Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

What Is To Be Done?


The Attempt to Unite Iskra With Rabocheye Dyelo

It remains for us to describe the tactics adopted and consistently pursued by Iskra in its organisational relations with Rabocheye Dyelo. These tactics were fully expressed in Iskra, No. 1, in the article entitled “The Split in the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad”.[1] From the outset we adopted the point of view that the real Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad, which at the First Congress of our Party was recognised as its representative abroad, had split into two organisations; that the question of the Party’s representation remained an open one, having been settled only temporarily and conditionally by the election, at the International Congress in Paris, of two members to represent Russia on the International Socialist Bureau,[9] one from each of the two sections of the divided Union Abroad. We declared that fundamentally Rabocheye Dyelo was wrong; in principle we emphatically took the side of the Emancipation of Labour group, at the same time refusing to enter into the details of the split and noting the services rendered by the Union Abroad in the sphere of purely practical work.[2]

Consequently, ours was, to a certain extent, a waiting policy. We made a concession to the opinions prevailing among the majority of the Russian Social-Democrats that the most determined opponents of Economism could work hand in hand with the Union Abroad because it had repeatedly declared its agreement in principle with the Emancipation of Labour group, without, allegedly, taking an independent position on fundamental questions of theory and tactics. The correctness of our position was indirectly proved by the fact that almost simultaneously with the appearance of the first issue of Iskra (December 1900) three members separated from the Union, formed the so-called “Initiators’ Group”, and offered their services: (1) to the foreign section of the Iskra organisation, (2) to the revolutionary Sotsial-Demokrat organisation, and (3) to the Union Abroad, as mediators in negotiations for reconciliation. The first two organisations at once announced their agreement; the third turned down the offer. True, when a speaker related these facts at the “Unity” Conference last year, a member of the Administrative Committee of the Union Abroad declared the rejection of the offer to have been due entirely to the fact that the Union Abroad was dissatisfied with the composition of the Initiators’ Group. While I consider it my duty to cite this explanation, I cannot, however, refrain from observing that it is an unsatisfactory one; for, knowing that two organisations had agreed to enter into negotiations, the Union Abroad could have approached them through another intermediary or directly.

In the spring of 1901 both Zarya (No. 1, April) and Iskra (No. 4, May)[3] entered into open polemics with Rabocheye Dyelo. Iskra particularly attacked the article “A Historic Turn” in Rabocheye Dyelo, which, in its April supplement, that is, after the spring events, revealed instability on the question of terror and the calls for “blood”, with which many had been carried away at the time. Notwithstanding the polemics, the Union Abroad agreed to resume negotiations for reconciliation through the instrumentality of a new group of “conciliators” A preliminary conference of representatives of the three cited organisations, held in June, framed a draft agreement on the basis of a very detailed “accord on principles”, which the Union Abroad published in the pamphlet Two Conferences, and the League Abroad in the pamphlet Documents of the “Unity” Conference.

The contents of this accord on principles (more frequently named the Resolutions of the June Conference) make it perfectly clear that we put forward as an absolute condition for unity the most emphatic repudiation of any and every manifestation of opportunism generally, and of Russian opportunism in particular. Paragraph 1 reads: “We repudiate all attempts to introduce opportunism into the proletarian class struggle — attempts that have found expression in the so-called Economism, Bernsteinism, Millerandism, etc.” “The sphere of Social-Democratic activities includes ... ideological struggle against all opponents of revolutionary Marxism” (4, c); “In every sphere of organisational and agitational activity Social-Democracy must never for a moment forget that the immediate task of the Russian proletariat is the overthrow of the autocracy” (5, a); “agitation … not only on the basis of the everyday struggle between wage-labour and capital” (5, b); “. . . we do not recognise. . . a stage of purely economic struggle and of struggle for partial political demands” (5, c); “. . we consider it important for the movement to criticise tendencies that make a principle of the elementariness and narrowness of the lower forms ofthe movement” (5, d). Even a complete outsider, having read these resolutions at all attentively, will have realised from their very formulations that they are directed against people who were opportunists and Economists, who, even for a moment, forgot the task of overthrowing the autocracy, who recognised the theory of stages, who elevated narrowness to a principle, etc. Anyone who has the least acquaintance with the polemics conducted by the Emancipation of Labour group, Zarya,and Iskra against Rabocheye Dyelo cannot doubt for a single moment that these resolutions repudiate, point by point, the very errors into which Rabocheye Dyelo strayed. Hence, when a member of the Union Abroad declared at the “Unity” Conference that the articles in No. 10 of Rabocheye Dyelo had been prompted, not by a new “historic turn” on the part of the Union Abroad, but by the excessive “abstractness” of the resolution,[4] the assertion was justly ridiculed by one of the speakers. Farfrom being abstract, he said, the resolutions were incredibly concrete: one could see at a glance that they were “trying to catch somebody”.

