Leon Trotsky

Our Political Tasks


A dialogue in the manner of Socrates

‘Tell me,’ asks our questioner, either compassionately or (more frequently) with a haughty and ironic air – ‘are you against Lenin’s organisational plan?’

‘What do you mean by Lenin’s organisational plan?

(embarrassed silence)

‘The rules?’

‘No, why?’ he replies a little ruffled – ‘Only the “minority” considers us to be “bureaucratic centralist,” thinking that the rule is everything to us. It’s not a question of the rule, but of the whole plan ...’

‘Are you talking about Lenin’s Letter to a Petersburg Comrade?

‘We can certainly talk about the Letter. But it is above all in What Is To Be Done? that one can say the organisational plan is revealed.’

‘What does it consist of then?’

‘But for goodness sake ... what is the matter with you? (Our questioner ends up quite exasperated.) What do you mean? Consists of? ... The organisational plan – Lenin’s plan?’

‘Well, yes, the plan, Lenin’s plan!’

‘Fantastic! All they do is repeat, all of them, all the time: organisational plan, Lenin has a plan ... And now you are asking us what it consists of?’

‘Well, everyone also said about General Trouchu (during the siege of Paris): il a un plan, Trouchu a un plan ... And his whole plan was to hand over Paris to the Prussians. So you define for me what Lenin’s organisational plan consists of.’

‘But it’s impossible, straight off like that. You have to read What Is To Be Done.’

‘I already have ... Don’t tell me about the whole plan, just about its basic principles.’

‘The basic principles – that’s a different matter ... For example the division of labour – conspiratorial action – discipline – centralism in general, so that the Central Committee can have control; and yes, what is called an organisation of professional revolutionaries ... against democratism – these are the principles.’

‘Magnificent. You say for example: the division of labour. Agreed: this is something entirely respectable, it has done great service to social progress. But was it really Lenin who proclaimed the principle? – Pardon me – all the economists of the manufacturing period had already explained the advantages of the division of labour. Take Adam Smith. What tremendous perspectives he opens for manufacturing pins! So I cannot agree with you that Lenin invented the division of labour, as some mythological persons invented agriculture, husbandry, trade etc. I understand: you are going to say that Lenin proclaimed the application of this principle on the threshold of the “Fourth Period.” This is possible. But do you really think that the “minority” denies the ‘principle’ of division of labour? Or the “principle” of conspiracy?’

‘I don’t know ...But Axelrod speaks of “ruses” and “resorts” ... And I think that Lenin is right to say that the minority shows its petty-bourgeois nature, when it makes a tragi-comic fuss against the division of labour under the direction of the Centre ...’

‘I shall come on to the “minority’s” “fuss” in a minute, no doubt. But before concerning myself with this, I shall ask a question: can the division of labour be – and can it be considered to be – the principle of a particular organisation, of the organisation of the Social Democratic Party? The division of labour is technically advantageous, but advantageous only for Social Democracy, but for any other party, any office, shop, etc. If the division of labour can be considered as an organisational principle, it can only be in a factory, but never in a political party of any kind, still less in ours – is it not obvious to us that the “principle” of the division of labour is in not way characteristic of the organisation which has made it its task to develop the class consciousness of the proletariat? Taken by itself, abstractly, this “principle” depersonalises our Party and leaves it simply as a complex co-operative.’

‘Let us now go on to conspiratorial action. This is a narrower principle, of an exclusively political meaning. But conspiracy too is in no way intrinsic to the Social Democratic Party. It is above all the bourgeois-revolutionary parties which have had and still do have to work conspiratorially. So it must be affirmed that conspiracy cannot either be the organising principle of our party, as such.

‘The same must also be said of centralism. A centralised factory, a centralised State, a centralised plot. What is “orthodox” about centralism? You have not mentioned in your desiderata the Leninist “principles” of centralisation of leadership and decentralisation of responsibility. (Letter ..., p.20) I shall not dwell on them either. I shall simply say that they seem to me to express the same ideas as that which the late Abbot Sieyes took as the basis of his institution: “Confidence must come from below (decentralisation of responsibility) and power from above (centralisation of leadership).” That is to say, the proletariat does not see itself in these “principles.” Briefly, bringing together everything that you call Lenin’s “organisational principles,” the only result is centralised, complex co-operation working conspiratorially for some political aim.

‘But that will still not in itself produce a social democratic organisation. In the best possible case this definition does not mean its negation as a Social Democratic Party, but only constitutes one possibility. What we have before us, then, is an algebraic organisational formula which may take on a social democratic content if certain concrete numerical values are put in the place of letters. But the “plan” does not include such concrete numerical values ... One comrade has carried out an interesting experiment: throughout the Letter to a Petersburg Comrade he replaced the word social democratic with the term socialist-revolutionary. And not once did it produce a wrong meaning. But try to do the same thing with the programme of our Party or with resolutions on tactics – you will get your fingers burned ... This is why a scheme such as that expounded in the Letter to a Petersburg Comrade inevitably gives rise to the question: what has become of Social Democracy in all this? It is an implicit premise, you will say. Perhaps subjectively, but not objectively. But this is what gives it all its strength!”

The division of labour

To print social-democratic proclamations, you do not need to be a Social Democrat. Nor to distribute or put them up. Of course, taking Russian conditions into account, only a person dedicated to the cause of revolution will carry out such work. But the purely technical nature of the work does not demand any political ability on the part of those who carry it out, and in itself is incapable of developing and stimulating social democratic consciousness. This means that there must be another sphere of the Party’s life, in which the printer, circulation man, archivist, and organiser stand in relation to each other, not as detail workers of the technical apparatus of the Party, but as workers fully integrated into the politics of the Party. In the practice of organisation, this postulate is ignored most of the time, and the content of the Party’s work is conceived of as the total of the different technical functions carried out “under the direction of the Centre.”

The cause of this aberration is obvious. The work which in every European party, socialist parties included, of course, is carried out in the backrooms of the Party (printing, distribution, postering etc) is in our case projected to the foreground, uses up an enormous quantity of materials and personnel, and, as a result, ahs concentrated on it the greater and better part of our attention and our creative capacities. In so far as we are permanently fighting against the police repression, which can in a few hours destroy the product of months and months of difficult work, and in constant struggle against the poverty of our illegal techniques – a stone age oasis in this century of steam and electricity – in short, taking this into account, the technical conditions of political work tend to cover the whole field of the Party’s political tasks. Should we be surprised if thought which works so intensively in such a sphere is able to raise the division of labour to the level of an organising principle of (“orthodox”!) social democracy? xxx This is the ‘mr’ reao that in our Party tasks of organisational technique are substituted for tasks of proletarian politics, that the problems of clandestine struggle with the political police are substituted for the problem of struggle against the autocracy. To which it must be added that the new “political” orientation has been developed in the case of the struggle against the former “Economist” orientation, organisationally expressed in so-called “craft dilettantism.”

In the consciousness of the craftsman, whose mind had suddenly been “enlightened” and who blushed to the ears at his (theoretical, political, organisational etc.) nudity, the division of labour must have appeared as a saving principle to resolve everything, and manufacture a brilliant ideal; manufacture, not factory production already mentioned in polemical literature; for the factory presupposes highly developed technology, reducing to the minimum the role of the division of labour, while manufacture, based on the low level of technology of “craft” work, makes the division of labour the object of a theoretical cult.

‘The more perfect the working of each cog (my emphasis – T.),’ Lenin wrote in inspiring vein, ‘the greater will be the number of individual members (my emphasis – T.) working on the common tasks, and ... the denser our network, the less the inevitable arrests will cause problems in our ranks.’ (What Is To Be Done?)

In these lines there is a very clear counterposing of the primitive “craftsman,” combining in his person all the branches of craft activity, to the “detail workers” (Teilarbeiter) of manufacture – the integral individual, to the “cog” in a complex mechanism. In such a system the faults of the craftsman of yesterday, his ignorance, his lack of a spirit of initiative, his political primitivism, are turned into an advantage, because ‘the one-sidedness and the deficiencies of the detail labourer become perfections when he is a part of the collective labourer.’ (Capital, Vol.I, p.349) ‘Reflection and fancy are subject to err.’ Says Ferguson, quoted by Marx, ‘but a habit of moving the hand or the foot is independent of either. Manufacturers, accordingly, prosper most where the mind is least consulted ...’ (p.361)

Against Lenin’s views, fixed in his head since the period of struggle against populism – namely, that the intelligentsia is afraid of the factory, that the clamour against the divisions of labour “under the direction of the Centre” only betrays the “bourgeois” nature of the intellectual – against these views, we can oppose, with at least equally good grounds, Marx’s words on the ‘bourgeois mind which praises division of labour in the workshop, life-long annexation of the labourer to a partial operation, and his complete subjection to capital, as being an organisation of labour that increases its productiveness.’ (p.356)

But won’t our questioner, whom we left at the beginning of the chapter, and who is distinguished more by his stubborn-headedness than by his clear-sightedness, won’t he draw the automatic conclusion that the “minority” is against the division of labour and for the restoration of “craft dilettantism”? We would like the reader to draw a quite different conclusion. We would like him to understand that the division of labour, however useful, is in principle purely technical, that is, that for whoever does not place an equals sign between technical work and party life, the division of labour cannot be considered a principled basis of our organisation of the Party; such a person must draw the conclusion that the life of the Party is what is left when you take away “the division of labour.”

