- Created: Tuesday, 29 August 2017 15:06
- Written by Bruce Landau
From Revolutionary Communist 6, 1976
This is an extended review of Tony Cliff’s Lenin: Volume One: Building the Party. London: Pluto Press Limited, 1975. Hardback and paperback editions. It is a slightly abridged version of an article of the same title in Revolutionary Marxist Papers 8, July 1976.
Please also see the Editorial from Revolutionary Communist 6 which made criticisms of certain aspects of the argument put forward in this review.
Tony Cliff, the leader of the International Socialism group of Great Britain, has written the first volume of a projected three volume political biography of Lenin. The first volume deals with the period ending in 1914, and its subtitle, Building the Party, indicates Cliff’s main focus: How did a handful of Russian Marxists manage to construct the most successful mass revolutionary workers’ party in history, the only party which proved able to lead the proletariat to the conquest of state power and then to consolidate and defend that conquest in the face of the ferocious international capitalist reaction?
Writing in the magazine International Socialism, another IS spokesman Duncan Hallas assesses Cliff’s Lenin in the most glowing terms: ‘This book is the most important work on the theory and practice of building a socialist organisation that has appeared for a long time. As a biography it has its faults. It would be no great exaggeration to say that it might well have been called Building the Party – Illustrated from the Life of Lenin. No matter. A manual for revolutionaries – and that is what we have here – is needed more urgently than a fully rounded biography. This is a work whose lessons can and must be applied to the practical tasks of party building.’
Hallas is right in one regard. A ‘manual for revolutionaries’, a history of the Bolshevik Party which actually laid bare the method of that party’s construction, would be of incalculable value to revolutionaries today. There are few subjects which are so important, which receive so much lip-service but so little serious study as this one. Such a manual would certainly contain precious lessons.
Cliff's book, however, is not at all the book we need. It is a complete failure. Its failure is most glaring precisely where it claims to be a success, in its treatment of the revolutionary party in general and the Bolshevik Party in particular. This is, of course, unfortunate. But it is not at all surprising. The author is politically alien, hostile, to his subject matter. This is apparent not only in this latest book of his, but even more so in his earlier writings on the subject of Lenin, Leninism, and the revolutionary party’s nature and role. What distinguishes Cliff’s Lenin from his earlier works is this, that where the earlier works were candidly hostile to Leninism, the new volume pretends to be a partisan defence of Leninism against its critics. The change in pose conceals a fundamental continuity in Cliff’s political viewpoint.
From Cliff’s angle, there is good reason to package his old views in a new wrapper. Another candid, straightforward attack on Lenin would find only a limited readership among Marxist revolutionaries today. An attack dressed up as a celebration – a ‘manual’ in Leninism, no less – stands an excellent chance of getting a very wide circulation indeed. It is this which makes Cliff’s new book so dangerous, and it is this which makes it so important to remove the book’s protective camouflage.
We will begin by examining Cliff’s earlier writings on Leninism and the Bolshevik Party, writings in which the point of view is the most clearly presented. We will then proceed to demonstrate, point by point, how the candid anti-Leninism of the early Cliff is smuggled into Lenin: Building the Party in the guise of militant Leninism.
One of Cliff’s earlier discussions of the nature of the class struggle and the role of the revolutionary party in conducting it appears in his pamphlet Rosa Luxemburg (first edition, 1959; second edition, 1968). Rosa Luxemburg was an outstanding revolutionary leader. She was the single figure most responsible for leading a protracted struggle against the alliance of centrists and reformists which dominated German social democracy at the beginning of this century. She was the principal founder of the German Communist Party. She was an important economic theoretician. She died a martyr, and in death she occupies a richly deserved place of honour in the Marxist tradition. But none of this alters the fact that her views on the relationship between the proletariat and its leading party were confused, semi-spontaneist, erroneous on balance. Her errors here represented her most notorious political failing.
