Leon Trotsky


Lenin and
the Old Iskra
Part II

A short time after that Lenin came to Paris, too. He was to give three lectures on the agrarian question in the so-called Russian High School that had been organized in Paris by exiled Russian university professors. After Tchernof had appeared in the school the Marxist section of the student body had insisted on the invitation to Lenin. The professors were alarmed and begged the lecturer, if possible, not to venture into polemics. But Lenin made no binding promises and opened the first lecture thus: that Marxism is a revolutionary and consequently, in its essence, a polemical theory, but that this polemical nature in no way contradicts its scientific character. I recall that Vladimir Ilyich was much excited before his first lecture. At the speaker’s desk, however, he controlled himself at once, at least outwardly. Professor Gambarof, who had come to hear him, formulated his impression to Deutsch as follows: “A true professor!” The delightful man thought he was praising him highly.

Although polemical through and through – against the Narodniki and the social agrarian reformer David, whom Lenin compared and connected – the lectures proceeded in the framework of economic theory and left untouched the political struggle of the moment, the agrarian program of Social Democracy, of the Social Revolutionaries, etc. This limitation was imposed upon the lecturer on account of the academic character of the chair. But at the end of the third lecture Lenin gave a political report on the agrarian question. I think it was at Rue Choisy 110, arranged by the Paris group of Iskra, and no longer by the High School. The hall was crowded. The whole student body of the High School had come to hear the practical consequences of the theoretical lectures. The speech dealt with the agrarian program of Iskra at the time and particularly the indemnity for the division of land. I no longer remember who opposed it, but I do remember that Vladimir Ilyich was splendid in his concluding words. One of the Parisian Iskra people said to me on leaving: “Lenin surpassed himself to-day.”

Afterwards the Iskra people went with the speaker to a cafe. All were very gratified and the lecturer himself in a happy mood. The cashier of the group told us of the entrance receipts that the meeting had brought to the Iskra cash box, – evidently between 75 and 100 francs; a sum not to be despised.

This all happened in the beginning of 1903; for the moment I cannot tell the date more accurately, but I think it would not be hard to do so, if it has not been done already.

During this visit of Lenin it was decided to take him to the opera. N.I. Sedovaja, a member of the Iskra staff, was appointed to arrange the affair. Vladimir Ilyich came to the theater – it was the Opera Comique – and left the theater with the same map that had taken him to his lecture at the High School. The opera was Louise by Massenet [1], and its subject is very democratic. We sat in a group in the gallery. Besides Lenin, Sedovaja, and myself, Martof was there; the others I no longer remember. There is a little circumstance, quite unmusical, connected with this visit to the opera, that has made a deep impression on me. Lenin had bought himself boots in Paris. They proved to be too narrow. He worried himself over them a few hours until he decided to take them off. As ill-luck would have it, my shoes left much to be desired. I received these boots, and in my delight they seemed to fit splendidly at first. I wanted to initiate them on our visit to the opera. The walk there passed off happily. But in the theater I felt that things were not going well. Probably that is the reason I no longer remember what impression the opera made on Lenin and myself. I only know that he was roused up, joked and laughed. On the way home I suffered terribly and Vladimir Ilyich teased me unmercifully the whole time. Back of his joking, however, there was real fellow-feeling: he had himself suffered some hours of torture in these boots, as I have said.

I mentioned above Lenin’s excitement before his Paris lectures. I must dwell on this. This kind of excitement showed itself in him also much later, and in a stronger form the less the audience was “his,” the more formal the occasion of the meeting. Outwardly Lenin always spoke convincingly, impetuously and, quickly, so that his speeches were a bitter affliction for the stenographers. But when he did not feel in his element his voice sounded somewhat strange, impersonal, and resounded like an echo. When, on the contrary, Lenin detected that this very audience needed what he had to say, his voice became very animated and softly convincing, without becoming “oratorical” in the real sense of the word, rather kept up a conversational tone, on a platform scale.