If the requirements of the economy of forces obliges us – given the deplorable technique at our disposal – to make a purely craft division of labour in a given field of our activity, we must devote all our forces first to reducing, so far as possible, the extension of this technical sphere and then not transposing the ideal of the detail worker, however expert – the ideal of the smoothly-running “cog” – from the technical sphere into the sphere of political work (in the real meaning of the term). In this field, our ideal must not be the “detail” man who can, “in the interests of revolutionary Social Democracy,” correctly, rapidly and obediently “move hand and foot under the direction of the Centre,” but the overall political personality, the Party member, actively reacting to all the questions of Party live and making its will respected in relation to all “centres,” in every possible way – up to – well! – in the worst case, even boycott!

‘This is all very well, very correct, but doesn’t everyone know that?’ the “majority” reader will ask, who barely ten minutes ago was absolutely sure and certain that the “minority” condemns the division of labour. ‘So who doesn’t know that? It goes without saying.’

This reply will not make any better sense just because all the supporters of the opposing tendency start repeating it – from the smallest to the biggest, from the Tver Committee up to Comrade Lenin. We are speaking of the need to make Party members, conscious Social Democrats, and not just expert “detail workers” and we are given the reply: “It goes without saying.” “It’s evident!” What does this mean? For whom is it evident? What does the “evidence” consist of? Is this implicit in the content of our Party work, that is, does the making of Parteigenossen thinking politically, at the present time, constitute a fundamental and necessary aspect of our work? Or is it that this task is just “implicit” in Lenin’s so-called organisational plan? Or rather, is it not subjectively “implicit” for every Social Democrat?

The last hypothesis is the easiest to check out: a breeze of reproaches and accusations is enough to awake this “evidence” which is sleeping so lightly. But that is not enough. It is indispensable that this task which “goes without saying” is seen as a clearly conceived objective and that the problems it poses are resolved practically in the work of the Party. So far nothing or less than nothing has been done in this direction. What is more: the fetishism or organisation which presently dominates in the Party, drives many comrades directly to resist every attempt to pose correctly this “problem which goes without saying.” This is understandable.

The thinking which raises this technical principle of the division of labour into a principle of social democratic organisation, is drawn – consciously or not – to this inevitable result: separating conscious activity from executive activity, social democratic thinking from the technical functions by means of which it must necessarily be put into practice. The “organisation of professional revolutionaries,” or more precisely the leadership, then appears as the centre of social democratic consciousness, and underneath them, only the disciplined carriers-out of technical functions.

Comrade Lenin supplied the classical expression of the organisational ideal: ‘In order to group all these tiny fractions into a whole, in order not to fragment the movement itself at the same time as its functions are fragmented, in order to inspire (please note – T.) those who carry out minor functions with faith, without which they will do nothing, in the necessity and importance of their work – for all this precisely what is needed is a strong organisation, proven revolutionaries.’ (What Is To Be Done?)

Comrade Lenin does not – for it does not even enter his head – pose the problem which “goes without saying”: how to compensate for the negative aspects of the division of labour, how to make every member participate in the total work of the Party. No, to the army of individual “carriers-out” of functions he opposes the central general staff, which personally monopolises consciousness, far-sightedness, initiative, perseverance and firmness, imbuing all these “tiny fractions” with faith in their necessity in the common work. What do we have, in that case? A Party or a “social democratic” workshop?

Compare the following: ‘The knowledge, the judgement and the will which, though in ever so small a degree, are practiced by the independent peasant or handicraftsman ... (and, we may add, by our “craftsman” who himself carries out all the functions of his primitive “Economist” labour – T.) – are now required only for the workshop (the Party) as a whole. Intelligence in production expands in one direction, because it vanishes in many others. What is lost by the detail labourers, is concentrated in the capital (the Centre – T.) that employs them. It is a result of the division of labour in manufacturing, that the labourer (the “carrier out of minor functions” – T.) is brought face to face with the intelligent potencies of the material process of production, as the property of another (as a centralist function), and as a ruling power.’ (Capital, Vol.I, p.361)

This ideal plan, constructed by means of an almost geometrical method – the plan laid out in the Letter to a Petersburg Comrade – in no way poses the question: but when will the social democrat members, the future “professional revolutionaries,” be trained? According to the plan, the engineers, printers, secretaries ... “the popes, the generals, the women, the masses, the birds and the bees, all form a powerful co-operative,” directed by the social democratic professional revolutionaries.

But how will this caste of ephemeral members be renewed? Where is the “reservoir” for them? ... The craftsman’s apprentice almost always becomes a master-craftsman; but the detail worker almost never becomes boss of the workshop. Where, one may ask, is the bridge which will enable the “individual member” not just to pass into the category of political activist and not to be content as such to carry out his detailed function in the “faith” that the professional revolutionary is there, watching over the role he is given but also to orient himself on his own in political life, find a slogan, propose an initiative ...

In quite a number of committees the practice of “discussions” has been established, that is, of meetings during which the treasurer, distributor and printer meet, not as treasurer, distributor and printer but as Party members, debating Party questions as well as more general political problems. Of course, this is only a partial compensation for the weaknesses involved in the division of labour in the conditions in which our technique employs it today. In this respect, one can only stress the mediocre and limited nature of these “discussions.” But it is only in this way that the education of the Party members can begin. With the present state of the work, this is the only means of securing the fragile bridge by which the “tiny fragments” pass over into the caste of the “first (category)” (among whom many zeros pass for “firsts”).

Now, what do we find? Comrade Lenin in his “plan” suppresses “discussions” by virtue of an enviable logic: they do not correspond to the requirements of conspiracy and disturb the unity and harmony of the plan! So what are these “discussions” for? The results these discussions tend to reach can be reached by much less costly means: it is enough simply ‘that all participants in the work, all the circles, without exception, have the right to bring their decisions, their wishes, their questions, to the attention of both the local committee and the Central Organ and Central Committee. Such a procedure will make it possible to consult all members sufficiently, without having to create such cumbersome and non-conspiratorial institutions and the “discussions”.’ (Letter) How suspiciously Lenin then alludes to the “dilettante” committees, to the workers’ and students’ circles, composed of “non-specialised” members, who waste their time in “interminable discussions about everything” instead of working over “professional experience.” To think and deliberate “about everything” should be the prerogative of the “Centre”; and the circles, groups and isolated agents must think and deliberate according to their estate, workshop by workshop. The Party’s consciousness is centralised – there is nothing left for it but to make the individual experience of the individual member the patrimony of the Centre (‘to bring to the knowledge of the Centre’); that will be enough to enrich the practice of all individual members who will steep themselves in the consciousness of the Centre – which is conscious by profession.

The practical workers, who adopted this scheme like a dogma, must have ended up wondering where to find any Social Democrats, when all around there are nothing but “tiny fragments” “believing” in the Centre. And what incredible, in fact tragic, conclusions some of these members draw is to be seen in a letter from Comrade Severyanin (a very well-known member in the Party) published in Iskra No. 51 (at the time when the paper’s editors were Lenin and Plekhanov). ‘Have you noticed,’ Severyanin writes, ‘that nowadays experienced and capable comrades abandon committee work and give themselves over to specialised functions. It is a bad symptom. A particular, specialised organisation must be created for the preparation of those new to social democratic work. It will be under the direct leadership of the Central Committee, because in their work the committees do not always touch on the important points for a revolutionary school; the distribution of forces must of course be placed in the hands of the Central Committee; it is indispensable to make the clearest separation between the militant activity of the committees and the preparatory work of the new organisation.’

This is the situation. There are no longer any social democratic members, all of them go off to attend to individual functions, and as the work of the Party does not resolve the problem (“which goes without saying”) of the education of active Social Democrats capable of taking initiatives, there is nothing left for it but to construct, outside the work of the Party, a school for social democratic training, placed “under the direct leadership of the Central Committee.” The Social Democratic Party, in the actual process of its political practice, neither produces nor educates Social Democrats. They must be forged in a place apart. “Active” work is cut off from educational work, which means, more precisely, that revolutionary activity is separated from socialist activity. Is there any more striking way to illustrate the bankruptcy of “manufacturing” ideals on the organisational questions?