This remark occasioned a characteristic incident at the Conference. On the one hand, Krichevsky, seizing upon the word “catch” in the belief that this was a slip of the tongue which betrayed our evil intentions (“to set a trap”), pathetically exclaimed: “Whom are they out to catch?” “Whom indeed?” rejoined Plekhanov sarcastically. “Let me come to the aid of Comrade Plekhanov’s lack of perspicacity,” replied Krichevsky. “Let me explain to him that the trap was set for the Editorial Board of Rabocheye Dyelo [general laughter] but we have not allowed ourselves to be caught!” (A remark from the left: “All the worse for you!”) On the other hand, a member of the Borba group (a group of conciliators), opposing the amendments of the Union Abroad to the resolutions and desiring to defend our speaker, declared that obviously the word “catch” was dropped by chance in the heat of polemics.

For my part, I think the speaker responsible for uttering the word will hardly be pleased with this “defence”. I think the words “trying to catch somebody” were “true words spoken in jest”; we have always accused Rabocheye Dyelo of instability and vacillation, and, naturally, we had to try to catch it in order to put a stop to the vacillation. There is not the slightest suggestion of evil intent in this, for we were discussing instability of principles And we succeeded in “catching” the Union Abroad in such comradely manner[5] that Krichevsky himself and one other member of the Administrative Committee of the Union signed the June resolutions.

The articles in Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10 (our comrades saw the issue for the first time when they arrived at the Conference, a few days before the meetings started) clearly showed that a new turn had taken place in the Union Abroad in the period between the summer and the autumn: the Economists had once more gained the upper hand, and the Editorial Board, which veered with every “wind”, again set out to defend “the most pronounced Berristeinians” and “freedom of criticism”, to defend “spontaneity”, and through the lips of Martynov to preach the “theory of restricting” the sphere of our political influence (for the alleged purpose of rendering this influence more complex). Once again Parvus’ apt observation that it is difficult to catch an opportunist with a formula has been proved correct. An opportunist will readily put his name to any formula and as readily abandon it, because opportunism means precisely a lack of definite and firm principles. Today, the opportunists have repudiated all attempts to introduce opportunism, repudiated all narrowness, solemnly promised “never for a moment to forget about the task of overthrowing the autocracy” and to carry on “agitation not only on the basis of the everyday struggle between wage-labour and capital”, etc., etc. But tomorrow they will change their form of expression and revert to their old tricks on the pretext of defending spontaneity and the forward march of the drab everyday struggle, of extolling demands promising palpable results, etc. By continuing to assert that in the articles in No. 10 “the Union Abroad did not and does not now see any heretical departure from the general principles of the draft adopted at the conference” (Two Conferences, p. 26), the Union Abroad merely reveals a complete lack of ability, or of desire, to understand the essential points of the disagreements.

After the tenth issue of Rabocheye Dyelo, we could make one effort: open a general discussion in order to ascertain whether all the members of the Union Abroad agreed with the articles and with the Editorial Board. The Union Abroad is particularly displeased with us because of this and accuses us of trying to sow discord in its ranks, of interfering in other people’s business, etc. These accusations are obviously unfounded, since with an elected editorial board that “veers” with every wind, however light, everything depends upon the direction of the wind, and we defined the direction at private meetings at which no one was present, except members of the organisations intending to unite. The amendments to the June resolutions submitted in the name of the Union Abroad have removed the last shadow of hope of arriving at agreement. The amendments are documentary evidence of the new turn towards Economism and of the fact that the majority of the Union members are in agreement with Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10. It was moved to delete the words “so-called Economism” from the reference to manifestations of opportunism (on the plea that “the meaning” of these words “was vague”; but if that were so, all that was required was a more precise definition of the nature of the widespread error), and to delete “Millerandism” (although Krichevsky had defended it in Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 2-3, pp. 83-84, and still more openly in Vorwarts[6]). Notwithstanding the fact that the June resolutions definitely indicated that the task of Social-Democracy is “to guide every manifestation of the proletarian struggle against all forms of political, economic, and social oppression”, thereby calling for the introduction of system and unity in all these manifestations of the struggle, the Union Abroad added the wholly superfluous words that “the economic struggle is a powerful stimulus to the mass movement” (taken by itself, this assertion cannot be disputed, but with the existence of narrow Economism it could not but give occasion for false interpretations). Moreover, even the direct constriction of “politics” was suggested for the June resolutions, both by the deletion of the words “not for a moment” (to forget the aim of overthrowing the autocracy) and by the addition of the words “the economic struggle is the most widely applicable means of drawing the masses into active political struggle”. Naturally, upon the submission of such amendments, the speakers on our side refused, one after another, to take the floor, considering it hopeless to continue negotiations with people who were again turning towards Economism and were striving to secure for themselves freedom to vacillate.

