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The Liquidators Exposed

V. I. Lenin

Our readers know, of course, that during the past year our Party has had to concern itself with the so-called liquidationist trend in Social-Democracy. The liquidators are those most undaunted opportunists who have begun to advocate the view that an illegal Social-Democratic Party is unnecessary in Russia today, that the R.S.D.L.P. is unnecessary. Our readers are also aware that the Bolsheviks waged and carried through a struggle against this liquidationist trend, carried it through at least to such an extent that at the All-Russian Party Conference in December 1908[2] liquidationism was condemned in the most decisive and irrevocable manner against the votes of the Mensheviks and part of the Bundists[3] (the other part of the Bundists came out against liquidationism).

However, the official organ of the Menshevik faction, Golos Sotsial-Demokrata[4], not only did not admit that it was liquidationist but, on the contrary, assumed an unusually "proud and noble" pose and denied that it was in any way involved in liquidationism. The facts convicted them. But Golos Sotsial-Demokrata grandly ignored the facts. The recent issue, No. 9, of Plekhanov's Dnevnik Sotsial-Demokrata[5] (August 1909) is extremely valuable because in it one of the leaders of Menshevism completely exposes liquidationism. This is not the only significance of Dnevnik but it is on this aspect of the matter that we must dwell first of all.

No. 45 of Proletary[6] published a letter from Mensheviks of Vyborg District (in St. Petersburg) protesting against the Menshevik liquidators. This letter is reprinted in Golos No. 14 (May 1909) and the editors remark: "The editorial board of Proletary pretends to have seen in the letter of the Vyborg comrades a step away from the newspaper Golos Sotsial-Demokrata...."

Plekhanov's Dnevnik appears. Its author shows the whole content of liquidationist ideas in the article published in Golos No. 15, without the slightest reservation on the part of the editors (and moreover in an article expressing entirely the same views as those of the editors). Plekhanov quotes in this connection the letter of the Vyborg comrades and says: "This letter shows us how the broad workers' organisations are at times influenced by people who have deserted our Party on the pretext of 'new' work" (Dnevnik, p. 10). It is just this "pretext" that has always been put forward by Golos! "Such influence," Plekhanov continues, "is by no means a Social-Democratic influence; it is in spirit absolutely hostile to Social-Democracy" (p. 11).

And so, Plekhanov quotes the letter of the Vyborg comrades against No. 15 of Golos Sotsial-Demokrata. We ask the reader: in point of fact, who is it that is "pretending"? Was Proletary "pretending" when it accused Golos of liquidationism, or was "Golos" pretending when it denied that it had any connection with liquidationism.

The literary dishonesty of the editorial board of Golos has been exposed, and exposed by Plekhanov, who until recently was one of its members.

But this is by no means all.

In Golos No. 15 (June 1909), in an article signed F. Dan, we find a statement that Pravda's[7] reputation for non-factionalism protects it "from stupid and unscrupulous accusations of liquidationism" (p. 12). One could not put it more forcefully. It would be difficult to show on one's countenance a more lofty, nobler indignation at Golos being accused of liquidationism.

Plekhanov's Dnevnik appears. The author shows the whole content of liquidationist ideas in one of the articles of Golos No. '5 and declares to the Mensheviks who share these ideas: "Why are you offended at the charge of liquidationism when in fact you are very much guilty of this sin?" (p. 5). "Comrade S.[8] [the author of the article in Golos No. 15 examined by Plekhanov][1] not only can but must be accused of liquidationism, because the plan that he expounds and defends in his letter is in reality nothing hut a plan for the liquidation of our Party" (Dnevnik, p. 6). In his article Comrade S. plainly expresses his solidarity with "the Caucasian delegation", i.e., with the editorial board of "Golos", which had, as is known, two mandates out of three in this delegation.