The committees, in struggling against the old cumbersome, quasi-democratic forms of organisation, have increasingly tended to restrict the meaning of centralism: finally it became a matter of freeing oneself from all obligations towards those dependent on the committees. The three or four members of the committee alone represent “the unity and will of the social organism of the workers.” They take the decisions, “give” the Party its new orientation, consign “Economism” to the museum, they get “centralism” going, they either recognise or condemn Iskra; in short, they carry out all the internal politics of the Party. Below them there stretches the world of the “individual members” who print the proclamations, collect the money, distribute the pamphlets – though obviously only in so far as the committee, which “gives” the orientation, is able to supply them. In the last three or four years, with intense differences of opinion within the Party, within many committees there has been a series of “coup d’etat” in the style of the palace revolutions of the 18th century. Somewhere at the top, someone is proscribing someone else, someone is giving himself or herself some title; and at the end of it all, floating from the committee’s belfry one sees a triumphant standard bearing the legend; ‘Orthodoxy, centralism, political struggle ...’

I permit myself to doubt if there is a single committee which, before “recognising” Iskra as its leading organ, or later “rejecting” it, has thought itself obliged to present its resolution to all the groups of “individual participants” subordinate to it – not to get it through quickly, for form’s sake, but to make it really enter the consciousness of the distributors, treasurers, organisers, propagandists, agitators, and other varieties of “ruses” and “resorts.” Such a complicated “democratic” process has been replaced by a single “centralist” decree. And if the groups placed under the orders of the committee and refractory and refuse to accept the new “orientation” given by the mufti? Well, they are dissolved, and often, along with them, the whole of the local workers’ movement is dissolved.

This for example is how one activist of the past period describes the ideological victory of Iskra in letters sent abroad:

‘November 6, 1902 ... This is what happened in the committee here: a resolution had been proposed, expressing total solidarity with Iskra and declaring it the organ the Party wanted. The committee adopted the resolution ...but with a small reservation on the vigour of the polemics. Naturally those who had put the resolution forward wanted to withdraw it; only then was the resolution adopted without amendment ... But then the same thing happened as in Petersburg, almost word for word: the discontented aroused the more ambitious elements of the “despotic intelligentsia.” It turned out (sic!) that agitation and propaganda had until now been carried out almost exclusively by these discontented elements: thanks to this their influence turned out to be very strong. Now the struggle raged. Finally almost all the former agitators were sent back (where?). There are few people able to replace them, which is why things aren’t going too well (I can’t believe it!); but victory must be ours.’

A month later, the same intrepid fighter writes:

‘December 4, 1902. This is how things are: the Rabocheyedyelists are visibly paying us redoubled attention. On Sunday, November 24 the committee enthusiastically adopted the Organisation Committee’s proposal and promised its full collaboration. But the following day five fellows who support Rabocheye Dyelo took advantage of the absence of a number of comrades to carry out a virtual coup d’etat within the committee. It was proposed to expel those absent and send a letter to Iskra not to print the circular declaring it the Party organ. You will certainly have received it, but I have been told to tell you that the leaflet must anyway be printed. It will be a signal for the fight with the blockheads here. All this has happened quite unexpected by anyone, although it appeared that they had had time to disturb the ideas of many workers and notably of the most influential among them. A bitter fight is now being prepared. Things will reach the point of a split, at least; more and more people are becoming convinced of it. Things in general are going badly. Everywhere it turns out (!!!) that in the end local work is being carried out above all by the Economists and that is the reason for all these rückschlage (setbacks) everywhere: here, in Petersburg and as I have heard, in Kharkov.’

Obviously, this activist cannot be described as a tail-ender lagging behind the masses and bowing to their spontaneous practice. He is not marching at the tail-end but, unfortunately, he has no tail behind him! He is gesticulating in empty space. The comrade – who later played a leading role in the practice of the “state of siege” – is certainly above average but all he does is to take to the point of absurdity and caricature the basic trait of the whole period, which as we see in these very letters, prevailed “absolutely everywhere,”: ‘here, in Petersburg and, they say, in Kharkov.’ This typical trait is the emancipation of the “professional revolutionaries” from all obligations, not only of a moral kind (“phisitinism”) but also of a political kind (“tail-ending”), towards the conscious elements of the class to whose service we have decided to devote our lives. The committees have lost the need to base themselves on the workers in so far as they have found a base in the “principles” of centralism.

One only has to see: the new orientation is already adopted, the fourth period is “triumphantly” acclaimed, Iskra is already being called on to lead, when all at once, “unexpected by everyone” it turns out that agitation and propaganda are “almost exclusively” carried on by those dissatisfied with Iskra, that there is no one to replace them, that they have organised the especially “ambitious” workers against Iskra – workers who are also, by some strange chance, the most influential. And the moral of this story: it is very difficult to concern yourself with high politics when the freedom of your movements is hampered by “blockheads.”

But how is it to be explained that the “substitutional” method of thought – substituting for the proletariat – practiced in the most varied forms (from the most barbaric to those which would be acceptable in Parliament) throughout the whole period of Iskra, did not arouse self-criticism in the ranks of the Iskraists themselves? The reader has already found the explanation in the preceding pages. Hanging over all Iskra’s work was the task of fighting for the proletariat, for its principles, for its final goal – in the milieu of the revolutionary intelligentsia.

This work, which has laid in the consciousness of the “Iskra-ists” the psychological foundations of political substitutionism, was, as I have several times explained, historically inevitable. But it was nonetheless limited for historical reasons, for it was only a secondary process in the general development of the movement of the proletariat, which was only just beginning. But every partial process in the general class struggle of the proletariat – even when it is more developed than in our country – develops its one inner tendencies, its own thinking and tactics, its own slogans and its own specific psychology. Each partial process tends to go beyond its bounds (imposed by its nature) and impress its tactics, its thinking, its slogans and morals on the whole historical movement it unleashes The means turn against the end, the form against the content.

These methods of “substitutionism” of which we have seen the model above in the sphere of “external politics,” and in the above-quoted letters of the bellicose Iskra-ist, blinding flashes of the sphere of “internal politics,” are a general phenomenon of the whole period. In one form or another, open or covert, these methods were inevitable in so far as it was necessary to chase after the rapidly-dispersing social-democratic intelligentsia and not chiefly to take up the cudgels against the “blockheads” of the moment; in other words, in so far as the unification of the revolutionary intelligentsia around the political principles of Social Democracy was being accomplished incomparably faster than the revolutionary proletariat was being rallied around political class slogans. But to impose the malady of “substitutionism” on the movement as a whole, albeit in the interests of the purity of its principles and its “orthodoxy,” is obviously to undermine the whole movement.

Our task is in so far as possible to secure the Party against surprise. And, obviously, the most fateful surprise of all would be if at the decisive moment the “blockheads” (the proletariat) “unexpected by anyone,” turned its back on us. It is indispensable, in order to prevent such a fateful perspective from really occurring, to strengthen our political, moral and organisational ties with the conscious elements of the working class, whatever the cost. It is indispensable that every one of our basic decisions should be their decision.

In What Is To Be Done? the “Economists” are severely condemned for having tried to build the local organisation on principles stipulating that ‘decisions of the committee must have already been passed in all the circles before becoming viable decisions.’ We are not at all for the legalistic ritual of committee referenda. We do not want “democratic” fictions. But the committees must recall that their decisions will only really become “viable” when they formulate the conscious will of all the groups and circles dependent on them. This is what we must constantly strive towards – not out of some “democratic” prejudice but for the sake of the stability and viability of our Party.

I shall not dwell on the technical aspect of he question but simply refer the reader to Cherevanin’s pamphlet, The Question of Organisation, the basis of which, in my view, is not some organisational plan or other nor the principle of “autonomy” of the committees, which is highly conditional but the simple, almost banal thought, which has nonetheless been energetically “liquidated” among us: the close ties of collective thinking which can alone really unite the leading organisation and the “individual” personnel of the technical apparatus must be developed and strengthened. For – and I repeat what has been said elsewhere – ‘The guarantee of the Party’s stability must be sought in its base, in the actively, autonomously-acting proletariat and not in the organisational summit which the revolution may unexpectedly sweep aside as an historical misunderstanding without the proletariat even noticing.’ (Iskra No. 62)

Das war also der langen Rede kurzer Sinn? (Is this all that long speech means?) The “minority,” it is retorted, may not condemn the “division of labour,” but by considering it an evil, attempts to cure it with another much worse evil. The “minority” quite simply goes back to “democratism,” even if in disguised form: it demands that the committees put their decisions through all the lower groups, makes the “professional revolutionaries” dependent on the least conscious elements in the movement, thus impeding the initiative and enthusiastic work of the committees and it therefore opens the door wide to “Economism,” syndicalism, tail-ending and opportunism and in the last analysis hands the proletariat over to bourgeois democracy.