Cliff does not agree with this appraisal. His pamphlet merely alludes gently to ‘Rosa Luxemburg’s possible underestimation of the role of organisation and possible overestimation of the role of spontaneity…’2 And Cliff is anxious to soften even this mild criticism by adding: ‘While pointing out some of the deficiencies in Rosa Luxemburg’s position regarding the link between spontaneity and leadership in the revolution, one should be wary of concluding that her critics in the revolutionary movement, above all, Lenin, were at every point nearer a correct, balanced, Marxist analysis than she was.’3
Cliff is wary of Lenin above all, because – we learn – Lenin formulated a theory of the party in 1903-4 which championed ‘the separation of the conscious minority from unconscious majority, the separation of mental and manual labour, the existence of manager and foreman on the one hand and a mass of obedient labourers on the other…’4
That theory, Cliff insists: ‘May be grafted onto “socialism” only by killing the very essence of socialism, which is the collective control of the workers over their destiny.’5
Naturally, Cliff generously concedes Lenin’s socialism-killing theory did not fall out of the clear blue sky. It was a reflection you see, of the terrible conditions in Russia in those days, conditions which necessarily nourished theories which underestimated the proletariat and overestimated the role of leadership: ‘Lenin's views on organisation, his bending of the stick too far over to centralism, must be considered against the background of conditions in Russia. In backward Tsarist Russia, where the working class was a small minority, the idea that the working class alone can liberate itself could very easily be passed over.’6
The first edition of Rosa Luxemburg rendered its summary judgment in a manner quite in keeping with the author’s central thesis: for Marxists in the advanced industrial countries, Lenin’s original position can much less serve as a guide than Rosa Luxemburg’s.’7
By 1968 and the issuing of the pamphlet’s second edition, Cliff prudently decided to simply delete the last sentence quoted (without, however, either acknowledging or explaining that deletion). But the removal of the single sentence fails to alter the overall thrust of his argument, which still concludes with the same summary judgment – even if it is now presented less forthrightly: ‘Where Rosa Luxemburg’s position regarding the relationship between spontaneity and organisation was a reflection of the immediate needs facing revolutionaries in a Labour [sic!] movement controlled by a conservative bureaucracy [that is, in conditions like those “in the advanced industrial countries of today”!], Lenin’s original position – that of 1902-4 – was a reflection of the amorphousness of a vital, fighting revolutionary movement at the first stage of its development under a backward, semi-feudal and autocratic regime.’8
In 1960, Cliff discovered a second ally with whom to jointly attack Lenin’s views on party and class. This time it was to be Leon Trotsky. Not the Leon Trotsky who joined the Bolshevik Party in 1917 and masterminded the October insurrection. And not the Leon Trotsky who led the fight for Leninism against Stalin’s subsequent state-capitalist counterrevolution. No, Cliff’s ally was the Leon Trotsky of 1903-4, at and immediately following the Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) of 1903. That is, Trotsky while he was aligned with the Mensheviks.
Cliff recorded in an article in International Socialism (‘Trotsky on Substitutionism’) that: ‘Quite early in his political activity, when only 24 years old, Trotsky prophesied that Lenin’s conception of party organisation must lead to a situation in which the party would “substitute itself for the working class”, act as proxy in their name and on their behalf, regardless of what the workers thought or wanted. ‘Lenin's conception would lead to a state of affairs in which “the organisation of the party substitutes itself for the party as a whole; then the Central Committee substitutes itself for the organisation; and finally the “dictator” substitutes himself for the Central Committee…”’9
Cliff accurately adds that ‘to Lenin’s type of centralised party made up of professional revolutionaries, Trotsky counterposed a “broadly based party” on the model of the Western European Social Democratic Parties.”’10
Trotsky’s later attitude to the remarks quoted by Cliff is well known. In the course of transforming himself into a Bolshevik, a Bolshevik leader, Trotsky completely repudiated the letter and the spirit of his own early attacks on Leninism. In his autobiography, for example, Trotsky acknowledged that ‘there is no doubt that at the time I did not fully realise what an intense and imperious centralism the revolutionary party would need to lead millions of people in a war against the old order’.11 Moreover, he added, his dire predictions made at that time concerning the outcome of Lenin's party proposals were incorrect because ‘at the time of the London Congress of 1903, revolution was still largely a theoretical abstraction to me. Independently I could not see Lenin’s centralism as the logical conclusion of a clear revolutionary concept’.