Plekhanov continues:

"One must make a choice here: either liquidationism or a fight against it. There is no third way. In saying so I have in mind, of course, comrades who are guided not by their personal interests but by the interests of our common cause. For those who are guided by their personal interests, for those who are thinking only of their revolutionary careers — and there is indeed such a career!—for them, of course, a third way does exist. Big and little people of this calibre can, and, even must at the present time, manoeuvre between the liquidationist and anti-liquidationist trends; under existing conditions they have to make the strongest possible excuses for not giving a straight answer to the question whether it is necessary to combat liquidationism; they have to escape from giving such an answer by means of 'allegories and empty hypotheses', for nobody knows yet which trend will get the upper hand—the liquidationist or anti-liquidationist—and these sapient diplomatists want at any rate to share in the celebration; they want at all costs to be on the side of the victors. I repeat, for such people there is a third way. But Comrade S. will probably agree with me if I say that they are not genuine people, but only 'toy manikins'[9]. They are not worth talking about; they are inborn opportunists; their motto is: 'as you please'" (Dnevnik, pp. 7–8).

This can be called: a gentle hint ... at a serious matter. The fifth and last act, scene 1. On the stage are the editors of Golos, all except one. Editor So-and-so, addressing the public with an air of exceptional nobility: "the accusations of liquidationism levelled at us are not only stupid but deliberately dishonest."

Scene 2. The same persons and "he", the editor of Golos who has just safely resigned from the editorial board[10]; he pretends not to notice any of the editors and says, addressing contributor S., who is at one with the editors: "Either liquidationism, or a fight against it. There is a third way only for revolutionary careerists, who manoeuvre, who make excuses for not giving a straight answer, who wait to see who will, get the upper hand. Comrade S. probably agrees with me that these are not genuine people but toy manikins. They are not worth talking about: they are inborn opportunists; their motto is—'as you please'."

Time will show whether "Comrade S.", the collective Menshevik Comrade S., really agrees with Plekhanov or whether he prefers to retain as his leaders certain toy manikins and inborn opportunists. One thing we can safely say already: among Menshevik workers, if Plekhanov, Potresov (a "convinced liquidator" according to, Plekhanov's comment on p. 19 of Dnevnik) and the toy manikins, whose motto is "as you please", fully lay bare their views before them, you will certainly not find ten per cent who are in favour of Potresov and in favour of those who say "as you please", taken together. You can be sure of that. Plekhanov's statement is sufficient to make Menshevik workers turn in disgust from both 'Potresov and those who say "as you please". Our task is to see to it that the working-class Mensheviks, especially those who are not readily influenced by propaganda coming from the Bolsheviks, become fully acquaint ed with No. 9 of Plekhanov's Dnevnik. Our task is to see to it that the working-class Mensheviks now seriously set about clarifying the ideological basis of the divergencies between Plekhanov, on the one hand, and Potresov and those who say "as you please" on the other.

On this particularly important question, Plekhanov in Dnevnik No. 9 provides material that is also. extremely valuable, but far, very far, from adequate. "Hurrah for 'general delimitation'!" exclaims Plekhanov, greeting the fixing of boundaries between the Bolsheviks and the anarcho-syndicalists (as Plekhanov calls our otzovists, ultimatumists and god-builders[11]) and declaring that "we Mensheviks must demarcate ourselves from the liquidators" (Dnevnik, p. 18). Of course, we Bolsheviks, who have already fixed our general boundary, whole-heartedly associate ourselves with this demand for a general delimitation within the Menshevik faction. We shall await with impatience this general delimitation. among the Mensheviks. We shall see where the general boundary among them will lie. We shall see whether it will be a really general boundary.