I must confess I repeat this jumble of words with a certain aversion. We have to become used to it! I should in no way be astonished if, as time goes on, Comrade Lenin in his next work – which he may already be writing – made it his aim to prove that the “minority” is headed for armchair (university) socialism. You think this unlikely? Not at all!

‘Does the minority (pardon me if for a moment I take up dear Comrade Lenin’s polemical broom) not spend its days and night lamenting that the principle of the division of labour proclaimed by me, Lenin, mutilates the Party members, turns them into ruses and retorts and that the system created by me deprives the revolutionary of self-activity and independence, qualities needed by the poor intellectuals I have thrown out of the central organs? Poor them! You can see at a glance that they have been cramming with the German Professor Schmoller, who also, in one of his latest articles – just like the unlucky candidates of the minority – weeps over the division of labour, which increasingly splits men up and only offers many of them (that is, many Party members, in Comrade Martov’s opportunistic formula) an empty, specialised, lifeless activity, in which the soul and the understanding and the body perish. Keep developing your principles, gentlemen of the minority and you will soon fall into the arms of Professor Schmoller!’

Unfortunately, Comrade Lenin is not sufficiently supple-minded; otherwise he could, with his method, and drawing on the wealth and variety of modern world literature, “prove” things more curious still.

Of course, we should not stay silent in the face of Comrade Lenin. We only have to open his latest pamphlet on any page. For example, on one page he discusses the anarchistic practice of the “minority,’ adding in parentheses: ‘Practice is always (N.B.) in advance of theory.’ “Always?” we clamor, not sparing the italics. Really, always, Comrade Lenin? And we thought that theory, which represents the generalisation of the experience of past centuries, is capable of also being ahead of tomorrow’s practice and perhaps even that of decades to come. But, according to Comrade Lenin’s “theory,” which one supposes reflects his own practice; theory always (always!) lags behind the tail of history. Is that not a quasi-Marxist apologia for theoretical tail ending?

May we be allowed to think that, for a start, that’s not so bad?

Discipline and centralism

‘Party discipline’ is one of the most warlike slogans of the “majority.” It is a matter of regret for mankind as a whole that all considerations of discipline which our ears were battered with as members of the “minority” should disappear for good before we come out of clandestinity. Now one can hardly find in the remotest depths of the Urals or the Siberian taiga the representatives of the noble but soon to be extinct race of “hard Iskra-ists” of the first rank, “Jacobins as pure as the rays of the sun.” Obviously the dissolving agent of doubt and criticism has been at work even on them. But they fight it off valiantly, attempting to reject it on this side of the Urals, and thus save social democratic Asia led by the Siberian Union which is close to me. Of course, all these efforts are condemned by history in advance; but the valiant Urals comrades involuntarily inspire respect for their coherence and their courage. For these qualities the future historian of the Party will save them from oblivion: he will devote a few lines to their Manifesto which boldly and honestly puts the position of the “majority.” We shall have to deal further on this Credo of the pure Leninists. Meanwhile, we shall dwell on the sections of this Manifesto which relate directly to the question of “discipline.”

‘To foresee (?) the proletarian political struggle,’ say the representatives of the three Ural committees, ‘and prepare to march at the head of the masses, can only be done by a contralised pan-Russian organisation of professional revolutionaries, local committees being entirely under their orders ... The committees as well as the isolated Party members can receive very broad powers, but this must be decided by the Central Committee. On the other hand the Central Committee may – if it considers it necessary and useful – use its power to dissolve a committee or any other organisation, and deprive any member of the Party of his rights. Otherwise it is impossible to organise the work of the proletariat struggle efficiently.’ (Supplement to No 63 of Iskra, my emphasis – T.)

Up until the Second Congress, isolated and quite independent committees existed as both real and formal entities; around them was formed and developed the whole life of the Party. As a result of such simple actions as a show of hands and casting of papers in the ballot box, it turns out that there is already a “centralised organisation” in the Party and that the “local committees are wholly at its disposal.” Centralism is not apparently conceived of as a complex task of political organisation and technique, but a simple antithesis of the familiar “craft dilettantism.” It is thought it will be made real (developing in and through work carried out in common, a feeling of moral and political responsibility among the members of the Party) by giving the Central Committee the right to dissolve every obstacle in its path. It is therefore indispensable, in order to carry out the ideal of “centralism,” that all the real elements which nobody and nothing has yet disciplined should offer no resistance to the Central Committee in its attempt to disorganise them. ‘Otherwise,’ the Urals comrades say, ‘it is impossible to organise the cause of the proletarian fight.’ There is nothing left but to wonder if, in this case, the “cause of the proletarian fight” really can be organised. We are forced to say no.

Well! The authors of the document quoted undoubtedly suppose that the only people who could oppose the work organised by the Central Committee are “Economists,” “opportunists,” and, in general, to use their expressing, “representatives of other classes of the population.” Let us accept that the differing tendencies will always be so described. But where can you find a tendency so foolish, even if it is “opportunist,” that it will let itself be “dissolved,” admit that its supporters are “deprived of their rights,” without first putting up all the resistance it is capable of? Is it really so difficult to understand that any serious, important tendency (for it is not even worth fighting against a tendency which is not serious and important) placed before the alternative of dissolving itself (without a word) through its spirit of discipline or fighting for its existence, without regard to any discipline – will certainly choose the second eventuality? For discipline has meaning only when it gives the possibility of fighting for what one thinks just and it is for this that one imposes discipline on oneself. But when a given tendency finds itself faced with being “deprived of its rights” (that is, no longer having the possibility of fighting for ideological influence), the question of its existence is turned from Rechtsfrage into Machtsfrage, that is, it is no longer a question of right but of the relationship of forces.

Depending on the situation and the degree of the crisis, the representatives of the dissident current either split, putting real discipline towards their principles higher than the “principles” of formal discipline, or they remain in the Party and attempt, by pressure, to reduce to the minimum the limitations placed on them by party discipline, in order to ensure the maximum freedom of action (and of resistance towards the interfering tendencies). The choice depends on the sharpness of the contradictions which are set in opposition to the rest of the Party. It is in so far as they act consciously to free themselves from the constraints of the Party for the sake of the Party’s interests as they see them and so far as their influence enables them to do so, that all attempts by the opposing faction to hold them back by repeating the word “discipline” will show itself to be sadly illusory. Nothing produces less respect than the figure of a political “leader” resorting at the decisive moment to such reproofs. This should be understood once and for all.

Of course, an internal situation in which discipline is only a burden in the eyes of some and a threat in the mouth of others cannot be considered normal. On the contrary, it testifies to a profound crisis in the Party. But it is impossible to jump over a crisis by shouting loud, even if there are people ready to shout themselves hoarse to this end. What then is to be done? Leave the field of disintegrating discipline and find out the real needs and demands of the movement which are common to all and which, by the care they require, are likely to rally the most courageous and influential elements in the Party. To the extent that these forces are rallied around living slogans of the movement, the wounds inflicted by both sides on Party unity will heal; there will be no more talk of discipline because there will be no more violations of it. Anyone who tries to look at the work of the two tendencies in our Party from this standpoint will not find it difficult to answer the question: which of the two currents will lead the Party to a real unification?

If on the road to this objective the “minority” has had to damage what the “majority” calls discipline, all that remains is to draw the conclusion: perish this “discipline” which crushes the vital interests of the movement! In any case, “history” will take care of it. For unlike the Yekaterinoslav Committee, she does not hold to the idealist principle: “Perish the world – so long as discipline survives!” On the contrary, as a good dialectician, she always, in inner-party conflicts, ends by putting in the right the one who has the victory – because victory is always, in the last analysis, on the side of he who has the best, most profound understanding of the tasks of the revolutionary cause. This is why we view the future with confidence.

We can observe a very interesting phenomenon: already a growing number of metaphysicians and mystics of centralism find, for example, that the conflict with the League was a mistake, a blunder, neglect or, to put it better, a lack of tact on the part of the Central Committee representative and his mentor. But obviously, it is not the system which is responsible for this tactlessness, the system which knows no other method for “organising the struggle of the proletariat” than “deprivation of rights” and “dissolution.” The consequences flowing logically from these premises seem chance accidents, mistakes by isolated people and this is how the routine of human thought acquires the right to keep its faith in its “premises.” This is the road to ruin for some systems of thought – in big things as in small. The conclusions begin to founder because they are subjected to the blows of everyday experience. Consciousness rejected these conclusions, which are logically constructed but in reality absurd and with recourse to sophisms, draw correct conclusions from premises stripped of all meaning. But the sophistical method is, in itself, a sign of decadence. Thought becomes embroiled in its own contradictions and finally becomes a prisoner of them. It is precisely in a phase of struggle between conclusions and premises that the thought of our “majority” is to be found. And we would not be surprised if the Urals comrades were today ready to recognise that the crusade against the League was a regrettable ‘misunderstanding,” although basically, ‘it is impossible (in their opinion) to organise the cause of the proletarian fight in any other way.’

