“I beg you, if you are in agreement with me, when you’ve talked it over with other comrade deputies wire me ‘Don’t Worry’ ...“
(From Plekhanov’s letter to the deputy Buryanov.)
PLEKHANOV is ideologically and politically dead for socialism and for our party. But he wants to force everyone to be reminded that he has physically outlived his spiritual death.
He wants to introduce the maximum confusion and interference into the party’s ranks and to inject the maximum poison into the consciousness of backward workers; to him it seems clear that his intellectual downfall will not be so noticeable amid the nonsensical chaos that he is creating around his name.
Writing in the Italian chauvinist press against the Italian Socialist Party which he had only recently defended against Italian national-reformism; in defence of Tsarist diplomacy setting off into the Knossan labyrinth of Kantianism with a string fixed to his neck after he had fought Tsarism and Kantianism his whole life; joining up with the now demoted national-populists against revolutionary social-democracy; inciting our deputies first from behind the scenes then openly, to scab on the party, Plekhanov seems to be turning frenzied in the struggle against his own past and seems to be attempting to drown the protest of his enfeebled political conscience with the mounting licentiousness of his public utterances.
Knowing perfectly well that our deputies will vote against the credits, that already five of them have suffered deportation for their loyalty to the banner and that the entire advanced proletariat is with the social-democratic deputies, Plekhanov attempts to split off just one of them and the wretched impotence of his arguments is filled out with acts of personal intimidation. Addressing Buryanov in person he writes that “to vote against the credits would be treachery”. During the war he hurls the accusation of treachery at the revolutionary party which has been shackled hand and foot by the state of war.
Take back this accusation, liberal chauvinists, take it back if it doesn’t make you sick – it fits you perfectly: when social-democracy hurls at you the accusation of abetting the forces which have prepared the war, you don’t justify yourselves, nor do you defend yourselves – you answer with the accusation of treachery!
And you upstarts, you people from Zemshchina and the other dens of reaction, now you can crow about the traitors Petrovsky and Muranov or call “tally-ho” after Chkheidze or Skobelev with the blessing of the founding father of Russian Marxism.
And you, gentlemen prosecutors of the Shcheglovitovsky and other brands can tuck Plekhanov’s letter away in your portfolios: it will come in useful when you are to array in convict’s uniform that same Buryanov whom Plekhanov styles “dear comrade”.
One would like to pass by this repulsive spectacle with eyes closed: that of the “father” of the party drunk with chauvinism and spiritually denuded. But one cannot: this outrage is a political fact.
Each new speech of Plekhanov against Russian Social-Democracy is at once transmitted by telegraph to the bourgeois newspapers of every country; not because Plekhanov has said anything of exceptional significance – on the contrary it would be difficult to conceive a cruder expression of more banal thoughts but the intellectual corpse of a Marxist theoretician will still always be good enough to be used as a barrier to proletarian internationalism. And above all the “liberal” and “democratic” intelligentsia looks at itself in the mirror of Plekhanov’s fall and discovers that in reality it is not quite so intellectually barren, nor so morally debased that it would in any way dare in its own name to demand that the socialists renounce themselves and to brand them as traitors for their firmness as Plekhanov has done. To Tver and to Novocherkassk, to Odessa and to Irkutsk, everywhere the telegraph wire carries the message that Plekhanov has called the conduct of the social-democratic faction “treachery”. What a gross interference with the minds of young workers only just coming into contact with socialism! What a victory for all the renegades, for those who had already sold their swords at the start of the counter-revolution and for the deserters at the last “patriotic” summons.
What a fall!
One could tell a cautionary psychological tale of the personal tragedy of the man who defended over a period of three decades a class policy in complete isolation from the class, who upheld the principles of revolution in the least revolutionary corner of Europe and who was the fanatical propagandist of Marxism in the least “Marxist” atmosphere of French thought.
One could make a sketch of the life of the revolutionary who over a third of a century, fully armed with the theory of Marxism, awaited and summoned the Russian revolution but who when it arrived could not find in his intellectual arsenal either an analysis of its moving forces or bigger historical generalizations or even one single lucid or powerful word: nothing except stale philosophizing and out-dated grumbling about tactics.
One could write a characterization of the powerful and brilliant mind which was purely dogmatic and formally logical and one could explain why in the conditions of the social impoverishment of Russia, history entrusted to just such a mind the defence and propagation of Marxism, of the least dogmatic and the least formal doctrine wherein through the fabric of generalizations appear the living flesh and hot blood of the social struggle and its passions: how where the doctrine was left still without its social body and nestled in the consciousness of the intelligentsia there had to come forward as its spokesman the polemicist, the logician and alas frequently the sophist. And in this contradiction between the character of the world-outlook and individual intellectual make-up on the one hand and the tasks and conditions of life on the other lay the source of all the later wavering and errors which have now terminated in an irreversible collapse.
But now is not a time for writing psychological studies. The case of Plekhanov is not merely a personal tragedy but a political fact. And while immediately around Plekhanov in his surrounding retinue of nobodies there is no one who could make him understand that his public actions are not only destroying him but also hopelessly darken the image which now forms the property of party history, we are left not only the duty but the right to be contemptuous.
He, Plekhanov, over the telegraph invokes the faction to tell him “not to worry” – an act of political renegation – but from both the faction which wishes to remain at its post and the party which has sufficient strength to step over the intellectual corpse of its founder, Plekhanov must get the answer:
“We don’t care whether you’re worried or not; but we do ask you once and for all to stop worrying us!”
Nashe Slovo, No.216, October 14, 1915
Last updated on: 10.4.2007