An Open Letter to All Pro-Party Social-Democrats
V. I. Lenin
At the plenary meeting of the Central Committee in January 1910, we, as representatives of the Bolshevik faction, dissolved our faction and transferred the money and other property belonging to it to three well-known. leaders of the international Social-Democratic movement. This transfer and equally the dissolution of the faction were conditional steps. Our conditions for taking these steps are known from our statement at the plenum, a statement adopted by the plenum and published in the very first number of the Central Organ issued after the plenum.
Briefly stated, these conditions were that the other factions (and in the first place the faction of Golosists, i.e., the Mensheviks who published and supported Golos Sotsial-Demokrata) should carry out their duty loyally, i.e., sincerely and fully, namely, (1) the fight against liquidationism and otzovism, which by a unanimously adopted resolution of the plenum were declared to be a sign of bourgeois influence on the proletariat, and (2) the dissolution of their factions.
At the present time, after a year's experience, a year of waiting, we have become completely and finally convinced that neither the Golosists nor the Vperyodists have fulfilled either of these two conditions.
The result of this conviction as far as we are concerned was, firstly, the publication of Rabochaya Gazeta and, secondly, the statement about the return of the money and property, a statement we handed recently to the Central Committee on December 5, 1910.
After this declaration the state of affairs in form and sub stance is as follows. We had conditionally handed over all our property and forces to support the anti-liquidationist and anti-otzovist work for the restoration of the Party and its full unity. The violation by the Golosists and Vperyodists of the conditions they had accepted is a violation of our agreement. Cancelling this agreement violated by the liquidators and otzovists, we shall work as before for the restoration of the Party and its full unity, for the implementation of an anti-liquidationist and anti-otzovist policy, but we must carry out this work not with those allies that at the plenum (owing to faith in their promises) were admitted to participation in the Party centres. Since, by general recognition and by repeated statements of delegates of national organisations at the plenum and at other Party meetings, conferences, etc., it is our Bolshevik faction that has always been regarded as bearing the greatest responsibility for the state of affairs in the Party, we consider it our duty to set out frankly our views on the state of affairs in the Party and on the significance of the steps we have taken.
The January plenum in 1910 was of very great importance in the history of our Party. It definitively laid down the tactical line of the Party for the period of counter-revolution by establishing, in further development of the December resolutions of 1908, that both liquidationism and otzovism are manifestations of the influence of the bourgeoisie on the proletariat. Further, the plenum linked the question of putting an end to factions in our Party—that is to say, the necessity of bringing about real unity in the Social-Democratic Labour Party—with the formulation of the Party's ideological and political aims in the present historical period.
We are convinced that these two things accomplished by the plenum in January 1910 are of historic significance and that their results are much more important, much more vital, much more lasting, than they may seem to the superficial observer.
But these results were terribly vitiated by the muddled phrase-mongering about them. There is nothing so inimical to the spirit of Social-Democracy and so harmful as phrase-mongering. And "conciliatory" phrase-mongering is no less harmful and liable to lead people astray than liquidationist and otzovist phrase-mongering. This "conciliatory" phrase mongering obscures the essence of the matter, substitutes aspirations and good intentions for an estimate of the real tendencies and real relationship of forces in the Party, impedes the rapprochement of those who could and should come closer together by attempts at playing at unity with those who at the present time do not want to and cannot unite.
During the year that has elapsed since the January plenum this phrase-mongering has exhausted itself and shown what its fruits are. If now from bitter experience of the heroes of "conciliatory" phrases the Party learns the lesson how not to set about "conciliation" and the abolition of factions, then the year since the plenum will not have passed in vain.
Phrase-mongering amounted to asserting that it is sufficient to obtain "promises" about the abolition of factions, to compose the central bodies out of the most heterogeneous elements, to "balance" opposed elements, and an important step towards the abolition of factions will have been made.
