V. I.   Lenin

How Vera Zasulich Demolishes Liquidationism

Published: Prosveshcheniye No. 9, September 1913. Signed: V. Ilyin. Published according to the Prosveshcheniye text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 394-416.
Translated: The Late George Hanna
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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Zhivaya Zhizn No. 8 (July 19, 1913), carried an excellent article by Vera Zasulich in defence of liquidationism (“Apropos of a Certain Question”). We ask all those interested in questions affecting the working-class movement and democracy to pay careful attention to this article, which is valuable both because of its contents and because of the forthrightness of its authoritative author.


In the first place, Vera Zasulich, like all liquidators, does her best to calumniate the Party, but her frankness as a writer exposes her so clearly that it is amazing. “The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party,” we read in the article, “is an underground organisation of intellectuals for propaganda and agitation among the workers, which was founded at the Second Congress, and which split immediately.” Actually, the Party was founded in 1898 and based itself on the awakening of a mass working-class movement in the 1895–96 period. Dozens and hundreds of workers (like the late Babushkin in St. Petersburg) not only attended lectures at study circles but as early as 1894–95 themselves carried on agitation and then founded workers’ organisations in other cities (the Ekaterinoslav organisations founded by Babushkin when he was exiled from St. Petersburg, etc.).

The relative dominance of intellectuals in the early days of the movement was to be observed everywhere and not only in Russia. By using this fact to slander the workers’   party, Vera Zasulich crushes liquidationism among all thinking workers who experienced the agitation and strikes of 1894–96.

In 1903,” writes Vera Zasulich, “the underground study circles engaged in this work were united to form a secret society with hierarchical rules. It is difficult to say whether the new organisation as such helped or hindered current work....”

Anyone who does not wish to be accused of having a short memory, must know that groups of intellectuals and workers, not only in 1903, but beginning from 1894 (and in some cases even earlier) helped both in economic and political agitation, in strikes and in propaganda. To assert publicly that “it is difficult to say whether the new organisation helped or hindered the work” is not merely stating a tremendous and obvious historical untruth—it means renouncing the Party.

What value, indeed, can one place on the Party if it is difficult to say whether it helped or hindered the work? Is it not clear that the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath?

The liquidators have to renounce the Party in retrospect in order to justify their renunciation of it at the present time.

Vera Zasulich, speaking of this present time, the June Third epoch, says: “I have heard retorts of the district branches of the organisation losing members....”

There is no disputing that fact. The district and all other branches of the organisation have lost members. The question is one of how this phenomenon of flight from the organisation is to be explained, what attitude is to be adopted towards that phenomenon.

Vera Zasulich answers: “they lost their members because at that time there was nothing to do in them.”

The answer is definite and may be equated with a definite condemnation of the underground and justification of flight from it. How does Vera Zasulich prove her statement? 1) There was nothing for propagandists to do because “many workers had collected whole libraries” of books published in the days of freedom, “which the police had not yet succeeded in confiscating”.

Vera Zasulich has an interesting knack of not noticing how, she refutes her own words. If the police were “confiscating” the libraries, it means that discussions on what had been read, the assimilation of it and further study was giving rise precisely to underground work! Vera Zasulich wants to prove that there “was nothing to do”, while her own admission shows that there was something to do.

2) “Underground political agitation was out of the question at that time. Furthermore, it was neither the right, nor the duty of the districts to take the initiative in such ‘actions’.”

Vera Zasulich repeats the liquidators’ words without knowing the state of affairs. That the period under discussion was a difficult one, more difficult than before, there is no denying. The work of the Marxists, however, is always “difficult” but the thing that makes them different from the liberals is that they do not declare what is difficult to be impossible. The liberal calls difficult work impossible so as to conceal his renunciation of it. The difficulty of the work compels the Marxist to strive for greater solidarity among the best elements in order to overcome the difficulties.

The objective fact that the work in the period under discussion was possible and was conducted is proved, for example, by the elections to the Third and Fourth Dumas, if by nothing else. Surely Vera Zasulich does not believe that supporters of the underground movement could have been elected to the State Duma without the participation of the underground.

3) “There was nothing to do in the underground groups, but outside them there was a mass of essential social work to be done.” Clubs, various associations,congresses, lectures, etc.

Such is the argument put forward by all liquidators and repeated by Vera Zasulich. Her article could simply be recommended for use in workers’ circles as an object-lesson on the misadventures of the liquidators!

The underground was necessary because, among other things, Marxist work in clubs, associations, at congresses, etc., was connected with it.

Compare this argument of mine with that of Vera Zasulich. Ask yourself, what grounds has Vera Zasulich for depicting work in legal associations as something carried on   “outside” the work of the underground groups? Why “outside” and not “in close contact with”, why not “in the same direction”?

