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Questions of Principle in Politics
The Liberal Bourgeoisie and Reformism

V. I. Lenin

In the name of the merchants of all Russia, the millionaire Salazkin made an appeal for extensive political reforms in a speech at Nizhni-Novgorod Fair. At a meeting of three thousand metalworkers in St. Petersburg, the reformists suffered a decisive defeat, receiving only 150 votes for their candidates for membership of the executive body.[1]

These two facts, which simply cry out for comparison, make even quite unprincipled people ask questions of principle concerning present-day Russian politics. There are masses of people in all classes in Russia that are interested in politics, but few of them realise the significance of the theoretical principles involved in the presentation of questions of politics. Few people realise the significance of political parties that always give well-considered, precise and properly formulated answers to these questions. When the parties are connected with definite classes, such answers are given on the basis of work among the masses and are verified by years of such work.

The answers given by the Marxists were precisely of this type when four and a half years ago they appraised the June Third system and their tasks in relation to it[2]. Workers who for years and years have been acting conscientiously in the spirit of those answers in every possible sphere are divided by a deep gulf from those confused intellectuals who fear any sort of definite answer and who, at every step, slide into reformism and liquidationism.

One can only pity those people who, watching the struggle of the Marxists against the liquidators, avoid the issue with miserable words about the harmfulness of disputes, squabbles, internecine struggles, factionalism.... Many self-styled Marxists and all "Left" Narodniks belong to this category!

Those who, in principle, are champions of the bourgeoisie and enemies of Marxism, the liberals from the newspaper Rech, have been unable to ignore the above facts. They repeat all their tired, pitiful phrases in an editorial article (in issue No. 234), but now they go further.

The liberals are forced to admit that "the struggle between the Bolsheviks and the liquidators is going on every where", and that "it has percolated all the pores of the working-class organism".

So what of it? Could it be accidental?


"Important disagreements on matters of principle have long been apparent; in the final analysis they may be reduced to the question of the course to be taken in the further development of the country."

At last they have thought it out! The Marxists explained this in December 1908, the liberals have begun to realise it in August 1913. Better late than never.

"Is the path of reforms conceivable", continues the liberal newspaper, "or are 'reforms possible only as a by-product of a movement that is completely free of all the narrowness of reformism'[quoted from Severnaya Pravda]. That is how the question is presented."

Precisely! The question of liquidationism is merely part of the question of the non-party reformists who have broken away from Marxism. It will be interesting to see how the liberals, the champions of reformism in principle, defend it.

"There is, of course, a great deal of metaphysics and fatalism in the opinion that reforms are possible only as a 'by-product'. There can be no reforms without reformers and reformism, even if only as a 'by-product'"....

There again you have a sample of angry words and an attempt to evade an answer! What have metaphysics got to do with it, when historical experience, the experience of England, France, Germany and Russia, the experience of all modern history in Europe and Asia, shows that serious reforms have always been merely the by-product of a movement completely free of the narrowness of reformism?

And what has fatalism to do with it, when, that same experience says clearly that it is the very classes hostile to reformism that have produced the greatest effect?

Or perhaps there is more "fatalism" to be observed in the conduct of the Russian working class in the early years of the twentieth century than there was in the conduct of the liberal Zemstvo people and bourgeoisie in the last thirty years of the nineteenth century? You liberal gentlemen make yourselves ridiculous!

Can you possibly be such ignoramuses that you do not see the connection between the interests of the bourgeoisie as a class and their desire to confine themselves to reformism, between the condition of the working class and its contrary desire?

Indeed, gentlemen, you are poor advocates of reformism in general! But perhaps your defence of reformism in present-day Russia is better?

"It must be admitted," continues Rech, "that the situation now obtaining, one that has time and again demonstrated to the most modest reformers the futility of their efforts, turns people's thoughts, and especially their feelings, towards the negation of reformism."

So there you have it! It seems that even you, who make a principle of advocating reformism, cannot find support either in historical experience or in "the situation now obtaining" in Russia. Even you have to admit that the situation is against you!

What metaphysicians and fatalists you are, gentlemen—or what blind slaves to the narrow, selfish, cowardly moneybag—if you continue to uphold the unprincipled position of reformism in contradiction to the experience of history, in contradiction to the experience of "the situation now obtaining"! Are not you, who do not believe in reforms yourselves, actually defending that bourgeoisie that strives to gain profit at other people's expense?

It is understandable that an advanced contingent of the working class of Russia, the metalworkers of St. Petersburg, have dealt a crushing defeat to the reformists and liquidators among their number. According to the figures of the liberal and reformist Rech, the reformist liquidators obtained 150 out of 2,000 votes, that is, seven and a half per cent of the total. Does this not show again and again—after the elections of workers to the Fourth Duma, after the history of the emergence of the working-class press in St. Petersburg and Moscow—that the liquidators represent only confused and half-liberal intellectuals, and that the mass of the politically conscious workers have firmly and resolutely condemned and rejected them?


[1] The Executive of the St. Petersburg Metalworkers' Union was re-elected on August 25 (September 7), 1913. The meeting was attended by about 3,000 workers. Despite the efforts of the liquidators to turn the meeting against the Bolshevik Executive of the union, a resolution of thanks to the Executive for its work was adopted by an overwhelming majority. The list of candidates, first voted on, put up by the liquidators obtained about 150 votes; the Bolshevik list, published in Severnaya Pravda, was adopted by a vast majority.

[2] See present edition, Vol. 15, pp. 321–24.—Ed.

Published: Severnaya Pravda No. 28, September 4, 1913; Nash Put No. 9, September 4, 1913. Signed: V. I..
Published according to the Severnaya Pravda text.
Source:Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 350-353.
Translated: The Late George Hanna
eSource: Marxists.org - "Marxists Internet Archive"

eSource: Marxists.org - Marxists Internet Archive
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