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The Group of Independent-Legalists

 V. I. Lenin

Notes of a Publicist

 6. The Group of Independent-Legalists

Let us now proceed to ascertain what took place after the plenum. To this question Trotsky and Yonov give a uniform and simple answer. “Neither in the external conditions of political life,” states the Vienna resolution, “nor in the internal relations of our Party did any real changes take place after the plenum that might hinder the work of building up the Party....” A factional relapse, the surviving heritage of factional relations—that is all.

Yonov supplies the same explanations “personalised”.

“The plenum is over. Its participants have gone their several ways.... The leaders of the old factions found them selves at liberty and emancipated themselves from all outside influences and pressure. Moreover, considerable reinforcements arrived: for some of them—in the shape of Comrade Plekhanov, who of late has been ardently advocating that a state of martial law be declared in the Parts; for others—in the shape of the sixteen ‘old Party members, well known to the editorial board of Golos Sotsial-Demokrata’” (see No. 19–20, “Open Letter”). “Under these conditions, how could one refrain from throwing oneself into the fray? And so they resumed the old ‘game’ of mutual extermination” (Otkliki Bunda No. 4, p. 22).

“Reinforcements” arrived from the factionalists and—another fight ensued, that is all. True, the “reinforcements” for the Bolsheviks arrived in the person of a pro-Party Menshevik, Plekhanov; he “arrived” to make war on the liquidators, but that is immaterial to Yonov. Yonov apparently   does not like Plekhanov’s polemics against Potresov, Comrade I.{5} (who proposed “to dissolve everything”), etc. Of course, he has the right to censure these polemics. But how can this be called “declaring martial law in the Party”? War on the liquidators means declaring martial law in the Party—let us remember this “philosophy” of Comrade Yonov’s.

The reinforcements for the Mensheviks abroad were the Russian Mensheviks. But this circumstance does not at all give Comrade Yonov something to think about.

It is obvious what practical conclusion Trotsky and Yonov draw from such an “estimate of the situation”. Nothing out of the ordinary has occurred. Simply a factional wrangle. Install new neutralisers and the trick is done. Everything is explained from the standpoint of sectarian diplomacy. All the practical prescriptions are nothing but sectarian diplomacy. Given here are those who “rushed into battle”, those who desire to “reconcile”: here delete the reference to the “foundation”, there add the name of so-and so to be included in the “institution”, and in yet another place “give in” to the legalists in regard to the methods of convening the conference.... It is the old but ever new story of the sectarian spirit abroad.

Our view of what took place after the plenum is different.

Having succeeded in getting the resolutions adopted unanimously, and having eliminated all the “squabbling” accusations, the plenum forced the liquidators to the wall. It is no longer possible to hide behind squabbles, it is no longer possible to refer to obduracy and “mechanical suppression” (or the other variants: “special protective measures” “martial law”, “state of siege”, etc.). It is now possible to leave the Party only because of liquidationism (just as the Vperyodists can leave it only because of otzovism and anti-Marxist philosophy).

Forced to the wall, the liquidators have had to show their true colours. Their Russian centre—it matters not whether it is a formal or an informal, a semi-legal (Mikhail and Co.) or entirely legal centre (Potresov and Co.)—answered the call to return to the Party by a refusal. The Russian legalist-liquidators have finally broken with the Party and have united in a group of independent socialists (independent   of socialism and dependent on liberalism, of course). The answer of Mikhail and Co., on the one hand, and the writings of Nasha Zarya and Vozrozhdeniye, on the other, mark precisely the fusion of the anti-Party circles of “Social-Democrats” (to be more exact—quasi-Social-Democrats) into a group of independent socialists. Hence the “conciliatory” efforts of Trotsky and Yonov are now ridiculous and miserable. These efforts can only be explained by a complete failure to understand what is taking place. They are harmless efforts now, for there is no one behind them except the sectarian diplomats abroad, except ignorance and lack of intelligence in some out-of-the-way places.