Vera Zasulich has no factual grounds whatsoever, because everybody knows that there was probably not a single legal association, etc., in which members of the underground groups did not take part. The only grounds Vera Zasulich has for her assertions is the subjective mood of the liquidators. The liquidators did get the feeling that there was nothing for them to do in the underground, that they sympathised only with work that was outside the underground, only if it was outside the ideological line of the underground. In other words, Vera Zasulich’s “grounds” amount to justification of the liquidators’ flight from the underground!

Pitiful grounds indeed.

We cannot, however, confine ourselves to pointing out the subjective grounds for Vera Zasulich’s writings, the errors of fact and logic with which literally every phrase of her article teems. We must seek the objective grounds for the undoubted fact that the “districts lost their members”, that there was a flight from the underground.

We have not far to look. It is well enough known that the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois society of Russia at the time under discussion was carried away to a very great extent by counter-revolutionary temper. It is well enough known what profound antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat came to the surface in the days of freedom and engendered that counter-revolutionary temper and also confusion, despondency and loss of spirit among many vacillating friends of the proletariat.

This objective relationship between classes in the period under discussion explains fully enough why the bourgeoisie in general and the liberal bourgeoisie in particular (for domination over the masses of the people had been snatched out of their hands) were bound to hate the underground, declare it worthless and “ineffective” (Vera Zasulich’s expression), condemn and reject underground political agitation and also the conduct of legal work in the spirit of the under ground, in accordance with the slogans of the underground and in direct ideological and organisational contact with it.

The first to flee from the underground were the bourgeois intellectuals who succumbed to the counter-revolutionary mood, those “fellow-travellers” of the Social-Democratic working-class movement who, like those in Europe, had been attracted by the liberating role played by the proletariat (in Europe—by the plebs in general) in the bourgeois revolution. It is a well-known fact what a mass of Marxists left the underground after 1905 and found places for themselves in all sorts of legal cosy corners for intellectuals.

No matter what subjective “good” intentions Vera Zasulich may have had, her repetition of the arguments of the liquidators amounts objectively to a rehash of the petty ideas of the counter-revolutionary liberals. The liquidators, who are so loud in their talk of “independent action by the workers”, etc., actually represent and defend the intellectuals who have defected from the working-class movement and gone over to the side of the bourgeoisie.

The flight of some people from the underground could have been the result of their fatigue and dispiritedness. Such individuals may only be pitied; they should be helped because their dispiritedness will pass and there will again appear an urge to get away from philistinism, away from the liberals and the liberal-labour policy, to the working-class underground. But when the fatigued and dispirited use journalism as their platform and announce that their flight is not a manifestation of fatigue, or weakness, or intellectual woolliness, but that it is to their credit, and then put the blame on the “ineffective”, “worthless”, “moribund”, etc., underground, these runaways then become disgusting renegades, apostates. These runaways then become the worst of advisers for the working-class movement and therefore its dangerous enemies.

When one finds the liquidators defending and lauding such elements and at the same time coming out with vows and assurances that they, the liquidators, stand for unity, one can only shrug one’s shoulders and ask oneself whom they hope to deceive with this blissful idiocy and hypocrisy. Is it not obvious that a working-class party cannot possibly exist without a determined struggle against the lauding of defection from the Party?

The liquidators (with Vera Zasulich following them) enjoy calling these apostates and runaways “the living forces of the working class”. But these evasions of the liberal intellectuals have long been refuted by indisputable facts on a country-wide scale. Of the deputies from the worker curias 47 per cent were Bolsheviks in the Second Duma, 50 per cent in the Third Duma and 67 per cent in the Fourth Duma. This is an irrefutable proof that the workers left the liquidators in the period between 1907 and 1913. The emergence of the first working-class daily newspaper and the events now to be observed in the trade unions add still further proofs to this. If we glance at the objective facts and not at the empty, boasting declarations of the liberal intellectuals, we shall see that the living forces of the working class are those of the supporters of the underground, the opponents of the liquidators.

All Vera Zasulich’s discourse on the past is, however, only the beginning. There is something better to come. Her defence of renegation and defection from the Party is only the introduction to her defence of the destruction of the Party. It is these important sections of her article that we shall now examine.


The underground organisation,” we read in the article, “has always been the weakest feature of Social-Democracy in Russia ...” (“always”—neither more nor less). Bold historians, our liquidators. “Always” means in 1882–93, before the mass working-class movement under the organised leadership of the Party; it means in 1894–1904. And in the 1905–07 period?

But even if it had been ten times better, it would not have survived the revolution and counter-revolution. In the history of Europe I cannot remember a single revolutionary organisation that, after living through a revolution, proved effective in the moment of reaction.”

This argument provides such a rich collection of “gems” that one does not know where to begin sorting them out!