Nothing is more lamentable, as we said above, than the figure of a “leader” striving by the suggestive repetition of the word discipline to make the representatives of different opinions into adversaries for good. Lenin visibly felt the difficulties of the situation and strove to give his incantations a “philosophical” basis.

The result: the individualist intellectual, nervously changing about at impulse, flees rigorous discipline like the plague. ‘The organisation of the Party is like a monstrous factory to him, subjection of the part to the whole and the minority to the majority seems to him like slavery (cf. Axelrod’s notes). The division of labour under the direction of the centre brings forth from him tragi-comic cries against the turning of men into administrative machinery.’ (One Step Forward). Hence the moral: ‘So the proletarian, who has been through the schooling of the factory, can and must give a lesson to anarchical individualism.’

According to Lenin’s new philosophy, which has barely had time to wear out its shoe-leather since What Is To Be Done? the proletariat only needs to have been through the “schooling of the factory” in order to give the intelligentsia, which up till them had played the leading role in the Party, lessons in political discipline! According to this new philosophy, anyone who does not see the Party as a “huge factory,” who finds the idea “monstrous,” or does not believe in the immediately (politically) educative strength of the machine, “at once betrays the psychology of the bourgeois intellectual,” incapable by nature of distinguishing between the negative side of the factory (“discipline based on the fear of dying of hunger”) and its positive side (“discipline based on common work resulting from highly developed technique”)

Without fear of betraying my “bourgeois intellectual psychology,” I affirm first-of-all that the conditions which impel the proletariat into concerted, collective struggle, are not to be found in the factory but in the general social conditions of its existence; and further, that the objective conditions and the conscious discipline of political action, there is a long road of struggle, errors, education – not the “school of the factory” but the school of political life, in which the Russian proletariat penetrates only under the leadership – good or bad – of the social democratic intelligentsia; and reaffirm that the Russian proletariat, in which we have barely begun to develop political self-activity, is not yet able – unfortunately for it and fortunately for Messrs. candidates for “dictatorship” – to give lessons in discipline to its “intelligentsia,” whatever the training the factory gives him in “common work resulting from highly developed technique.” Without the least fear of giving away my “bourgeois intellectual psychology,” I even declare my complete solidarity with the idea that

‘the technical submission of the worker to the uniform rhythm of the work tool (“discipline based on work in common resulting from highly developed technique”) and the particular composition of the collective worker as individuals of both sexes and ages, creates a barracks discipline (barracks, not politically conscious discipline!) perfectly in line with the factory regime.’ (Capital)

If Lenin believes in the discipline of the Russian proletariat as a real entity, in fact, to use his own formula, he confuses a “philosophical” question with a political one. Naturally, “highly technically developed production” creates the material conditions for the political development and sense of discipline of the proletariat, just as in general capitalism, creates the premises of socialism. But factory discipline is as little identical with political, revolutionary discipline of the proletariat as capitalism is to socialism.

The task of Social Democracy is precisely to rouse up the proletariat against this discipline, which replaces the work of human thought with the rhythm of physical movements; it consists of uniting it against this brutalising, mortal discipline in a single army linked hand to hand and shoulder to shoulder by community of political consciousness and revolutionary enthusiasm. Such discipline does not yet exist in the Russian proletariat; the factory and the machine give it this quality much less spontaneously than union disputes or conflicts.

The barracks regime could never be the regime of our Party, no more than the factory could be its model. Poor Comrade “Practitioner” who admitted thinking this ‘does not even suspect that the terrible word he cries out (the factory) at once gives away the psychology of the bourgeois intellectual,’ (One Step Forward ...). Poor Comrade Lenin! Fate has decided to place him in an especially ridiculous position: he does not even suspect that the Comrade “Practitioner” is not a “bourgeois intellectual,” but a proletarian who has been through the saving school of the factory ... The Russian proletariat, from whom Lenin’s supporters so often hide the problems of the internal crisis of the Party, will tomorrow, on Lenin’s orders, give a severe lesson in “anarchical individualism.”

The indignation you feel on reading these nasty, unrestrainedly demagogic lines! The proletariat, the very proletariat you were told yesterday “spontaneously tends towards trade unionism,” is today invited to give lessons in political discipline! And to whom? To the same intelligentsia which in yesterday’s plan was given the role of bringing proletarian political consciousness to the proletariat from the outside! Yesterday, the proletariat was crawling in the dust; today it is raised to unimagined heights! Yesterday too the intelligentsia was the bearer of socialist consciousness; today it is required to go through the process of factory discipline! And this is supposed to be Marxism and Social Democratic thinking! Really, no greater cynicism can be shown towards the richest ideological heritage of the proletariat than by Comrade Lenin! For him, Marxism is not a method of scientific analysis, a method imposing enormous theoretical responsibilities; it is a rag which you can trample underfoot if you want; a blank screen on which to project things larger than life and a pliant rule when the state of party consciousness has to be taken into account.

Is the “minority” opposed to centralism? Throughout the world the “opportunists” of Social Democracy rise up against centralism; so the “minority” is opportunist! The syllogism – which is even formally false – is the basic fighting idea of Lenin’s last book, once it is freed of the jumble of accusing constructions, based on the system of indirect proof. Lenin takes up this syllogism in every way, trying to hypnotise the reader by centralist “swings.” Axelrod in Zurich is against centralism. Heine in Berlin is against centralism. Heine and Jaurès are opportunists. So Axelrod stands with the “opportunists.” Obviously he too is an “opportunist,” and more than obviously the “minority” is also opportunist. On the other hand, Kautsky in Berlin is for centralism; a member of the Central Committee, Vassiliev, wanted to dissolve the League in the name of centralism; Comrade Lenin was the great inspirer of the campaign against centralism, so ...

Having by this typically “Uralian” procedure dissolved international Social Democracy (astounding that Comrade Lenin did not treat us to a diagram on the subject), the author considers he has given his reader all he needs: he has duped him by a syllogism compromising his adversary.

I think Lenin has a worse opinion of his supporters than they deserve. I hope that even the least exigent of Lenin’s comrades cannot fail to ask themselves why in all the world, those who declare themselves against centralism at the present time, are the representatives of Social Democracy who have an opportunistic outlook in their social and political conception of the world: class collaboration instead of class struggle, social reform instead of social revolution? And, thinking about this question, they will in the end come up with the following reply: If it is agreed that organisational centralism is a powerful instrument for the class struggle of the proletariat, which is undoubtedly true, it becomes clear that Heine and Jaures clash with centralism as a system of organisational relations, a system they feel to be their enemy. Organisational centralism in the socialist movement goes hand in hand with the hegemony in the Party of the tendency which puts the general interests of the movement above individual interests and attempts to give the former control over the latter. Centralism is the organisational form which enables the Party to control all these elements. Opportunism, on the other hand, bases its action not on struggle for the general interests of the movement, for the class interests of the proletariat, conceived of in their full historical dimensions, but for temporary, individual tasks, of a trade union, municipal and local kind. So centralism is hostile to the political or programmatic and tactical position of opportunism.

Comrade Lenin, despite all his mettle – does not even go so far as to say that the programmatic and tactical views of the “minority” were opportunistic. Why then is the “minority” against “centralism”? And what centralism? And why do Comrades Kautsky, Parvus and Luxemburg irreconcilable adversaries of Heine and Jaurès, declare themselves against Comrade Lenin’s “centralism”? Repeating the same syllogism a thousand times, relying above all on its cutting effect, does obviously not give any kind of answers to these questions.

Kautsky relates the organisational conceptions of the right wing of German Social Democracy – struggle against centralism, against discipline, against the “compact majority” – with the political mentality of the bourgeois intelligentsia, even when it has adopted Marxist ideas. This precise, valuable analysis, only completes what Kautsky had said about the European socialist intelligentsia and its “organic” tendencies towards reformism and opportunism on programme and tactics. Between the organisational and socio-political conceptions of the intelligentsia there is a deep mutual inner link, in so far as both flow from a single group mentality, determined in turn by the social conditions of life of the intelligentsia. But it goes without saying that the same psychological canvas can give rise to very varied – and even sometimes quite dissimilar – political embroidery, depending on the conditions of time and place.

In our case, what it is absolutely decisive to know is whether we have to do with a pre- or a post-revolutionary intelligentsia. To make an analogy between the organisational conceptions of the German and French socialist intelligentsia on the one hand and the Russian on the other, that is to ignore the “Rubicon” of the French Revolution which separates them, is to fall into the most incurable formalism and give superficial comparisons the appearance of a materialist analysis. Some organisational conception or other does not represent a fundamental or even specific moment inherent in the world view of the intelligentsia as such; they are in no way given once and for all; on the contrary, they flow, by a whole series of complex mediations, from their political mentality, which reacts in a changing way to a changing political milieu. The “Jacobin” intellectual of today may, in his politics and methods of thought, still correspond to the reformist intellectual of yesterday. What separates the Jacobin from the reformist is the conquest of a minimum of democratic guarantees.

