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A Liberal Labour Party Manifesto

V. I. Lenin


The above would be a fit title for N. R-kov's article in Nasha Zarya, No. 9–10.[1]

Painful though it is for Marxists to lose in the person of N. R-kov, a man who, in the years when the movement was on the upgrade served the workers' party faithfully and energetically, the cause must take precedence over all personal or factional considerations, and over all recollections, however "pleasant". The interests of the cause compel us to admit that thanks to the straightforwardness, clarity, and completeness of its views, the manifesto of this new liquidator serves a very useful purpose. N. R-kov enables and compels us to pose the extremely important and cardinal question of "two parties" irrespective of any material relating to the "conflict" and to do so on a purely ideological basis, largely outside even the division into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. After R-kov's article, liquidationism can no longer be discussed as formerly for he has definitely raised the question to a higher plane. Further more, after N. R-kov's article, liquidationism cannot be merely discussed; for what we have before us is the most comprehensive plan imaginable of immediate practical action.

N. R-kov begins with an exposition of the "principal objective task in Russia"; he then passes on to an appraisal of the revolution, after which he analyses the present situation and in this connection discusses every class in clear and precise terms, and winds up with a quite explicit description of the entire nature of the new "open political workers' association", which, he says, must be formed and "actually put into effect" without delay. In short, R-kov begins at the very beginning and by consecutive stages arrives at the very end, as is to be expected of anyone who has any realisation of the serious political responsibility he bears for his words and deeds. And it must be said in fairness to R-kov that from beginning to end he most consistently substitutes liberalism for Marxism.

Take the starting-point of his arguments. He regards it as "absolutely beyond doubt or dispute" that "the principal objective task in Russia at present is the completion of the change from grossly predatory semi-feudal economic practices to civilised capitalism". In his opinion it is debatable whether Russia has reached a position in which, "although the possibility of social upheavals is not excluded, these upheavals are not indispensable or inevitable in the near future

We consider it to be absolutely beyond doubt or dispute that this is a purely liberal way of presenting the question. The liberals confine themselves to the question of whether we are going to have a "civilised capitalism" or not, whether there are going to be "upheavals" or not. The Marxist refuses to confine himself to this. He demands an analysis that will show which classes, or strata of classes in the bourgeois society that is emancipating itself, are pursuing this or that definite line in this emancipation—what, for example, are the political forms of the so-called "civilised capitalism" which they are creating. Both in times of "upheaval" and during their undoubted absence, Marxists pursue a line different in principle from liberalism—that of creating truly democratic ways of life, not just "civilised" ways in general. We are all striving for "civilised capitalism", say the liberals, posing as a party that stands above classes. We Marxists, however, must tell the workers and democrats that our understanding of the term "civilisation" differs from that of the liberals.

R-kov presents us with an even more vivid and typically "professorial" distortion of Marxism when he criticises the "superficial observers" who "think that our revolution has failed". "The weak-nerved intelligentsia as a whole," says R-kov, "has always and everywhere indulged in snivelling and whining, followed by moral prostration, renegacy, and mysticism." The "thoughtful observer", on the other hand, knows that "the raging of reaction often expresses profound social change", that "new social groups and forces take shape and mature in the epoch of reaction".

Thus reasons R-kov. In presenting the question of "renegacy" he has managed to display so much philistinism (even though accompanied by learned verbiage) that no trace is left of the connection between the counter-revolutionary sentiments in Russia and the position and interests of definite classes. Not a single Vekhi contributor, i.e., the most rabid counter-revolutionary liberal, will dispute the fact that new forces are maturing in the period of reaction; not a single contributor to the liquidationist five-volume publication, which the best of the Mensheviks turned away from[2], will refuse to subscribe to this. The actual face and the class character of our counter-revolution have vanished from the arguments of our historian, and only hackneyed and hollow phrases remain about some intellectuals being weak-nerved while others are thoughtful observers. R-kov failed to take notice of a question of the utmost importance to a Marxist—namely, how our revolution demonstrated the various methods of action and the various aspirations of the different classes, and why this has given rise to a "renegade" attitude towards the struggle for "civilisation" on the part of other bourgeois classes.