Zasulich “cannot remember” in European history the case she is discussing. But can she remember “in the history   of Europe” a bourgeois revolution that took place when there were independent working-class parties with hundreds of thousands, a million members in neighbouring countries, and with capitalism highly developed and having created in the country in question a united industrial proletariat and a working-class movement on a national scale?

Vera Zasulich cannot “remember” a case of this kind because there has not been one “in the history of Europe”. Mass political strikes did not and could not play a decisive role in any bourgeois revolution in European history before the twentieth century.

And so what do we get? We get this. The liquidators refer to “the history of Europe” as an example, where at the time of the bourgeois revolutions, there were no independent proletarian parties with mass strikes; they cite that example for the purpose of renouncing the tasks, or of belittling, clipping, curtailing, docking the tasks to be done in a country in which the two above-mentioned basic conditions (an independent proletarian party and mass strikes of a political nature) were present and still are present!

Vera Zasulich fails to understand—and this failure to understand is extremely typical of the liquidators—that she has repeated the idea of the liberal Prokopovich, using different words, for a different reason and approaching the subject from a different angle. That liberal, at the time when he, as an extreme Economist (1899), was breaking away from the Social-Democrats, expressed the idea that “the political struggle is for the liberals, the economic struggle for the workers”.

All opportunists in the working-class movement of Russia from 1895 to 1913 have been drawn towards this idea and have lapsed into it. It is in struggle against this idea that the Social-Democratic Party in Russia has grown; only in struggle against this idea could it have grown. The struggle against this idea, the liberation of the masses from the influence of this idea is, in fact, the struggle for an independent working-class movement in Russia.

Prokopovich expressed the idea in its application to present tasks, using the imperative or the desiderative mood.

Vera Zasulich repeats the idea in the form of an allegedly-historical, retrospective discourse, or a review of events.

Prokopovich spoke forthrightly, frankly, clearly and sharply—abandon your idea of political independence, brother workers! Vera Zasulich, not realising whither liquidationism was leading her, has reached the same abyss by a zigzag route; the example of Europe also shows you, brother workers, that you cannot expect to have an “effective” organisation of your old tested type, of the same type as your organisation in 1905. Since 1905 the liberals have abandoned empty dreams of an “underground” and have created an “effective” organisation, an open one, which, although not legalised by the June Third system, is tolerated by it, retains its parliamentary group, its legal press and its local committees, which are actually known to everybody. Your old organisation, brother workers, is ineffective, and according to the lessons taught by “the history of Europe” was bound to be, but we liquidators promise you and offer you a new “open party” every day. What more do you want? Be content with our, the liquidators’, promises, curse your old organisation in stronger terms, spit upon it, deny it and remain for the time being (until you get the “open party” we have promised) without any organisation!

This is exactly the real meaning of Vera Zasulich’s liquidationist arguments, the meaning determined not by her will and mind, but by the relation of the classes in Russia, the objective conditions of the working-class movement. That is exactly what the liberals want. Vera Zasulich is only echoing Prokopovich!

Unlike late eighteenth-century Europe and Europe in the fist half of the nineteenth century Russia provides an example of a country in which the old organisation has demonstrated its viability and efficiency. This organisation has been preserved even in times of reaction despite the defection of the liquidators and a host of the philistines. This organisation, while preserving its basic type, has been able to adapt its form to the changing conditions, has been able to vary that form to meet the requirements of the moment that marks “another step in the transformation, into a bourgeois monarchy”.[4]

An objective proof of this adaptation of the old organisation is to be seen—if we take one of the simplest, most obvious proofs, a proof that is most easily understood by the   liberals—in the results of the elections to the Fourth Duma. Two-thirds of the deputies elected by the worker curias proved to be members of the old organisation, among them the six from the main industrial gubernias. In those gubernias there are about a million factory workers. Everything vital, all those politically conscious and influential among the genuine masses, the proletarian masses, participated in the elections, and in so doing changed the form of their old organisation, modifying the conditions of its activity but preserving its general line, the ideological and political basis and content of its activity.

Our position is clear. It was delineated irrevocably in 1908. The liquidators, however—and this is their misfortune—have no position as long as they have no new organisation. They can do nothing but sigh over the bad past and dream of a better future.


Organisation is essential to the Party,” writes Vera Zasulich. She is not content even with the Stockholm (1906) decision, adopted at a time when the Mensheviks predominated and were forced to accept the famous Clause One of the Rules.

If that is true (and it most certainly is), Vera Zasulich is wrong and she will have to renounce the Mensheviks’ Stockholm decision. Organisation is not only “essential to the Party”—that is recognised by every liberal and every bourgeois who wishes to “use” the working-class party for politics directed against the working class. The Party is the sum-total of its organisations linked together in a single whole. The Party is the organisation of the working class divided into a long chain of all kinds of local and special, central and general organisations.

