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A Poor Defence of a Liberal Labour Policy

V. I. Lenin

In No. 8 of Zhivoye Dyelo Martov replies to my article, "An Organ of a Liberal Labour Policy", published in No. 11 of Zvezda[1]. The question under discussion concerns the fundamental line to be followed by the workers in the election campaign and, therefore, merits special attention.

I described Zhivoye Dyelo as a publication with a liberal labour policy on the following grounds: (1) The slogan is sued by Martov and Dan about dislodging reaction from its positions in the Duma, about wresting the Duma from the hands of the reactionaries, is not a democratic, but a liberal, slogan. The struggle against "reaction" in Russia, far from being confined to the wresting of the Duma from the hands of the reactionaries, is not even focussed on this. (2) In speaking of the possibility of achieving this aim, Martov started by embellishing our electoral law. He declared that "a majority of electors from the landowners and the first urban curia" is guaranteed "in a considerable number of gubernia assemblies". I reminded him of the facts: that this majority is guaranteed in all gubernia assemblies, that in 28 out of 53 gubernias a majority (in the assemblies) is guaranteed to the landowners alone, and that these gubernias send 255 out of a total of some 440 deputies to the Duma. (3) In speaking of dislodging reaction from its positions in the Duma, Martov forgot that the Duma cannot become any thing more than a landowners' liberal opposition. The slogan issued by Martov and Dan implies wresting the landowner from the grip of reaction. (4) In saying that it is to the interest of the workers that power should be transferred to the "civilised bourgeoisie", Martov "forgot" to mention one thing, namely, that it is to the interest of the liberals to share power with Purishkevich so as to prevent democracy from possessing "a single weapon"! (5) In saying that, by growing stronger in the Duma, the Cadets "are facilitating their advance towards power", Martov forgot the experience of 1905–06 in Russia, of 1789 and subsequent years in France and of 1911 in China. This experience tells us that power is transferred to the liberals (or further to the left) only when democracy triumphs in spite of the liberals. (6) Consequently, Martov accepts Marxism only insofar as it is acceptable to any educated liberal.

What does Martov reply to these six points? Nothing. He maintains absolute silence. Why then start a controversy if you have decided to say nothing?

While passing over in silence all my arguments, Martov tries to "catch" me in the following passage from my article:

"The practical task that faces us at the elections is by no means 'to dislodge reaction from its positions in the Duma', but to strengthen the forces of democracy in general and of working-class democracy in particular. This task may sometimes clash with the 'task'of increasing the number of liberals, but five additional[2] democrats are more important to us, and more useful to the proletariat, than fifty additional liberals."

Quoting this passage, Martov (pretending that be has caught "an adherent of reaction"!) gleefully exclaims: "I suggest that the readers ponder over this phrase". I heartily support this proposal.

Martov begins to ponder and in so doing arrives at the following syllogism: The law now provides for a second ballot everywhere. Consequently, "there may be only one instance" when, by repulsing fifty liberals, we can elect five democrats. Such an "instance" involves selling the democratic vote to the Black Hundreds in exchange for seats in the Duma.

And Martov rejoices and prances for a full fifty lines, pretending that he has smitten an abettor of the Black Hundreds and that in smiting F. L-ko he has also "hit" W. Frey[4] who "is steering the same course".

Martov must think his readers are very naïve. And how careless it was of him to suggest to readers that they should ponder, while he himself writes without thinking.

The passage in my article to which Martov took such strong exception poses two questions for thinking people to answer: (1) Is it true that five democrats in the Duma are of greater use to the workers than fifty liberals? (2) Is it possible for these tasks to "clash" in actual practice?

The pondering Martov evaded the first question altogether. That's a pity. You, Messrs. Liquidators, evade questions of politics in order to accuse us of partiality for arithmetic. Fifty liberals in the Duma will give the people a pile of sham democratic speeches, thereby corrupting the people, and a few "reforms" which, to begin with, will be confined to wash-basins, and, secondly, will be held up in the Council of State and so forth. Five democrats, on the other hand, will use the Duma rostrum to explain to the people a number of truths of democracy (and workers will use the rostrum also to explain some of the truths of socialism). Which is more useful to the proletariat?

The second question. Is Martov right when he says that the task of electing five democrats ("additional", i. e., in addition to those we have at present) may clash with the task of electing fifty liberals only in the case which he mentions? For after inviting the readers to ponder, Martov declares without further ado: "There may be only one such instance."

If Martov is right, the reader ought to accuse me, F. L-ko, either of discussing an impossible case, or of a secret desire to sell the votes of the democrats to the Black Hundreds in exchange for seats in the Duma (a secret and stupid desire, I may add confidentially. Imagine Purishkevich purchasing the votes of the friends of Petrov the Third and Voiloshnikov in exchange for electing Voiloshnikov to the Fourth Duma—that is the sort of probability in which the "pondering" Martov indulges).

If there can be another instance of these two tasks clashing, then Martov is wrong.

Thus, is another instance of such a clash possible? There could be, without any doubt, if at the second ballot the democrats, without entering into an agreement with the liberals, were to fight both the Rights and the liberals.

That is all there is to it.[3]

The pondering Martov, like all the liquidators, is a prisoner of the idea of two camps, and fails to notice the fight waged by a third camp both against the first and against the second!