If then the same social and psychological milieu gives rise to such different political “refractions,” what is there to be said about its capacity infinitely to change around in the partial sphere of organisational forms! The intelligentsia can be federalist or centralist, can tend towards autonomy or autocracy, democracy or dictatorship, without in any way changing its essence, nor the nature of its political interests.

Comrade Lenin would easily have refrained from such mechanical analogies if he had paid attention to the following: according to his own formula (which we shall come back to later), the revolutionary Social Democrat is ‘the Jacobin, indissolubly linked to the organisation of the proletariat which has become conscious of its class interest,’ (One Step Forward). So be it. Now the classical Jacobin (whom Comrade Lenin wants to translate into Marxist language) is, among other things, a revolutionary intellectual. Lenin can scarcely deny that, I hope, in relation to the French Revolution and mutatis mutandis, our Narodnaya Volya. The “centralism” and “discipline” of the Jacobins which Lenin so much admires were not borrowed by these “bourgeois-individualist” revolutionary intellectuals from the proletariat disciplined in the school of the factory but developed directly “out of themselves.” Finally, within the framework of democracy, all these social elements belonging to the new “middle class” began to reflect all the colours of the rainbow from anarchism to Millerandism. The nature of the intelligentsia is so plastic and supple that no one can enclose it once and for all in the ready-made boxes of a diagram!

The same “qualities,” we must remember, drive the pre-revolutionary intelligentsia to Jacobinism, towards centralised, conspiratorial organisations armed with dynamite – or with a “plan” for popular insurrection – as drive the post-revolutionary intelligentsia towards reformism, to blunting the sharp contours of the class struggle. Such is the dialectic of social evolution. But the dialectic and Comrade Lenin are two different things.

He handles Marxist “theses” like the inflexible articles of the Penal Code. First he tries to find the article which “suits,” then he leafs through the charge-sheets and extracts the details of the crime which formally correspond to the content of the relevant article. The dialectic and Comrade Lenin are two different things. He knows that ‘opportunism leads, not by chance, but by its very nature, not just in Russia but throughout the world (!) to Martov and Axelrod’s “views” on organisation.” (One Step Forward ...) He knows it perfectly well but as our intrepid polemicist still does not decide to put Axelrod and Martov in the category of opportunists in general (such an attractive idea from the standpoint of clarity and simplicity!), he creates for them the rubric “opportunist on organisational questions.” The concept of opportunism is then emptied of all political content. It becomes a “bogeyman” for frightening little children.

To degrade the dialectic to the level of sophistry, empty all the living ideas of the edifice of Marxist theory of their content, transform socio-historic “types” into immutable supra-historic “types” into immutable supra-historical norms for measuring the extent of earthly sins; this is the price which is being paid for the struggle against the “minority.” Opportunism in organisational questions! Girondism on the question of co-option by two thirds in the absence of a motivated vote! Jauresism on the right of the Central Committee to fix where the administrations of the League is to be!

It might seem one could go no further. But Comrade Lenin keeps on advancing. After writing a whole book to tell us that revolutionary methods (“insurrection” and “overthrow”) were only acceptable during the circle period; that in a Party “one and indivisible” discipline must rule; and that elements who break discipline in the Party of the proletariat by that alone show their petty-bourgeois opportunism, Comrade Lenin, who in 500 pages has managed if not to convince his reader, a least to exhaust him with all this philosophy, suddenly throws at him this obscure aphorism:

‘Insurrection is an excellent thing when the advanced elements rise up against the reactionary elements. When the revolutionary wing rises up against the opportunist wing, that is good. When the opportunist wing rises up against the revolutionary wing, it is bad.’ (One Step Forward ...)

It would be useful for all Comrade Lenin’s readers to pause over this “argument.” The “minority” does not wish to conform to Party discipline. By the very fact (please note!) it exposes its “anarchism” and “Jaurèsism.” Therefore, the “minority” is the opportunist wing of our Party. This is the direct theorem. Now the reciprocal one must be proved. The insurrection of the “minority” is a very bad thing, since the “minority” is the opportunist wing of our Party. It is quite different if it is the “majority” which “rises up,” because the revolutionary nature of this “majority” is demonstrated by the fact that the opportunist “minority” fights it ... The “minority” for its part, as the direct theorem has shown, is opportunist because it breaks discipline. The Conclusion of the two theorems: Comrade Lenin has elbow-room on both sides. Quod erat demonstrandum.

The slightest effort will resolve the problem: how did Lenin come to decide, in the few lines we have just quoted, that he would with this proposition trample on his whole pamphlet? The situation obliged him to! The army of our generalissimo is dissolving, and “discipline” threatens to turn against him. And as Lenin, unlike the anarchistic intellectuals of the “minority” represents (I use a quotation he takes from an article by Kautsky) ‘the ideal model of an intellectual, totally steeped in the proletarian outlook ... who without complaining marches in line, and works at each post he is given’; as Lenin, following Marx’s example never ingratiates himself into first place and ‘submits to Party discipline in an exemplary manner’; as Comrade Lenin possesses all these absolutely inestimable qualities as a disciplined Party member, who is not afraid to remain in a “minority,” he judges it indispensable to “slip” into his work in advance the philosophical justification for the split in the Party made to retain the remnants of his army. And he does it in a bare-faced way which is the reverse of his deep mistrust of his own supporters.

If anyone rebels against me, it is very bad. If I rebel, then it’s good. Such is the brief and joyous moral of a long and boring book, abounding with quotations, “international” parallels, artificial diagrams and all the other means of mental anesthesia.

Some conclusions in the form of extracts from letters

I. March 1904 – Yesterday there was a meeting of the propagandists (11 members) with the organiser. The aim of the meeting was to become acquainted with the organisational plan in general and ours in particular. Before explaining the plan, the organiser said a few words about the “minority” and the “majority.” He belongs to the “majority” and recognises the organisational plan proposed by Lenin and adopted at the Congress (sic!). ‘The minority,’ the organiser said, ‘reproaches the majority for its formalism and bureaucratism. As you will see, this is completely unjustified. And then, the minority has no plan to replace Lenin’s.’ He stated after that a trace of the “Union” (“democratism”) could be seen in the “minority.” He regretted the indifference with which the question of the organisational plan was received when it was proposed by Lenin in Letter to a Comrade and What Is To Be Done? In this respect he recalled that Trotsky and Zasulich approved the plan. ‘A circle is not the organisation, nor even a cell. The cell is the factory committee (which, as of yet, exists nowhere). It is a vital necessity to create such a cell. We totally lack information about life in the factories and businesses, which nonetheless offer very rich material. Agitators often speak without anything to base themselves on. So – the factory committee to be headed by a worker-organiser. In the factory committee there are five or six excellent organisers, influential men (since our work lacks continuity there are none such to be found). The functions of the factory committee are to circulate publications, collect funds, collect information, give out leaflets ...’

We were given a detailed explanation of how to organise groups to give out leaflets, which has never yet been done. Then: organisation of agitational meetings and of propaganda circles. The members of the factory committee to be: an organiser, a technician, a treasurer, a librarian, a publicist. The town is divided into seven sections, to which is added work among the intelligentsia. Organisation of the sections: a section organiser, propagandist, librarian, publicist, treasurer. The local committee is formed: a member of the collective (the first time this had been mentioned), a technician, a chief propagandist, an organiser, a journalist, a secretary. (Forgive the speed and confusion of this report; I have had so little time. If necessary, I shall write in more detail.)

The reporter dwelt at length on the technical details of all the work: how it must be organised in order to be clandestine and productive. On the mutual relations among the groups, and their relations with the local committee, nothing was said. Only the external form was explained. Finally, the reporter asked: where is the bureaucratism or the formalism in this plan? Nobody found anything to say in reply, but all are inclined to think there is no danger. The propagandists know nothing about the differences; there is no publication. Now a “reading corner” has been organised for them. In it you find the latest issues of Osvodbozhdenie, the first part (?!) of the minutes of the Second Congress and Pavlovich’s pamphlet. Recently there was a meeting of 25 technology students. They too were told about the organisational plan. Up until now there had never been a meeting with them: ‘What can we do with you? Just study your medicine.’

I warmly shake your hand.