Unfortunately, Cliff’s article of 1960 did not quote Trotsky’s later self-criticism. Perhaps this is because it was precisely the immature, Menshevik views which Trotsky expressed in 1903-4 which Cliff found most appealing. For Cliff holds that ‘in Trotsky's words about the danger of “substitutionalism” inherent in Lenin’s conception of party organisation, and his plea against uniformity, one can see his prophetic genius, his capacity to look ahead, to bring into a unified system every facet of life”’.12
This, then, is the author of our new ‘manual for revolutionaries’ who has drawn from the history of the Bolshevik Party ‘lessons [which] can and must be applied to the practical tasks of party building’ in our time. He seizes on the starkest weakness of Rosa Luxemburg and the crippling mistake of the young Trotsky in order to counterpose them to Lenin’s single greatest contribution – his understanding of the necessity, role, and nature of the vanguard party and his practical struggle to build it. Better acquainted with this author, the reader may now better understand his latest volume on this subject.
Lenin: Building the Party deals with an extended period in the history of the Bolshevik Party, a period beginning during the Party’s prehistory in the 1880s and ending in 1914 at the outbreak of World War One. It is impossible in a single article to expose all the errors of fact and interpretation which fill Cliff’s history of this lengthy a period. We will therefore focus on Bolshevism’s formative years, 1895 to 1905, from the strike wave which gave the Russian Social-Democrats their first mass base until the year of the first Russian revolution. We will concentrate especially on the years 1900-1903, during which Lenin published the paper Iskra. For the purpose of studying the central principles of Bolshevism, this narrowing of the focus is useful just because, as Trotsky later noted: ‘It was precisely during this short time that Lenin became the Lenin he was to remain. This does not mean that he did not develop further. On the contrary. He grew in stature and at what a rate! – until October and after; but this was really organic growth. The leap from illegality to the seizure of power on October 25, 1917 was enormous; but this was, so to say, outward, the shooting upward of a man who had already weighed and measured all it was possible to weigh and measure, while in the growth which occurred before the split at the Second Congress of the Party there was the imperceptible, and all the more fundamental inward development.’13
This formative period is also the period in which Cliff’s account wreaks the greatest havoc with the facts.
We begin with Cliff’s discussion of the rise of Economism in the ranks of the Russian Marxists.
What was Economism? What was its mainspring, its significance? What did it represent? It is impossible to underestimate the importance of these questions. Their answers determined much of Lenin’s ideas about party and class, not only in 1900-1903 but for the rest of his life.
How does Cliff characterise the Economist tendency? He does not waste too many words on it. He begins by briefly criticising the pamphlet written by Kremer and Martov, Ob Agitatsii (On Agitation), which subsequently became an important source of inspiration for Economism.
Cliff says: ‘Ob Agitatsii had a mechanical theory of the relation between the industrial struggle, the struggle against the employers, and the political struggle against Tsarism, based on the concept of “stages”. In later years this became the theoretical foundation for the development of “economism”, so harshly condemned by Lenin.’14
And a little more specifically: ‘This [Ob Agitatsii] formula opened the door to the theory of stages characteristic of the future “economists”. Socialists should limit their agitation to purely economic issues, first to the industrial plant, then to inter-plant demands, and so on. Secondly, from the narrow economic agitation the workers would learn, through experience of the struggle itself, the need for politics, without the need for socialists to carry out agitation on the general political and social issues facing the Russian people as a whole.’15
Cliff then goes on to forge his link between this pamphlet and the Economist trend as a whole. He quotes liberal historian Richard Pipes, who characterises Economism as that trend ‘which subordinated politics as a matter of principle’, and Cliff affirms that here Pipes had ‘put the “economists in correct perspective”.’16
This is Cliff’s interpretation. To bolster it, he could have cited not only Pipes but also the critique of Economism subsequently made by Mensheviks like Theodore Dan. Dan, too, agreed that Economism’s original sin was its supposedly rigid fixation on economic – to the exclusion of political – issues and demands.17
But this analysis is extremely superficial and therefore wrong. Pipes is wrong, Dan is wrong, and Cliff is wrong. All three of them are transfixed by Economism’s form, by its temporary appearance, and they therefore miss its essence entirely.