Plekhanov depicts the split within the Menshevik ranks over liquidationism as a split over an organisational question. At the same time, however, he provides data which show that 'the matter is far from being confined to a question of organisation. So far Plekhanov has drawn two boundaries, neither of which as yet deserves to be called general. The first boundary definitely divides Plekhanov from Potresov, the second divides him indefinitely from the "factional diplomatists", the toy manikins and the inborn opportunists. Concerning Potresov, Plekhanov says that already in the autumn of 1907 he "spoke like a convinced liquidator". But there is more to it than that. Besides this verbal statement of Potresov 's on the organisational question, Plekhanov refers to the well-known collective work of the Mensheviks The Social Movement in Russia at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century, and says that he, Plekhanov, resigned from the editorial board of this symposium because Potresov's article (even after corrections and redraftings demanded by Plekhanov and carried out through the mediation of Dan and Martov) was unacceptable to him. "I became fully convinced that Potresov's article could not be corrected" (p. 20). "I saw," he writes in Dnevnik, "that the liquidationist ideas Potresov expressed in Mannheim were firmly established in his mind and that he had completely lost the ability to look at social life, at its present and past, through the eyes of a revolutionary" (pp. 19–20). "Potresov is no comrade of mine ... he and I do not go the same way" (p. 20).

The question here is not at all one of present-day organisational problems, which Potresov did not touch on, and could not touch on, in his article. It is a question of the fundamental ideas of the Social-Democratic programme and tactics, which are being "liquidated" by the collective Menshevik "work" issued under the collective Menshevik editor ship of Martov, Maslov and Potresov.

In order to draw a really general boundary here it is not enough to break with Potresov and make a "gentle" hint at the "as you please" heroes. For this it is necessary to reveal in detail precisely where, when, why and how "Potresov lost the ability to look at Social life through the eyes of a revolutionary". Liquidationism, says Plekhanov, leads to the "slough of the most disgraceful opportunism" (p. 12). "Among them (the liquidators) new wine is converted into a very sour liquid suitable only for preparing petty-bourgeois vinegar" (p. 12). Liquidationism "facilitates the penetration of petty-bourgeois tendencies in a proletarian environment" (p. 14). "I have repeatedly tried to prove to influential Menshevik comrades that they are making a great mistake in displaying at times their readiness to go hand-in-hand with gentlemen who to a greater or lesser extent are redolent of opportunism" (p. 15). "Liquidationism leads straight to the muddy slough of opportunism and petty-bourgeois aspirations hostile to Social-Democracy" (p. 16). Compare all these comments of Plekhanov's with the recognition of Potresov as a convinced liquidator. It is quite clear that Potresov is described by Plekhanov (is now recognised by Plekhanov, it would be more correct to say) as a petty-bourgeois democrat-opportunist. It is quite clear that insofar as Menshevism, represented by all the influential writers of the faction (except Plekhanov), participates in this Potresovism (in The Social Movement), to that extent Menshevism is now acknowledged by Plekhanov to be a petty-bourgeois opportunist trend. Insofar as Menshevism, as a faction, gives its blessing to Potresov, and screens him, Menshevism is now acknowledged by Plekhanov to be a petty-bourgeois opportunist faction.

The conclusion is clear: if Plekhanov remains alone, if he fails to gather around him the bulk, or at least a considerable section, of the Mensheviks, if he fails to lay bare before all Menshevik workers the entire roots and manifestations of this petty-bourgeois opportunism, then our estimate of Menshevism will prove to be confirmed by the Menshevik who is the most outstanding as regards theory and who led the Mensheviks farthest in the tactics of 1906-07.

Time will show whether the "revolutionary Menshevism" proclaimed by Plekhanov will be strong enough to wage a struggle against the whole circle of ideas that have given rise to Potresov and liquidationism.

In speaking of the general delimitation among the Bolsheviks Plekhanov compares the Bolshevik Marxists, Social-Democrats, to Gogol's Osip[12], who picked up all sorts of rubbish, every little bit of string (including empirio-criticism[13] and god-building), Now the Bolshevik Osip, says Plekhanov jokingly, has begun "to clear the space around him", to expel the anti-Marxists, to throw away the "string" and other rubbish.