This was not rhetorical art, but something greater than oratory. You can naturally say that every orator speaks best before “his own” audience. In this general form that is of course right. But the question is what audience the orator feels to be his and under what circumstances. The European orators of the type of Vanderveld, who are trained by parliamentary models, need ceremonious surroundings and formal occasions for pathos. At jubilee gatherings and on gala occasions they feel in their element. For Lenin any meeting of this kind was a little personal misfortune. He was at his best and most convincing always over matters of controversy. The best examples of his public appearances are probably his speeches in the Central Committee before October.

Before the Paris reports I had heard Lenin only once, I think, in London, about the end of December, 1902. Strange to say, I have not the slightest recollection of it, neither the reason for his appearance nor the theme. I almost doubt if there really was a report by him. But apparently it happened thus: the occasion was, under the conditions in London, a large Russian gathering, and Lenin was present; if he did not have to make a report he scarcely ever appeared. I show the deficiencies in my memory by saying that his report probably treated as usual the same theme that was in the current number of Iskra. I had already read Lenin’s article and so the report contained nothing new for me. There was no discussion; the weak London opponents could not make up their minds to come out against Lenin. The audience, which consisted in part of unionists, and in part of anarchists, was not a very grateful one – consequently it was a tame affair. I only remember that towards the end of the meeting, the B.’s, husband and wife, of the former Petersburg group of the Rabotschaja Mysl (Workman’s Thought), who had lived in London for some time, came to me and gave me the invitation: “Come to us on New Year’s Eve” (that is why I remember that the meeting took place the end of December).

“What for?” I asked in barbaric narrow-mindedness.

“To pass the time in a circle of comrades. Ulianof will be there and Krupskaja.”

I know that she said Ulianof and not Lenin, and that I did not understand at once whom they were talking about. Sasulich and Martof were invited, too. The next day we talked about it in the “den” and asked Lenin if he were going. I think no one went. It is a pity: it would have been the one occasion of its kind to have seen Lenin with Sasulich and Martof in the setting of New Year’s Eve.

Before my departure for Geneva from Paris I was invited to Plechanof’s with Sasulich and Martof. I think Vladimir Ilyich was there too. But I have only a very dim recollection of that evening. In any event it did not have a political character, but a “worldly” one, if not a bourgeois one. I remember that I sat there helpless and depressed, and if the host or hostess did not show me any special attention, did not know what to do. Plechanof’s daughters passed tea and cakes. There was a certain tenseness among us all, and evidently I was not the only one who did not feel at ease. Perhaps it was due to my youth that I felt the coolness more than the others. This visit was my first and last. My impressions of this “visit” were very fleeting and probably purely accidental, as in general all my meetings with Plechanof were fleeting and accidental. The brilliant figure of Russia’s Marxist old master I have tried to characterize briefly elsewhere. Here I limit myself to the scrappy impressions of the first meetings in which I had no luck at all. Sasulich, who was much distressed at such things, said to me: “I know, George can be unbearable, but in reality he is an awfully dear beast.” (A favorite eulogy of hers.)

I must remark here, that in contrast to this, in Axelrod’s family there was always an atmosphere of simplicity and sincere comrade-like sympathy. I still remember gratefully the hours I spent at Axelrod’s hospitable table during my frequent visits in Zurich. Vladimir Ilyich, too, spent much time here and, so far as I know from what the family told me, he felt much at home in their midst. I did not happen to meet him at Axelrod’s.

As far as Sasulich is concerned her frankness and goodness to the young comrades is quite unique. If you cannot speak of hospitality in her in the real sense of the word, it is only because she herself had more need of it than she was able to show. She lodged, dressed, and supported herself like the simplest of students. Of material things her chief joys were tobacco and mustard. The one as xvell as the other she consumed in large quantities. When she put a thick layer of mustard on a very thin slice of ham we said: “Vera Ivanovna is extravagant ...”

The fourth member of the “Group for Liberation of Labor,” L. G. Deutsch, was very kind and attentive to the young comrades. I do not remember, however, that as the administrator of Iskra he ever took part as an advisor at the meetings of the staff. Deutsch generally went about with Plechanof and had more than moderate views on questions of revolutionary tactics. Once he said, to my great astonishment: “It will never come to an armed uprising, my boy, and it is not necessary. We had fighting-cocks in our prison who started fighting at the slightest provocation and so perished. I have, on the contrary, always taken the stand: not to give in and to let the ad-ministration understand that it will come to a big fight, but not to allow it to come to that. I gained thereby the respect of the administration and – a modification of the régime. We must use the same kind of tactics to Czarism, otherwise it will fight and destroy us without any benefit to the cause.”