The year's experience showed, as it could not fail to show, that the phrase-mongers' method was a complete failure. It is impossible to build anything on promises, it is ludicrous to base anything on the union of heterogeneous elements that are incapable of uniting. On the morrow of the plenum everything in its decisions and measures that was based on phrase-mongering proved to be a soap-bubble. The decisions, resolutions and artificially composed bodies were all in fact a dead letter, lifeless institutions. But what was real in the actions of the plenum underwent development, was strengthened, showed its effects in the work, and became clothed in new forms of existence outside and apart from the resolutions.
It would be difficult to imagine a more striking and instructive lesson than that of the, events which took place during the year following the plenum, a lesson offered to those people who had delighted in phrase-mongering, vain good intentions and playing at the allocation of seats in various bodies and so forth.
What was it that was real in the actions of the plenum? What was real was its indication of the connection between the ideological and political content of Party work and the abolition of factions. What was real was the rapprochement of those factions or trends which came together not on the basis of cheap conciliatory phrases, promises, or playing at the allocation of seats in the central bodies, but on the basis of work, agreement in their understanding of the ideological and political tasks of the moment, agreement in actual fact on the formulation of these tasks, and their accomplishment.
As long as magniloquent and cheap phrases about the abolition of factions, were being uttered by people who under stood neither the objective source of the disagreements nor the actual situation that in-fact ensured the independence from the Party of certain literary groups (such as that of Mr. Potresov and Co. or that of the Machist and otzovist literati), for so long the phrases remained empty, impotent phrases. But as soon as, owing to a change in the objective conditions, a rapprochement in work, a rapprochement in the understanding of these objective conditions, began to grow in the two basic and main factions that have left their imprint on the whole history of the workers' movement during the revolution—even more than that, on the whole history of the revolution in Russia—no efforts on the part of intriguers who want to undermine this rapprochement or sow distrust in it can halt the process that has begun.
During the past year the actual state of Party affairs arising after the plenum has become quite clear. It is a fact that the Golosists and Vperyodists signed the resolutions on the fight against liquidationism and otzovism but in reality conducted and Eire conducting all their propaganda and agitation, all their practical activity, in such a way as to sup port and defend liquidationism and otzovism.
For anyone who has eyes to see, this fact shows how bankrupt is a policy that is satisfied with paper resolutions and how harmful are phrases that are not in accord with deeds.
Furthers it is a fact that neither the Golosists nor the Vperyodists relinquished their factional independence for a single moment. Both of these factions continue to exist in the fullest actual independence of the Party, with their own funds, their own organs, their own agencies. The factional organisation of the otzovists takes the form of the so-called "school" abroad (in reality it is an institution for systematic selection of agents and planned conduct of organisational work apart from the Party and against the Party). The "school" is supplemented by a separate publishing house and means of transport. The Golosists' factional organisation is looser ("freer", less definite in form), the chief role being played by the group of Mr. Potresov and Co., the group of the Sixteen, and the group of Mikhail, Roman and Yuri and Co., which are absolutely independent of the Party. The Golosists take an active part in these groups, directing all propagandist, agitational and organisational activity against the Party and at the same time not refraining from participation in the Party centres in order systematically to undermine their significance and demoralise them from within.
No pro-Party Social-Democrat can fail to see what such a state of affairs leads to.
As regards publication of literature, the year's experience has shown that the Central Organ is in point of fact being conducted by the Bolsheviks plus the Plekhanovites against the Golosists on the editorial board. Life has overstepped the bounds created by conciliatory phrase-mongering: the "conciliators" by promise, the "conciliators" by office, the "conciliators" by instruction of the liquidationist centres, have proved to be a sheer hindrance to the work. Plekhanov and his fellow-thinkers, however, who made no promises at the plenum, and who did not take up any office, proved actual implementers of the Party line.
The glaring contradiction between form and substance, between phrases and deeds, between the obviously hypocritical existence of a supposedly pro-Party collegium (the editorial board of the Central Organ) and the actual activity in the Central Organ alongside this collegium brings very great demoralisation into Party life. In order to put a stop to this demoralisation, this degradation of what are formally Party institutions to a role that evokes deserved ridicule and rejoicing on the part of enemies of the Party, we must do away with hypocrisy and frankly say what actually exists, frankly admit the conduct of Party work by two factions.
