G. Zinoviev

Our Problems


(October 1921)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. I No. 3, 25 October 1921, p. 28.
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, December 2018.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In the next number of the Communist International Comrade Zinoviev is publishing an essay on The Tactics of the Communist International, we intend to publish several extracts from this article in the near future. The present passage is an explanation of the term “Otsovism”, to which Comrade Lenin alluded in his open letter to the Jena Congress of the German Communist Party.

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What was Otsovism in the Russian labor movement?

The comrades in other countries, who are now very well acquainted with the tendency characterised as Menschevism, should also get to know the other tendency known as Otsovism. In the period of the worst counter-revolution in Russia, in 1908, the group of the extreme “left”, who accused the Bolsheviki of opportunism and demanded the recall of the members of the social-democratic fraction in the Imperial Duma, split away from the Bolsheviki. (The word “Otsovism” comes from the Russian for recall – “Otsyv”.) Even before that the “left” communist group had propagated the boycott of the elections for the Third Duma being of the opinion that participation in the elections to such a Duma meant treason to the working class. The foreign “left” comrades sometimes conjecture that the entire import of Otsovism is boycott. And since these Comrades are not at present for the boycott of parliamentary institutions, they believe that they have nothing in common with Otsovism and that we accuse them without reason when we compare them with the Otsovists. In reality, however, the matter is not so simple as all that. The boycott was actually one of the characteristic features of the Otsovist tendency but it by no means exhausted the intellectual content of this movement.

Russian Otsovism was born and flourished just in the years of the interval between the two revolutionary waves. In 1906 the revolutionary wave which had risen so high in 1905 finally collapsed. In 1911–1912 the new flood, which rose so swiftly after the Lena strike, began. Between 1907 and 1911 lies the period of the blackest reaction, of decay in the working-class, of the growth of the Menshevik (liquidating as we then expressed it) vagaries of betrayal, of partial defeats, etc. In this period Czarism and the bourgeoisie tried to destroy Bolshevism once for all. They gave the Mensheviki a certain monopoly of legality and persecuted the Bolsheviki in every possible way. They provoked us to premature conflicts in order to drown the Bolshevik movement in workers’ blood and deprive it of all support in the working-class. There arose a rather complicated and fine coordination of forces among Stolypin, the liberal Russian bourgeoisie (Cadets), the Mensheviki and the Right Social Revolutionaries, with the design of depriving the Bolsheviki of their basis in the workers’ mass-movement, of transforming them into an ossified sect, of compelling them to sink to the level of ineffectual, impotent shouters. It was our duty in this period to remain in close contact with the working masses, cost what it might, and at the same time to remain true to our revolutionary flag. We had to learn how to enter without shouting, without too many phrases, into every legal and illegal working-class organization, even the most banal. We had to expose the treason of the Mensheviki at every opportunity. At the same time we did not confine ourselves to phrases but did the inconvenient, everyday work in the ranks, and worked in the parliamentary Duma fraction, in the legal and illegal trade-unions, in the co-operatives, the workers’ clubs, the gymnastic and musical societies and in the illegal working-class press. The Otsovists had many valuable workers, deeply devoted to the revolution, in their ranks.

Among the leaders of the Otsovists there were many old party-workers intellectuals and Bolsheviki who later came back to us. But in the difficult, terrible years, in which the future fate of the Bolshevik party was actually decided, the extreme “left” Otsovists did very serious injury to Bolshevism and in reality aided the Mensheviki. As a result of its revolutionary impatience, its rashness, its attempt to spur the party to a coup at a time when the masses were not yet ready for a struggle, its foolish boycott tendency, its revolutionary phrases, and its senseless theory, that the movement can be “activated” by trying to supplant the large working masses by a small party – as a result of all these characteristics Otsovism was in the above-mentioned period a great danger to the revolution. The Bolsheviki were compelled to carry on a long and very violent fight against the “left” Otsovist tendency, a struggle which led to a sharp split. After the Otsovists had split away from the Bolsheviki, as a result of the logic of circumstances and of the logical consequences of their fundamentally incorrect position they came to a working agreement with the Mensheviki against the Bolsheviks. The nearer the coming of the revolutionary uprising, the more Otsovism withered, the more decidedly the best workers who had previously supported the Otsovists reentered our ranks, the ranks of the Bolsheviki. They realised that we had maintained our point against the left bombasts. They convinced themselves that only thanks to our tactics was contact with the masses maintained and our party preserved not a sect of “left” phrase-mongers, but the leader of the masses. The second Russian revolution actually began before the outbreak of the war in 1914. The war only hastened it. The power of the Bolshevik elite is based on the fact that the party maintained contact with the masses in the darkest period, a few years later led the entire working-class in the decisive struggle against the bourgeoisie, and in October 1917 achieved victory.

Last updated: 18 October 2021