Here, again, the liquidators find themselves without any position. In 1903, they put forward their idea of Party membership, according to which not only those belonging to its organisations but those who were working (outside the organisations) under their control were regarded as Party members. Vera Zasulich recalls this episode, apparently deeming it important.

“... as far back as the Second Congress ten years ago,” she writes, “the Mensheviks felt that it was impossible to tack away the whole Party in the underground....”

If the Mensheviks felt a revulsion against the under ground in 1903, why was it that in 1906, in the period of an immeasurably more “open” Party, they themselves, having a majority at the Congress, reversed the Menshevik formulation they had adopted in 1903 and accepted the Bolshevik formulation? Vera Zasulich writes Party history in such a way that one comes across an amazing, unbelievable distortion of the facts at every step!

It is an indisputable fact that at Stockholm in 1906 the Mensheviks accepted the Bolshevik definition of the Party as the sum of its organisations; if Vera Zasulich and her friends have again changed their views, if they now consider that their 1906 decision was a mistake, why do they not say so straight out? In general, Vera Zasulich seems to regard this question as one of importance since she has raised it herself and herself has recalled the year 1903!

The reader can see that there is nothing more feeble and confused than the liquidators’ views on the question of organisation. It is a complete absence of views. It is a model of characterlessness and confusion. Vera Zasulich exclaims crossly: “Organisational opportunism is a foolish expression.” But “being cross” won’t help. Did not Cherevanin himself say in a published statement that “organisational anarchy” had been noted among the future liquidators at the meetings of the Menshevik group in London in 1907. At that time, the most prominent liquidators found them selves (and find themselves again today) in the highly original situation of slaying liquidators.

Organisation is essential to the Party,” writes Vera Zasulich. “But it will only be possible for the organisation to embrace the whole Party for any lengthy period and exist peacefully [!] in one and the same form and with one and the same set of rules [listen to this!] when Russian social life has achieved and consolidated [if it is ever consolidated in Russia] a system of legality and at last travels a smooth road, leaving behind the mountainous path that it has been following at an accelerating pace for a whole century, at times ascending, at times crashing into the abyss of reaction, whence, having recovered from injuries received, it starts scrambling uphill again....”

Here is an argument put forward by the liquidators that deserves a prize as a model of confusion. Try and understand what the author is getting at.

A change in the “Rules”? Then for God’s sake, gentlemen, say what changes in the Rules you are talking about! And don’t make fools of yourselves, don’t try to prove “philosophically” that the Rules are not something unchangeable.

But although she speaks of “one and the same set of Rules” (incidentally they were changed in 1912[1] ) Vera Zasulich proposes no changes at all.

What does she mean? She means that the Party will become an organisation when the mountainous path comes to an end and Russia travels a smooth road. That is an exceedingly respectable idea and it belongs to the liberals and Vekhi; until the smooth road is reached everything is nasty and evil, the Party is not a party and politics are not politics. On the “smooth road” everything will be “in order” and on the “mountainous path” there is nothing but chaos.

We read this argument long ago, put forward by the liberals. This argument is understandable, natural and legitimate from the point of view of the liberals’ hatred of the underground and the “mountainous path”. The facts are distorted (for there have been a number of organised parties in the underground in Russia), but we realise that the liberals’ hatred of the underground blinds them to the facts.

But again, what does Vera Zasulich mean? Apparently, according to her, the organised party is impossible in Russia. Therefore? Indistinct ideas and things left unsaid, the confusion of the issue by long, heavy, tortuous periods, endless heating about the bush. The only thing one senses is that the author is worming her way towards renunciation of all organisation. And as she worms her way closer to this, Vera Zasulich speaks out—here is her crowning idea:

We have a broad section of workers who would have every right to join any socialist party in the West. All our forces are in this rapidly growing section of the workers, who lack only the opportunity of formally joining a p arty to found one, and no matter what we call this section we shall both think of it and speak of it as the party.”

When arguments concern the liquidation of the Party, therefore, we must realise that by the word party the liquidators mean something quite different. What do they mean by party?

Here it is—“a broad section of workers ... who lack only [!] the opportunity of formally joining a party to found one [!!]”.

Incomparable! The party consists of those “who lack the opportunity of formally joining it”. The party is those who remain outside the party.

Truly, Vera Zasulich has gathered some wonderful gems for us by saying frankly what all the liquidators are wandering about on the verge of.


There are about a million Party members in Germany to day. The Social-Democrats there receive about 4,250,000 votes and there are about 15,000,000 proletarians. Here is a simple and vivid example that will untangle what the liquidators have tangled. One million—that is the party, one million in the party organisations; 4,250,000 is the “broad section”. It is actually much broader because women are disfranchised, as are many workers who do not possess the residential qualification, age qualification, etc., etc.