Let us turn to the main issue—R-kov's appraisal of the present situation based on an estimate of the position of all the classes. He begins with the "representatives of our big landowning class", of whom he says: "Not so long ago the bulk of them were [were!] real feudal landowners, typical landed aristocrats. At present only a few of these last Mohicans have survived. This small handful is still grouped around Purishkevich and Markov the Second, and are impotently [!] spluttering the venom of despair.... The majority of our big landowners, noblemen and commoners, who are represented in the Duma by the Nationalists and the Right Octobrists, are gradually and steadily being converted into an agricultural bourgeoisie."

Such is R-kov's "appraisal of the situation". It is obvious that this appraisal is a mockery of reality. In actual fact, the "handful ... grouped around Purishkevich and Markov the Second" are not powerless, but all-powerful. It is precisely their power and their revenue that the present social and political institutions of Russia protect; it is their will that prevails in the last analysis; it is they who constitute the element determining the entire line of activity and the entire character of the so-called bureaucracy from top to bottom. All this is so generally known, the actual domination in Russia by this very handful is so striking and common, that it requires a truly boundless liberal self-delusion to forget it. R-kov's error is, first, in ridiculously exaggerating the "conversion" of feudal economy into bourgeois economy, and, secondly, in forgetting a "trifle"—just the sort of "trifle" that distinguishes a Marxist from a liberal—namely the intricacy and spasmodic nature of the process of adaptation of the political superstructure to economic transformation. To explain these two errors of R-kov's it is sufficient to cite the example of Prussia where to this day, despite the considerably higher level of development of capitalism in general, and of the conversion of the old landowning economy into bourgeois economy in particular, the Oldenburgs and the Heidebrands are still omni potent and control state power, their social substance permeating, as it were, the entire Prussian monarchy, the entire Prussian bureaucracy! To this day, sixty-three years after 1848, and despite the unprecedentedly rapid development of capitalism, the law governing the Landtag elections in Prussia is still so framed as to ensure the domination of the Prussian Purishkeviches. Yet for Russia, six years after 1905, R-kov paints an Arcadian idyll of the "powerlessness" of the Purishkeviches!

The point is that painting an Arcadian idyll about the "steady" conversion of the Purishkeviches and the "triumph of a quite moderate bourgeois progressism" is the main theme of all of R-kov's reflections. Take his ideas on present-day agrarian policy. "There is no more striking and widespread illustration" of the conversion (of feudal economy into bourgeois economy) than this policy, declares R-kov. The system of splitting farms into strips isolated from each other is being abolished, and "the elimination of land hunger in twenty agricultural gubernias in the black-earth belt presents no difficulties to speak of, it constitutes one of the urgent tasks of the day, and apparently it will be settled by a compromise among various groups of the bourgeoisie

    "This anticipated inevitable compromise on the agrarian question already has a number of precedents."

Here you have a complete sample of R-kov's method of political reasoning. He begins by eliminating the extremes, without any supporting data, merely because of his liberal complacency. Then he goes on to declare that a compromise among the various groups of the bourgeoisie is not difficult, and is likely. Then he winds up by saying that such a compromise is "inevitable". By this method one could prove that "upheavals" were neither likely nor indispensable in France in 1788 and in China in 1910. To be sure, a compromise among the various groups of the bourgeoisie presents no difficulties, if we assume that Markov the Second has been eliminated not only in R-kov's complacent imagination. But to assume this would mean adopting the stand point of the liberal who is afraid to dispense with the Markovs and who thinks that everybody will always share his fear.

To be sure, a compromise would be "inevitable" if (the first "if") there were no Markovs; and if (the second "if") we assume that the workers and the peasants who are being ruined are politically sound asleep. But then, again, would not such an assumption (the assumption of the second condition) mean accepting the liberals' wish as reality?


Since we are not inclined to accept the liberal wishes or liberal conjectures as reality, we have reached a different conclusion. Without doubt the present agrarian policy is bourgeois in character. But since it is the Purishkeviches who are directing this bourgeois policy, who remain masters of the situation, the result is such a tremendous accentuation of the contradictions that, for the immediate future, at any rate, the likelihood of a compromise must be considered entirely out of the question.

Another important social process, says R-kov in continuing his analysis, is the process of the consolidation of the big industrial and commercial bourgeoisie. Correctly indicating the "mutual concessions" of the Constitutional-Democrats and the Octobrists, the author draws the conclusion: "We must not cherish any illusions—what we see in the offing is the triumph of a quite moderate bourgeois 'progressism'".