I was so surprised by this tactical speech that I told it in turn to Martof, Sasulich, and Lenin. I no longer remember how Martof reacted. Vera Ivanovna said: “Eugene (Deutsch’s old nickname) was always like that: personally an exceptionally brave man, but politically extremely prudent and restrained.” When Lenin heard it he said something like: “Hm, hm ... yes, yes,” and then we both laughed without any further comment.

In Geneva the first delegates for the coming Second Congress arrived, and there were sessions with them constantly. In this preparatory work Lenin unquestionably played the leading role, although not always perceptibly. Meetings of Iskra’s editorial staff, meetings of Iskra’s organization, separate meetings with delegates, in groups and together, alternated with each other. A number of the delegates came with doubts, with objections, or with demands of definite groups. The preparatory work took up much time. At the Congress there were three workmen present. Lenin talked with each of them very definitely and won all three. One of them was Schotman from Petersburg. He was still very young but cautious and deliberate. I remember how he came back after his conversation with Lenin (we were in the same lodgings) and constantly repeated:

“And how his eyes glitter; he looks right through one ...” The delegate from Nicolaief was Kalafati. Vladimir Ilyich questioned me in detail about him – I knew him in Nicolaief – and then he added, with a sly smile: “He says he has known you as a kind of Tolstoian.”

“What nonsense that is!” I said almost angrily.

“What is the matter?” Lenin replied, half to calm me, half to tease me. “You were then probably eighteen years old, and men are certainly not born Marxists.”

“That may be,” I said, “but I had nothing in common with Tolstojanism.”

A main point in the deliberations was the statute whereby, in the organization schemes and discussions, the correlations between the central organ and the Central Committee formed one of the most important points. I had come abroad with the idea that the central organ must “subordinate” itself to the Central Committee. That was also the attitude of the majority of the Russian Iskra people – to be sure without being very emphatic and definite.

“That won’t do,” Vladimir Ilyich replied; “that is contrary to the relative strength. How can they direct us from Russia? It won’t do ... We are the stable center and shall direct from here.”

In one of the drafts it reads that the central organ was under the obligation of bringing out the articles of the members of the Central Committee.

“Also those against the central organ?” Lenin asked.


“What is that for? It leads to nothing. A polemic between two members of the central organ may be useful under certain conditions, but a polemic of ‘Russian’ members of the Central Committee against the central organ is inadmissible.”

“But that means complete dictatorship of the central organ?” I asked.

“What is there bad about that?” Lenin answered. “In the present situation it cannot be otherwise.”

There was much friction at that time about the so-called right of extension. At one of the conferences we, the young people, led the discussion to positive and negative extension.

“Yes, negative extension; that means in Russian ‘cast out’,” Vladimir Ilyich said laughingly to me the next morning. “That is not so simple! Just try for once – ha, ha, ha, – to put through negative extension in the staff of the Iskra.”

The most important question for Lenin was the future organization of the central organ, which in reality had to play the role of the Central Committee at the same time. Lenin considered it impossible to retain the old committee of six any longer. Sasulich and Martof were almost invariably on the side of Plechanof in any matter of dispute, so that, at best, it meant three against three. Neither one nor the other team of three wanted to dispense with any one of the commission. There remained the opposite course: the enlargement of the commission. Lenin wanted to introduce me as the seventh, in order to separate from the commission of seven, as also from the enlarged staff, a closer staff group consisting of Lenin, Plechanof, and Martof. Vladimir Ilyich gradually initiated me in this plan without mentioning at all that he had already proposed me as the seventh member of the staff, and that this motion bad been accepted by all, with the exception of Plechanof, who decidedly opposed it. The entrance of a seventh, in Plechanof’s eyes, meant in itself a majority of the group “Liberation of Labor”: four “young” against three “old” men.