Plekhanov's joke touches not, on a frivolous question but on a fundamental and very serious one for Russian Social-Democracy, namely, which trend within it has been, most to the benefit of rubbish, "string", i.e., to the benefit of bourgeois-democratic influences in the proletarian environment. All the "subtleties" of factional disputes, all the long vicissitudes of the struggle over various resolutions, slogans, etc.—all this "factionalism" (which is now so frequently being condemned by empty cries against "factionalism" that encourage unprincipledness most of all) turns on this fundamental and very serious question for Russian Social-Democracy: which trend within it has been the most subservient to bourgeois-democratic influences (which are inevitable to some extent at some time during the bourgeois revolution in Russia, just as they are inevitable in every capitalist country). Every trend in Social-Democracy inevitably receives the adherence of a greater or lesser number of not purely proletarian but semi-proletarian and semi-petty- bourgeois elements; the question is which trend is less subordinate to them, more rapidly rids itself of them, more successfully combats them. This is the question ,of the socialist, proletarian, Marxist Osip in relation to the liberal or anarchist, petty-bourgeois; anti-Marxist "bit of string".

Bolshevik Marxism, says Plekhanov, is a "more or less narrow and crudely conceived Marxism". The Menshevik variety, apparently, is "more or less broad and subtle". Let us look at the results of the revolution, at the results of six years of the history of the Social-Democratic movement (1903-09), and what six years they were! The Bolshevik Osips have already drawn a "general boundary" and "shown the door" to the Bolshevik petty-bourgeois "bit of string", which is now whining that it has been "ousted" and "removed".

The Menshevik Osip has proved to be a lone figure, who has resigned both from the official Menshevik editorial board and from the collective editorial board of the most important Menshevik work, a lone protester against "petty bourgeois opportunism" and liquidationism, which reign both in the one and the other editorial board. The Menshevik Osip has proved to be tied up by the Menshevik "bit of string". He did not pick it up; it picked him up. He has not overpowered it, it has overpowered him.

Tell us, reader, would you prefer to be in the position of the Bolshevik Osip or the Menshevik Osip? Tell us, does that Marxism in the history of the workers' movement prove to be "narrow and crude" that is more firmly linked with the proletarian organisations and is more successfully coping with the petty-bourgeois "bit of string"?


[1] Interpolations in square brackets (within passages quoted by Lenin) have been introduced by Lenin, unless otherwise indicated.—Ed.

[2] The All-Russian (December) Conference of the RS.D.L.P. (Fifth Conference of the R.S.D.L.P.) was held in Paris on December 21-27, 1908 (January 3-9, 1909). It was attended by 16 delegates with the right to speak and vote: 5 Bolsheviks, 3 Mensheviks, 5 Polish Social-Democrats and 3 Bundists. The representative of the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. was Lenin. He delivered a report at the Conference on "The Present Moment and the Tasks of the Party", and also spoke on the Social-Democratic group in the Duma, and on the organisational and other questions. At the Conference the Bolsheviks waged a struggle against two kinds of opportunism in the Party: the liquidators and the otzovists. On the proposal of Lenin, the Conference condemned liquidationism and called on all Party organisations to combat vigorously attempts to liquidate the Party.

For an appraisal of the decisions of the Conference, see Lenin's articles "On the Road" and "Liquidation of Liquidationism" (see present edition, Vol. 15, pp. 343–53, 452-60).

[3] The Bundists—members of the Bund, the shortened title of the General Jewish Workers' Union of Lithuania, Poland and Russia, founded in 1897. It united mainly semi-proletarian Jewish artisans in Russia's western regions. The Bund pursued an opportunist, Menshevik policy.

[4] Golos Sotsial-Demokrata (Voice of the Social-Democrat)—-organ of the Menshevik liquidators abroad; it was published from February 1908 to December 1911, first in Geneva and later in Paris.

[5] Dnevnik Sotsial-Demokrata (Diary of a Social-Democrat)—a non-periodical organ published by G. V. Plekhanov in Geneva 4 considerable intervals from March 1905 until April 1912. In all 46 issues appeared. Publication was resumed in 1916 in Petrograd, but only one issue appeared.