Trumph?—Where? Over whom? Is it at the elections to the Fourth Duma of which R-kov has just spoken? If that is what he means, then it will be a "triumph" within the narrow confines of the election law of June 3, 1907. Hence one of two conclusions is inevitable: either the "triumph" will not set up a wave and thus the actual domination of the Purishkeviches will in no way be changed; or this "triumph" will indirectly be the expression of a democratic revival which is bound to come into sharp conflict with the above-mentioned "narrow confines" and with the domination of the Purishkeviches.

In either case the triumph of moderation at elections conducted within moderate bounds will not bring about the least triumph of moderation in real life. The point is, how ever, that R-kov has already lapsed into a state of "parliamentary cretinism", which enables him to confuse elections conducted on the basis of the June Third law with reality! To demonstrate this incredible fact to the reader we must quote R-kov in full:

    "And this triumph is all the more probable since the mass of the urban petty bourgeoisie which, in its philistine way, is dejectedly contemplating its shattered illusions, will helplessly gravitate to wards moderate progressism, and the peasantry will be all too weak at the elections because the peculiar features of our electoral system enable the landowners who predominate in the gubernia panels of electors to elect 'Rights' to represent the peasants. Such is the picture of the social changes that are taking place in Russia at present, if, for the time being, we leave the working class out of consideration. It is by no means a picture of stagnation or of regression. New, bourgeois, Russia is undoubtedly gaining in strength and is advancing. The State Duma, based on the electoral system established on June 3, 1907, will provide the political sanction for the coming domination of the moderately progressive industrial and commercial bourgeoisie that will share power with the conservative rural bourgeoisie. (England, pure and simple! We Omit the comparison with France and Prussia, on which we shall dwell below.) Thus, in summing up every thing that has just been said, we must admit that there exist all the prerequisites for a slow, extremely painful for the masses, but nevertheless certain advance of the bourgeois social and political system in Russia. The possibility of storms and upheavals is, naturally, not out of the question, but they will not become something indispensable and inevitable, as was the case before the revolution."

An intricate philosophy, that one cannot deny. If we leave the peasantry out of account, because it is "weak at the elections", and if "for the time being, we leave the working class out of consideration", then, of course, there is absolutely no possibility of upheavals! But what it amounts to is that one who examines Russia from a liberal viewpoint can see nothing but liberal "progressism". Remove your liberal blinkers and the picture becomes an entirely different one. Since the part played by the peasantry in life is quite different from the part it plays in the June Third electoral system, the fact that it is "weak at the elections"—far from opening the gates to a "moderate progressism"—accentuates the antagonism between the peasantry as a whole and the entire system. Since the working class cannot be left "out of consideration" either in a capitalist country in general, or in Russia after the experience of the first ten years of the twentieth century in particular, R-kov's argumentation is entirely useless. Since the dominating factor in Russia (both in the Third Duma and above it) is Purishkevichism, occasionally moderated by the grumbling of the Guchkovs and Milyukovs, the talk about the "impending domination" of the moderately progressive bourgeoisie is just a liberal lullaby. Since the Guchkovs and Milyukovs by virtue of their class position can oppose the domination of the Purishkeviches with nothing but their grumbling, a conflict between the new, bourgeois Russia and the Purishkeviches is inevitable, and its motive forces will be those whom R-kov, following the example of the liberals, leaves "out of consideration". Just because the Milyukovs and Guchkovs are making "mutual concessions" in cringing be fore the Purishkeviches, it is all the more necessary for the workers to draw the line between democracy and liberalism. N. R-kov sees neither the conditions giving rise to upheavals in Russia nor the task just indicated, which is obligatory even in the definite absence of an upheaval.

A vulgar democrat may reduce the whole matter to the question whether there is an upheaval or not. The Marxist is primarily concerned with the line of political demarcation between the classes, which is the same during an upheaval and in its absence. R-kov's statement that "the workers must assume the task of exercising political hegemony in the struggle for a democratic regime", is extraordinary after all he has written in his manifesto. What it means is that R-kov gets a guarantee from the bourgeoisie to recognise the hegemony of the workers, while he himself gives the bourgeoisie a guarantee to the effect that the workers renounce the tasks which constitute the substance of hegemony! After he has removed this substance, leaving no trace whatsoever, R-kov naïvely goes on to repeat a hollow phrase. First he gives an appraisal of the situation from which it is evident that, as far as he is concerned, the hegemony of the liberals is an accomplished, irrevocable, and inescapable fact, and then he tries to assure us that he recognises the hegemony of the working class!

