V. I.   Lenin

On the Tactics of Opportunism

Written: Written on February 23 (March 8), 1907
Published: Published on February 24, 1907 in Novy Luch, No. 5. Signed: N. Lenin. Published according to the newspaper text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 12, pages 173-178.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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Plekhanov has broken the silence that was his only wise tactics after his renowned proposal of a common slogan— a Duma with full powers—for the Social-Democrats and the Cadets. Plekhanov has come out in Russkaya Zhizn with a new attempt to impel our Party towards the Cadets, an attempt to impose on the Party the slogan of support for a “responsible ministry”—a slogan already rejected by the Party in the period of the First Duma.

Let us examine Plekhanov’s arguments.

First of all we must note that, in the zeal of his campaign against the Bolsheviks, Plekhanov resorts to an absolute untruth as to their views. Namely, he very definitely ascribes to us the desire to “smash through”, the desire and aspiration to do battle “right away”.

For our readers to see how wrong Plekhanov is, we shall cite an official Bolshevik publication dated February 11:

“... A struggle ... is undoubtedly inevitable. But it is precisely because of it.s inevitability that we must not force the pace, spur or goad it on. Leave that to the Krushevans and Stolypins. Our task is to reveal the truth to the proletariat and the peasantry clearly, directly and with unsparing candour, to open their eyes to the significance of the coming storm, to help them to meet the enemy in organised fashion with ... calmness.... ’Shoot first, Messrs. Bourgeois!’ said Engels to the German capitalists in 1894. And we say: ’Shoot first, Krushevans!’... Therefore—no premature calls.”[1]

The ease with which our esteemed Plekhanov performs the duties of “critic” is really wonderful. No premature calls, the Bolshevik organisations declare a week and a half before the opening of the Duma. The Bolsheviks want to do battle “right away”, Plekhanov declares in an article which appeared on February 23; they want to “smash through”.

Of course, that is the simplest, the cheapest, the easiest method of crushing the Bolsheviks: first impute an absurd idea to them, and then raise a fuss and fulminate (“excessive zeal”, “stupidity”, “worse than treachery”, and so on, and so forth). But Plekhanov should not forget that when he slanders the Bolsheviks he is not slandering the dead— that the Bolsheviks can make it clear to all the world, by simply referring to an official document, how false Plekhanov’s statements are. That will put Plekhanov out of countenance. And then Plekhanov will begin to understand that he cannot get away scot-free with statements about the Bolsheviks such as only Novoye Vremya has hitherto been in the habit of making about revolutionaries.

Let us proceed to the substance of the question Plekhanov raises, the question of whether the workers’ party should support the slogan of “a responsible ministry”. Plekhanov defends this slogan as follows:

“One of the two: either the swiftly growing forces of revolution already surpass the forces of the government, in which case the demand for a responsible ministry can and should serve as the signal for the decisive conflict against reaction.

“Or the forces of revolution do not yet surpass the government’s forces of resistance, so that the decisive conflict is not yet in order; but the demand should be supported in that case, too, for it is a splendid means of education, of developing the political understanding of the people, and thus preparing them for a victorious fight, in the future.

“Thus, in either case the Social-Democratic deputies must not fail to take up this demand, in the interests of the people and in the interests of the revolution.”

A very edifying argument. Let us start with the first part. Thus, we assume, with Plekhanov, that the forces of revolution already surpass those of the government. If that were so, the demand for a responsible ministry would be, first, superfluous, secondly, harmful and, thirdly, the liberals would not support it.

1. It would be superfluous because in any case such a “signal for the decisive conflict” is a roundabout signal, not a direct one. This “signal” does not express the definite idea of a really decisive battle against the reactionary forces; on the contrary, it expresses the idea of a concession such as the reactionaries might themselves voluntarily concede. We do not deny that, generally speaking, it may be right under certain special conditions to issue signals, not for a decisive battle, but for a minor .preliminary skirmish—even a demonstration—which has all the appearances of a battle. But that is another question. In the conditions which Plekhanov has assumed (that the forces of revolution already surpass, etc.), a roundabout signal would obviously be superfluous.

