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Ideological Decay and Disunity Among Russian Social-Democrats[1]

V. I. Lenin

The fight against otzovism and liquidationism, which has naturally occupied the first place among the tasks of the really Marxist and Social-Democratic elements of our Party, should not, however, hide from us the more profound evil which has in essence given use to both otzovism, and liquidationism and which, according to all the evidence, will give rise to a number of further new tactical absurdities. This evil is the ideological decay and disunity which has wholly taken possession of liberalism and is finding its way into, our Party from all sides.

The following is one of the numerous illustrations of this disunity. A comrade who had long worked in the Party, an old Iskrist and old Bolshevik, was prevented by imprisonment and exile from taking part in the movement for a very long time, almost from the beginning of 1906. He recently returned to work, became acquainted with otzovism ultimatumism, and rejected it with dissatisfaction and indignation as a scandalous corruption of revolutionary Social-Democratic, tactics. Having learned of the state of work in Odessa and St. Petersburg, this comrade came, inter alia, to the following conclusion or "provisional result" from his observations: "...It seems to me that the hardest time has passed and it remains to liquidate the remnants of the period of break-up and disintegration." But there are not a few of these remnants.

"In all the St. Petersburg work," we read in the same letter, "one feels the absence of a single guiding centre, indiscipline, lack of order, the absence of connection between the separate parts, the absence of unity and plan in the work. Each one works on his own account. Otzovist tendencies are strong in the illegal organisation, they infect even anti otzovists"... (obviously, this refers to those Bolsheviks who, despite Proletary's repeated and emphatic insistence, have not broken with the otzovists, do not wage a relentless war against them, make attempts at conciliation, uselessly delaying the inevitable denouement without obtaining in fact any renunciation of their stupid tactics by the otzovist ultimatumists).... "On this basis there is developing a characteristic phenomenon which has been quite independently shown in Odessa as well, viz., revolutionary inaction. Wherever the spirit of otzovism prevails, it is strikingly evident that the illegal organisations are doing nothing. One or two propagandist circles, a struggle against legal opportunities—that is the total activity. It is mostly of a disorganising nature, as you can see from the extensive data I sent you from Odessa" ... (used in the article:...[3]). "As regards legal possibilities, their utilisation lacks a consistent Social-Democratic line. In the darkness of the reaction, the opportunists in the Social-Democratic movement have raised their heads and ‘brazen it out', knowing that it is not dangerous now to go against the fundamental principles of Social-Democracy. One encounters here such a thoroughgoing revision of revolutionary Social-Democracy, of its programme and tactics, that in comparison with it Bernstein's[4] revisionism seems child's play. The R.S.D.L.P. does not understand Marx, it has made an incorrect analysis of the tendencies of Russian economic development; there was never any feudal system in Russia, there was a feudalistic-trading system; there were not and are not any contradictions between the interests of the bourgeoisie and those of the landed nobility, nor is there an alliance between them, for these two classes invented by Russian Social-Democracy constitute a single bourgeois class (this is a distinctive feature of Russia) and the autocracy is the organisation of this class. The weakness of the Russian bourgeoisie, on which was based (??—the interrogation marks are those of the author) the slogan of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry' is imaginary, and this slogan was and remains utopian. It should be discarded, together with the democratic republic, for the Russian train has gone on to the German lines."...[5]

It is clear that we have here an instantaneous photograph of one of the rivulets of that broad torrent of ideological confusion which gives rise to otzovism and liquidationism, sometimes fantastically mixing up and even blending together the premises of extreme Right and extreme "Left" idiotism. The first half of these premises (the absence of contradiction between the bourgeoisie and feudalistic land ownership, etc.) is so illogical and absurd that it is difficult even to take it seriously. It is not worth cry...[2].


[1] This document is the beginning of an article written by Lenin in Paris at the end of November (beginning of December) 1909. The last portion of the article has not been preserved. The article was intended for Proletary No. 50, but was not published in it.

[2] The manuscript here breaks off.—Ed.

[3] In the manuscript a place is left blank here for the title of the article.—Ed.

[4] Eduard Bernstein—leader of the extreme opportunist wing of German Social-Democracy and the Second International, a theoretician of revisionism and reformism.

[5] The Letter of an "Old Iskrist and Old Bolshevik" quoted by Lenin was published over the signature "Tr" in the newspaper Proletary No. 50 of November 28 (December), 1909 ("Letters from St. Petersburg. Letter III").

Written: Written at the end of November (beginning of December), 1909
Published: First published in 1933 in Lenin Miscellany XXV.
Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 16, pages 107-109.

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