The essence of Economism was its fundamental, unwavering opportunism, its determination that the role of Marxists was to passively tail after the mass working-class movement at each stage of its development rather than to act as the class’s vanguard. It refused to assume the responsibility to speak to the proletariat about its class tasks as a whole, to pound away at what the class in general did not yet know and refused to believe. The Economists preferred to bow before every prejudice currently harboured by the workers with whom they made contact.
The initial insistence by the Economists that socialists give exclusive attention only to economic demands was merely a passing manifestation of this opportunist method. It reflected the fact that the more backward workers were at that time still not struggling against the government but were clearly very much aroused over issues and demands aimed at their own employers and immediate economic situation.
Even Julius Martov’s account shows more clearly than does Cliff’s the relationship between Economism’s defining opportunism and its temporary ‘stage theory’ fad. Certainly, notes Martov, it is true that ‘what was proposed was agitation on the basis of everyday economic needs that led to a clash between proletarian and employer. There was not even a mention of any agitation on the basis of other social interests – on grounds of political, civil, ethnic oppression, or cultural demands.’
But Martov also puts his finger on the underlying method which gave rise to this approach (without, of course, repudiating that method himself): ‘Instinctively, we were following the line of least resistance, taking the average worker as he was at the time, limited as he was at the time, limited by his local and shop horizon and by what appeared to be the impassable abyss that separated him from the social life of other classes.’18
The Economists took the average worker as he was when they found him, and they politically adapted to him.
That it was the opportunism which was characteristic, permanent, and ‘principled’ while the elevation of economics over politics was merely secondary and fleeting – this was made clear by history itself. The strike movement to which the Economists were adapting overcame its disinterest in politics by 1901 (without the help of the Economists), producing bloody clashes with police and troops.19 Once this change was recognised by the Economists, they were quick to abandon their rigid stage theory, to abandon their alleged subordination of politics ‘as a matter of principle’. Their slogan now became – still tailing after events – ‘Lend the economic struggle a political character!’
Did this mean that Economism as such was now dead? Not at all. The switch from tailing after spontaneous economic struggles to tailing after their resultant political struggles changed nothing fundamental about Economism. Least of all did the switch involve abandoning their defining opportunist nature, their ‘instinctive’ gravitation toward ‘the line of least resistance’, their characteristic adaptation to ‘the average worker as he was at that time’. As early as 1900, Economist spokesman B. Krichevsky had explained in the opportunist paper Rabocheye Dyelo his attitude toward political slogans: ‘Political demands, which in their nature are common to ill Russia, must correspond initially to the experience extracted from the economic struggle by a given stratum of workers. It is only on the grounds of this experience that it is possible and necessary to move on to political agitation.’20
In September, 1901, Krichevsky deemed it completely appropriate to push for the political demands – without at all abandoning the Economists’ tailist method: ‘The change of tactics of Rabocheye Dyelo was a praiseworthy attempt to help orient the Social-Democrats to the new situation that had arisen. Basing ourselves on the general Marxist view that revolutions happen and are not made, we attempted to act as every revolutionary should act at a moment which forewarns the coming of revolution… The task of a revolutionary Social-Democrat is to hurry objective developments by his conscious work and not to depart from them or alter them through his subjective plans.’21