It was precisely the preservation of the independent features and the autonomy of Rabocheye Dyelo, considered by the Union to be the sine qua non of the durability of our future agreement, that Iskra regarded as the stumbling-block to agreement" (Two Conferences, p. 25). This is most inexact. We never had any designs against Rabocheye Dyelo’s autonomy.[7] We did indeed absolutely refuse to recognise the independence of its features, if by “independent features” is meant independence on questions of principle in theory and tactics. The June resolutions contain an utter repudiation of such independence of features, because, in practice, such “independence of features” has always meant, as we have pointed out, all manner of vacillations fostering the disunity which prevails among us and which is intolerable from the Party point of view. Rabocheye Dyelo’s articles in its tenth issue, together with its “amendments” clearly revealed its desire to preserve this kind of independence of features, and such a desire naturally and inevitably led to a rupture and a declaration of war. But all of us were ready to recognise Rabocheye Dyelo’s “independence of features” in the sense that it should concentrate on definite literary functions. A proper distribution of these functions naturally called for: (1) a theoretical magazine, (2) a political newspaper, and (3) popular collections of articles and popular pamphlets. Only by agreeing to such a distribution of functions would Rabocheye Dyelo have proved that it sincerely desired to abandon once and for all its errors, against which the June resolutions were directed. Only such a distribution of functions would have removed all possibility of friction, effectively guaranteed a durable agreement, and, at the same time, served as a basis for a revival and for new successes of our movement.

At present not a single Russian Social-Democrat can have any doubts that the final rupture between the revolutionary and the opportunist tendencies was caused, not by any “organisational” circumstances, but by the desire of the opportunists to consolidate the independent features of opportunism and to continue to cause confusion of mind by the disquisitions of the Krichevskys and Martynovs.




[1] See Collected Works, Vol. 4, pp. 378-79 –Ed.Lenin

[2] Our judgement of the split was based, not only upon a study of the literature on the subject, but also on information gathered abroad by several members of our organisation. —Lenin

[3] See Collected Works, Vol. 4, pp. 13-24 –Ed. —Lenin

[4] This assertion is repeated in Two Conferences, p. 25. —Lenin

[5] Precisely: In the introduction to the June resolutions we said that Russian Social-Democracy as a whole always stood by the principles of the Emancipation of Labour group and that the particular service of the Union Abroad was its publishing and organising activity. In other words, we expressed our complete readiness to forget, the past and to recognise the usefulness (for the cause) of the work of our comrades of the Union Abroad provided it completely ceased the vacillation we tried to “catch”. Any impartial person reading the June resolutions will only thus interpret them. If the Union Abroad, after having caused a split by its new turn towards Economism (in its articles in No. 10 and in the amendments), now solemnly charges us with untruth (Two Conferences, p. 30), because of what we said about its services, then, of course, such an accusation can only evoke a smile. —Lenin

[6] A polemic on the subject started in Vorwarts between its present editor, Kautsky, and the Editorial Board of Zarya. We shall not fail to acquaint the Russian reader with this controversy.[10]Lenin

[7] That is, if the editorial consultations in connection with the establishment of a joint supreme council of the combined organisations are not to be regarded as a restriction of autonomy. But in June Rabocheye Dyelo agreed to this. —Lenin

[8] Lenin omitted this appendix when What Is To Be Done? was republished in the collection Twelve Years in 1907. p. 521

[9] The International Socialist Bureau—the executive body of the Second International established by decision of the Paris Congress in 1900. From 1905 onwards Lenin was a member of the Bureau as a representative of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.

[10] Iskra, No. 18 (March 10, 1902) published in the section “From the Party” An item entitled “Zarya’s Polemic with Vorwarts”, summing up the controversy.


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