reformist chatter about a “broad and open party”, these philistines have been left, as all can see, without any party, without any contact with the masses, while the Cadets have even stopped thinking of such contacts.

Only in this way, only by analysing the position of the classes, by analysing the general history of the counter revolution, is it possible to understand the nature of liquidationism. The liquidators are petty-bourgeois intellectuals, sent by the bourgeoisie to sow liberal corruption among the workers. The liquidators are traitors to Marxism and traitors to democracy. The slogan of “a struggle for an open party” in their case (as in the case of the liberals and the Narodniks) only serves to camouflage their renunciation of the past and their rupture with the working class. This is a fact that has been proved both by the elections in the worker curia for the Fourth Duma and by the history of the founding of the workers’ paper Pravda. It is obvious   to all that contact with the masses has been maintained only by those who have not renounced the past and who know how to make use of “open work” and of all and sun dry “possibilities” exclusively in the spirit of that past, and for the purpose of strengthening, consolidating and developing it.

In the period of the June Third system it could not be otherwise.

Curtailment” of the programme and tactics by the liquidators (i.e., liberals) will be discussed in our next article.


[1] In the symposium Marxism and Liquidationism the word Vekhi is omitted and the following footnote is given:

There is a fine book Vekhi which has gone through numerous editions and contains an excellent compilation of these ideas of counter-revolutionary liberalism”.—Ed.

[2] Lenin refers to the law, promulgated on December 11 (24), 1905, on the convening of a “legislative” State Duma; the law was promulgated by the tsarist government when the Moscow insurrection was at its height. The First Duma, elected under this law, had a Cadet majority.

[3] BySabler’s parsons” Lenin means the orthodox priests who were drawn into active participation in the election to the Fourth Duma on instructions issued by the reactionary Sabler, Procurator General of the Synod, to ensure the election of deputies amenable to the tsarist government.

[4] Narodniks—supporters of Narodism, the petty-bourgeois trend in the Russian revolutionary movement in the sixties to the eighties of the last century. The Narodniks campaigned for the abolition of the autocracy and the transfer of landed estates to the peasants. They denied that in accordance with the regular laws of capitalism, capitalist relations and a proletariat were developing in Russia and, as a consequence of this, considered the peasantry to be the chief revolutionary force; they regarded the village commune as an embryonic form of socialism. The Narodniks, therefore, went out to the villages to arouse the peasants to struggle against the autocracy. The Narodniks proceeded from a false premise on the role of the class struggle in history, believing that history is made by heroes, who are passively followed by the masses. The Narodniks adopted terrorist tactics in their struggle against tsarism.

In the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century the Narodniks adopted a conciliatory policy towards tsarism, began to fight for the interests of the kulaks and conducted a stubborn struggle against Marxism.


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