‘Lend the economic struggle a political character’ was the slogan which signified the persistence of opportunism among the Economists even after the anti-politicism had disappeared. This slogan meant that the political slogans which Marxists must present and fight for must be limited to those already being presented by the masses on their own. In the political as in the economic struggles, the task of the Marxists was to tail passively after the movement, not to lead it, not to struggle to push it onto an explicitly Social-Democratic (i.e. class-conscious, Marxist) basis. For this reason, the newly-found ‘politicism’ of the Economists expressed itself as abject capitulation to the politics (on the one hand) of individual terrorism and (on the other) bourgeois liberalism.22
This was, in fact, the core of the critique of Economism which Lenin presented. He did not at all share Tony Cliff’s confusion. Even in the writings of Lenin which Cliff quotes, Lenin separated himself from Cliff’s superficial critique of Economism. Thus Lenin wrote in ‘Our Fundamental Tasks’ in 1899: ‘It is the task of the Social-Democrats, by organising the workers, by conducting propaganda and agitation among them, to turn the spontaneous struggle against their oppressors into the struggle of the whole class, into the struggle of a definite political party for definite political and socialist ideals.’23
The same article goes on to hammer precisely this point home (although Cliff does not see fit to quote this further passage): ‘The task of Social-Democracy is to bring definite socialist ideals to the spontaneous working-class movement, to convert this movement with socialist convictions that should attain the level of contemporary science…’24
This was Lenin’s recurrent theme in the attacks he waged on Economism in the pages of Iskra from 1900 to 1903. And he drew out the essence of his attack more clearly than ever in his 1902 pamphlet, What Is to Be Done? Lenin argued that the fundamental significance of Economism was that it provided ‘a theoretical basis for their slavish cringing before spontaneity. It is time to draw conclusions from this trend, the content of which is incorrectly and too narrowly characterised as “Economism”.’25
In presenting his version of Lenin's critique of Economism, Cliff entitles that section of his book ‘The Need to Generalize the Struggle’. Later on, Cliff purports to summarise Lenin’s proposed cure for Economism as follows: ‘…whereas, over a period of some four to five years, the Marxists in Russia had aroused a desire in the working class for confrontation at factory level, the step now necessary was to arouse, at least in the politically conscious section of the masses, a passion for political action.’26
But Lenin himself had only scorn for those whose solution to the labour movement’s problems consisted merely in spreading, ‘generalizing’, ‘politicizing’, it. That, in fact, was the solution offered by … the Economists!
Lenin, in contrast, insisted on the need to change the programmatic basis of that struggle, to give it an independent proletarian – i.e. Social-Democratic – basis: ‘[T]he first issue of Rabochaya Mysl shows that the term “Economism” (which, of course, we do not propose to abandon, since, in one way or another, this designation has already established itself) does not adequately convey the real character of the new trend. Rabochaya Mysl does not altogether repudiate the political struggle; the rules for a workers’ mutual benefit fund published in its first issue contain a reference to combating the government. Rabochaya Mysl believes, however, that “politics have always obediently followed economics” (Rabocheye Dyelo varies this thesis when it asserts in its programme that “in Russia more than in any other country, the economic struggle is inseparable from the political struggle”). If by politics is meant Social-Democratic politics, then the theses of Rabochaya Mysl and Rabocheye Dyelo are utterly incorrect. The economic struggle of the workers is very often connected (although not inseparably) with bourgeois politics, clerical politics, etc., as we have seen. Rabocheye Dyelo’s theses are correct, if by politics is meant trade-union politics, viz., the common striving to secure from the government measures for alleviating the distress to which their conditions give rise, but which do not abolish that condition, i.e., which do not remove the subjection of labour to capital. That striving indeed is common to the English trade-unionists, who are hostile to socialism, to the Catholic workers, to the “Zubatov” workers [organized into fake “unions” by the tsarist police chief Zubatov], etc.’
