#OctoberRevolutionMonth: The Fight for The Party During the Ebb Of the Revolution
Excerpt from Rank and File Bolshevik: A Memoir by Cecilia Bobrovskaya
October 7, 2017
Thus began a new period of remote and protracted emigration. While in distant Russia the proletarian party was persecuted with terror and driven far underground, the tsarist minister Stolypin ruled unchallenged, rearing forests of gallows (‘Stolypin’s neckties’) for the revolutionary workers in the towns, creating kulak households in the villages at the expense of the ruined masses of toiling peasants – a joyless picture. Cause enough for discouragement. But not for Lenin, who knew so amazingly how to think of future victories even in time of defeat.
In his articles in the Proletary; which began to appear after his arrival in Geneva, he called on the Party not to lose heart from the failure of the first armed attack, for the proletarian party was marching towards socialism. Without staking its goal on the outcome of any given stage of the bourgeois revolutions, the proletarian party was marching to victory.
Lenin carefully examined the experience of the Revolution of 1905, and pointed out that the defeat should teach the way to future victory. In a series of articles analysing the alignment of class forces resulting in Russia from the amendments introduced to the electoral law on 3 June 1907, and the Stolypin agrarian reforms, Lenin stated that the antagonisms between the peasantry and the autocratic landlord régime were growing, that Stolypin could not avert a new revolutionary explosion.
Since he summed up the task of the proletariat in the short but weighty phrase ‘preparation for a new revolution’, Lenin naturally devoted much attention to the fighting capacity of the Party, and in this field he found a vast quantity of work to be performed.
The fact was that with the onset of reaction not only the Mensheviks succumbed to discouragement, but a certain section of the Bolsheviks were also badly affected.
The Mensheviks finally reached the point where they maintained outright that the illegal Party should be liquidated and work carried on within the legal limits permitted by the Stolypin régime. Lenin waged a desperate struggle against these rank Right opportunists and liquidators.
Among certain groups of the Bolsheviks, on the other hand, the discouragement assumed the form of a deviation to the ‘Left’. There were three groups of these ‘Lefts’ – the Boycottists, the Ultimatumists and the Otzovists (the Liquidators on the ‘Left’), who were in reality only differentiated by their names, for all three proposed that the Bolsheviks should withdraw from the State Duma the Social-Democratic workers who, by using the Duma rostrum, still had the opportunity of openly addressing their class over the heads of the Stolypin Duma.
Lenin ruthlessly combatted this ‘Left’ opportunism, especially when the idealogues of the ‘Lefts’ began to undermine the very foundations of Marxism in the sphere of philosophy, materialism; proposing in its place an idealist obscurantism, which befogged people and distracted them from revolutionary struggle. Lenin pointed out that the preaching of god-building became especially persistent and systematic during times of profound reaction, when the bourgeoisie for its counter revolutionary purposes sought to kindle religious feeling among the people, and that the advocates of the various ideas of god-seeking and god-building were thus serving the purposes of counter-revolution. In reply to this new philosophy, Lenin wrote a large work – Materialism and Empirio-Criticism – which supplemented and developed the teachings of Marx and Engels and helped to fight for revolutionary Marxism.
By the end of 1908, Lenin and Krupskaya had to move to Paris, since the centre of the emigration was situated there, although Lenin did so very unwillingly as conditions in Geneva were more favourable to scientific work. ‘Lenin’, says N. K. Krupskaya, ‘took no interests in the efforts I made to fix up our new quarters in Paris’.
In January 1909, an All-Russian Party Conference was held in Paris, with the Mensheviks, the Bundists and the Poles taking part. As the Bolsheviks were more fully represented at this conference than the rest, Lenin made the main report on the current situation.
In this report and in the resolution which was adopted on it by the Conference Lenin pointed out that the Stolypin agrarian reform was leading to still further impoverishment of the peasant masses, whose discontent was growing in consequence, and rendered a new crisis inevitable; that the logical outcome of the last fact was further struggle against the autocracy, the reaction, the liberals, the fight against deviators from revolutionary Marxism, the struggle for the Party’s fighting capacity, for placing the main emphasis on consolidating the illegal Party organisation.
However, the opportunists, both Right and ‘Left’, did not regard themselves as obligated to carry out the Leninist resolution unanimously adopted by the Conference. The resolution was left on paper.
In 1910 a plenum of the Central Committee of the Party was held in Paris, where Lenin ruthlessly criticised both the Right and the ‘Left’ opportunists, and also the manoeuvres conducted for unification by ‘the Judas Trotsky’ and his fraction of unprincipled conciliators, who by a majority vote rejected Lenin’s formulation regarding the fight on two fronts and adopted a number of conciliationist decisions.
Later, in October 1911, Lenin characterised Trotsky’s conciliationism in the following words,
The very foundation of conciliationism is false – the tendency to base the unity of the party of the proletariat on an alliance of all factions, including the anti-Social-Democratic, non-proletarian factions; false are its unprincipled ‘unity’ schemes, which lead to nothing; false are its phrases against ‘factions’ (when in fact a new faction is formed) – phrases that are powerless to dissolve anti-Party factions, phrases that weaken the Bolshevik fraction, which bore nine-tenths of the brunt of the struggle against liquidationism and otzovism. Trotsky provides us with an abundance of instances of unprincipled ‘unity’ scheming.
And further on,
With immense efforts the Bolsheviks are pulling our Party wagon up a steep slope. The liquidator-Golosites are trying with all their might to drag it downhill again. In the wagon there is a conciliator; he is a picture of tenderness. He has such a sweet, sweet face, like that of Jesus. He looks the very incarnation of virtue, and modestly dropping his eyes and raising his hands he exclaims: ‘I thank thee, Lord, that I am not like one of these’ – a nod in the direction of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks – ‘vicious factionalists who hinder all progress’! But the wagon moves slowly forward and the conciliator remains seated in it.
Trotsky and Martov wrote articles in the periodical organ of the German Social-Democrats, Die Neue Zeit, representing the struggle between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks as a struggle for influence over a proletariat which was politically immature. These articles called forth from Lenin the reply they merited. Of all the classes in Russian society, Lenin pointed out, it was the proletariat which in 1905-07 showed the greatest political maturity.
Throughout the period between 1908 and 1910, Lenin devoted a great deal of attention to international problems, fighting against revisionism in the Second International.
Taking part in the work of the International Socialist Bureau, he criticised the opportunism of Kautsky, at the time still accepted as an authority; and in 1910, after the Copenhagen Congress of the Second International, he pointed to the crisis among the German Social-Democrats and the ripening of the time for an inevitable decisive break with the opportunists.
Cecilia Samoylovna Bobrovskaya (1873–1960) was an early Bolshevik activist, revolutionary, and memoirist. She played a notable role in various local organizations of the Bolshevik Party – consequently facing repeated persecution by the authorities of the Russian Empire. She worked for the Comintern between 1918 and 1940, and was a member of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, the party’s central theoretical and research institute, in later years.
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