The "real" significance of the Duma, argues R-kov, "is no less than that of the French Legislative Corps during the last years of the Second Empire, or that of the proportional mean between the German Reichstag and the Prussian Landtag that was characteristic of Prussia in the eighties of the past century".

This kind of comparison is so frivolous that it is mere playing at historical parallels. In France in the sixties the epoch of bourgeois revolutions had long since come to an end, a direct clash between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie was already knocking at the door, and Bonapartism was the expression of the government's manoeuvring between these two classes. It is ridiculous to compare that situation with contemporary Russia. The Third Duma is more reminiscent of the Chambre introuvable[3] of 1815! In Prussia, the eighties also marked the epoch of the consummation of the bourgeois revolution, which had completed its work by 1870. The entire bourgeoisie, which included both the urban and rural petty bourgeoisie, was contented and reactionary.

Perhaps R-kov fancied he saw a comparison between the role of the democratic and the proletarian deputies in the Legislative Corps and in the Reichstag, and the role of the deputies of the same classes in the Third Duma? That would be a legitimate comparison; but, then, it would not prove his point, for the conduct of Gegechkori and, to a certain extent, also of Petrov the Third, testifies to such strength, self-confidence, and readiness for battle on the part of the classes which they represent that a "compromise" with the Purishkeviches is not only unlikely but appears to be absolutely out of the question.


It was necessary to dwell at particular length on R-kov's appraisal of the role of the various classes, because here we have the ideological roots of our unqualified disagreement. The practical conclusions which R-kov draws, with rare fearlessness and straightforwardness, it must be said in all fairness to him, are interesting primarily because they reduce the author's "theory" to an absurdity. R-kov is a thousand times right, of course, when he connects the question of the possibility of an open political organisation of the workers with an appraisal of the situation, with an estimate of fundamental alterations in the political system. But the trouble is that instead of pointing out such alterations in real life, he is only able to present us with amiable professorial syllogisms: the transition to "civilised capitalism" "presupposes" the necessity for an open political organisation of the workers. It is easy to put this on paper, but in real life the Russian political regime will not become a whit more "civilised" because of it.

    "Progressism, even if of the most moderate variety, will undoubtedly have to extend the all too narrow confines existing at present." To this we answer: the progressism of the Cadets in the Fourth Duma will not have to, and can not "extend" anything so long as elements far removed from the Cadets do not bestir themselves in a manner very dissimilar to that customary in the Duma.

    "Unless such an organisation exists," says R-kov, referring to an open and broad political organisation of the workers, "the struggle is bound to assume an anarchistic character harmful, not only to the working class, but to the civilised bourgeoisie as well."

We shall not dwell on the last part of the phrase, comment will only spoil this "gem". As for the first part, it is historically wrong. There was no anarchism in Germany in 1878–90, although there was no "open and broad" political organisation in existence.

Further, R-kov is a thousand times right when he puts forward a concrete plan for an open political workers' "organisation" and suggests that it be inaugurated by the founding of a "political association for the protection of the interests of the working class". He is right in the sense that only empty phrase-mongers can prattle for months and years about the possibility of an "open" party, with out taking the first simple and natural step to launch it. R-kov is not a phrase-monger; he is a man of deeds and, as such, starts at the beginning and goes the whole hog.

But the point is that his "deeds" are liberal deeds, and the "banner" which he is "unfurling" (see p. 35 of the article we are quoting) is the banner of a liberal labour policy. It is immaterial that the programme of the association which R-kov wants to found provides for "the establishment of a new society based on the public ownership of the means of production", etc. Actually, the recognition of this great principle did not prevent a section of the German Social-Democrats in the sixties from pursuing a "royal-Prussian labour policy", nor does it prevent Ramsay MacDonald (leader of the British "Independent Labour Party"—meaning independent of socialism) from pursuing a liberal labour policy. When R-kov speaks of the political tasks of the immediate period, of our present period, it is a system of liberal principles that he propounds. The "banner" which R-kov is "unfurling" was unfurled by Prokopovich, Potresov, Larin, etc., long ago, and the more this banner is unfurled" the clearer does it become to one and all that what we have before us is a dirty liberal rag worn to shreds.