Reply. March 1904. – Dear friend, your last letter is extremely interesting and gives rise to various thoughts and reflections, so much so that I hardly know where to begin. The first thing we can establish is the undeniable fact that not only the organised workers of N, not only the propagandists but even the members of the N Committee knew nothing up until now about the meaning of the differences tearing the Party apart. At the present time we often hear it said that ‘at the base (!) of our work we must have the idea (!) of centralism,’ (cf. The Batum Committee resolution). Everywhere there is talk of centralism: in the Mingrelian Committee and the Petersburg Committee, the Riga Committee and the Chita Committee. And people think that centralism is the Central Committee. If there is a Central Committee that means there is centralism. But the fact that an organisation like the N Committee does not know, either through lack of information or lack of interest – what the Central Organ of the Party is after, what the “League” wants, and what is wanted by the five or six committees supporting the Central Organ, this does not make the comrades of N think that there is no centralism among us. Because “centralism,” and this at least must be understood, does not meant the Central Committee, the Central Organ or the Council but something much bigger: above all, it requires the active participation of all members in the whole life of the Party. Of course, I am speaking of “European” centralism and not autocratic-Asiatic centralism. This latter does not require but rather excludes any such participation.

The organisational “plan” (which was put to you) may be excellent “in itself,” and I shall speak of it again below, but it must be seen that this plan has been in existence for two years already, that it has created a whole generation which literally “lives” by Lenin’s Letter to a Comrade; you would think centralism should have flourished magnificently. But it turns out that the N Committee (not the Poltava or the Ufa Committee, but N) shrugs off questions which for almost a year have been divided the most influential members of the Party. Does this not mean that the N Committee is nothing but a little group of “craft dilettantes” just as it was three years ago, nothing more than a group of artisans who, as can be seen from your letter, are not able to complete a hundredth part of the local tasks; who, as in the past, are totally indifferent to the questions raised by the Party as a whole or even have a sovereign contempt for them. Where is the difference? How is it expressed? In the fact that people have revived a few terms of revolutionary jargon, can’t say three words without swearing by centralism and in the fact that all hopes have been transferred from the “spontaneous growth of tasks” to “the idea of centralism” or the organisational plan, which will some day be put into action (if the disorganisers do not prevent it); after which “forests and mountains will begin to dance” ...

Where is the difference? Social Democratic centralism necessarily requires the active participation of all members in the life of the Party. For that it is above all necessary for everyone to be informed. But you have only the first section of the minutes of the Congress (who split these minutes into two? And why?) and Pavlovich’s pamphlet. But you do not have the minutes of the League Congress, nor Martov’s pamphlet, nor Iskra. So where are the positive results of the “idea of centralism” laid down in What Is To Be Done? as the basis of Party work?

Is it not clear that the Central Committee in no way means centralism, even in the narrowest technical meaning of the term? How can it not be seen that the N Committee, instead of explaining to you propagandists the organisational “plan” already put forward by three or four generations of “centralist” committee members to three or four generations of “centralist” propagandists, with no resulting growth in the party’s understanding – instead of repeating this work for the fourth or fifth time and turning aside when it came to the question of the differences, your Committee should have stopped at a given point to look at what it is doing: what it has been, what it has become, what it has at its disposal. The Committee would have seen that, in all its swift and fantastic metamorphoses, it has kept only one characteristic: the old broken bucket of craft dilettantism ...

It would then have asked itself if the organisational “plan” really does have everything. Are we not permanently bogged down, even thought the “idea of centralism” has been drummed into everyone’s head to such a point that sometimes you see one end of Lenin’s Letter to a Comrade sticking out of one of them? The reasons for the atrophy may perhaps lie deeper here than in knowing how many treasures, accountants and other bearers of the “idea of centralism” to have, and where.

Once the Committee begins to think along these lines – and it is a very efficient direction – it will lose the desire to ask the “minority” (as your leader does): ‘But where is your plan to replace Lenin’s which you reject?’ for he will understand that the “minority” rejects as a panacea, not so much a given plan of self-sufficient organisation, but the plan for having such a plan. You write, in one of your earlier letters, that you rarely have meetings of propagandists: everyone keeps to themselves, all are left to their own resources, clandestine activity cuts short everything. But here one of these rare meetings was called. A leading comrade appeared. He told you that in the “minority” – which anyway, judging by what he said, he does not know – there is still a trace of “democratism”; then he explained the organisational “plan” to you, the propagandists. And then? What conclusions are to be drawn from this plan? What directions does he give you for your propaganda work? In what sense does he enrich your consciousness? Do you, after the meeting, start to put this plan to work? In what way? By what means? Or will the work be carried out by someone else, for example by the organiser who has initiated you into the mysteries of the plan? Has he also told you how he intends to carry out his “plan”? Will he dissolve all the existing groups and circles and having swept the ground clean, rebuild a new organisational edifice, with scarce resources, following the rules of centralised architecture? Or does he mean to gradually liquidate the rudimentary organs of the exiting organisation? And how? Where will he start? What does this mean in terms of your organisational work as propagandists? Your letter shows that he has not said a single word about these “trifles.” But in that case, all your talking was only the most sterile pastime.

The circle is not the organisation, not even the embryo of an organisation – the embryo is the factory committee. The plan is excellent, it does not contain a trace of bureaucratism. – But your organiser has not even bothered to think about the fact that on the one hand the plan exists, on its own, and on the other the Social Democracy of N lives quite independently. Your organisation is so bad that the proclamations circulated even more poorly than in the days of “democratism.” And the plan, written by the town of N, published in its day by the N Committee, carefully and in great detail studied by the comrades of N, both new and old, continues as in the past to feed the sincere enthusiasm of the “centralists” of N. All this despite the fact that after two years of platonic centralism, the basic cell of Lenin’s “plan,” the factory committee, still does not exist anywhere. But the “circle,” which according to the plan is only peripheral, occupies the whole of the foreground – and the circle is in fact still today the only “embryonic cell” in which our organiser can explain his organisational plans.

And you, the propagandists, after the meeting of your circle, go back to your circles and start discussing with the workers – perhaps on the lines that a day will come when the whole of the town of N will be covered with factory committees; in each committee there will be an organiser, a branch propagandist, a branch treasurer, a “publicist,” and above them, there will be branch committees, each with a branch organiser, a branch propagandist, a branch treasurer, a publicist, and above them a local committee of the Party and above all these committees our Committee of committees, the Central Committee, which at the right time will call to order all the local committees, which will call to order the branch committees, and they in turn the factory committees and the factory committees the workers – and the revolutionary pan-Russian proletariat will begin to correspond ... It will do so, if only the “disorganisers” do not prevent it!

I ask myself once more: why, to what end, did the organiser expound his “plan” to you? I try to explain his behaviour psychologically. I recall the time of “primitive” circle propaganda. At that time, the propagandist aimed to give the worker of the Pahl factory or the Maxwell factory a clear idea of his place in the universe. We began with the cosmology. We happily traced the descent of man from the ape. We covered as well as we could the history of civilisation and (occasionally!) got as far as capitalism and then socialism. At the basis of this work was the idea that the average proletarian had to be transformed into a Social Democrat equipped with a materialist conception of the world. Today, such respectable doctrinairism is out of date and even forgotten – only to reappear, as we see today, in the form of the most wretched caricature.

Those elements of our Party trained during the period of the collapse of “dilettantism” have come to the astonishingly meagre conclusion that at the basis of our work there must be the idea of centralism. The idea of a materialist explanation of the world has been replaced by the idea of a centrally constructed “plan.” The immense but doctrinaire task of explaining to a member of the circle his place in the divine macrocosm, is transformed into the abrupt bureaucratic idea of explaining to the member of the organisation his place in the Leninist microcosm.

Although it may have been fairly rare for one of the objects of this primitive propaganda to survive in the circle long enough for it to be decided what the worker of the Pahl or Maxwell factory represents, he all the same learned that mankind had been through a phase of polyandry ... All this amounts to a useful and correct sum of knowledge for understanding what is and what has been. But the world system of N which rests on 130 worker-treasurers, 130 accountants and 130 “publicists” – must simply have been thought out by Lenin in an hour of bureaucratic vision. In any case you can see that it does not exist. And when you explain to the worker his place in such a universal system, you are only telling him of “what is not and what has never been” ...

Is it obvious, dear friend, that the reproaches the “minority” makes to certain elements in the Party concerning their bureaucratism and formalism “are quite baseless”?

‘A cordial handshake ...’

II. July 1904 – Dear comrade: is now the time to concern ourselves with a detailed examination of the organisational question? Great events steal up on us unawares, and the Revolution may arrive much more swiftly than we dare to expect. And we are reckoning that only a third of Social Democrats are able to do committee work. When the masses, resolute and revolutionary, take to the streets, will we then understand that this is the Revolution? Will the masses find the slogans they need? And the soldiers? Because on their attitude will depend the outcome of the street battles ... Should we try to bring them closer to the revolutionary masses? It really is a high time to prepare for the Revolution, which will come “like a thief in the night.” In my opinion, this is how things stand: we must prepare as though the Revolution were to start at the end of the summer; we must use every “delay” in the interests of our Party. It is time, it is high time!