Thus, Lenin concludes (and he seems to be arguing directly with his latest biographer): ‘There is politics and politics. Thus, we see that Rabochaya Mysl does not so much deny the political struggle as it bows to its spontaneity, to its unconsciousness. While fully recognising the political struggle (better: the political desires and demands of the workers), which arises spontaneously from the working-class movement itself, it absolutely refuses independently to work out a specifically Social-Democratic politics corresponding to the general tasks of socialism and to present-day conditions in Russia.’27
In order to combat Economism, Lenin knew it was critical to first identify the reasons for its development and for its conquest of much (if not most) of the Russian Marxist movement in so short a period of time. Economism had to be torn up by the roots, so those roots had first to be uncovered. Economism was produced by the manner in which the Russian Marxists immersed themselves in the mass strike movement which exploded among the Russian proletariat in the 1890s. Prior to that explosion, the Marxists had been without any mass base at all. They were still restricted to slowly extending their influence through the medium of small and mutually isolated study circles, each of which embraced only handfuls of the most advanced and highly motivated workers. When the strike wave broke out the Marxists recognized the importance of involving themselves in it in order to transcend the narrow framework of the study circles and to influence larger numbers of workers.
Lenin, for one, considered the members of the study circles quite prepared for this turn to mass, ‘practical’ work. Confident now of the theoretical stability of his cadres Lenin was all the more eager to turn those cadres toward ‘agitation among the workers, which naturally comes to the forefront in the present political conditions of Russia and at the present level of development of the masses of workers’.28
In the course of this agitational turn, however, it soon became apparent that Lenin’s initial assessment of the Marxist cadres had been too optimistic. The Marxists began to adapt to the mass movement, to bow before its errors, to retreat before its backward prejudices, and thereby to become what Lenin called its ‘tail’. As a result, the turn which was intended to bring a larger number of as-yet non-Marxist workers under the leadership of the Marxists had the opposite effect: it subordinated the Marxists to the backwardness of the average workers.
The Marxist programme was trimmed to suit the current illusions (not the immediate needs) of the average workers. Since these workers were not yet moving into political struggles on their own, the Marxists removed references to political struggle from their agitation and propaganda. Because these workers had not yet in their vast majority consciously transcended the limits of bourgeois reformism, the Marxists sought to gain quick, widespread support by mimicking this backwardness themselves. Instead of illuminating the path which the movement would necessarily have to follow in order to meet the actual needs of its participants, they restricted their role simply to repeating whatever slogans and demands the mass movement had already formulated independently – or which it was clearly prepared to accept immediately. Economism as a definite political tendency was nothing but the conscious expression of this opportunist policy, the tendency which not only tolerated such opportunism but glorified it and elevated it into a full-fledged, ‘scientific’ method, complete with its own pseudo-Marxist jargon. They were, as Martov later confessed, making a principle out of ‘following the line of least resistance’ in obtaining mass support. That this could occur proved to Lenin that he had drastically overestimated the theoretical clarity of the Russian Marxists themselves.
Cliff, too, purports to explain the rise of Economism. In this explanation, once again, he claims to give the reader the views of Lenin.
In fact, Cliff’s explanation is extremely shallow and incomplete. It was only because Lenin’s analysis of Economism’s causes was incomparably deeper and richer than Cliff’s that Lenin was able to derive from the Economist experience not merely the need to publish Iskra but also many of the ideas which were to become the central pillars of Bolshevism as a whole for decades to come. Indeed, had Lenin’s thinking really gone no further than Cliff’s the Bolshevik Party might never have been built at all.
Cliff correctly notes that Lenin sought answers in the nature of the earlier Marxist circles in Russia. But Cliff’s rendition of Lenin’s views on this subject is next to useless. According to Cliff, Lenin believed Economism developed simply because the propaganda circles in which the early socialist movement was organised lacked strong organisational ties to one another and because their leaders were arrested by the police. Where Lenin placed these technical problems in a firm political perspective, Cliff ignores that perspective almost completely. According to Cliff, the circles laid the groundwork for their members’ later disorientation because the circles placed ‘an excess of emphasis on theory’. Because of this excessively theoretical emphasis, you see, circle members were deprived of practical experience in the mass movement. All brain and no brawn, as it were, the socialists were foredoomed to failure.29
The place where Lenin gave his fullest and most important presentation of the origins of Economism was an article written at the end of 1899, entitled ‘A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social Democracy’. Cliff should have quoted at length from this article; instead he has completely ignored it.
