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The Liberals and Freedom for the Unions

V. I. Lenin

The Mining Congress has declared itself in favour of the freedom for the unions. One of the biggest liberal bourgeois newspapers, Kievskaya Mysl[1] has this to say about it:

"One of the greatest services rendered by the Congress is this declaration of the right of workers to organise, this support for the demand for freedom of workers’ association.

"Since the working-class movement in Russia re-emerged after the interval of 1908–09 and greater and more frequent repressions have been showered upon it, the demand for freedom of association is increasingly becoming a demand put forward by the masses of the working-class. Until now, however, the demand for the right of association has been regarded as the slogan of the day only in working-class circles. Liberal society showed complete indifference towards it. The Congress, which included quite a number of industrialists, has now been compelled to afford moral support to the demand of the working class."

Here we can clearly see how the liberals are employing their widely circulated, profit-making press to curtail the demands and slogans of the working class. The liberals know full well that the workers have quite different "slogans of the day", uncurtailed slogans. The liberals are foisting on the workers their own liberal narrowness which they claim to be the opinion of "masses" of workers; this is the old, worn-out method of making the supposedly undeveloped masses responsible for the unwillingness of the liberal bourgeoisie to face up to the real source of political privileges and lack of political rights! This was the method employed by the "liberal" serf-owners who, half a century ago, said that the abolition of all landowner privileges was not "a slogan of the day" for "the masses".

Characteristically, the liberals give themselves away. The Congress demand is incomplete, they say. Why? Listen to this:

"The Congress favoured the right of association but could not hide from itself the fact that the realisation of this right inevitably presupposes a whole series of legal conditions. It is impossible to grant freedom to trade unions where general freedom for unions and societies does not exist. Freedom for the working-class press can only be established where there is freedom for the liberal and democratic press. Freedom of association cannot exist where administrative control is the rule and where the masses of the population are kept from participation in elections to legislative bodies. The Congress should have indicated the need to bring about these conditions if it wished to be consistent."

So the Congress was not consistent. In what way was it not consistent? In its not having listed certain reforms, answers the liberal.

But did you list everything, gentlemen?

Of course not! You got as far as the "conditions" that are "presupposed" before certain liberties can be "brought about", but you did not say what these conditions were. You stopped there. You are today afraid of the slogan of the "working-class masses"—not reforms but "reform". In substance you adopt the viewpoint of Struve. Struve took up this slogan in the spring preceding October 17, but he does not accept it today because the entire bourgeoisie, even the most liberal, has turned to the right.

There was a similar situation at the time of the abolition of serfdom. The consistent democrats, Dobrolyubov and Chernyshevsky, justly ridiculed the liberals for their reformism, underlying which there was always a striving to curtail the activities of the masses and defend a little bit of privilege for the landowners, such as redemption payments for the land, etc.

The liberals are wasting their time trying to blame the poverty of their reformism on the "masses of the working class"!

[1] Kievskaya Mysl (Kiev Thought)—a liberal-bourgeois daily published from December 1906 to December 1918. The Menshevik liquidators were closely connected with the paper.

Published: Pravda No 101. May 4, 1913. Published according to the Pravda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 74-75.
Translated: The Late George Hanna

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