A pamphlet published by the Vperyod group recently appeared in Paris under the title The Present Situation and the Tasks of the Party. A Platform Drawn Up by a Group of Bolsheviks. This is the very same group of Bolsheviks about whom, in the spring of last year, the enlarged editorial board of Proletary declared that they had formed a new faction. Now this group, “consisting of fifteen Party members—seven workers and eight intellectuals” (as the group itself states), comes forward with an attempt to give a complete, systematic and positive exposition of its own special “platform”. The text of this platform bears clear traces of careful, painstaking collective work in an effort to smooth out all rough spots, to remove sharp edges and to stress not so much those points on which the group is at variance with the Party as those on which it is in agreement with the Party. All the more valuable to us, therefore, is the new platform, as the official presentation of the views of the trend concerned.
This group of Bolsheviks first gives its own “interpretation of the present historical situation of our country” (§ I, pp. 3–13), then it gives its own “interpretation of Bolshevism” (§ II, pp. 13–17). And it interprets both the one and the other badly.
Take the first question. The view held by the Bolsheviks (and by the Party) is set out in the resolution of the December Conference of 1908 on the present situation. Do the authors of the new platform share the views expressed in that resolution? It they do, why do they not say so plainly? If they do, why was it necessary to draw up a separate platform, to give an exposition of their own particular “interpretation” of the situation? If they do not share these views, then again why not state clearly in what particular respect the new group is opposed to the views held by the Party?
But the whole point is that the new group itself is rather hazy about the significance of that resolution. Unconsciously (or subconsciously) the new group inclines towards the views of the otzovists, which are incompatible with that resolution. In its pamphlet the new group does not give a popular exposition of all the propositions contained in that resolution, but only of a part of them, without under standing the other part (perhaps even without noticing its importance). The principal factors which gave rise to the Revolution of 1905 continue to operate—states the resolution. A new revolutionary crisis is maturing (clause “f”). The goal of the struggle is still the overthrow of tsarism and the achievement of a republic; the proletariat must play the “leading” role in the struggle and must strive for the “conquest of political power” (clauses “e” and “1”). The state of the world market and of world politics makes the “international situation more and more revolutionary” (clause “g”). These are the propositions that are explained in a popular manner in the new platform and to that ex tent it goes hand in hand with the Bolsheviks and with the Party, to that extent it expresses correct views and performs useful work.
But the trouble is that we have to lay stress on this “to that extent”. The trouble is that the new group does not understand the other propositions of this resolution, does not grasp their connection with the rest, and in particular it does not perceive their connection with that irreconcilable attitude to otzovism which is characteristic of the Bolsheviks and which is not characteristic of this group.
Revolution has again become inevitable. The revolution must again strive, for and achieve the overthrow of tsarism—say the authors of the new platform. Quite right. But that is not all that a present-day revolutionary Social-Democrat must know and bear in mind. He must be able to comprehend that this revolution is coming to us in a new way and that we must march towards it in a new way (in a different way from the previous one; not merely in the way we did before; not merely with those weapons and means of struggle we used before); that the autocracy itself is not the same as it was before. It is just this point that the advocates of otzovism refuse to see. They persistently want to remain one-sided and thereby, in spite of themselves, consciously or unconsciously, they are rendering a service to the opportunists and liquidators; by their one-sidedness in one direction they are supporting one-sidedness in another direction.
The autocracy has entered a new historical period. It is taking a step towards its transformation into a bourgeois monarchy. The Third Duma represents an alliance with definite classes. The Third Duma is not an accidental, but a necessary institution in the system of this new monarchy. Nor is the autocracy’s new agrarian policy accidental; it is a necessary link in the policy of the new tsarism, necessary to the bourgeoisie and necessary because of its bourgeois character. We are confronted by a specific historical period with specific conditions for the birth of a new revolution. It will be impossible to master these specific conditions and prepare ourselves for this new revolution if we operate only in the old way, if we do not learn to utilise the Duma tribune itself, etc.
It is this last point that the otzovists cannot grasp. And the defenders of otzovism, who declare it to be a “legitimate shade of opinion” (p. 28 of the pamphlet under review), cannot even now grasp the connection this point has with the whole cycle of ideas, with the recognition of the specific character of the present moment and with the effort to take it into account in their tactics! They repeat that we
e passing through an “inter-revolutionary period” (p. 29), that the present situation is “transitional between two waves of the democratic revolution” (p. 32); but they cannot understand what it is that is specific in this “transition”. However, unless we do understand this transition it will be impossible to survive it with advantage to the revolution, it will be impossible to prepare for the revolution, to go over to the second wave! For the preparation for the new revolution cannot be restricted to repeating that it is inevitable; the preparation must consist in devising forms of propaganda, agitation and organisation that will take account of the specific character of this transitional situation.
