V. I.   Lenin

Political Blackmail

Published: First published in Proletary No. 10, September 6 (August 24), 1917. Published according to the Proletary text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 25, pages 261-264.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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Blackmail is the extortion of money under threat of exposing certain facts or invented “stories” which may be disagreeable to the person concerned, or under threat of causing him some other unpleasantness.

Political blackmail is the threat of exposing, or the actual exposure, of true, but more often invented, “stories” with the aim of causing an opponent political damage, of slandering him, of depriving him of the possibility of engaging in political activity, or of making it difficult for him.

Our republican and—please excuse the term—even democratic bourgeois and petty-bourgeois people proved themselves to be heroes of political blackmail by starting a “campaign” of defamation, lies and slander against the parties and political leaders that do not suit them. Tsarism persecuted crudely, savagely, brutally. The republican bourgeoisie persecute in a dirty way, striving to besmirch the reputation of the hated proletarian revolutionary and internationalist by slander, lies, insinuations, defamation, rumours, etc., etc.

The Bolsheviks in particular have had the honour of experiencing these methods of persecution used by the republican imperialists. In general, the Bolshevik might apply to himself the well-known words of the poet:

He hears the voice of approbation
Not in the dulcet sounds of praise,
But in the savage cries of indignation![1]

Savage cries of indignation at the Bolsheviks rang out from all bourgeois and nearly all petty-bourgeois papers almost immediately after the beginning of the Russian revolution. And the Bolshevik, the internationalist, the   supporter of the proletarian revolution, may justly hear the voice of approbation in these savage cries of indignation, for the fierce hatred of the bourgeoisie is often the best proof of faithful and honest service to the cause of the proletariat by the slandered, baited and persecuted.

The blackmailing nature of the slanderous methods of the bourgeoisie may be illustrated best of all by an example which does not concern our Party, namely, the “affair” of the Socialist-Revolutionary Chernov. Some members of the Cadet Party, notorious slanderers headed by Milyukov and Hessen, trying to intimidate or expel Chernov, started a campaign, baiting him for his allegedly “defeatist” articles abroad, and for his association with persons supposed to have received money from German imperialist agents. The campaign gathered strength. It was taken up by all bourgeois papers.

Afterwards the Cadets and S.R.s “came to terms” on a certain composition of the Cabinet. And lo and behold! The Chernov “affair” is dropped! It was dropped in a few days, without trial or examination, without publishing documents, without questioning witnesses, without presenting the decision of experts. When the Cadets were dissatisfied with Chernov, they began a slanderous “affair”. When the Cadets had come to terms politically with Chernov, at least for a while, the “affair” was dropped.

This is a graphic example of political blackmail. Baiting in the newspapers, slander, and insinuations serve as a weapon of political struggle and political revenge in the hands of the bourgeoisie and such scoundrels as the Milyukovs, Hessens, Zaslavskys, Dans, etc. Once the political aim is attained, the “case” against X or Y is dropped, showing the dirty character, base dishonesty, and blackmailing nature of those who started it.

For it is obvious that one who does not practise blackmail would not discontinue his revelations—if he were prompted by honest motives—no matter what political changes took place; he would in any circumstances bring his revelations to a conclusion, to a court sentence, to a point where the public was fully informed, where all documents were collected and published, or he would openly and explicitly admit that he had made a mistake or had misinterpreted the facts.

The case of Chernov, who is not a Bolshevik, clearly demonstrates the true nature of the blackmailing crusade against the Bolsheviks by the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois papers. When the political aim of those knights and hangers-on of capital seemed to them to have been reached, when the Bolsheviks had been arrested and their newspapers closed down, the blackmailers fell silent! Having at their disposal every means of revealing the truth—the press, money, aid from the foreign bourgeoisie, the co-operation of “public opinion” of the whole bourgeoisie of Russia, and the friendly support of the state power of one of the largest countries of the world—having all this at their disposal, the heroes of the anti-Bolshevik crusade, the Milyukovs and Hessens, the Zaslavskys and Dans, fell silent!

It is becoming clear to every fair-minded person, as it at once became clear to class-conscious workers, whose entire life prepares them for a quick understanding of the methods of the bourgeoisie, that the Milyukovs and Hessens, the Zaslavskys and Dans, etc., etc., are political blackmailers. We must make it perfectly clear, must explain it, to the masses, write about it in the papers every day, collect documents about it for a pamphlet, boycott the blackmailers, and so on, and so forth. These are the methods of struggle worthy of the proletariat in combating slander and blackmail!

One of the latest to suffer from blackmail was our comrade, Kamenev. He has “withdrawn from public activity” until his case is examined. We think that a mistake. It is exactly what the blackmailers wanted. They do not want to examine his case. Kamenev should merely have countered the scoundrels with the trust of his own party, and let the dogs of Rech, Birzhevka, Dyen, Rabochaya Gazeta and other filthy rags bark.

If our Party were to consent to the suspension of public activities by its leaders because they had been slandered by the bourgeoisie, the Party would suffer terribly; it would cause harm to the proletariat and make its enemies happy. For the bourgeoisie have many papers; they have even more blackmailing, venal pens (like those of Zaslavsky and Co.), and it would be only too easy for them to “suspend” our Party workers! The bourgeoisie are not interested in examining the case, in getting to the root of the matter.

That won’t do, comrades! We must not give in to the clamour of the bourgeois press! We must not please those blackmailing scoundrels, the Milyukovs, Hessens and Zaslavskys. We must rely on the proletarians’ verdict, the verdict of the class-conscious workers in our Party, which numbers 240,000 internationalists. We mustn’t forget that internationalists are persecuted throughout the world by the bourgeoisie allied with the defencists, through lies, slander and blackmail.

We must stand firm in branding the blackmailers. We must firmly submit our slightest doubts for the class-conscious workers, for our Party, to judge. We trust our Party. We see in it the intelligence, honour and conscience of our times. We see the only guarantee of success for the emancipation movement of the working class in a world alliance of revolutionary internationalists.

No yielding to the “public opinion” of those who sit in one Cabinet with the Cadets, who shake the hands of the Milyukovs, Dans and Zaslavskys!

Down with the political blackmailers! Scorn and boycott them! Always expose their infamous names to the workers! We must unswervingly follow our own path, keep our Party in working order, and even protect its leaders from wasting their time on mud-slingers and their filthy slander.


[1] The lines are from Nekrasov’s poem “Blessed Is the Unmalicious Poet”.

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