I believe this plan was the main source of the extreme malevolence that George Valentinovich showed me. Unfortunately there were also smaller open clashes between us in the presence of the delegates. I think it began with the question of the popular newspaper. Some delegates emphasized the necessity of publishing a popular organ at the same time as Iskra, if possible in Russia. This was particularly the idea of the group “Juschni Rabotschi” (workmen of the south). Lenin was a decided opponent His deliberations were of a varied nature, but the main reason was the fear that a special grouping might be formed on the basis of a “popular” simplification of Social Democratic ideas, before the picked men of the party had settled themselves properly. Plechanof stood decidedly for the creation of a popular organ, opposed Lenin openly, and sought the support of the local delegates. I supported Lenin. At one of the sessions I developed the idea – if it were right or not is a matter of indifference to me now – that we did not need a popular organ but a series of propagandist pamphlets and handbills that should assist in raising the progressive workman to the level of the Iskra, that moreover a popular organ would narrow the Iskra and blur the political physiognomy of the party while lowering it to the standards of the Economists and Social Revolutionaries.

Plechanof objected: “What do you mean by blur? Naturally we cannot say everything in a popular organ. We shall present challenges and solutions, but not occupy ourselves with questions of tactics. We say to the workman that we must fight with capitalism, but naturally we shall not theorize with him as to ‘how.’ I took up this argument: “But the ‘Economists’ and Social Revolutionaries too say that we must fight with capitalism. The divergence begins with that very point, how the struggle is to be carried on. If we do not answer this question in the popular organ we put aside the difference between us and the Social Revolutionaries.”

This reply had something very triumphant about it and Plechanof was embarrassed. This episode did not improve his relations with me. There was a second conflict soon after this, at a staff meeting, that indeed passed the resolution to admit me to the councils until the Congress had decided on the composition of the editorial staff. Plechanof opposed it categorically. But Vera Ivanovna said to him: “But I shall bring him into it” And she really “brought” me into the session. I myself learned of this act behind the scenes considerably later and went to the meeting without misgivings. George Valentinovich greeted me with that special coolness in which he so excelled. And unfortunately at this very session the staff had to consider a matter of dispute between Deutsch and the above-mentioned Blumenfeld. Deutsch was the administrator of the Iskra. Blumenfeld had charge of the printing. On this basis a question of jurisdiction arose. Blumenfeld complained about Deutsch’s interference in the affairs of the printing office. Plechanof supported Deutsch through old friendship and proposed that Blumen-feld limit himself to the printing technique. I made the objection that it was impossible to conduct the printing office only on a technical plane, as there were, in addition, organizing and administrative affairs to settle and that Blumenfeld must be independent in all these questions. I remember Plechanof’s malicious reply: “If Comrade Trotzky is right that the manifold superstructure of an administrative and other nature develops from technique, as the theory of historical materialism teaches, then ...” etc.

Lenin and Martof, however, supported me discreetly and carried through the decision as needed. That was the finishing stroke. In both cases Vladimir Ilyich’s sympathy was on my side. At the same time he saw with alarm that my relations with Plechanof grew much worse, which threatened to spoil his plan for reorganizing the staff. At one of the next conferences with the newly arrived delegates Lenin took me to one side and said: “On this question of a popular organ you had better leave it to Martof to answer Plechanof. Martof will cement what you break. It is better for him to cement it.” These expressions break and cement I remember exactly.

After one of the staff meetings in the “Cafe Landolt,” I believe it was after the same meeting I have just mentioned, Sasulich began, in that timid impressive voice peculiar to her in such cases, to complain that we attacked the Liberals “too much.” That was her sorest spot.

“Look how you overexert yourselves,” she said and looked past Lenin, though she had him in mind above all. “In the last number of Osvoboschdenje, Struve presents Jaurés as an example to our Liberals and claims that the Russian

Liberals should not break with Socialism, because otherwise the lamentable fate of German Liberalism threatens them, but should take the French Radical Socialists as an example.”

Lenin stood by the table. He had pushed back his soft hat high on his forehead; the meeting had ended and he was about to go.

“So much the more must we attack them,” he said smiling contentedly and as if to tease Vera Ivanovna.