Here is an instance of how people talk about the transitional situation without understanding what this transition actually is. “That there is no real constitution in Russia and that the Duma is only a phantom of it, devoid of power and importance, is not only well known to the mass of the population by dint of experience, it is now becoming obvious to the whole world” (p. 11). Compare this with the estimate of the Third Duma given in the December resolution: “The alliance of tsarism with the Black-Hundred landlords and the top commercial and industrial bourgeoisie has been openly recognised and solidified by the coup d’état of June 3 and the establishment of the Third Duma.”
Is it really not “obvious to the whole world” that the authors of the platform did not, after all, understand the resolution, in spite of the fact that for a whole year it was chewed over and over again in the Party press in a thou sand ways? And they failed to understand it, of course, not because they are dull-witted, but because of the influence over them of otzovism and the otzovist ideology.
Our Third Duma is a Black-Hundred-Octobrist Duma. To assert that the Octobrists and the Black Hundreds have no “power and importance” in Russia (as the authors of the platform do in effect) is absurd. The absence of a “real constitution” and the fact that the autocracy retains full power do not in the least preclude the peculiar historical situation in which this government is forced to organise a counter revolutionary alliance of certain classes on a national scale, in openly functioning institutions of national importance, and in which certain classes are organising themselves from below into counter-revolutionary blocs which are stretching out their hand to tsarism. If the “alliance” between tsarism and these classes (an alliance which strives to preserve power and revenues for the feudal landlords) is a specific form of class rule and of the rule of the tsar and his gang during the present transitional period, a form created by the bourgeois evolution of the country amidst the conditions of the defeat of the “first wave of the revolution”—then there can be no question of utilising the transition period without utilising the Duma tribune. The peculiar tactics of using the very tribune from which the counter-revolutionaries speak for the purpose of preparing the revolution thus becomes a duty dictated by the specific character of the entire historical situation. If, however, the Duma is merely the “phantom” of a constitution “devoid of power and importance”, then there is really no new stage in the development of bourgeois Russia, of the bourgeois monarchy, or in the development of the form of rule of the upper classes, etc.; and in that case the otzovists are, of course, correct in principle!
Do not imagine that the passage we quoted from the platform was a slip of the pen. In a special chapter, “On the State Duma” (pp. 25–28), we read at the very beginning: “All the State Dumas have hitherto been institutions devoid of real power and authority, and did not express the real relation of social forces in the country. The government convened them under the pressure of the popular movement in order, on the one hand, to turn the indignation of the masses from the path of direct struggle into peaceful electoral channels, and, on the other hand, in order to come to terms in these Dumas with those social groups which could support the government in its struggle against the revolution.” This is a sheer tangle of confused ideas or fragments of ideas. If the government convened the Dumas in order to come to terms with the counter-revolutionary classes, it follows at once that the First and Second Dumas had no “power and authority” (to help the revolution), where as the Third Duma possessed and possesses power and authority (to help the counter-revolution). The revolutionaries could have (and in certain circumstances should have) refrained from participating in an institution which was powerless to help the revolution. This is indisputable. By bracketing together such institutions of the revolutionary period with the Duma of the “inter-revolutionary period”, which has power to help the counter-revolution, the authors of the platform commit a monstrous error. They apply correct Bolshevik arguments to those very cases to which they are really inapplicable! This is indeed to make a caricature of Bolshevism.
In summing up their “interpretation” of Bolshevism, the authors of the platform have even put in a special clause “d” (p. 16), in which this “caricature” of revolutionariness has found, we might say, its Classical expression. Here is this clause in full:
“d) Prior to the consummation of the revolution, no semi-legal or legal methods and means of struggle of the working class, including also participation in the State Duma, can have any independent or decisive importance, but only serve as a means of gathering and preparing the forces for the direct, revolutionary, open mass struggle.”
This implies that after the “consummation of the revolution” legal methods of struggle, “including” parliamentarism, can have independent and decisive importance!
That is wrong. They cannot even then. The platform of the Vperyod group contains nonsense.
Furthermore, it follows that “prior to the consummation of the revolution” all means of struggle except the legal and semi-legal, i. e., all illegal means of struggle, can have independent and decisive importance!
That is wrong. There are certain illegal methods of struggle, which, even after the “consummation of the revolution” (for example, illegal propaganda circles) and “prior to the consummation of the revolution” (for example, the seizure of money from the enemy, or the forcible liberation of arrested persons, or killing spies, etc.), “cannot have any independent or decisive importance, but only serve”, etc., as in the text of the “platform”.