[6] Proletary (The Proletarian)—an illegal newspaper formed by the Bolsheviks after the Fourth (Unity) Congress of the Party. It was published from August 21 (September 3), 1906 to November 28 (December 11), 1909, under Lenin's editorship. Bearing the title of organ of the Moscow and St. Petersburg Party Committees and for a time also of the Moscow District, Perm, Kursk and Kazan Committees Proletary was actually the Central Bolshevik Organ. Altogether 50 issues appeared (the first 20 in Vyborg, Finland). From February 13 (26) to December 1 (14), 1908. Proletary was published in Geneva, and from January 8 (21) to November 28 (December 11), 1909, in Paris. It printed over 100 articles and items by Lenin. During the Stolypin reaction it played an outstanding part in preserving and strengthening the Bolshevik organisations.

[7] Pravda (of Vienna)—a Menshevik newspaper, the factional organ of Trotsky, published in 1908-12 in Vienna. Under cover of "non-factionalism", it took up a liquidationist position on all main issues, and also supported the otzovists and ultimatumists. In 1912, Trotsky and his Pravda were the organisers of the anti-Party August bloc.

[8] S.—Silvestr Djibladze—a Georgian Menshevik liquidator.

[9] Toy manikins—the name given in a story with this title by M. Y. Saltykov-Shchedrin to the dolls of whom Izuverov, the skilful workman who made them, said: "They have no brains, they do nothing, they have no desires, but instead just an outward appearance."

[10] G. V. Plekhanov was a member of the editorial board of the Menshevik organ Golos Sotsial-Demokrata. The newspaper's development towards liquidationism caused Plekhanov to disagree with the other editors. In December 1908 he virtually ceased to take p art in the newspaper, first of all giving notice of his resignation from the editorial board of the five—volume work, The Social Movement in Russia, published by the liquidators, and later from the editorial board of Golos as well. Plekhanov 's formal resignation from the latter occurred on May 13 (26), 1909.

[11] Otzovists, otzovism (from the Russian word otozvat—recall)—an opportunist trend which arose among a section of the Bolsheviks after the defeat of the 1905-07 Revolution, The otzovists demanded the recall of the Social-Democratic deputies from the Duma and the abandonment of work in legal organisations. In 1908 the otzovists formed a special group and carried on a struggle against Lenin. They refused to take part in the Duma, in the trade unions, co-operatives and other mass legal or semi—legal organisations, and tried to confine themselves to illegal work. Under cover of "revolutionary" phraseology, they hindered the extension of the Party's connections with wide sections of the working class, pursued a policy that cut the Party off from the masses, and thereby weakened the Party. Lenin sharply criticised the otzovists and called them "liquidators of a new type" and "Mensheviks inside-out".

Ultimatumists, ultimatumism—a variety of otzovism. The ultimatumists proposed that an ultimatum should be presented to the Social-Democratic Duma group as a preliminary and, on its non-fulfilment, that the Social-Democratic deputies should be with drawn from the Duma.

God-builders, god-building—a religious-philosophical trend hostile to Marxism which arose in the period of the Stolypin reaction among a section of the Party literary writers who withdrew from Marxism after the defeat of the 1905–07 Revolution. The "god-builders" (Lunacharsky, Bazarov and others) advocated the creation of a new, "socialist" religion, and tried to reconcile Marxism and religion.

The meeting of the enlarged editorial board- of Proletary in June 1909 adopted a resolution which sharply condemned otzovism and ultimatumism, and also god-building. The resolution pointed out that Marxism had nothing in common with these anti-Marxist trends and it called on the Bolsheviks to wage a resolute struggle against them.

[12] Osip—a character in N. V. Gogol's comedy Inspector-General.

[13] Empirio-criticism—a subjective idealist trend in bourgeois philosophy which arose at the end of the last century and is linked with the names of the German philosopher Avenarius and the Austrian philosopher Mach. Empirio-criticism denies the objective existence of the material world and its laws, and regards things as complexes of sensations. Underlying the philosophical views of the empirio-critics is an idealist conception of experience, which they interpret as a totality of human feelings and sensations independent of the external world. In his work Materialism and Empirio-criticism, Lenin made an annihilating criticism of empirio-criticism and its Russian followers, Bogdanov, Bazarov and others (present edition, Vol. 14, pp. 17–361).

Published: Proletary No. 47–48. September 5 (18), 1909. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 16, pages 15-22.

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