Reply – I agree with you, dear comrade, that the Revolution is perhaps much nearer than it seems, that we must develop the most intensive and extensive political agitation possible, that it is necessary to popularise the immediate fighting slogans among the broadest masses, so that they can take to the streets with them. I agree with you: there is no longer time to probe the organisational question in detail ... But I should not agree if you put this idea forward as an objection to the work being carried out by the “minority.”

You do not say this directly but it can be taken that way. If the Revolution, which will certainly come “like a thief in the night,” is not to find us asleep, it is indispensable to be politically on our guard. Unfortunately, our Party is asleep, politically speaking. In its sleep it dreams fantastic organisational dreams which at times turn into painful nightmares. It is essential to wake the Party up at all costs. Otherwise its political sleep could well be turned into its political death.

When you say: we must prepare for the Revolution, the whole Party will agree with you, but three-quarters will think you are talking about technical, organisational preparation. The Riga Committee will say: ‘It is absolutely necessary to build a strictly centralised organisation of professional revolutionaries.’ And a dozen other committees will say the same thing. For them, preparing for the Revolution means, if not actually distributing the passwords and slogans and fixing the time and date of the so-called “call” to the so-called “insurrection,” at least carrying our internal organisational work (which should in any case more correctly be called “disorganising” work, since it begins with the destruction of already existing organisational forms). However, the task which we have to carry out at the present decisive moment, which will not wait and will not be repeated, lies in taking all the existing elements of organisation and uniting them in systematically centralised work, without dispersal or divergence. The aim of this work is through adequate tactical methods, to maintain the masses in a state of political tension, rising ever higher to be finally discharged in a revolutionary period or else in a period of temporary reaction – which is less likely.

As a whole our task at the present time lies in the field of political tactics. We, the so-called “minority” are not creating independent organisational tasks for ourselves; we think that the most urgent of these tasks is imposed on us in the process of the political struggle itself. In this specific meaning we are in fact “opportunists on organisational questions.” It must only be kept in mind that the rigour on organisational questions which is opposed to our opportunism is nothing but the other side of the coin of political myopia. As long as the thinking of the majority of comrades (and here I only repeat what I have said elsewhere) continues to jump about like a mouse caught in a mouse-trap on the few square centimetres formed by the trifles and bits and pieces of organisation and statutes, it will be impossible even to pose the real political tasks. The “polemical” work of the minority has basically nothing in common with the “detailed” working out of the “organisational questions”; it consists only of destroying organisational fetishism and clearing the ground so that questions of political tactics can be raised: this is the practical solution to be given to these questions on which depends the whole fate of Russian Social Democracy, and the Party of the Revolution, and the Party of the proletariat. Sapienti sat! (This is sufficient for he who knows.)

The starting point of the campaign we must at once open up, basing ourselves on all the forces we have, both individuals and organised groups, must be the war. The slogan we put out is obvious: Peace and Freedom. The slogan which we are putting forward must be not only the formulation of our principled stand on the war but also the formulation of the aim we wish without delay to attain. Not only do we not simply pronounce in favour of peace but we hope to obtain an end to the war, along with an “end” to autocracy. We must go for that – and it must make itself felt in the tone and content of our agitation.

We have not learned to all to give fighting slogans to the masses. What corresponds to the formalism of our political thinking is not effective slogans but a number of hackneyed sayings which are always and everywhere valid, because even to us they are often only phrases. The proclamation by the Riga Committee On the war put forward the following slogan: ‘To all attempts by the autocratic clique to awaken the beast in us and drive us to fight our Japanese brothers, let our answer be the cry: Down with the bourgeoisie! Down with the war! Long live peace and the fraternal union of peoples! Long live socialism!’ Obviously, this proclamation gives us no fighting slogan, no watchword to drive people to struggle. You cannot take an exclamation such as ‘Down with the bourgeoisie!’ to be a serious slogan in reply to the adventurism of the “autocratic clique”! The fate of the present war is linked in this proclamation to the fate of the bourgeoisie. The Yekaterinoslav Committee says:

‘We are against the war, because the war is against the working class. We cannot actually stop the war but we strongly protest against this pointless, destructive, adventurist war!’

This attitude can considerably weaken our revolutionary position. It is the fate of Tsarism which is presently tied to the war, and this is what we must understand; if it is true that we are entering the period of the definitive collapse of the autocracy, then the conclusion we must draw is that we must not only protest against the war, but demand its immediate end.

‘Peace at any price!’ This is the slogan which begins and ends every proclamation, every agitational speech. It is indispensable to evaluate all the results of the war and to make the masses conscious of them. Simple, clear and so far as possible short proclamations should cover all Russia. They must all, in the present period, have the same orientation. Peace at any price! This is the slogan to which

#8216;everyone must be called: let your appeal reach every workshop, every village, every home. Let the workers in the towns pass on to those in the countryside their superior understanding and training! Talk, discuss everywhere, every day, tirelessly and unceasingly ... The more millions of mouths there are to repeat our demand, the more loudly it will sound in the ears of those to whom it is addressed.’ (Lasalle, Open Letter to the Central Committee)

It is necessary to carry out the most intense agitation among the unemployed, on the basis of the same slogan: Down with the war, which brings the people only poverty, unemployment and death! At a certain point, the agitation must take on a more complex character; the aim must become for the social institutions of the ruling classes to reveal their attitude towards the war. The workers must demand that the zemstvos, dumas, universities, the learned societies and the press raise their influential voices against the war. The further course of the campaign will to a great extent be determined by the way in which these institutions react to the demands of the revolutionary proletariat.

State aid to the hungry peasants and unemployed and the victims of the war! This second slogan must be put forward at the opportune moment, with all the necessary energy. Agitation on this basis must lead to demonstrations of the proletariat and especially the unemployed, against the dumas and zemstvos which waste the people’s money on the needs of war. The broader and deeper the movement against the war, the greater will be the difficulty of the autocracy, caught in the crossfire. The slogan Long live the Constituent Assembly! must sound throughout all Russia, as the decisive solution to the difficulties. The connection of this slogan with the two preceding one is obvious: the Constituent Assembly must end the war and the rule of the Romanovs in general.

A “call” from the representatives of the zemstvos, dumas and universities must not catch us unawares. Such a call seems likely to arouse in many comrades’ minds a feeling of fear: “We are late.” (But why? Because we have not called an insurrection before the other?) But some “constitutional” reform decreed from above does not exclude the movement of the masses, on the contrary, it can serve as prologue to it. Turgot’s reforms marked the threshold of the French Revolution. To the call “from above” from the dumas and the zemstvos we must reply with the slogan: Universal, direct, secret suffrage! For the masses to support this slogan, it is indispensable – as I have shown just now – that in their mobilisation around other slogans we in one way or another lead them to oppose the zemstvos and dumas, social institutions based on a property franchise.

Of course, it would be inept to fix at once the order in which slogans will be advanced or the ways the masses will mobilise around them. I can only give an outline to indicate the revolutionary work which awaits us. But whatever the changes undergone by our tactics, whatever combinations they enter into, the method of our tactics must remain unchanged: to oppose the proletariat in political action to the autocracy and to all the social institutions of the ruling classes, especially to those which – like the zemstvos and dumas – may perhaps be “called on” to decide the fate of freedom in Russia.

In pursuing this complex pre-revolutionary campaign we must recall the rule Lasalle proposed in 1863 to the German workers:

The whole secret of practical successes lies in the art of always concentrating all your forces at a single point, the most important point, without turning your glance aside. Do not waste energy looking to right or to left; be your glance aside. Do not waste energy looking to right or to left; be deaf to everything but universal, direct suffrage, everything which is not related to it or cannot lead to it!’ (Open Letter)

Whatever the stage of our campaign in which the revolution surprises us, the proletariat, united on precise slogans, will have its say. And in such conditions the revolution itself will give a colossal impetus to its further political unification. So, mobilise the proletariat around the basic slogans of the revolution! This is the content of our immediate preparation for the decisive events being prepared. If, by the will of history, these events are delayed for an indefinite time, none of our efforts will be lost. They will be an integral part of our immense historical task, which is to develop the class consciousness of the proletariat.

At the present time I know of no other preparation than that. On the other hand, I see all this preparation in all its complexity, all its difficulty, all its immensity. To be more exact: all other preparation must be added to it. Da stehe ich, anders kann ich nicht. (Here I stand, I can do no other.) That is, after all, what every conscious partisan of the “minority” will say. If he is ever crucified for his organisational “opportunism” he will not admit defeat. Even on the cross he must be ready to cry: ‘You are blind! You see the mote in your neighbour’s eye and not the beam in your own!’

Part IV

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Last updated on: 29.8.2006