2. “The forces of revolution already surpass the forces of reaction”.... What does that imply? Does it include awareness on the part of the forces of revolution? Plekhanov will probably agree that it does. A people unaware of their revolutionary tasks cannot be strong enough to triumph over reaction in the decisive conflict. Further: does the demand we are examining, correctly express the aims of the revolution in the fight against the reactionaries? No, it does not; for in the first place, a responsible ministry does not by any means signify the transfer of power into the hands of the people, or even the transfer of power into the hands of the liberals, but is, in essence, a deal, or an attempt at a deal, between the reactionaries and the liberals; and in the second place, in view of the objective conditions, even the actual transfer of power to the liberals cannot bring about the realisation of the fundamental demands of the revolution. This idea is expressed clearly in the passage Plekhanov quotes from the article in Symposium No. 1,[2] but he has not even attempted to touch upon the actual substance of the idea.

The question now arises: how would the decisive (Plekhanov’s condition) conflict with reaction be affected by a slogan in which the demands of the revolution (the forces of which already surpass—Plekhanov’s condition! —the forces of reaction) are incorrectly expressed? Obviously, its effect would undoubtedly be harmful. This slogan dulls the consciousness of the masses that are advancing to the   decisive conflict. If we launched this slogan, we would actually be calling for a decisive battle, but pointing to a battle objective that can decide nothing—you shout about shooting a cow, but aim at a crow.

It can never be exactly determined before the battle whose forces “already surpass” those opposed to them. Only a pedant could dream of such a thing. The concept of “forces surpassing the forces of the enemy” implies that the fighters are fully conscious of their tasks. Plekhanov is causing direct harm to the revolution when he speaks of the “decisiveness” of the conflict and at the same time dulls this consciousness. That is really “worse than treachery”, my dear critic! With “forces” sufficient for a victory over reaction, the “leader” calls on his troops to fight for a deal with the reactionaries.... Plekhanov jokingly compares himself to the Roman general who executed his son for prematurely starting the battle. A pretty jest. Now, if I were the “son”, at a time when the decisive conflict was at hand, when “the forces of revolution already surpassed those of the government”, I would shoot (or, in the Roman days, stab) the “daddy” who advanced the slogan of a deal with the reactionaries—would do so without the slightest compunction, calmly leaving it to future Mommsens to investigate whether my action was the killing of a traitor, the execution of a traitor, or whether it was an act of criminal insubordination.

3. In arguing against the slogan of “a responsible ministry” in the days of the First Duma, we adduced only the two arguments cited above. We must now add a third: the liberals themselves would withdraw the demand for a responsible ministry if this demand could possibly become, directly or in roundabout fashion, a signal for the decisive battle between “revolution” and reaction.

Why do we now have to add this argument? For the reason that the liberals (including the Cadets) have shifted far to the Right since the First Duma, and have come out decisively against the revolution. For the reason that Golovin, who is supported by bad Social-Democrats for his liberalism, came out in his very first speech not as a liberal, not as a Cadet, but as an Octobrist.

If Plekhanov has so much fallen behind affairs in Russia as to be ignorant of this, his article is, of course, deserving of clemency. But even aside from such mistakes, the whole gist of his arguments is fundamentally wrong.

Let us proceed to the second case. The forces of revolution do not yet surpass the forces of reaction, and the decisive conflict is not yet in order. In that case, says Plekhanov, the importance of this slogan is in its influence on the development of the political consciousness of the people. That is true. But in that case—and here Plekhanov is a thousand times wrong—a slogan of this kind will corrupt, not enlighten, the minds of the people; it will confuse, not revolutionise—demoralise, not educate. This is so clear that we need not bother to develop the idea—at any rate, until our next talk with the most esteemed Plekhanov.

And so, no matter how you put it, it’s still the same. Whether the forces of revolution have matured or not, Plekhanov’s slogan cannot be considered “mature” food for the minds of the Social-Democratic proletariat. This slogan sacrifices the fundamental interests of democracy and of our revolution—the enlightenment of the masses as to the aims of a real people’s fight for real power—sacrifices these interests to temporary, casual, unessential, muddled liberal slogans, aims and interests.

And it is just such sacrifice of the fundamental interests of the proletariat to the half-hearted, muddled aims of liberalism that makes up the essence of opportunism in tactics.

A few words in conclusion. In his article Plekhanov tries to bait us on the subject of the boycott. We shall discuss this with him in more detail when he deigns to go over from baiting, to a contest on the actual issues. Mean while, we might note this: the son of the Roman general, Plekhanov sarcastically declares, did gain the victory in his premature battle, whereas the Bolsheviks, so far, have nothing but defeats to their credit.