“But look,” she cried in absolute despair, “they come to meet us and we strike at them!”

“Yes, naturally, Struve says to his Liberals, ‘You must not use coarse German methods to our Socialism, but the finer French ones; you must coquette, attract, deceive and corrupt, in the style of the Left French Radicals, who are ogling Jaurésism.’

Naturally I cannot give this important speech word for word. Its meaning and substance, how-ever have been sharply impressed on my memory. I have not at the moment anything at hand to prove it, but it would not be difficult; one would have only to look over the early numbers of Osvoboschdenje of 1903 for Struve’s article about the relation of the Liberals to Democratic Socialism in general and to Jaurésism in particular. I reember this article on account of Vera Ivanovna’s words during the scene mentioned above. If you add to the date of appearance of the copy of Osvoboschdenje in question the time required for it to reach Geneva and Vera Ivanovna’s bands and be read by her, that is, three or four days, one can settle pretty closely the date of this dispute in Cafe Landolt. I recall that it was a spring day – perhaps already early summer – the sun was shining brightly and Lenin’s deep laugh was also bright. I remember clearly his quietly ironical, confident and “sturdy” appearance, I say this intentionally, although Vladimir Ilyich was then more slender than in the last part of his life. Vera Ivanovna turned hastily from one to another, as she always did. But I believe no one interfered in the dispute, which took place as we were leaving and did not last long.

I went home with her. Sasulich was depressed; she felt that Struve’s card had failed. I could not give her any consolation. However, not one of us suspected then to what degree the card of Russian Liberalism had been beaten in this little dialogue by the door of Café Landolt.

I perceive now the total inadequacy ‘of the episodes I have told above: they are too pale. But I have carefully gathered everything my memory had preserved at the beginning of this work, even what was of little importance, because there is almost no one left now, who could speak in more detail of this period. Plechanof is dead. Sasuich is dead. Martof is dead. And Lenin is dead. It is hardly possible that any one of them has left memoirs. Vera Ivanovna perhaps? Nothing has been heard of them. Of Iskra’s former staff only Axelrod and Potresof are living. Without mentioning all other considerations, they both had but a small part in the editorial work and were rarely present at the staff meetings. Deutsch could tell some things, but he only came abroad shortly before the close of the period described, a short time before me, besides did not share in the editorial work immediately. Nadezda Constantinovna can, and, we hope, will give priceless information. She stood then in the very center of the entire work of organization, received the comrades arriving, gave instructions to and dismissed those departing, arranged connections, gave information, wrote letters, ciphered and deciphered. The odor of burnt paper was almost always noticeable in her room. She often complained in her gently energetic way that comrades over there wrote little, that they had confused the cipher, and that the lines written in chemical ink were very indistinct, etc. It is of still more importance that Nadezda Constantinovna, hand in hand with Lenin every day in this organizing work, could observe what went on in him and around him. None the less, I hope these pages will not be superfluous as, in my time, at least, Nadezda Constantinovna was rarely present at the staff meeting. But above all, the fresh eye of some one not immediately concerned now and then notices what the familiar eye no longer sees. Be that as it may, let that be told that I can tell. Now I will give some general opinions as to why, at the time of the Iskra a definite change in Lenin’s political self-consciousness had to take place, in his self-estimation, so to speak, why this change was inevitable, and how it was necessary.