The conciliators à la Trotsky and Yonov mistook the special conditions which allowed conciliationist diplomacy to blossom forth at the plenum for the general conditions of present-day Party life. They made the mistake of taking this diplomacy—which played its part at the plenum owing to the presence of conditions that gave rise to a deep striving for conciliation (i.e., for Party unity) in both of the principal factions—as an aim in itself, as a lasting instrument in the game between “given persons, groups and institutions”.

Certainly there was scope for diplomacy at the plenum, for it was necessary to secure the Party union of pro-Party Bolsheviks and pro-Party Mensheviks; and this was impossible without concessions, without compromise. In deter mining the extent of such concessions the “honest brokers” inevitably came to the front—inevitably, because for the pro-Party Mensheviks and pro-Party Bolsheviks the question of the extent of the concessions was a secondary one, as long as the basis in principle of the union as a whole remained intact. The “conciliators” à la Trotsky and Yonov—having pushed their way to the front at the plenum, and having obtained the opportunity to play their part as “neutralisers”, as “judges”, in eliminating squabbles and satisfying “claims” against the Bolshevik Centre—imagined that as long as the “given persons, groups and institutions” existed they could always play this part. An amusing delusion. Brokers are needed when it is necessary to determine the extent of the concessions needed for obtaining unanimity. The extent of the concessions has to he determined   when there is an acknowledged common basis in principle for a union. The question as to who was to join this union after all the concessions had been made remained open at that time; for in principle the provisional assumption was inevitable that all the Social-Democrats would want to enter the Party, that all the Mensheviks would want loyally to carry out the anti-liquidationist resolution, and that all the Vperyodists would want to do the same in regard to the anti-otzovist resolution.

Now, however, brokers are not required; there is no place for them, because there is no question of the extent of concessions. And this question does not arise because there is no question of any concessions at all. All the concessions (and even excessive ones) were made at the plenum. Now it is exclusively a question of a principled stand in the struggle against liquidationism, moreover not against liquidationism in general, but against a definite group of liquidator-independents, the group of Mikhail and Co., the group of Potresov and Co. Should Trotsky and Yonov take it into their heads to “reconcile” the Party with the given persons, groups and institutions, then we all pro-Party Bolsheviks and all pro-Party Mensheviks would regard; them simply as traitors to the Party, and nothing more.

The conciliator-diplomats were “strong” at the plenum exclusively because and insofar as both the pro-Party Bolsheviks and the pro-Party Mensheviks wanted peace and attached subordinate importance to the question of the conditions of peace compared with the question of the anti-liquidationist and the anti-otzovist tactics of the Party. I, for instance, considered the concessions excessive and fought over the extent of these concessions (this is hinted at by Golos in No. 19–20 and is openly stated by Yonov). But I was ready then and would be ready now to reconcile myself even to excessive concessions, provided the line of the Party was not thereby undermined, provided these concessions did not lead to the negation of that line, provided these, concessions paved the way for bringing people back from liquidationism and otzovism to the Party. But now that Mikhail and Co. and Potresov and Co. have united and come out against the Party and against the plenum,   I refuse to enter into any negotiations about any concessions, since the Party is obliged now to break with these independents, to fight against them resolutely as full-fledged liquidators. And I can speak with confidence not only for myself but for all the pro-Party Bolsheviks. The pro-Party Mensheviks, through Plekhanov and others, have expressed themselves clearly enough in the same spirit; and since this is the state of affairs in the Party, the “conciliator”-diplomats à la Trotsky and Yonov will either have to abandon their diplomacy or leave the Party and join the independents.

In order to convince oneself that the legalists have definitely united into a group of independent socialists, one has only to review the events after the plenum, to appraise them in essence, and not merely from the standpoint of the petty history of “conflicts”, to which Yonov wrongly confines himself.

1) Mikhail, Roman and Yuri declare that the Central Committee (plenum) resolutions and the very existence of the Central Committee are harmful. About two months have elapsed since this fact was published and it has not been refuted. It is obvious that it is true.[1]

2) Sixteen Russian Mensheviks, including at least two of the three mentioned above, and a number of the most prominent Menshevik writers (Cherevanin, Koltsov, etc.), published in Golos, with the approval of the editors, a purely liquidationist manifesto, justifying the Mensheviks’ withdrawal from the Party.