You have a had memory, Comrade Plekhanov. I suggest that you recall the Bulygin Duma.[3] Remember how Parvus and the new Iskra,[4] which you supported, opposed the boycott at the time. The Bolsheviks were for the boycott.

The development of the revolution brought complete victory for Bolshevism; and in the October and November days only Trotsky’s exuberances distinguished the Mensheviks.

Thus it was, and thus it will be, my dear Comrade Plekhanov. When the revolution is on the decline, the pedant.s who, after the event, arrogate to themselves the role of “Roman generals” come onto the stage with their lamentations. When the revolution is on the upswing, things happen as the revolutionary Social-Democrats desire, compare them as you may to “impatient youths”.


[1] See p. 117 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] Symposium No. 1—a Bolshevik collection of articles summing up the history of the First Duma and analysing the prospects for the Second Duma; it was published by Novaya Duma in 1907. Lenin’s articles from the Bolshevik newspapers Volna, Vperyod and Ekho were reprinted in the Symposium—“The Workers’ Group in the State Duma”, “The Manifesto of the Workers’ Deputies In the State Duma”, “Unity”, “The Declaration of Our Group in the Duma”, “The Parties in the Duma and the People”, and others.

[3] The Bulygin Duma—a consultative State Duma to be convened according to a law drafted by A. G. Bulygin, Minister of the Interior. On August 6 (19), 1905, the tsar’s manifesto, the law instituting the State Duma and instructions for elections to it were published. The right to participate in the elections to the Duma   was granted only to landlords, big capitalists and a small number of peasant householders. The peasants were to have only 51 of the 412 seats established by the law. The majority of the population— workers, poor peasants, agricultural labourers and the democratic intelligentsia were not granted the franchise; all women, men serving in the army and navy, students, men under twenty-five and a number of the oppressed nationalities of Russia were also denied franchise. The State Duma had no legislative powers and was permitted only to discuss certain questions as an advisory body to the tsar. In his description of the Bulygin Duma, Lenin said that it was “the most barefaced mockery of ’popular representation’\thinspace" (see present edition, Vol. 9, p. 194).

The Bolsheviks appealed to workers and peasants to organise an active boycott of the Bulygin Duma and concentrated their agitational campaign on the slogans—insurrection, a revolutionary army and a provisional revolutionary government. The Mensheviks considered that participation in the Duma was possible, and called for co-operation with the liberal bourgeoisie.

The Bolsheviks made use of the Duma boycott campaign to mobilise all the revolutionary forces, conduct mass political strikes, and prepare an armed uprising. The elections to the Bulygin Duma were not held, and the government was unable to convene the Duma, which was swept away by the growing revolutionary upsurge and the all-Russian October political strike in 1905.

For further information on the Bulygin Duma see Lenin’s articles: “The Constitutional Market-Place”, “The Boycott of the Bulygin Duma, and Insurrection”, “Oneness of the Tsar and the People and of the People and the Tsar”, “In the Wake of the Monarchist Bourgeoisie or in the Van of the Revolutionary Proletariat and Peasantry”.

[4] New Iskra—the Menshevik Iskra (Spark). At the Second Congress of the Party an editorial board for Iskra, as the Central Organ of the Party, was appointed, consisting of Lenin, Plekhanov and Martov. In violation of the Congress decision, the Menshevik Martov refused to be a member of the Editorial Board without the old Menshevik editors (P. B. Axelrod, A. N. Potresov and V. I. Zasulich), who had not been elected by the Second Congress; issues No. 46 to No. 51 inclusively were edited by Lenin and Plekhanov. After that Plekhanov went over to the Menshevik stand and demand ed that the old Menshevik editors, rejected by the Congress, be reinstated. Lenin could not agree to this and left the Editorial Board on October 19 (November 1), 1903; he was co-opted into the Central Committee of the Party and from there continued his struggle against the Menshevik opportunists. Issue No. 52 of Iskra was edited by Plekhanov alone and on November 13 (26), 1903, Plekhanov, acting alone and In contravention of the will of the Second Congress, co-opted the former editors—Axelrod, Potresov and Zasulich—into the Editorial Board of Iskra. From its fifty second issue Iskra ceased to be a fighting organ of revolutionary   Marxism, and became an instrument of struggle against Marxism and against the Party, an organ that preached opportunism. The newspaper Iskra ceased publication in October 1905.

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