Lenin went abroad as a mature man of thirty. In. Russia, in the student unions, in the first Social Democratic groups, in the colonies of exiles, he held the highest position. He could not but perceive his strength, already unique, for all with whom he came in contact and with whom he worked recognized it. He went abroad with much theoretical luggage, with an important political experience, and completely obsessed by the purpose of working for a definite goal which determined his intellectual nature. Abroad there awaited him work as a collaborator in the “Group for the Liberation of Labor,” especially with Plechanof, the profound and brilliant commentator of Marx, the teacher of entire generations, the theorist, politician, publicist, and orator of European fame and European connections. At Plechanof’s side stood two of the greatest authorities: Sasulich and Axelrod. It was not only her heroic past that had put Vera Ivanovna in the foreground. No, it was rather her keen intellect, with its comprehensive, historically inclined cultivation and its rare psychological intuition. In his time the “Group” was also connected with old Engels. In opposition to Plechanof and Sasulich, who above all were connected with Romanic Socialism, Axelrod represented in the “Group” the ideas and experiences of German Social Democracy. This difference in the “spheres of influence” was expressed also in their places of residence. Plechanof and Sasulich lived generally in Geneva, Axelrod in Zurich. Axelrod concentrated on questions of tactics. He has not written a single theoretical or historical book, as is well known. He wrote very little, and what he wrote almost always concerned tactical questions of Socialism. In this sphere Axelrod showed independence and acuteness. From numerous conversations with him – I was very friendly with him and Sasulich for some time – I have a clear impression that much of what Plechanof has written on questions of tactics is a fruit of collective work, and that Axelrod’s part in it is considerably more important than one can prove from the printed documents alone. Axeirod said more than once to Plechanof, the undisputed and beloved leader of the “Group” (before the break in 1903) “George, you have a long snout, and take from everywhere what you need.”

As is well known, Axelrod wrote the introduction to Lenin’s manuscript sent from Russia, The Tasks of the Russian Social Democrats. By this act the “Group” adopted the talented young Russian party worker, but at the same time made it known that he was to be looked upon as a pupil. And so with this reputation Lenin and two other pupils arrived in a foreign land. I was not present at the first meetings of pupils and teachers, at those conferences where the policy of Iskra was worked out. Moreover, the observations of the half year described above and particularly of the Second Party Congress make it easy to understand that the reason for the extreme sharpness of the conflict, besides the question of principles just indicated, lay in the bad judgment of the old men in estimating Lenin’s development and significance.

In the course of the Second Congress and immediately after it, Axelrod’s displeasure and that of the other members of the staff at Lenin’s behavior joined in the surprise: “How does he do it?” This surprise increased when Lenin, after the break with Plechanof, who soon afterward entered the Congress, continued the fight none the less. Axeirod’s state of mind and that of the others can perhaps be best expressed in the words:

“What kind of fly has stung him?”

“He only came abroad not a very long time ago,” the old man said; “he came as a pupil and his behavior was what was expected.’ (Axelrod emphasized this above all in his descriptions of the first months of the Iskra.) Whence this sudden self-confidence? How does he do it?” etc.

The conclusion was: he prepared the ground in advance in Russia. Not in vain were all the connections in Nadezda Constantinovna’s hands; there too the work of the Russian comrades against the “Group for the Liberation of Labor” went on quietly ... Sasulich was indeed not less indignant than the others, but perhaps she under-stood more than the others. Not in vain had she said to Lenin, long before the split, in contrast with Plechanof that he had “a deadly bite.” And who knows what effect these words had upon him? Whether Lenin did not repeat to himself: “Yes, that is right: who, if not Sasulich, can know Plechanof? He shakes and shakes his opponent, and lets him go, while our task demands something quite different ... Here it requires the deadly bite.”

To what degree and in what sense the words about a preparatory “work” of the Russian comrades are right, Nadezda Constantinovna can best tell. But in the broader sense of the word one can say without further examination of the facts, that such a preparation took place. Lenin always prepared the day to follow while he affirmed and improved today. His creative mind never stiffened and his vigilance never tired. And when he came to the conclusion that the “Group for Liberation of Labor,” because of the approaching revolution, was not in a position to assume the immediate direction of the organization for the struggle of the proletarian vanguard, he drew for himself all the practical inferences. The old men had made a mistake; and not the old men alone; this was no longer the young, capable party worker whom Axelrod had favored by a friendly patronizing foreword; this was rather a leader, fully cognizant of his goal, who, in my opinion, already felt himself destined to be a leader, after he had worked side by side with the old men, the teachers, and convinced himself that he was stronger and more necessary than they. It is true that in Russia too Lenin had been the first among equals, according to Martof’s expression. But there, after all, it bad only been a question of the first Social Democratic groups, of young organizations. The Russian standards still bore the stamp of provincialism: how many Russian Lasalles and Russian Bebels there then! It was a different matter with the “Group for the Liberation of Labor”: Plechanof, Axelrod and Sasulich were in the same rank with Kautsky, Lafargue, Guesde, and Bebel, the real, German Bebel! When Lenin measured his strength in work with them, he had, at the same time, measured himself with the great European standard. Especially in his conflicts with Plechanof, when the staff grouped itself about the two poles, Lenin’s self-consciousness must have gone through that steeling without which he would not have been Lenin later on.