The “broad section” consists almost entirely of Social-Democrats and without it the party would be powerless. When any action is taken, this broad section expands to two or three times that size because on such occasions a mass of those who are not Social-Democrats follow the party.

Surely this is clear? It really is a little awkward to have to point out something so elementary!

In what way does Germany differ from Russia? Certainly not because in Russia there is no difference between the “party” and the “broad section”! To understand this let us first look at France. There we see (approximately—more accurate figures would only strengthen my argument):  

Party . . . . . . . . . . . . about 70,000[2]
“Broad section” (voting for the
Social-Democrats) . . . . .
about 1,000,000
Proletarians . . . . . . . . . about 10,000,000

And in Russia? Party—150,000 in 1907 (calculated and verified at the London Congress). Today the number is not known, probably much less, 30,000 or 50,000, we cannot say definitely.

Our “broad section” is 300,000–500,000 if we add up the number of those voting for the Social-Democrats. Lastly, proletarians—probably about 20,000,000. I repeat that these are approximate figures, but any other figures that anybody might arrive at through closer calculation would only add strength to my argument.

My argument is that in all countries, everywhere and always, there exists, in addition to the party, a “broad section” of people close to the party and the huge mass of the class that founds the party, causes it to emerge and nurtures it. By not understanding this simple and obvious point, the liquidators are repeating the error of the Economists of 1895–1901; the Economists simply could not understand the difference between the “party” and the “class”.

The party is the politically conscious, advanced section of the class, it is its vanguard. The strength of that vanguard is ten times, a hundred times, more than a hundred times, greater than its numbers.

Is that possible? Can the strength of hundreds be greater than the strength of thousands?

It can be, and is, when the hundreds are organised.

Organisation increases strength tenfold. God knows this is no new verity. But it is not our fault if for the benefit of Vera Zasulich and the liquidators we have to begin at the beginning.

The political consciousness of the advanced contingent is, incidentally, manifested in its ability to organise. By organising it achieves unity of will and this united will of an advanced thousand, hundred thousand, million be comes the will of the class. The intermediary between the   party and the class is the “broad section” (broader than the party but narrower than the class), the section that votes Social-Democrat, the section that helps, sympathises, etc.

The relationship of the party to the class differs in different countries, depending on historical and other conditions. In Germany, for example, about one-fifteenth of the class is organised in the party; in France about a hundred-and-fortieth part. In Germany there are four or five Social-Democrats of the “broad section” to every Party member; in France there are fourteen. In France there has never actually been a party 100,000 strong—and this in conditions of “open” organisation and political liberty.

Any reasonable person will understand that there are historical conditions, objective causes, which made it possible to organise one-fifteenth of the class in the party in Germany, but which make it more difficult in France, and still more difficult in Russia.

What would one think of the Frenchman who declared that “our party is a narrow circle and not a party; you cannot tuck the party away in an organisation; the party is the broad section, all forces are in it, etc.”? You would probably express surprise at the fact that this Frenchman was not in a mental hospital.

And here in Russia we are expected to take people seriously who feel, see and know that our path is still mountainous, that is, the conditions for organisation are more difficult, and nevertheless declare that they “will think and speak of the broad section [the unorganised!] as the party”. These people are confused runaways from the Party, confused Social-Democrats outside the Party or close to the Party who have not withstood the pressure of the liberal ideas of decline, despondency and renunciation.


For the underground to be a useful force,” writes Vera Zasulich in the conclusion to her excellent article, “the underground, even if it alone is called the party, must display an attitude towards the worker Social-Democrats [i.e., towards the broad section in which Zasulich sees “all forces”, and of which she declared: “we shall think of it and speak of it as the party”] similar to that of party officials to the party.”

Think carefully over this statement, the gem of gems in an article so rich in gems. First Zasulich knows very well what is meant by a party in present-day Russia. But dozens of liquidator writers are continually assuring the public that they do not know it, with the result that disputes on the liquidation, of the Party are so unbelievably confused by these gentry. Let readers who are interested in the fate of the working-class movement and oppose vulgar, commonplace liquidators turn to Vera Zasulich’s article and gain from it the answer to the question that has been and is still being obscured—what is a party?

Secondly, examine Vera Zasulich’s conclusion. The underground’s, attitude to the broad section should be that of party officials to the party, she tells us. May we ask what is the essence of the attitude of the officials of any association to that association? Obviously it is that the official does not carry out his own will (or that of a group or circle), but the will of the association.

How is the will of a broad section of several hundred thousands, or several million, to be determined? It is absolutely impossible to determine the wilt of a broad section that is not organised in an association—even a child would understand that. It is Vera Zasulich’s misfortune, and that of the other liquidators, that they have taken a position on the inclined plane of organisational opportunism and are constantly sliding down into the swamp of the worst anarchism.