As regards unity abroad, absolutely nothing has been done during the year. Wherever the groups were split previously they remain split now. The groups of Menshevik liquidators have openly become groups in support of Golos. The only rapprochement that has been mapped out and actually begun is that between the Bolsheviks and the Plekhanovites. The Central Committee Bureau Abroad, in its capacity as co-ordinator of Social-Democratic work abroad, has become an object of ridicule legitimately mocked at by the Vperyodists and Golosists, who observe with satisfaction how the Party centre acts as a collegium for provocatory affairs and for carrying out bureaucratic paper work that is of no use to anyone.
In the most important sphere, that of organisational work locally in Russia, absolutely nothing of any use to the Party has been accomplished during the year. The Central Committee, which had to invite the Mikhails, Romans and Yuris on the basis of the "promises" made to the plenum, zealously set about this thankful task so worthy of a revolutionary of inviting into the Party those who ridicule it and continue to harm it, but even so after a year have not succeeded in "inviting" anyone. During this period, however, the anti-Party factions have strengthened their organisations against the Party: the Vperyod faction has developed and its agency has grown stronger, Mr. Potresov's group has grown stronger, as too have the other liquidationist enterprises, which have continued to carry on propaganda against the Party in a number of clubs, co-operative societies, etc., and to intrigue against the Party among the Social-Democratic group in the Duma. The role of the Central Committee, which during this time has been occupied in "inviting" the liquidators or in a formal correspondence on matters concerning the "squabbles" of the Golosists and Vperyodists, is a role that is positively humiliating and we cannot permit the enemies of the Party to reduce the Central Committee to this role.
Only people quite incapable of thought or desirous of indulging in petty intrigue can still fail to see that the continuance of such a state of the Party centres inevitably prepares the way for a triumph of the liquidators and otzovists,, who observe with satisfaction how the Central Committee has entangled itself, and continues to entangle itself, in conciliatory phrase-mongering, in playing at conciliation with those who do not want to be reconciled with the Party.
The liquidators and otzovists have an excellent under standing of conciliatory phrase-mongering and make excel lent use of it against the Party. The hero of such phrases, Trotsky, has quite naturally become the hero and sworn advocate of the liquidators and otzovists, with whom he agrees on nothing theoretically but in everything practically.
Favoured with the assistance of this advocate, both the liquidators and the otzovists have thoroughly mastered the tactics that consists of incessantly vowing and swearing that they are pro-Party. This is repeated by Golos and the platform of the Vperyod group, while they continue in fact to disrupt the Party and carry out all activities in an anti-Party spirit. Formal and verbal "conciliation" has become a weapon of the Golos liquidators and Vperyodists.
It goes without saying that we, as representatives of the Bolshevik trend, cannot play this role of dupes. Having waited a whole year, having done everything possible through the pages of the Central Organ to make clear the anti-Party character of the Vperyodists, Golosists and Trotsky, we cannot assume responsibility before the Party for institutions which occupy themselves with "invitations" to the liquidators and formal correspondence on "business" raised by the Vperyodists. We want not squabbles but work.
We desire to work jointly with those who want to work in the Party spirit, and have actually proved their ability to do so, i.e., in the first place with the pro-Party Mensheviks and the really non-factional Social-Democrats. We do not desire to be responsible for squabbles with those who do not want to work jointly with the Party, but want to work with Mr. Potresov and the otzovists.
The state of affairs in Russia is such that intensified and harmonious work is urgently required of the Party organisations abroad. The three-year period of the golden days of the counter-revolution (1908–10) is evidently coming to a close and being replaced by a period of incipient upsurge. The summer strikes of the current year and the demonstrations on the occasion of Tolstoy's death are a clear indication of this. The Party's organisational work in Russia has become weak in the extreme and this weakness has been most shamelessly utilised by the Vperyodists and Golosists, who are developing their anti-Party activity with the aid of the Russian and foreign factional centres.