3) The Menshevik legally published magazine, Nasha Zarya, publishes a programmatic article by Mr. Potresov in which it is bluntly stated that “the Party, as as integral and organised hierarchy of institutions, does not exist” (No. 2, p. 61), that it is impossible to wind up “what in reality no longer exists as an organised whole” (ibid.). Among the contributors to this journal are Cherevanin,   Koltsov, Martynov, Avgustovsky, Maslov, Martov—the same L. Martov who is capable of occupying a place in the “organised hierarchy of institutions” of the illegal Party which has a centre like that of an “organised body”, and at the same time is capable of belonging to the legal group, which with the gracious permission of Stolypin declares this illegal Party to be non-existent.

4) In the popular Menshevik magazine Vozrozhdeniye (No. 5, March 30, 1910), which has the same contributors, an unsigned, i.e., editorial article praises the above-mentioned article by Mr. Potresov in Nasha Zarya and adds, after quoting the same passage quoted by me above:

“There is nothing to wind up—and we [i.e., the editors of Vozrozhdeniye] would add on our part—the dream of re-establishing this hierarchy in its old underground form is simply a harmful reactionary utopia, which indicates the loss of political intuition by the representatives of a party which at one time was the most realistic of all” (p. 51).

Anyone who regards all these facts as accidental apparently does not want to see the truth. Anyone who intends to explain these facts as “a relapse into factionalism” is lulling himself with a phrase. What have these facts to do with factionalism and the factional struggle, from which both the group of Mikhail and Co. and the group of Potresov and Co. have been standing aside for a long time. No, for one who does not deliberately want to shut his eyes no doubts are possible here. The plenum removed all obstacles (real or imaginary) to the return of the pro-Party legalists into the Party, it removed all obstacles in the way of building up an illegal Party, taking into account the new conditions and new forms of utilising legal possibilities. Four Menshevik members of the Central Committee and two editors of Golos have admitted that all obstacles in the way of joint Party work have been removed. The group of Russian legalists has given its answer to the plenum. This answer is in the negative: we do not want to engage in the restoration and strengthening of the illegal Party, for that is a reactionary utopia.

This answer is a fact of the greatest political importance in the history of the Social-Democratic movement. The group of independent socialists (independent of socialism)   has definitely rallied together and has definitely broken with the Social-Democratic Party. To what extent this group has crystallised, whether it consists of one organisation or of a number of separate circles very loosely connected—this we do not know as yet, nor is it important. What matters is that the tendency to form groups independent of the Party—a tendency which has long been prevalent among the Mensheviks—has now brought about a new political formation. And henceforth all Russian Social-Democrats who do not want to deceive themselves must reckon with the fact that this group of independents exists.

In order that the significance of this fact may become clear, let us. recall first of all the “independent socialists” in France who, in that most progressive bourgeois state, which more than any other has been purged of all that is old, carried this political trend to its logical conclusion. Millerand, Viviani and Briand belonged to the Socialist Party, but repeatedly acted independently of its decisions, in defiance of them, and Millerand’s entry into a bourgeois cabinet, on the pretext of saving the republic and safe guarding the interests of socialism, led to his break with the party. The bourgeoisie rewarded the traitors to socialism with ministerial portfolios. The three French renegades continue to call themselves and their group independent socialists, and continue to justify their behaviour on the grounds of the interests of the labour movement and social reform.