For anarchism is precisely what it is, in the fullest and most accurate meaning of the word, when Vera Zasulich declares that the liquidators will think and speak of the broad section as the party, and that the underground should display the attitude towards it that it would to a higher organisation, to a supreme arbiter on the question of “officials”, etc., although she herself admits that the “broad section lacks only the opportunity of formally joining a party” and therefore “lacks the opportunity of forming a party”.

When an appeal is made to broad sections or to the masses against the organisation and at the same time the impossibility of organising those sections or masses is admitted, that is pure anarchism. The anarchists constitute one of the most harmful elements of the working-class movement because   they are always shouting about the mass of the oppressed classes (or even about the oppressed masses in general), always ruining the good name of any socialist organisation but are themselves unable to create any other organisation as an alternative.

The Marxists have a fundamentally different view of the relation of the unorganised (and unorganisable for a lengthy period, sometimes decades) masses to the party, to organisation. It is to enable the mass of a definite class to learn to understand its own interests and its position, to learn to conduct its own policy, that there must be an organisation of the advanced elements of the class, immediately and at all costs, even though at first these elements constitute only a tiny fraction of the class. To do service to the masses and express their interests, having correctly conceived those interests, the advanced contingent, the organisation, must carry on all its activity among the masses, drawing from the masses all the best forces without any exception, at every step Verifying carefully and objectively whether contact with the masses is being maintained and whether it is a live contact. In this way, and only in this way, does the advanced contingent train and enlighten the masses, expressing their interests, teaching them organisation and directing all the activities of the masses along the path of conscious class politics.

If the political activity of the masses as a whole, when directly or indirectly drawn into elections, or participating in them, should result in all the elected representatives of the workers being supporters of the underground and its political line, supporters of the Party, we have an objective fact proving the viability of our contact with the masses, proving the right of that organisation to be and to call it self the sole representative of the masses, and sole vehicle for the expression of the class interests of the masses. Every politically conscious worker, or rather, every group of workers, was able to participate in the elections and direct them one way or the other; and if the result is that the organisation that is ridiculed, cursed and treated with disdain by the liquidators has been able to lead the masses, that means that the attitude of our Party to the masses is correct in principle, it is the Marxist attitude.

The theory of the “broad section . . . who lack only the opportunity of formally joining a party to found one” is an anarchist theory. The working class in Russia cannot consolidate and develop its movement if it does not struggle with the greatest determination against this theory, which corrupts the masses and destroys the very concept of organisation, the very principle of organisation.

The theory of the “broad section” to replace the party is an attempt to justify an extremely high-handed attitude towards and mockery of the mass working-class movement (furthermore, the mockers never fail to speak of the “masses” in their every phrase and to use “mass” freely as an adjective in all its cases). Everyone realises that the liquidators are using this theory to make it appear that they, their circle of intellectuals, represent and express the will of the “broad section”. What, they would say, does the “narrow” party mean to us when we represent the “broad section”! What does an underground mean to us, an underground that carries with it a million workers to the polls, when we represent the broad section numbering, perhaps, millions and tens of millions!

The objective facts—the elections to the Fourth Duma, the appearance of workers’ newspapers and the collections made on their behalf, the Metalworkers’ Union in St. Petersburg, the shop assistants’ congress[5]—serve to show clearly that the liquidators are a group of intellectuals that have fallen away from the working class. But the “theory of the broad section” enables the liquidators to get round all objective facts and fills their hearts with pride in their unacknowledged greatness....


Vera Zasulich’s article is such a collection of oddities from the point of view of logic and of the ABC of Marxism that the reader naturally asks himself—is it possible that there is no other meaning to all these meaningless phrases? Our review would be incomplete if we did not point out that there is a point of view from which the article is quite comprehensible, logical and correct. That is the point of view of the split.

The history of the working-class movement is full of examples of unsuccessful, useless and even harmful parties. Let us suppose for a moment that our Party is one of them. In that case it is harmful and criminal to tolerate its existence, and still more so to tolerate its representatives. It is then obligatory to struggle for the destruction of that, party and its replacement by a new party.

From the point of view of a profound conviction of the harmfulness of the underground, such statements as “it is not known whether it (the Party) helped or hindered”, whether it now helps or hinders, are natural and understandable. We shall justify and praise[3] those who leave it and put it down to the “ineffectiveness” of the old party. We shall appeal to non-party people against that old party so that they will join the new party.

Vera Zasulich did not express this point of view of the split in full. Perhaps this fact is subjectively important and noteworthy to the author. Objectively, however, it is of little importance. If a writer says A, B, C, and then all the letters of the alphabet except the last, it is a safe bet that 999 readers out of 1,000 will add (aloud or to them selves) the last letter. The liquidators are all in this ridiculous position; they produce a whole collection of arguments for a split and then either say nothing at all or say that they “favour unity”.