To proceed. What is the “consummation of the revolution” referred to here? Obviously, not the consummation of the socialist revolution, for then there will be no struggle of the working class, since there will be no classes at all. Obviously then, then, reference is to the consummation of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. Now let us see what the authors of the platform “meant” by the consummation of the bourgeois-democratic revolution.
Generally speaking, this term may be taken to mean two things. If used in its broad sense, it means the fulfilment of the objective historical tasks of the bourgeois revolution, its “consummation”, i. e., the removal of the very soil capable of engendering a bourgeois revolution, the consummation of the entire cycle of bourgeois revolutions. In this sense, for example, the bourgeois-democratic revolution in France was consummated only in 1871 (though begun in 1789). But if the term is used in its narrow sense, it means a particular revolution, one of the bourgeois revolutions, one of the “waves”, if you like, that batters the old regime but does not destroy it altogether, does not remove the basis that may engender subsequent bourgeois revolutions. In this sense the revolution of 1848 in Germany was “consummated” in 1850 or the fifties, but it did not in the least thereby remove the soil for the revolutionary revival in the sixties. The revolution of 1789 in France was “consummated”, let us say, in 1794, without, however, thereby removing the soil for the revolutions of 1830 and 1848.
No matter how the words of the platform, “prior to the consummation of the revolution”, are interpreted, whether in the wider or narrower sense, there is no meaning in them in either case. Needless to say, it would be altogether absurd to attempt now to determine the tactics of revolutionary Social-Democracy up to the consummation of the whole period of possible bourgeois revolutions in Russia. As for the revolutionary “wave” of 1905-07, i. e., the first bourgeois revolution in Russia, the platform itself is forced to admit that “it [the autocracy I has beaten back the first wave of the revolution” (p. 12), that we are passing through an “inter-revolutionary” period, a period “between two waves of a democratic revolution.
Now what is the source of this endless and hopeless muddle in the “platform"? It lies in the fact that the platform dissociates itself from otzovism diplomatically without abandoning the ideology of otzovism, without correcting its fundamental error, and without even noticing it. It lies in the fact that the Vperyodists regard otzovism as a “legitimate shade of opinion”, i. e., they regard the otzovist shade of a caricature of Bolshevism as a law, a model, an unexcelled model. Anyone who has set foot on this sloping path is bound to slide into a bog of hopeless confusion; he repeats phrases and slogans without being capable of pondering over the conditions of their application and the limits of their importance.
Why, for example, did the Bolsheviks in 1906–07 so often oppose the opportunists with the slogan, “the revolution is not over”? Because the objective conditions were such that the consummation of the revolution in the narrow sense of the word was out of the question. Take, for instance, the period of the Second Duma—the most revolutionary parliament in the world and probably the most reactionary, autocratic government. There was no direct way out of this except by a coup d’état from above, or by an uprising from below. And however much the sapient pedants may now shake their heads, no one could say beforehand whether the government’s coup d’état would be successful, whether it would pass off smoothly, or whether Nicholas II would break his neck in the attempt. The slogan, “the revolution is not over”, had a most vital, immediately important, practically palpable significance, for it alone correctly expressed things as they really were and whither they were tending by virtue of the objective logic of events. And now that the otzovists themselves recognise the present situation as “inter-revolutionary”, is not the attempt to represent otzovism as a “legitimate shade of the revolutionary wing”, “prior to the consummation of the revolution”, a hopeless muddle?
In order to extricate oneself from this vicious circle of contradictions, one must not use diplomacy towards otzovism, but must cut the ideological ground from under it; one must adopt the point of view of the December resolution and think out all its implications. The present inter-revolutionary period cannot be explained away as a mere accident. There is no doubt now that we are confronted by a special stage in the development of the autocracy, in the development of the bourgeois monarchy, bourgeois Black-Hundred parliamentarism and the bourgeois policy of tsarism in the countryside, and that the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie is supporting all this. The present period is undoubtedly a transitional period “between two waves of the revolution”, but in order to prepare for the second revolution we must master the peculiarities of this transition, we must be able to adapt our tactics and organisation to this difficult, hard, sombre transition forced on us by the whole trend of the “campaign”. Using the Duma tribune, as well as all other legal opportunities, is one of the humble methods of struggle which do not result in anything “spectacular”. But the transitional period is transitional precisely be cause its specific task is to prepare and rally the forces, and not to bring them into immediate and decisive action. To know how to organise this work, which is devoid of outward glamour, to know how to utilise for this purpose all those semi-legal institutions which are peculiar to the period of the Black-Hundred-Octobrist Duma, to know how to uphold even on this basis all the traditions of revolutionary Social-Democracy, all the slogans of its recent heroic past, the entire spirit of its work, its irreconcilability with opportunism and reformism—such is the task of the Party, such is the task of the moment.