Bourgeois society cannot, of course, reward our independents quite as rapidly; they start under conditions immeasurably more backward and they must be satisfied with praises and assistance from the liberal bourgeoisie (which has long been supporting the Mensheviks’ tendencies towards “independence”). But the basic tendency is the same in both cases: being independent of the Socialist Party is justified on the grounds of the interests of the labour movement; “the fight for legality” (the slogan in Dan’s formulation, taken up very zealously by the renegade Vozrozhdeniye No. 5, page 7) is proclaimed the slogan of the working class; in reality the bourgeois intellectuals group themselves together (parliamentarians in France, literary writers in our country) and act in combination with the liberals;   subordination to the Party is rejected; the Party is declared to be insufficiently “realistic” both by Millerand and Co. and by Vozrozhdeniye and Golos; they characterise the Party as a “dictatorship of exclusive, underground circles” (Golos), and declare that it reduces itself to a narrow; revolutionary association which: is harmful to broad progress (Millerand and. Co.).

Furthermore, in order to make clear the position of our independents, take the history of the formation of our Russian Popular Socialist Party. This history will help to clarify the position for those who fail to see the kinship between our independents and Millerand and Go. owing to the vast difference in the external conditions of their “work”. It is common knowledge that our Popular Socialists represent the legalist and moderate wing of petty-bourgeois democracy, and I believe none. of the Marxists have any doubts about this. At the congress of the Socialist-Revolutionaries at the end of 1905, the Popular Socialists came out as liquidators of the programme, tactics and organisation of the revolutionary party of the petty-bourgeois democrats; they acted in the closest alliance with the Socialist-Revolutionaries in the newspapers of the days of freedom in the autumn of 1905 and in the spring of 1906. They legalised themselves and seceded, forming an independent party in the autumn of 1906, a fact which did not prevent them, during the elections to the Second Duma and in the Second Duma itself, from merging from time to time with the Socialist-Revolutionaries.

In the autumn of 1906, I had occasion to write in Proletary about the Popular Socialists, and I called them “Socialist-Revolutionary Mensheviks”.{2} Three-and-a-half years have passed since then, and Potresov and Co. have man aged to prove to the pro-Party Mensheviks that I was right. It must be acknowledged, however, that even Peshekhonov and Go. acted more honestly in a political sense, than did Potresov and his group; after a series of political acts which were in effect independent of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, they openly declared themselves to be a separate political party independent of the Socialist-Revolutionaries.   Of course, this “honesty” is conditioned, incidentally, by the relationship of forces: Peshekhonov was of the opinion that the Socialist-Revolutionary Party was powerless, and thought that it was he who stood to lose by an informal alliance with it, whereas Potresov thinks he stands to gain by political Azefism,{6} i.e., by formally continuing to be a Social-Democrat while in reality acting independently of the Social-Democratic Party.

For the present, Mr. Potresov and Co. deem it most advantageous for themselves to hide behind a borrowed name, using the prestige of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in a thievish manner, corrupting it from within, acting not only independently of it but really against it. It is quite likely that our group of independents will try to parade in borrowed plumes as long as possible; it is quite likely that if the Party is dealt a severe blow, after some big raid upon the illegal organisation, or when circumstances prove particularly tempting, such as, for example, the possibility of being elected to the Duma independently of the Party, the independents themselves will throw off their mask; we cannot foresee all the possible episodes in their political chicanery.

But one thing we know for certain, and that is that the covert activities of the independents are harmful and ruinous to the R.S.D.L.P., the party of the working class, and that we must expose these activities at all costs, we must force the independents into the open and declare that all their connections with the Party are broken off. The plenum took a big step forward in this direction. However strange it may appear at first sight, it was just the consent (insincere or unconscious) of Martov and Martynov, just the maximum, even excessive, concessions that were made to them that helped to reveal the ulcer of liquidationism, the ulcer of “independence” in our Party. No honest Social-Democrat, no Party member, whatever faction he may sympathise with, can deny now that the group of Mikhail and Co., the group of Potresov and Co. are independents, that in reality they do not recognise the Party, do not want the Party and are working against the Party.