Under such conditions to continue playing at conciliation with these factional centres, to close one's eyes hypocritically to their independence, to "invite" their representatives for a joint fight against their own policy, to shield them in the eyes of the Party by accepting their members in the centres—means dooming oneself to hopeless squabbling. It means putting a brake on the work of the centres abroad, which even without that has been slowed down to such an extent that during the year it has not been possible to arrange a single meeting of the Central Committee in Russia, and not only not a single conference, but not even an unofficial meeting of local Party workers (whereas the otzovists' "school" and the liquidators' legal organs repeatedly man aged to organise against the Party all sorts of conferences and meetings of agents, correspondents of journals, and so on).
We are obliged to repudiate responsibility for this complete stoppage of the work of those who have been entangled in conciliation with the Golosists of these centres and to begin immediately the most energetic independent work in uniting the orthodox Bolsheviks, pro-Party Mensheviks and non-factional Social-Democrats for organising meetings, conferences, regional bureaux, groups for connections with Party publications, etc. It is to this work, which alone is actually capable of leading the Party out of the impasse and freeing the centres from "courting" the Golosists, that we are calling all pro-Party Social-Democrats.
Even before the plenum, in the spring of 1909, in the name of the Bolshevik faction, we proclaimed the policy of a rapprochement with the pro-Party Mensheviks, and since then this policy has borne considerable fruit, despite the unsuccessful attempt to trust the "promises" of the Golosists and regard them as pro-Party elements. All that has been done since then to really strengthen not the Vperyodist propaganda nor the Golosist defence of liquidationism but the line of the Party, to really bring closer together the basic core of both the chief factions, has been done by us independently of these unsuccessful attempts at conciliation with the Golosists. And by divesting ourselves of responsibility for continuing these attempts we are confident that we shall achieve a still closer alignment in work through Rabochaya Gazeta, through legal literature and through the activity abroad of the groups of supporters of Rabochaya Gazeta and supporters of Plekhanov.
After the plenum, which in the most clear-cut way posed the question of factions and their abolition, for the first time raising this question in connection with the ideological and political line of the factions themselves, i.e., on the real basis of an estimate of actual rapprochement in work and not on the basis of empty promises, formal undertakings and suchlike phrases—after the plenum and a year's experience of its results it is impossible to continue the old hypocritical playing at hide-and-seek.
We must act openly. We must have the courage to say what the position is. If the Central Committee desire to tell the Party frankly and openly what the position is, this simple statement will be a tremendously powerful weapon in their hands, a hundred times more weighty than any kind of resolutions, wishes, condemnations, expulsions, etc.
To say what the position is means acknowledging that the attempt to abolish all factions has, unfortunately, been frustrated by the Golosists and Vperyodists, but the rapprochement of the basic core, of the really pro-Party elements of the two main factions, their closer alignment with the pro-Party elements of the nationals and non-factional Social-Democrats, has made a step forward. If Trotsky and similar advocates of the liquidators and otzovists declare this rapprochement "devoid of political content", such speeches testify only to Trotsky's entire lack of principle, the real hostility of his policy to the policy of the actual (and not merely confined to promises) abolition of factions. To promise this abolition after a year's experience of the results of the plenum is sheer chicanery. But whereas the abolition of factions is a mere phrase, the rapprochement of the main trends in the two chief factions is a fact. No blocs, no magniloquent pledges, no promises of the disappearance of disagreements, follow from this fact, but what does follow is a real possibility of building the Party in practice, based on the co-operation of part of the Mensheviks and part of the Bolsheviks.
If the Central Committee desires with absolute consistency to adopt the course of such an acknowledgement and such work, if it desires to make all the central bodies the organ of such a rapprochement, to free them completely from unworthy and harmful "courting" of the Golosists or "invitations" to the Golosists, to afford the possibility of working without squabbles, then we shall support this policy with all our heart and soul and all our strength, a policy that in fact we have been pursuing since the spring of 1909, i.e., already for two whole years.
If the Central Committee does not want to draw this inevitable conclusion from the lessons of the plenum and its results, then let it hand over the conduct of Party work—and of work for the restoration of unity—to the alliance of the Golosists, Vperyodists and Trotsky. This will be more straightforward and honest, and we shall keep aloof from this alliance which has in actual fact demonstrated its anti-Party character.