We have examined the new platform’s first deviation from the tactics set out in the resolution of the December Conference of 1908. We have seen that it is a deviation towards otzovist ideas, ideas that have nothing in common either with the Marxist analysis of the present situation or with the fundamental premises of revolutionary Social-Democratic tactics in general. Now we must examine the second original feature of the new platform.
This feature is the task, proclaimed by the new groups of “creating” and “disseminating among the masses a new, proletarian” culture: “of developing proletarian science, of strengthening genuine comradely relations among the proletarians, of developing a proletarian philosophy, of directing art towards proletarian aspirations and experience” (p. 17).
Here you have an example of that naive diplomacy which in the new platform serves to cover up the essence of the matter! Is it not really naïve to insert between “science” and “philosophy” the “strengthening of genuine comradely relations”? The new group introduces into the platform its supposed grievances, its accusations against the other groups (namely, against the orthodox Bolsheviks in the first place) that they have broken “genuine comradely relations”. Such is precisely the real content of this amusing clause.
Here “proletarian science” also looks “sad and out of place”. First of all, we know now of only one proletarian science—Marxism. For some reason the authors of the platform systematically avoid this, the only precise term, and everywhere use the words “scientific socialism” (pp. 13, 15, 16, 20, 21). It is common knowledge that even outright opponents of Marxism lay claim to this latter term in Russia. In the second place, if the task of developing “proletarian science” is introduced in the platform, it is necessary to state plainly just what ideological and theoretical struggle of our day is meant here and whose side the authors of the platform take. Silence on this point is a naïve subterfuge, for the essence of the matter is obvious to everyone who is acquainted with the Social-Democratic literature of 1908–09. In our day a struggle between the Marxists and the Machists has come to the fore and is being waged in the domain of science, philosophy and art. It is ridiculous, to say the least, to shut one’s eyes to this commonly known fact. “Platforms” should be written not in order to gloss over differences but in order to explain them.
Our authors clumsily give themselves away by the above-quoted passage of the platform. Everyone knows that it is Machism that is in fact implied by the term “proletarian philosophy”—and every intelligent Social-Democrat will at once decipher the “new” pseudonym. There was no point in inventing this pseudonym, no point in trying to hide behind it. In actual fact, the most influential literary nucleus of the new group is Machist, and it regards non-Machist philosophy as non-“proletarian”.
Had they wanted to speak of it in the platform, they should have said: the new group unites those who will fight against non-“proletarian”, i. e., non-Machist, theories in philosophy and art. That would have been a straight forward, truthful and open declaration of a well-known ideological trend, an open challenge to the other tendencies. When an ideological struggle is held to be of great importance for the Party, one does not hide but comes out with an open declaration of war.
And we shall call upon everyone to give a definite and clear answer to the platform’s veiled declaration of a philosophical struggle against Marxism. In reality, all the phraseology about “proletarian culture” is just a screen for the struggle against Marxism. The “original” feature of the new group is that it has introduced philosophy into the Party platform without stating frankly what tendency in philosophy it advocates.
Incidentally, it would be incorrect to say that the real content of the words of the platform quoted above is wholly negative. They have a certain positive content. This positive content can be expressed in one name: Maxim Gorky.
Indeed, there is no need to conceal the fact already pro claimed by the bourgeois press (which has distorted and twisted it), namely, that Gorky is one of the adherents of the new group. And Gorky is undoubtedly the greatest representative of proletarian art, one who has done a great deal for this art and is capable of doing still more in the future. Any faction of the Social-Democratic Party would be justly proud of having Gorky as a member, but to intro duce “proletarian art” into the platform on this ground means giving this platform a certificate of poverty, means reducing one’s group to a literary circle, which exposes itself as being precisely “authoritarian”.... The authors of the platform say a great deal against recognising authorities, without explaining directly what it is all about. The fact is that they regard the Bolsheviks’ defence of materialism in philosophy and the Bolsheviks’ struggle against otzovism as the enterprise of individual “authorities” (a gentle hint, at a serious matter) whom the enemies of Machism, they say, “trust blindly”. Such sallies, of course, are quite childish. But it is precisely the Vperyodists who mistreat authorities. Gorky is an authority in the domain of proletarian art—that is beyond dispute. The attempt to “utilise” (in the ideological sense, of course) this authority to bolster up Machism and otzovism is an example of how one should not treat authorities.
In the field of proletarian art Gorky is an enormous asset in spite of his sympathies for Machism and otzovism. But a platform which sets up within the Party a separate group of otzovists and Machists and advances the development of alleged “proletarian” art as a special task of the group is a minus in the development of the Social-Democratic proletarian movement; because this platform wants to consolidate and utilise the very features in the activities of an outstanding authority which represent his weak side and are a negative quantity in the enormous service he renders the proletariat.