Immediately following the passage which fills Martov with indignation, it says in my article:

"Hence the following conclusion ["hence", dear Martov!] which Martov refuses to draw, even though he does pretend to agree that the Cadets are not democrats, but liberals: (1) in the five big cities, in the event of a second ballot, agreements are permissible only with the democrats against the liberals; (2) at all the ballots and in all the agreements at the second stage, precedence should be given to agreements with the democrats against the liberals, and only subsequently may agreements be concluded with the liberals against the Rights".

Martov mentioned only the second point, and declared that I was not telling the truth, because Martov agrees with that point (it remains to be seen whether all the liquidators agree!), but he maintained silence on the first point!

Once again: either you keep silent or you argue the issue.

In the event of a second ballot being taken in the five cities, the general line should be: with the democrats against the liberals. Agreements with the liberals to be prohibited (for experience has shown that on the whole there is no danger of a Black-Hundred victory in any of these cities).

Are you for or against this sort of prohibition? Give a straight answer.

Further, what can be the practical result of this second ballot? The votes may be divided nearly equally among the three camps. The issue is then decided by the relative majority. Take the simplest example: out of a total of 100 votes, the Rights command 33, the liberals 33, and the democrats 34 votes. The democratic candidate is elected. One vote less for the Social-Democrat and one vote more for the reactionary may decide the issue in favour of the Black Hundreds!

There are two lines of working-class policy: the liberal line—fear above all the election of a reactionary, therefore surrender the leadership to the liberal without a fight! The Marxist line—do not be dismayed by the liberal cries about the danger of a Black-Hundred victory, but boldly plunge into a "three-cornered" contest (to use the English expression). As a general rule there is no danger of the Black Hundreds gaining a victory. And if in exceptional cases a Black-Hundred candidate is elected, this will be compensated for by the fact that here and there democrats well be elected!...

You cannot learn to swim unless you go into the water. There can be no contest in which all the chances are known beforehand. If the workers allow themselves to be frightened by the liberal cries about the danger of a Black-Hundred victory, they will never learn to fight in a "three-cornered" contest. Everywhere in the world the camp of reaction and the liberal camp rallied their forces earlier and were better organised (with the aid of reactionary laws, of course) than the workers. Everywhere in the world the liberals tell the workers the very same things that Martov is repeating.

Now, for one more, and final, step to show the "pondering" Martov what it means to ponder over matters.

At the second ballot in the five cities, agreements with the liberals are prohibited. In other cases of a second ballot such agreements are not prohibited. Does this mean that they will be concluded as a rule? It seems not, doesn't it?

If there is no agreement, may it not happen that in each case of a second ballot the votes will be divided nearly equally among the three camps?

Apparently it may be, if one really "ponders" over it.

From this follows the conclusion that there are two lines of working-class policy.

The liberal labour policy: there is a swing to the left in the country; "therefore" ... fear above all the danger of a Black-Hundred victory; the slogan is to dislodge reaction from its positions in the Duma; but only the liberals can dislodge it from its positions in the Duma; threfore, you must not "threaten" the liberals, or "extort" seats from them—surely it is unbecoming for "cultured" workers to extort any thing from such nice people as the liberals!—but be prepared to make every kind of concession in concluding agreements with the liberals, and steer clear of a "three-cornered" contest.

The Marxist working-class policy: there is a swing to the left in the country; therefore, do not believe the liberal fables about the danger of a Black-Hundred victory; when entering into agreements with the liberals, you must by all means threaten them and extort from them seats in the Duma; and in order to lend weight to your threats, worker comrades, don't fear a "three-cornered" contest; boldly engage in such a fight, and expose the counter-revolutionary liberals to the people; to be sure, wherever there is a fight, there is a possibility of defeat, here and there a reactionary may be elected, but, on the other hand, here and there democrats will be elected; it is better for five additional democrats to get into the Duma than for fifty additional liberals; as a general rule, the Black Hundreds will not win in the elections, for the Purishkeviches are too well known, and the liberals are purposely trying to scare the people by magnifying the danger of a Black-Hundred victory in order to secure the leadership for themselves (although the Maklakovs are almost as black as the Black Hundreds) and ward off the danger threatening them from the "left".

To sum up: he made no reply to a single point of the six I brought up in dealing with the liberal labour policy. He ignored the question of prohibiting blocs with the liberals in the five cities. He gave no thought to three-cornered election fights at the second ballot, although he had promised to "ponder". On the other hand, there are two things he did accomplish: (1) he defended the liberals from "threats", and (2) accused Voiloshnikov's friends of plotting with Purishkevich to sell votes to him on condition that Purishkevich, in exchange, should help elect Voiloshnikovs to the Fourth Duma!!


[1] See pp. 487–90 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] There was a misprint in the article: "strong" instead of "additional". Martov might have easily noticed that it was absurd to juxtapose "strong" democrats to "additional" liberals. But that is not the point at issue. —Lenin

[3] The following "terrible" suspicion occurs to me: is it possible that Martov's whole article is to be explained by his not knowing that, according to the law, the second ballot represents new elections and not a contest between two candidates? If this is the case, it will be necessary, before "fighting reaction" in the elections, to light ignorance of the electoral law! —Lenin

[4] F. L–ko, W. Fey—Lenin's pseudonyms.

Published: Zvezda, No. 24 (60), April 1, 1912. Signed: F. L-ko.
Published according to the Zvezda text.
Source:Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 556-561.
Translated: Dora Cox

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