Apropos of Vera Zasulich’s article and of a dozen similar articles by L. S., Dan, Levitsky, Yezhov, Potresov and Martov we have only one answer—the first condition for unity is the absolute condemnation of the “theory of the broad section in place of the party”, the condemnation of all acts against the underground, the condemnation of Vera Zasulich’s article and the definite discontinuance of all such sallies. The party cannot be “united” without struggling against those who question the necessity for its existence.

From the point of view of a split Vera Zasulich’s article is logical and correct. If the liquidators succeed in founding   a new party and if that new party turns out better than the old, Vera Zasulich’s article (and all the liquidators’ literature) will be justified historically. It would be foolish sentimentality to deny the founders of a better, genuine, truly working-class party the right to destroy the old, in effective, useless party. If the liquidators do not establish any new party at all, if they do not create any new working-class organisation, then all their literature and Vera Zasulich’s article will remain as a monument to the con fusion of those who dropped out of the Party, of those characterless intellectuals who were carried away by the counter-revolutionary stream of despondency, disbelief, and philistinism and went plodding along behind the liberals.

One thing or the other. There is no middle way. There is nothing here to “reconcile”; you cannot “slightly bury” the old party and “slightly create” a new one.

The specific nature of the time through which Russia is now living is demonstrated, among other things, by the fact that a relatively small Party nucleus which was able to hold out during the storm and to remain in existence despite the breaking of individual organisational ties here and there, a nucleus that has ensured for itself an uncommonly strong influence among the overwhelming mass of the workers (not as compared with present-day Europe, of course, but with the Europe of 1849–59), that this nucleus is surrounded by a multitude of anti-Party, non-Party, extra-Party and near-Party Social-Democrats and near-Social-Democrats.

And that is precisely how matters should stand in a country with the Mont Blanc of the German Social-Democratic Party next to it, while inside that country ... inside even the liberals do not see any other road except the “mountainous path”, Messrs. Struve & Co. having for more than ten years trained hundreds and thousands of petty-bourgeois intellectuals, wrapping up their petty liberal ideas in almost Marxist words.

Take Mr. Prokopovich. A notable figure in journalism and in public activities in Russia. In essence, undoubtedly, a liberal. There is, however, reason to fear that he regards himself as a Social-Democrat—an anti-Party Social-Democrat. Take Mr. Makhnovets (Akimov). A liberal of a more   melancholy temperament and with a more strongly ex pressed love for the workers. He no doubt considers himself a Social-Democrat—a non-Party Social-Democrat. Take the writers in Kievskaya Mysl, Nasha Zarya, Luch, etc. They form a whole collection of extra-Party and near-Party Social-Democrats. Some of them are engaged mainly in dreaming about the foundation of a new, open party, but have not yet made a final decision on the question of whether they will disgrace themselves too much if they set about fulfilling this plan of genius “prematurely”. Others specialise in solemnly declaring that they do not want to liquidate anything, that they are for unity and in complete agreement with ... the German Social-Democrats.

Take the Social-Democratic Duma group. One of its most prominent figures. Chkheidze, whom Nekrasov seems to have had prophetically in mind when he wrote:

But at times avoids an issue,
That is painful, hard to solve

The years 1911 and 1912 were the most difficult and painful period for the Social-Democrats in the epoch of the Third and the beginning of the Fourth Duma. The working-class press—liquidators’ and anti-liquidators’—took shape. Chkheidze “avoided the issue”. He did not go with either one or the other. He was a near-Party Social-Democrat. He seemed to be waiting and watching; on the one hand, there was no party but the old one, and on the other hand, it might happen that “they” would bury the party a little bit.... You read his speeches and quite often applaud a sally against the Rights that is often witty and stinging, his heat ed and astringent words, his defence of the old traditions, and at the same time you have to hold your nose when you open a liquidators’ newspaper that thunders against “crazes”, waves tradition carelessly aside and teaches the workers disdain for organisation—all apparently with the approval of Chkheidze, whose name is an ornament to the list of contributors. You come across an article by An accompanied by a sharp criticism of him from the Luch editors and cannot help but wonder—have not our poor Chkheidze and our kindly An suffered a tragi-comic defeat in their attempt to cast off the yoke of Dan....

There are people who, in the name of the great principle of proletarian unity, advise the Party to come to an agreement with one of the groups of near-Party, almost-Social-Democrats, that wants to “avoid”, or is wavering on, the question of whether to bury or to strengthen the old organisation. It can well be understood that these people are themselves wavering or have a very poor acquaintance with the real state of affairs. A party that wants to exist cannot allow the slightest wavering on the question of its existence or any agreement with those who may bury it. There is no end to those who want to act as intermediaries in such an agreement, but they are all people, who, to use an old, expression, are burning their oil in vain and wasting their time.