    "There is not a grain of utopia in all this," R-kov tries to persuade us. We must needs reply with a paraphrase of a well-known saying: "You are a great utopian, but your utopia is tiny". Indeed, it would be rather frivolous perhaps to reply to an obviously frivolous statement other than with a joke. How is it possible to regard as other than utopian the suggested foundation of an open workers' association at a time when absolutely peaceful, tame, non-political trade unions are being suppressed? How can one write about the role of the various classes in a way that is liberal from A to Z and yet assure the readers that this does not moan creeping into a regime of renovated Tolmachovism? The good R-kov goes out of his way to declare: "There is no advocacy of any violence in this; there is not a word, not a thought about a violent revolution being necessary, because in reality, too, no such necessity may ever arise. If anyone, blinded by reactionary frenzy, took it into his head to accuse the members of such an 'association' of striving for violent revolution, the whole burden of an absurd, unfounded and juridically flimsy accusation of this sort would fall upon the head of the accuser"!

N. R-kov has an eloquent pen, just like Mr. P. B. Struve who, in 1901, hurled similar terrifying thunderbolts "upon the heads" of those who persecuted the Zemstvo[4]. What a picture—N. R-kov trying to prove to the accusing Dumbadzes that, since he now harbours no "thoughts", the burden of the juridically flimsy accusations will fall upon the Dumbadzes' own heads! Yes, indeed, we have no parliament as yet, but we have parliamentary cretinism galore. Apparently such members of the new association as the Marxist Gegechkori or even the non-Marxist but honest democrat Petrov the Third would be summarily expelled at the very first meeting of the new association—provided the assembled members are not dispatched, by mistake, to various chilly places before the meeting opens.

The Nasha Zarya "liquidators" are rejoicing because R-kov has joined their ranks. But the enthusiastic liquidators do not realise how ardent is the embrace which the newly-won liquidator R-kov brings to them. It is so ardent and so powerful that this much can be vouched for—liquidationism will be smothered by R-kov's ardent embrace just as the labour congress was smothered by Y. Larin's ardent embrace. Y. Larin perpetrated that bloodless murder by the simple device of writing a pamphlet, after which people, primarily out of fear of the embarrassment involved, began to be wary of defending the idea of a labour congress. After the new "manifesto" of liquidationism published by R-kov in Nasha Zarya, people, primarily out of fear of the embarrassment involved, will begin to be wary of defending the idea of an open liquidationist party.

And, since we must find at least one point on which to agree with R-kov, that idea does contain a "grain" of non-utopianism. Remove your professorial blinkers, my dear sir, and you will then see that the "association" which you intend to "actually put into effect" (after the burden of your admonitions has fallen "upon the heads" of the Mymretsovs[5]) already exists—that it has been in existence for two years. And you yourself already belong to it! The magazine Nasha Zarya (not as a collection of so much printed matter, but as an ideological group) is just such an "association for the protection of the interests of the working class". An open and broad organisation of workers is a utopia; but "open" and frank magazines of opportunist intellectuals are not a utopia—not by any means. In their own way they are undoubtedly protecting the interests of the working class; but to anyone who has not ceased to be a Marxist it is obvious that theirs is an "association" for protecting, in a liberal manner, the interests of the working class as conceived by the liberals.


[1] The reference is to N. Rozhkov's article "The Present Situation in Russia and the Main Task of the Working-Class Movement at the Present Moment". Another article by Lenin, "From the Camp of the Stolypin 'Labour' Party", is also a criticism of Rozhkov (see pp. 354–59 of this volume).

[2] This refers to The Social Movement in Russia;

[3] Chambre introuvable—the name given by Louis XVIII to the French counter-revolutionary Chamber of Deputies, elected after the restoration of the Bourbons in August 1815. Its composition was so reactionary that Louis XVIII, fearing a new revolutionary outbreak, was forced to dissolve it.

[4] Lenin is referring to the preface to S. Y. Witte's "The Autocracy and the Zemstvo" written by P. B. Struve (signed: R.N.S.) which he criticised in "The Persecutors of the Zemstvo and the Hannibals of Liberalism"

[5] Mymretsov—a character from G. I. Uspensky's Budka (The Centry Box) a coarse and boorish type of policeman from an out-of-the-way small town of tsarist Russia.

Published: Zvezda, No. 32, December 3, 1911. Signed: Vl. Ilyin.
Printed according to the Zvezda text, verified with the text of the symposium Marxism and Liquidationism, 1914.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 313-324.
Translated: Dora Cox

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