V. I.   Lenin

Narodism and Liquidationism as Disintegrating Elements in the Working-Class Movement

Published: Proletarskaya Pravda No. 12, December 20, 1913. Published according to the text in Proletarskaya Pravda.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 59-62.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Joe Fineberg
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

The St. Petersburg Narodnik newspaper Severnaya Mysl[1] recently published a report from Riga concerning the progress of the insurance campaign.[2] Among other things the author, B. Braines, wrote:

The boycottist trend is apparent only among the shoemakers, where boycottist groups have been formed. Unfortunately, the Narodniks are the leading spirits in these groups. At the other factories the campaign is making little headway.”

This candid confession throws a strong light on the present condition and political significance of Narodism in Russia. The correctness of the appraisal of Narodism made by the conference of Marxists[3] is unexpectedly and strikingly confirmed by the Narodniks themselves.

Just think of it: a Left-Narodnik newspaper, unable to make any refutation whatsoever, publishes the regrets of its correspondent that the Narodniks are the “leading spirits” of the boycottist groups!

Here is a splendid illustration of the political, disintegration of Narodism. Here is an example of Russian non-partyism and indifference to the party principle. We must deal with this example, because an example from the life of “another” party reveals to us with striking clarity the true cause of an evil which is generally very widespread, and from which we suffer considerably.

During the period of counter-revolution a great variety of trends and groups, all practically independent of one another, arose among the Narodniks. In this respect, both the Narodniks and the Marxists were evidently affected by the operation of the general causes stemming from the   entire historical situation created by the Third of June system.[4] Among the Narodniks, individual groups came out in the press, for example, in a far more liquidationist vein than was the case with us (the Paris publications of 1908–10), and there were groups of quite an anarchist character, and the most prominent writers of that trend began to talk and write like liberals and renegades (Mr. V. Chernov in Zavety[5]), and so forth.

Nevertheless, formally and outwardly, the Narodniks appear to be much more “united” than the Marxists are. There is no definite split among the Narodniks, no intense, stubborn, systematic and prolonged inner struggle among them. It seems, at first glance, as though they are all the time held together by certain common ties. In their literature one constantly comes across proud references to Narodnik “unity”, in contrast with the “Marxist” (and most often “Bolshevik”) “tendency towards discord and splits”.

Those who want to understand the meaning and significance of what is taking place in the working-class and socialist movements in Russia must ponder very, very care fully over this contraposing of “Marxist splits” and “Narodnik unity”.

Among us Marxists and near-Marxists there are also no few groups and grouplets which are practically almost independent of one another, and which sedulously preach “unity” (quite in the Narodnik spirit), and still more sedulously condemn “Marxist splits”.

What does it all mean? Are we to envy “Narodnik unity”? Are we to seek the reasons for this distinction in the pernicious qualities of “certain” “leaders” (a very widespread method) or in the Marxists’ pernicious tendency towards “dogmatism”, “intolerance”, and so forth?

Consider the facts. These tell us that the Narodniks are far more tolerant and conciliatory, that they are far more “united”, and that the abundance of groups among them does not lead to sharp splits. At the same time the facts tell us quite incontrovertibly that the Narodniks are politically impotent, that they have no organised or durable contacts with the masses, that they are incapable of any mass political action. The example of the Narodnik boycottists in Riga merely serves to illustrate most strikingly what was revealed   not only in the insurance campaign, but also in the Duma elections, the strike movement, the working—class press (even more broadly, the democratic press at large), the trade unions, and so forth. For example, we read the following in issue No. 2 of the Left-Narodnik Severnaya Mysl:

To the honour of the Marxists be it said that at present they enjoy considerable influence in the unions [i. e., the trade unions] whereas we Left Narodniks work in them without a definite plan, and for that reason our influence is scarcely felt.”

Strange, is it not? The conciliatory, tolerant, “united”, non-splitting, broad-minded, non-dogmatic Narodniks—notwithstanding their ardent desire and striving—conduct no insurance campaign, exercise no influence on the trade unions, and have no organised group in the Duma. But the “dogmatic” Marxists, who are “for ever splitting” and thereby enfeebling themselves, fought a splendid election campaign during the Fourth Duma elections, are conducting successful activities in the trade unions, are running a splendid and vigorous insurance campaign, carry on fairly effective activities in the strike movement, pass unanimous decisions which are consistent in principle, and are unanimously, firmly and with conviction supported by an obvious and unquestionable majority of the class-conscious workers.

Strange, is it not? Are not the “conciliatoriness”, and all the other splendid spiritual qualities of the Narodniks merely sterile things?

That is exactly what they are—sterile! The “unity” of the varied intellectualist little groups is bought by the Narodniks at the price, of their utter political impotence among the masses. And with us Marxists, too, it is the Trotskyists,[6] the liquidators, the “conciliators”, and the “Tyszka-ites”,[7] those who shout loudest about group unity, who display the same intellectualist impotence, while the real political campaigns, not the imaginary ones, but those that grow out of actual conditions (election, insurance, daily press, strike campaigns, etc.) show that the majority of the class-conscious workers are rallied around those who are most often, most zealously and most fiercely accused of being “splitters”.