We are perfectly aware, of course, that in connection with our step certain people (and among them, assuredly, experienced advocates of the liquidators and otzovists) will cry out about a "split". However stupid and hypocritical such cries may be we must pause to warn uninformed people about these probable objections.
In its formal aspect our step—the demand for the return of money and termination of the agreement that we concluded on very definite conditions—is absolutely legitimate. The conditions of our agreement with the Central Committee were openly stated, printed in the Central Organ and, accept ed unanimously by the Central Committee at the plenum. By accepting these conditions in the name of the whole Party and printing them in the Party's Central Organ, the Central Committee thereby unequivocally acknowledged that only with the fulfilment in actual fact of these conditions could it demand of us a definite mode of action. No one can deny that these conditions have not been fulfilled by the Golosists and Vperyodists, in spite of the resolution they signed. Our formal right to cancel the agreement is therefore indisputable. By cancelling the agreement we proclaim an independent fight for the Party principle, independent work on building the Party without those who have proved by a year's experience their unwillingness to work on this, together with those Mensheviks and non-factionalists, who have proved the opposite. If the agreement, which was directly and explicitly dependent on the Golosists and Vperyodists coming over to the pro-Party position, has proved to have been violated by them, it is our full right and our duty to cancel the agreement with people who have flouted the Party, and to seek all possible forms of closer alignment with people who support the Party.
Much more important than the formal aspect, however, is the factual state of affairs. Especially illuminating in this respect is the hypocrisy of the Golosists and Vperyodists, who both at the plenum and after it continued to make declarations in the press about their pro-Party attitude. The hypocrisy of such asseverations, the glaring falsity of cries about a split on the part of such people, is so obvious that it is not worth wasting many words on it. It was the Golosists and the Vperyodists who created an actual split immediately after the plenum—or rather, who did not cease treating it despite their promises at the plenum; it was they who during the whole year continued this split, intensified it, and supported the independence from the Party of the group of Potresov and Co., the group of literati, the organisers of the "Machist" school, etc., etc. To allow such splitters to remain in the Party centres means the utter ruin of the Party's cause. To let the previous position remain, where these splitters took advantage of their presence in the Party centres to put a brake on all work, to demoralise the Party from within for the benefit of Mr. Potresov or the leaders of the "Machist" school, means to do tremendous, irreparable damage to the cause of Party unity.
Long ago it was said that not everyone who calls out "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven. And, after the experience of the plenum, we must repeat: not everyone who voices cheap phrases about partyism is really pro-Party. The Golosists and Vperyodists split the Party after the plenum. That is a fact. Trotsky was their advocate in this matter. That is also a fact.
There is no other way of halting the split, of preventing it from spreading than by strengthening, consolidating and formally confirming the rapprochement of those who actually carried out Party activity after the plenum, i.e., the pro-Party Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.
Announcing our view of Party affairs to all pro-Party Mensheviks, non-factional pro-Party Social-Democrats and Bolsheviks, as well as all national Social-Democratic organisations, we invite the Bolshevik groups in Russia to begin immediately to rally around Rabochaya Gazeta and to set about preparing those meetings and conferences which are essential for restoring the Party and which, owing to the present state of affairs, must inevitably begin with the most modest, unofficial and informal attempts. To give in print more details about the nature of such attempts would be out of place.
We invite the Bolshevik groups abroad to reorganise themselves in such a way as to cease all connection with the Vperyodists, who have fully proved their anti-Party character, and without the hindrance of these defenders of otzovism to begin systematic work for strengthening the Party, closer alignment with pro-Party elements of other factions and the creation of joint clubs, lectures, reports, etc., to take preparatory steps towards a real union abroad of all those who do not follow Vperyod and Golos. If the existence of two parallel groups is inevitable where there are Golosists, it is not seemly for Bolsheviks to tolerate any longer in their group the anti-Party Vperyodists. Let them find a refuge among the Golosists.
The editorial Board of Rabochaya Gazeta
Written: Written after November 22 (December 5), 1910
Published: First published January 21, 1932, in the newspaper Pravda No. 21. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, , Moscow, Volume 16, pages 333-344.
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