How rapidly, or how slowly, the process of secession and formation of a separate party by the independents   matures depends, of course, on many causes and circumstances that cannot be estimated. The Popular Socialists had a special group before the revolution, and the secession of that group, which was temporarily and loosely affiliated with the Socialist-Revolutionaries, was particularly easy. Our independents still have some personal traditions, ties with the Party, which retard the process of secession, but these traditions are becoming ever weaker, and, besides, the revolution and counter-revolution bring forward new people, free of all revolutionary or Party traditions. The surrounding atmosphere of “Vekhist” moods is very rapidly impelling the spineless intelligentsia towards “independence”. The “old” generation of revolutionaries is leaving the stage. Stolypin is doing, his utmost to hunt down the representatives of this generation most of whom had divulged all their pseudonyms and their secret channels of work in the days of freedom, in the years of revolution. Prison, exile, penal servitude and emigration constantly increase the number of those withdrawn from the ranks, while the new generation grows slowly. Among the intelligentsia, especially that section of it which has “hitched on” to one or another form of legal activity, there is developing a complete lack of faith in the illegal Party and a disinclination to spend efforts on work which is particularly difficult and particularly thankless in our times. “Friends in need are friends indeed”, and the working class, which is passing through the difficult times of attack both by the old and the new counter-revolutionary forces, will inevitably witness the defection of very many of its intellectual “friends of an hour”, fine-weather friends, friends only for the duration of the revolution, friends who were revolutionaries during the revolution, but who are yielding to the general depression and are ready to proclaim the “fight for legality” at the first successes of the counter-revolution.

In a number of European countries, the counter-revolutionary forces succeeded in making a clean sweep of the remnants of the revolutionary and socialist organisations of the proletariat, for instance after 1848. A bourgeois intellectual, who in the days of his youth joined the Social-Democratic movement is inclined, because of his petty-bourgeois psychology, to give up the struggle: so it was,   so it will be; to defend the old illegal organisation is hopeless, to create a new one is still more hopeless; generally speaking, we “overestimated” the forces of the proletariat in the bourgeois revolution, we erroneously ascribed “universal” importance to the role of the proletariat—all of these little ideas of the renegade Social Movement directly and indirectly drive towards renunciation of the illegal Party. Once on the slippery slope, the independent fails to observe that he is sliding lower and lower, he does not realise that he is working hand in glove with Stolypin: Stolypin destroys the illegal Party physically, with the aid of the police, the gallows and penal servitude; the liberals do exactly the same thing directly, by their open propaganda of Vekhist ideas; the independents among the Social-Democrats indirectly assist in the destruction of the illegal Party by their shouts about its “atrophy”, by their refusal to help it and by their attempts (see the letter of the Sixteen in Golos No. 19–20) to justify desertion from it. One step leads to another.

Let us not shut our eyes to the fact that the longer the counter-revolutionary period lasts the more difficult will our fight for the Party become. That our Party comrades do not underestimate the danger, that they look it squarely in the face, is shown, for instance, by the article of Comrade K. in No. 43 of the Central Organ. But the resolute and frank recognition of the weakness of the Party, of the disintegration of the organisations and the difficulties of the situation does not make Comrade K. (or any of the Party comrades) waver for one moment on the question of whether the Party is necessary, whether it is necessary to work for its restoration. The greater the difficulties of our position, the greater the number of enemies (the day before yesterday they were joined by the Vekhists, yesterday by the Popular Socialists, today by the independent Social-Democrats) —the more closely will all the Social-Democrats, irrespective of their shades of opinion, rally in defence of the Party. Many Social-Democrats who might be divided on the question how the revolutionary masses who trust Social-Democracy should be led in the attack cannot fail to be united on the question of the imperative need to fight for the preservation and consolidation of the illegal Social-Democratic   Labour Party that was formed in the period of 1895–1910.

