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To Nation from Lenin

October 13, 1905

Dear friend,

The resolution of the Odessa Committee on the trade union struggle ("decisions" No. 6 or 5—it is not clear; in letter No. 24. It is dated September 1905) seems to me highly erroneous. The excitement of the struggle against the Mensheviks naturally explains this, but one must not fall into the other extreme. And that is just what this resolution does. I venture, therefore, to make a critical analysis of the Odessa Committee's resolution, and would ask the comrades to discuss my remarks, which are in no way due to a desire to find fault.

The resolution is in three (unnumbered) parts in the preamble, and five (numbered) parts in the resolution proper. The first part (the opening paragraph of the preamble) is quite good: to undertake "leadership of all manifestations of the class struggle of the proletariat" and "never to forget the task" of leading the trade union struggle. Splendid. Further, the second point, that the task of preparing for an armed uprising comes "into the forefront", and (the third or final point of the preamble) "in consequence of this the task of leading the trade union struggle of the proletariat inevitably recedes into the background". This, in my opinion, is wrong theoretically and incorrect from the point of view of tactics.

It is wrong theoretically to equate the two tasks as if they were on the same level: "the task of preparing for an armed uprising" and "the task of leading the trade union struggle". The one task is said to be in the forefront, the other in the background. To speak like that means comparing and contrasting things of a different order. The armed uprising is a method of political struggle at a given moment. The trade union struggle is one of the constant forms of the whole workers' movement, one always needed under capitalism and essential at all times. In a passage quoted by me in What Is To Be Done?[1] Engels distinguishes three basic forms of the proletarian struggle: economic, political, and theoretical—that is to say, trade union, political, and theoretical (scientific, ideological, and philosophical). How can one of these basic forms of struggle (the trade union form) be put on a level with a method of another basic form of struggle at a given moment? How can the whole trade union struggle, as a "task", be put on a level with the present and by far not the only method of political struggle? These are incommensurable things, something like adding tenths to hundredths without reducing them to a common denominator. In my opinion, both these points (the second and third) of the preamble should be deleted. Alongside "the task of leading the trade union struggle" can be put only the task of leading the general political struggle as a whole, the task of waging the general ideological struggle as a whole, and not some particular, given, modern tasks of the political or ideological struggle. In place of these two points mention should be made of the necessity of never for a moment forgetting the political struggle, the education of the working class in all the fullness of Social-Democratic ideas, and the need to achieve a close, indissoluble connection between all manifestations of the workers' movement for creating an integral, truly Social-Democratic movement. This indication could be the second point of the preamble. The third could mention the necessity of warning against the narrow conception and narrow formulation of the trade union struggle, which are zealously disseminated by the bourgeoisie. I am not, of course, putting forward a draft for the resolution, I am not touching on the question whether it is worth while making special mention of this; for the time being I am merely examining what expression of your thought would be theoretically correct.

Tactically, the resolution in its present form puts the case for an armed uprising rather lamely. An armed uprising is the highest method of political struggle. Its success from the point of view of the proletariat, i.e., the success of a proletarian uprising under Social-Democratic leader ship, and not of any other kind of uprising, requires extensive development of all aspects of the workers' movement. Hence the idea of contraposing the task of an uprising to the task of leading the trade union struggle is supremely incorrect. In this way the task of the uprising is played down, belittled. Instead of summing up and crowning the entire workers' movement as a whole, the result is that the task of the uprising is dealt with as a thing apart. Two things are, as it were, mixed up: a resolution on the trade union struggle in general (this is the subject of the Odessa Committee's resolution), and a resolution on the disposition of forces in the present work of the Odessa Committee (your resolution goes off on this tack, but that's quite another pair of shoes).

I pass on to the numbered points of the part comprising the resolution proper.

Ad I. "To expose the illusions" "which are bound up with the trade unions"... this is more or less passable, although it were best deleted. Firstly, it belongs to the preamble, where the inseparable connection of all aspects of the movement should be pointed out. Secondly, the nature of the illusions is not stated. If this is to be inserted at all, there should be added: bourgeois illusions as to the possibility of meeting the economic and other needs of the working class in capitalist society.

..."strongly emphasising their [the unions'?] narrowness compared with the ultimate aims of the workers' movement". It follows that all trade unions are "narrow". What about Social-Democratic trade unions which are linked with the political organisation of the proletariat? The crux of the matter is not that trade unions are "narrow", but that this one aspect (and narrow just because it is one aspect) should be bound up with others. Consequently, these words should either be thrown out or further mention should be made of the need to establish and strengthen the connection between one aspect and all the others, the need to imbue the trade unions with Social-Democratic content, Social-Democratic propaganda, and to draw them into all Social-Democratic work, etc.

Ad II. All right.

Ad III. For the reasons stated, it is incorrect to compare the task of the trade unions with the "most urgent and primary task" of an armed uprising. There is no need to speak of the armed uprising in a resolution on the trade union struggle, for the former is a means for the "over throw of the tsarist autocracy" which is mentioned in point II. The trade unions could broaden the basis from which we shall draw strength for an uprising, so that, I say once again, it is erroneous to contrapose one to the other.

Ad IV. "To wage a vigorous ideological struggle against the so-called Minority", which is reverting to "Economism" "in problems of the trade unions". Isn't this too general for a resolution of the Odessa Committee? Doesn't it seem an exaggeration? After all, there has been no criticism in the press of any resolution of the Mensheviks on the "trade unions" . It has merely been pointed out that the liberals praise them for a tendency to fall over backwards in their seal on this question. The only [inference] to be drawn from this is that we too must show zeal, without however "falling over backwards" in the attempt. I think this point should either be deleted altogether, leaving only a warning against narrowness and mentioning the struggle against the tendencies of the bourgeoisie and liberals to distort the tasks of the trade unions, or it should be formulated specially in connection with some particular resolution of the Mensheviks (I do not know of such resolutions at the present time, unless some kind of Akim resolutions appeared among you in the South).

Ad V. Now this is the real thing. The words "and, if possible, leadership" I would replace by "and leadership". We do everything "if possible". The insertion of these words here of all places may be misinterpreted in the sense that we strive less for leadership, etc.

Generally speaking I think we should be careful not to exaggerate the struggle against the Mensheviks on this issue. This is probably just the time when trade unions will soon begin to spring up. We must not stand aloof, and above all not give any occasion for thinking that we ought to stand aloof, but endeavour to take part, to influence, etc. For there is a special section of workers, elderly family men, who will make very little contribution to the political struggle at present, but very much to the trade union struggle. We must make use of this section, merely guiding their steps in this field. It is important that at the very outset Russian Social-Democrats should strike the right note in regard to the trade unions, and at once create a tradition of Social-Democratic initiative in this matter, of Social-Democratic participation, of Social-Democratic leadership. In practice, of course, there may not be enough forces, but that is quite another question; even so, given an ability to make use of all the available forces, some will always be found for the trade unions as well. Forces have been found for writing a resolution on the trade unions, i.e., for ideological guidance, and that's the crux of the matter!

I wish you all the best and ask you to drop me a line about receipt of this letter and about your thoughts in connection with it.

N. Lenin

[1] Lenin refers to his translation of the preface to the pamphlet The Peasant War in Germany quoted in his book What Is To Be Done? (see Vol. 5, pp. 371–72, of this edition).

Published: First published in 1926. Sent from Geneva to Odessa. Printed from the original.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, Volume 34, pages 355-359.
Translated: Clemens Dutt

eSource: Marxists.org - Marxists Internet Archive
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