And the conflicts with the old men were inevitable. Not because there had been two different conceptions of revolutionary movement. No, this was not yet the case at this time, but the manner of approaching political events, in organizing and, particularly, in handling practical problems, consequently too the position towards the approaching revolution, were fundamentally different. The old men of the party had twenty years of exile back of them. For them the Iskra and Saria was a literary undertaking above everything else. For Lenin, on the contrary, they meant the immediate instrument of revolutionary activity. In Plechanof the revolutionary skeptic was deeply rooted, as was proved a few years later (1905-1906) and more tragically still in the imperialist war: he looked upon Lenin’s directness of purpose haughtily, and only had a malicious, condescending witty remark to make about it. Axelrod, as I have already said, was closer to the tactical problems, but his train of thoughts refused stubbornly to consider the questions of preparation for preparation. Axelrod analyzed with the greatest skill the tendencies and shadings of the different groupings of the revolutionary Intellectuals. He was a homeopath of the pre-revolutionary politics. His methods and mediums had something of the character of the apothecary shop, of the laboratory. The quantities with which he worked were always very small; the societies with which he had to do he could measure with the finest scales. Not without reason did Deutsch consider Axelrod like Spinoza, and not in vain was Spinoza a diamond cutter; a work that requires a magnifying glass. Lenin, on the contrary, looked upon the events and conditions as a whole and understood how to grasp the social complex in his thought; so he wagered on the approaching revolution, which burst upon Plechanof, as well as Axelrod, all of a sudden.

Probably Vera Ivanovna Sasulich felt most directly of the old people the approach of the revolution. Her strong character, free from all pedantry, intuitively historical, helped her in this. But she felt the revolution as an old radical. In the depths of her soul she was convinced that all the elements of revolution already existed among us, especially the “actual” self-confident liberalism that would take the leadership, and that we Marxists by our hasty criticism and “pursuit” only frightened the Liberals and thereby played fundamentally a counter-revolutionary role. Vera Ivanovna did not say all this in the press, of course. In personal conversations too she did not express it so fully. None the less it was her deep conviction and thence came the opposition between her and Axelrod, whom she considered a doctrinaire. In reality, within the limits of tactical homeopathy, Axelrod emphasized unconditionally the revolutionary hegemony of Social Democracy. He only refused to carry over this view-point from the language of groups and unions to the language of the classes when they entered the movement. Here too the abyss be-tween him and Lenin was revealed.

Lenin did not go abroad as a Marxist “in general,” not for publicist revolutionary work “in general,” not simply to continue the work of twenty years of the “Group for the Liberation of Labor”; no, he went as the potential leader, and not as a leader “in general,” but as the leader of that revolution that was growing and that he palpably perceived. He went to create within the shortest time the ideological tools and the organizing apparatus for the revolution. I speak of Lenin’s impetuous and yet at the same time disciplined characteristic of striving for his goal, not in the sense that he had only tried to assist in the victory of the “final aim,” no, that is too universal and shallow, but in the concrete, direct and immediate sense, that he had put up a practical goal, to hasten the beginning of the revolution and to assure its victory. As Lenin worked abroad shoulder to shoulder with Plechanof, and as what the Germans call “the pathos of distance” vanished, it must have become physically clear to the “pupil” that he not only had nothing more to learn from the teacher about the question which he then considered fundamental, but that the skeptical critical teacher, thanks to his authority, was in a position to hinder his rescue work and to separate him from the younger colleagues. This is the basis of Lenin’s far-seeing anxiety about the staff’s formation, hence the combinations of “The committees of seven and three, “hence the striving to separate Plechanof from the “Group of Liberation of Labor,” to form a leading commission of three in which Lenin would always have had for himself Plechanof in questions of revolutionary theory and Martof in questions of revolutionary policies. The personal combinations were changed; but the “anticipation” that remained unchanged in the man finally became blood, flesh, and bones.