As regards Golos and the Golosists, they have most strikingly confirmed what was said of them in the resolution of the enlarged editorial board of Proletary in June of last year. That resolution (see Supplement to No. 46 of Proletary, p. 6) reads: “In the Menshevik camp of the Party, whose official organ, Golos Sotsial-Demokrata, is fully controlled by the Menshevik liquidators, the minority of this faction, having explored the path of liquidationism to the very end, is already raising its voice in protest against that path and is again seeking a party basis for its activities....”{3} The distance to the “end” of the path of liquidationism proved longer than we imagined at the time, but the correctness of the basic idea underlying these words has since been proved by facts. The correctness of the expression “captive to the liquidators”, as applied to Golos Sotsial-Demokrata, has been particularly confirmed. They are indeed captives of the liquidators, for they dare not either openly defend liquidationism or openly rebel against it. Even at the plenum they unanimously adopted the resolutions not as free men but as captives, who for a short while had obtained leave from their “masters” and who returned to slavery on the day after the plenum. Unable to defend liquidationism, they laid the utmost stress on all possible (and imaginary!) obstacles, which had nothing to do with questions of principle, but which prevented them from renouncing liquidationism. And when all these “obstacles” were removed, when all their extraneous, personal, organisational, financial and other claims had been satisfied, they “voted” against their will for the renunciation of liquidationism. Poor fellows! They did not know at that time that the Manifesto of the Sixteen was already on its way to Paris, that the group of Mikhail and Co., the group of Potresov and Co. had stiffened in their defence of liquidationism. And they obediently turned round and followed the Sixteen, Mikhail and Potresov back to liquidationism!

The heinous crime of the spineless “conciliators” like Yonov and Trotsky, who defend or justify these people,   is that they are causing their ruin by making them more dependent on liquidationism. Whereas the decisive action of all the non-factional Social-Democrats against Mikhail and Co. and against Potresov and Co. (surely, neither Trotsky nor Yonov would venture to defend these groups!) might have brought some of the Golos captives of liquidationism back into the Party—the grimaces and the affectation of the “conciliators”, while in no way reconciling the Party with the liquidators, only inspire the Golosists with “in sensate hopes”.

Incidentally, these grimaces and this affectation of the “conciliators” are, undoubtedly, to a large extent due simply to a failure to understand the situation. It is only owing to lack of understanding that Comrade Yonov can confine himself to the question of the publication or non-publication of Martov’s article, and that the Viennese supporters of Trotsky can reduce the question to “conflicts” oft the Central Organ. Both Martov’s article (“On the Right Path”... to liquidationism) and the conflicts on the Central Organ are only particular episodes which cannot be understood apart from their connection with the whole situation. For instance, Martov’s article clearly showed us, who during the past year have studied all the shades of liquidationism and Golosism, that Martov has turned (or was turned). The Martov who signed the “Letter” of the Central Commit tee on the conference could not be the same Martov who wrote such article as “On the Right Path.” By divorcing Martov’s article from the chain of events, from the “Letter” of the Central Committee that preceded it, from No. 19–20 of Golos that followed it, from the Manifesto of the ’Sixteen, from the articles of Dan (“The Fight for Legality”), Potresov and Vozrozhdeniye, and by divorcing from the same chain of events the “conflicts” on the Central Organ, Trotsky and Yonov deprive themselves of the possibility of understanding the events that are taking place.[4] And, conversely, everything becomes quite intelligible as soon as we focus our   attention on what lies at the root of it all, namely, the final consolidation of the Russian independents and their final break with the “reactionary utopia” of re-establishing and strengthening the illegal Party.


[1] Number 21 of Golos Sotsial-Demokrata has just appeared. On page 16, Martov and Dan confirm the correctness of this fact, when they speak of the “refusal of three comrades [??] to join the Central Committee”. Moreover, as-usual, they try to bide by wild abuse of “Tyszka-Lenin” the fact that the group of Mikhail and Co. has finally turned into a group of independents. —Lenin

{2} See present edition, Vol. 11, pp. 197-2O6.—Ed.

{3} See present edition, Vol. 15, p. 448.—Ed.

[4] Take also, for instance, “the theory of equal rights” for legal individuals in the illegal Party. Is it not clear after the actions of Mikhail and Co. and Potresov and Co. that the meaning and significance of this theory is the recognition of the group of independent legalists and the subordination of the Party to them? —Lenin

{5} I.—the Menshevik liquidator B. I. Gorev-Goldman.

{6} Azefism—from the name of Azef, a leader of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, who turned out to be an agent provocateur of the tsarist secret police.

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