The conclusion to be drawn is clear, and however unpalatable it may be to the host of intellectualist groups the course   of the working-class movement will compel them to admit it. This conclusion is that attempts to create “unity” by means of “agreements” or “alliances” among intellectualist groups, which in fact express tendencies that are injurious to the working-class movement (Narodism, liquidationism, etc.), lead only to complete disintegration and impotence. Both Narodism and liquidationism have proved this by their lamentable example.

Only in opposition to these groups and grouplets (in a strenuous struggle, which is inevitable under bourgeois conditions and amidst a host of petty-bourgeois vacillations) is real unity building up among the working-class masses led by the majority of the class-conscious proletarians.

Na\"ive people will ask: How are we to distinguish the intellectualist groups which are causing damage to the working-class movement by disintegrating it and condemning it to impotence, from that group or groups which ideologically express the working-class movement, rally, unite and strengthen it? There are only two ways of distinguishing one from the other: theory and practical experience. It is necessary seriously to examine the theoretical content of such trends of thought as Narodism and liquidationism (the principal petty-bourgeois trends that ate disintegrating the working-class movement). It is necessary to carefully study the practical experience of the mass working-class movement as a means of rallying the majority of class-conscious workers around integral and considered decisions, based on principle and applied in elections, in insurance campaigns, in activities in the trade unions, in the strike movement, in the “underground”, and so forth.

He who gives close thought to the theory of Marxism and close attention to the practical experience of the last few years will realise that the elements of a genuine workers’ party are rallying in Russia in spite of the motley, noisy, and vociferous (but essentially futile and harmful) groups of Narodniks, liquidators, and so forth. Unity of the working class is emerging from the disintegration of these groups and their isolation from the proletariat.


[1] Severnaya Mysl (Northern Thought)—one of the names of the Left-Narodnik (Socialist-Revolutionary) legal newspaper Zhivaya Mysl (Living Thought) published in St. Petersburg twice, then three times a week, from August 1913 to July 1914. During that period the newspaper changed its name ten times: Zavetnaya Mysl (Cherished Thought), Volnaya Mysl (Free Thought), Vernaya Mysl (True Thought), etc.

[2] Insurance campaign refers to the struggle which developed in connection with the elections to the insurance agencies. The campaign started in the autumn of 1912 following the introduction by the tsarist government on June 23, 1912, of a workers’ insurance law affecting only twenty per cent of the workers. The Bolsheviks used these elections for revolutionary propaganda and launched a campaign for the winning over of legal workers’ organisations and legal workers’ associations. By combining legal and illegal activities, the Bolsheviks succeeded in winning influence in the insurance bodies. Elections to the Insurance Board were held in March 1914, and a workers’ group on insurance affairs was formed under the Board, which recognised as its official organ the Bolshevik journal Voprosy Strakhovania (Insurance Questions).

[3] Lenin is referring here to the Joint Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. Central Committee and Party officials, held in the village of Poronin on September 23–October 1 (October 6–14), 1913, and called, for reasons of secrecy, the “August” (“Summer”) Conference. The resolution on “The Narodniks” referred to here was drafted by Lenin. (See present edition, Vol. 19, pp. 429–31.)

[4] On June 3(16), 1907 the tsar issued a manifesto dissolving the Second Duma and modifying, the electoral law. The new law considerably increased the representation of the landlords and the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie in the Duma, and made great cuts in the number of peasants’ and workers’ representatives, which was small enough as it is. This was a gross violation of the Manifesto of October 17, 1905 and the Fundamental Law of 1906 by which no laws could be passed by the government without approval by the Duma. The Third Duma, which was elected on the basis of this law and met on November 1 (14), 1907, was a Black-Hundred-Octobrist Duma.

The coup d’état of June 3 ushered in the period of the Stolypin reaction.

[5] Zavety (Behests)—a legal literary and political monthly of a Socialist-Revolutionary trend, published in St. Petersburg from April 1912 to July 1914.

[6] Trotsky, L. D. (1879-1940)—a bitter enemy of Leninism. During the years of reaction and the new revolutionary upswing, he took what was virtually a liquidator stand under the guise of “non-factionalism”. In 1912 he organised the anti-Party August bloc. During the First World War he took a centrist stand. Joined the Bolshevik Party on the eve of the October Socialist Revolution, but continued his factional activity. In 1918 he opposed the signing of the Peace of Brest. In 1920–21 he opposed Lenin’s policy on the trade unions and the trade union movement. In 1923 he led the opposition against the general line of the Party. The Communist Party denounced Trotskyism as a petty-bourgeois deviation within the Party and defeated it ideologically and organisationally. In 1927 Trotsky was expelled from the Party. In 1929 he was deported from the U.S.S.R. for anti-Soviet activity and subsequently deprived of Soviet citizenship.

[7] Tyszka, J. (1867–1919)—a prominent leader of the Polish and German labour movement. During the years of reaction Tyszka denounced the liquidators, but on a number of occasions took a conciliatory stand towards them. In 1912 he came out against the decisions of the Prague Conference. Lenin sharply criticised Tyszka’s activities during that period. During World War I Tyszka took an Internationalist stand. In 1918 he helped to found the Communist Party of Germany and was elected Secretary of its Central Committee. He was murdered in a Berlin prison in 1919.

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