P. B. Axelrod’s concluding article in No. 13 of Zhivaya Zhizn (July 25, 1913) headed “Then and Now” provided an amazingly vivid confirmation of our words. The real essence of this well-padded article is not, of course, in its amusing boosting of the liquidators’ August Conference, but in the resurrection of the labour congress question. It goes without saying that Axelrod prefers to say nothing about his bitter and painful experience with the idea of a labour congress in 1906 and 1907—why rake up the past? Nor does Axelrod mention the specific conditions of the present day, when it appears possible to hold labour congresses of a special character, as it were, and for special reasons (a shop-assistants’ congress today, perhaps an insurance or trade union congress tomorrow, etc.). Axelrod is probably not pleased with the experience of the shop-assistants’ congress, at which the majority (as the liquidators have been forced to admit in Zhivaya Zhizn) was against the liquidators.

Axelrod does not say anything about what has been and what is. He prefers to let his imagination run wild on the future “thaw”—luckily we cannot know anything about its concrete conditions! He toys with the idea of convening “a Social-Democratic labour congress if not of all Russia, then one of all Russians”—which is then called exactly that, a congress of all Russians.

Thus there are two changes to the former brilliant plan; first, it is not merely a labour congress, but a Social-Democratic labour congress. That is progress. Let us congratulate Axelrod on having taken a step forward in six years. Let us congratulate him if he has become convinced of the harm caused by fantastic plans to “unite” with the Left Narodniks. Secondly, he replaces “all-Russia congress” by “congress of all Russians”. That signifies rejection of complete unity with workers of non-Russian nationality in Russia (Axelrod regards the collapse among them of the idea of a labour congress as being final!). That is two steps backward. That is the hallowing of separatism in the working-class movement.

But this is still not the best part. Why was Axelrod dreaming of a labour congress? This is why:

The labour congress will complete the liquidatory process that has been going on during the past few years, the liquidation of the old party regime that grew u on the outdated historical basis of the feudal state and the hierarchical socio-political regime and at the same time will mark the beginning of a completely new epoch in the historical life of Russian Social-Democrats, the epoch of development on exactly the same lines as the Social-Democratic parties in the West.”

Everybody knows that “exactly the same lines” are the lines of a legal party. Speaking without equivocation, this means that the liquidators need the labour congress to “complete the liquidation” of the old party and to found a new, legal party.

Such, in brief, is the idea behind Axelrod’s long disquisitions.

Here you have the last word in near-Party Social-Democracy! For the members of the party to work in the party and strengthen it is an old, outdated idea that Axelrod has banished to the archives. We are not liquidating anything, that is libel, we only “stand aside” and shout for all to hear about the “completion of the liquidation of the Party”. We vow and swear that tomorrow we shall be excellent members of the future legal party.

These sweet near-Party Social-Democrats of 1913 are very much like those liberals of 1903 who assured us that they were proper Social-Democrats and would certainly   become members of the Social-Democratic Party—when it became legal, of course.

We do not for a moment doubt that there will be a period of political liberty in Russia and that we shall have a legal Social-Democratic Party. Probably some of those near-Party Social-Democrats of today will become members of it.

And so—until we meet again in the ranks of the future, legal party, our future comrades! In the meantime, excuse us, we are not going the same way, because as yet you, near-Party Social-Democrats, are carrying on liberal and not Marxist work.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 17, p. 482.—Ed.

[2] The exact figure given at the last Congress in Brest (1913) was 68,903.[7]Lenin

[3] In passing. This defence of the renegades is implicit in Vera Zasulich’s phrase “the broad section only lack the opportunity of formally joining a party to found one”. There are thousands of facts that prove the opposite. By speaking of “lack of opportunity”, Vera Zasulich is actually defending philistinism, or worse. —Lenin

[4] This description of the evolution of tsarism in the period of the Stolypin reaction is quoted from a resolution of the Fifth (All Russian) Conference of the R.S.D.L.P., held in 1908.

[7] The Brest (Tenth) Congress of the French Socialist Party—was held in the town of Brest, March 23-25, 1913.

[5] This refers to the Fourth Congress of Commercial and Industrial Employees held in Moscow, June 29-July 3 (July 12-16), 1913. The Congress was attended by 378 delegates. The Bolsheviks, who were supported by almost half the delegates, also had the support of the Left Narodnik section of the Congress, which gave them the majority. The liquidators were represented by an insignificant group. Detailed reports of the Congress were published in Pravda. The Congress was closed by order of the Minister of the Interior.

[6] Lenin is here quoting, with some words changed, from Nekrasov’s poem “A Man of the Forties”:
  But at times avoids an issue,
  That is urgent, that alarms....

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