V. I.   Lenin

Controversial Issues




In the preceding article (Pravda No. 122) we examined the objective significance (i.e., the significance that is determined by the relations of classes) of the slogan “an open party” or “a struggle for an open party”. This slogan is a slavish repetition of the tactics of the bourgeoisie, for whom it correctly expresses their renunciation of the revolution, or their counter-revolutionary attitude.

Let us consider some of the attempts most frequently made by liquidators to defend the slogan of “a struggle for an open party”. Mayevsky, Sedov, Dan and all the Luch writers try to confuse the open party with open work or activity. Such confusion is downright sophistry, a trick, a deception of the reader.

In the first place, open Social-Democratic activity in the period 1904–13 is a fact. An open party is a phrase used by intellectuals to cover up renunciation of the Party. Secondly, the Party has repeatedly condemned liquidationism i.e., the slogan of an open party. But the Party, far from condemning open activities, has, on the contrary, condemned those who neglected or renounced them. In the third place, from 1904 to 1907, open activities were especially developed among all the Social-Democrats. But not a single trend, not a single faction of Social-Democracy at that time advanced the slogan of “a struggle for an open party”!

This is an historical fact. Those who wish to understand liquidationism must give thought to this fact.

Did the absence of the slogan “a struggle for an open party” hamper open activities in the 1904–07 period? Not in the least.

Why did no such slogan arise among the Social-Democrats at that time? Precisely because at that time there was no raging counter-revolution to draw a section of the Social Democrats into extreme opportunism. It would have been only too clear at the time that the slogan “a struggle for an open party” was an opportunist phrase, a renunciation of the “underground”.

Gentlemen, try to grasp the meaning of this historical change. During the 1905 period, when open activities were splendidly developed, there was no slogan of “a struggle for an open party”; during the period of counter-revolution, when open activities are less developed, a section of the Social-Democrats (following the bourgeoisie) has taken up the slogan of renunciation of the “underground” and “a struggle for an open party”.

Are the meaning and the class significance of this change still not clear?

Finally, the fourth and most important circumstance. Two kinds of open activity, in two diametrically opposite directions, are possible (and are to be seen)—one in defence of the old and entirely in the spirit of the old, on behalf of its slogans and tactics; and another against the old, on be half of its renunciation, of belittling its role, its slogans, etc.

The existence of these two kinds of open activity, hostile and irreconcilable in principle, is a most indisputable historical fact of the period from 1906 (the Cadets and Messrs. Peshekhonov and Co.) to 1913 (Luch, Nasha Zarya). Can one restrain a smile when one hears a simpleton (or one who for a while plays the simpleton) asking: what is there to argue about if both sides carry on open activities. What the argument, my dear sir, is about is whether these activities should be carried on in defence of the “underground” and in its spirit, or in belittlement of it, against it and not in its spirit! The dispute is only—only!—about whether this particular open work is conducted in the liberal or in the consistently democratic spirit, The dispute is “only” about whether it is possible to confine oneself to open work—recall Mr. Liberal Struve who did not confine himself to it in 1902, but has wholly “confined himself” to it in the years 1906–13!

Our Luch liquidators just cannot understand that the slogan “a struggle for an open party” means carrying into   the midst of the workers liberal (Struve) ideas, decked out in the rags of “near-Marxist” catchwords.

Or take, for instance, the arguments of the Luch editors themselves, in their reply to An (No. 181):

The Social-Democratic Party is not limited to those few comrades whom the realities of life force to work underground. If the entire party were limited to the underground, how many members would it have? Two to three hundred? And where would those thousands if not tens of thousands of workers be, who are actually bearing the brunt of all Social-Democratic work?”

For any man who thinks, this argument alone is enough to identify its authors as liberals. First, they are telling a deliberate untruth about the “underground”. It numbers far more than “hundreds”. Secondly, all over the world the number of Party members is “limited”, as compared with the number of workers who carry on Social-Democratic work. For example, in Germany there are only one million members in the Social-Democratic Party, yet the number of votes cast for the Social-Democrats is about five million, and the proletariat numbers about fifteen million. The proportion of Party members to the number of Social-Democrats is determined in various countries by the differences in their historical conditions. Thirdly, we have nothing that could be a substitute for our “underground”. Thus, in opposing the Party, Luch refers to the non-Party workers, or those who are outside the Party. This is the usual method of the liberal who tries to separate the masses from their class-conscious vanguard. Luch does not understand the relation between Party and class, just as the Economists of 1895–1901 failed to understand it. Fourthly, so far our “Social-Democratic work” is genuine Social-Democratic work only when it is conducted in the spirit of the old, under its slogans.

The arguments of Luch are the arguments of liberal intellectuals, who, unwilling to join the actually existing Party organisation, try to destroy that organisation by inciting the non-Party, scattered, unenlightened mass against it. The German liberals do the same when they say that the Social-Democrats do not represent the proletariat since their “Party” comprises “only” one-fifteenth of the proletariat!

Take the even more common argument advanced by Luch: “we” are for an open party, “just as in Europe”. The liberals and the liquidators want a constitution and an open party “as in Europe” today, but they do not want the path by which Europe reached that today.

Kosovsky, a liquidator and Bundist, teaches us in Luch to follow the example of the Austrians. But he forgets that the Austrians have had a constitution since 1867, and that they could not have had it without (1) the movement of 1848; (2) the profound political crisis of 1859–66, when the weakness of the working class allowed Bismarck and Co. to extricate themselves by means of the famous “revolution from above”. What then follows from the precepts of Kosovsky, Dan, Larin and all the Luch writers? Only that they are helping to solve our crisis in the spirit of “revolution from above” and in no other spirit! But such work of theirs is precisely the “work” of a Stolypin workers’ party.[1]

No matter where we look—we see the liquidators renouncing both Marxism and democracy.

In the next article we shall examine in detail their arguments on the need to tone down our Social-Democratic slogans.


[1] Stolypin—Minister of the Interior and Chairman of the Council of Ministers from 1906 to 1911. With his name are connected the suppression of the First Russian Revolution (1905–07) and the period of brutal political reaction that followed.

Stolypin workers’ party—was the name given by the Russian workers to the Menshevik liquidators who adapted themselves to the Stolypin regime and, at the cost of renouncing the programme and tactics of the R.S.D.L.P., attempted to obtain the sanction of the tsarist government to establish an open, legal, allegedly working-class party.


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