At the Second Congress Lenin won Plechanof, but he was an unreliable confederate. At the same time he lost Martof and lost him forever. Plechanof had evidently noticed something at the Second Congress; at least he then said to Axelrod, as the latter reproached him in bitterness and surprise on account of his alliance with Lenin:

“From this dough come Robespierres.” I do not know if this important sentence ever got into the press and if it is generally known in the party; but I vouch for its correctness. “From this dough come Robespierres! and even something much greater, George Valentinovich,” history replies. But apparently this historic revelation grew dim in Plechanof’s consciousness. He broke with Lenin and returned to skepticism and his biting sarcasm, which, as time went on, lost their sharpness.

But in the anticipation of the “break” it was not only a question of Plechanof and the old men of the party. At the Second Congress a certain commencement stage of the preparatory period came to an end. The circumstance that the “Iskra organization” split up quite unexpectedly into two almost even parts proved in itself and for itself that in this commencement stage much had happened that was not known. Class party had just broken through the shell of intellectual radicalism. The stream of Intelligentsia to Marxism was not exhausted. The student movement with its left wing inclined towards the Iskra. Among the intellectual youth, particularly abroad, there were numerous groups that supported the Iskra. All this was youthfully green and for the most part hesitating. Women students who belonged to the Iskra put such questions to the chairman:

“Can an Iskra adherent marry a navy officer?”

There were only three workmen at the Second Congress and that was only accomplished with trouble. The Iskra brought together and trained numbers of professional Revolutionaries and drew the young and heroically minded workmen under their banner. On the other hand, important intellectual groups passed through the Iskra only to turn aside soon afterward to the people connected with Osvoboschdenje. The Iskra was successful, not only as the Marxist organ of the proletarian party which was being formed, but also as the extreme left political combative publicist that would not let itself be bullied. The more radical elements among the Intelligentsia were zealously ready to fight for freedom under Iskra’s banner. Along with this, the pedagogic disbelief in the strength of the proletariat, that had found its expression earlier in economics, had now succeeded, and rather openly, in changing its color under the protection of Iskra, without thereby changing its nature. For in the long run Iskra’s brilliant victory was much greater than its actual conquests. I shall not undertake to pass judgment here to what degree Lenin accounted to himself clearly and completely for this before the Second Congress, but at any rate more clearly and completely than any one else. Those rather motley currents that were grouped under “Iskra’s” standard were reflected in the staff itself. Lenin alone represented the coming day with its difficult problems, its fearful conflicts and unnumbered sacrifices. Hence his foresight and his combative mistrust. Hence his careful treatment of questions of organization that have their symbolic expression in paragraph I of the law about the membership of the party. [2]

It is quite natural that when the Second Congress began to destroy the fruits of Iskra’s ideological victory, Lenin began a new arrangement, a new, more pretentious and stronger selection. To make up his mind to such a step, in which he had only an unreliable partial ally in Plechanof, while he had half the Congress and all the other members of the staff as open and decided opponents, under such circumstances to make up his mind to a new selection, he had to have a strong faith, not only in the thing itself, but in his own powers. This faith grew out of his practically controlled self-estimation that sprang from his common work with the “teachers” and the first stormy conflicts which preceded the coming thunder and lightning of the split. Lenin’s entire, forceful directness of purpose was requisite to begin such an undertaking and carry it to its conclusion. Incessantly Lenin strained the bow string to the utmost, to the snapping point, while at the same time he carefully tested it with his finger to see if it slackened anywhere, or if it threatened to break.

“You cannot strain your bow like that; it will break,” they called to him from every side.

“It will not break,” the master answered; “our bow is made of unbreakable proletarian material, and one must strain the party string more and more, for the heavy arrow has far to fly!”


1. Trotzky here confuses Massenet with Charpentier. – Translator

2. The statute is as follows in Lenin’s setting: “A member of the party is one who participates in an oranization of the party”; in Martof’s form: “who works under the control of the party.” – Translator

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Last updated on: 14.4.2007