In that article Lenin argues, first, that the early circles bequeathed to its members a misunderstanding of Marxist theory. (That the study circles had placed ‘an excess of emphasis on theory’ was Cliff’s conclusion, not Lenin’s.) This was the result of a one-sided polemic which they had conducted against the terrorist wing of Populism and against the Russian liberals.
Lenin wrote: ‘In their struggle against the narrow conceptions of the Narodnaya Volya adherents, who reduced politics to conspiracy-making, the Social-Democrats could be led to, and did at times, declare themselves against politics in general (in view of the then prevailing narrow conception of politics).’30
This theoretical error weakened the Marxists’ defences against opportunism. Second, the study circles were (as Cliff notes) isolated from one another. Moreover, they were all isolated from the socialist movement of the rest of the world. This aggravated their theoretical weaknesses, crippled their ability to prepare themselves to withstand the opportunist pressures which immersion in mass work necessarily involves. To put it another way, the Russian Marxists’ isolation from one another and from Marxists internationally held back the study circles’ ability to forge their members into real Marxist cadres. They were prevented from absorbing the lessons of the workers’ movement. (The political preparation for mass work provided by the circles was also restricted by the circles’ undue emphasis on the most abstract questions of philosophy, science, literature, etc, to the detriment of the theory of the class struggle and how to wage it.32)
It was, consequently, a group of Marxists only poorly cohered theoretically and organisationally which made the dramatic turn to mass agitation in the 1890s. Lenin explains the results in terms which Cliff prefers to overlook completely but which were essential to Lenin’s analysis as well as to the manner in which he set out to combat Economism and afterward to build the Bolshevik Party.
In ‘A Retrograde Trend’, Lenin recalled of the circle-Marxists that in the mid-1890s. ‘From propaganda they began to go over to agitation … the spread of their agitation brought the Social-Democrats into contact with the lower, less developed strata of the proletariat; to attract these strata it was necessary for the agitator to be able to adapt himself to the lowest level of understanding, he was taught to put “the demands and interests of the given moment” in the foreground and to push back the broad ideals of socialism and the political struggle. The fragmentary, amateur nature of Social-Democratic work, the extremely weak connections between the study circles in the different cities, between the Russian Social-Democrats and their comrades abroad who possessed a profounder knowledge and a richer revolutionary experience, as well as a wider political horizon, naturally led to a gross exaggeration of this (absolutely essential) aspect of Social-Democratic activity, which could bring some individuals to lose sight of the other aspects, especially since with every reverse the most developed workers and intellectuals were wrenched from the ranks of the struggling army, so that sound revolutionary traditions and continuity could not as yet be evolved. It is in this extreme exaggeration of one aspect of Social-Democratic work that we see the chief cause of the sad retreat from the ideals of Russian Social-Democracy.’32
It is absolutely essential that this insight of Lenin’s be understood. The Russian Marxists – organisationally fragmented and theoretically weak – proved incapable of agitating among the mass of workers without politically adapting to them. The experience of the circles, the movement’s geographical/organisational dispersal, etc, were important in that they contributed to this development. They contributed to the development of tailism.
This development was encouraged by another theoretical weakness of the Russian Social-Democratic agitators. They did not know the difference between different strata of the proletariat. They could not distinguish between the most politically advanced elements and the more backward and more numerous mass. In politically adapting to the more backward workers, they turned away from the advanced – from those workers who were in fact the most important to Russian Marxism and through whom the less advanced could be successfully reached.
In the article quoted above Lenin emphasised the primary importance of reaching ‘the advanced workers that every working-class movement brings to the fore, those who can win the confidence of the labouring masses, who devote themselves entirely to the education and organisation of the proletariat, who accept socialism consciously, and who even elaborate independent socialist theories. Every viable working-class movement has brought to the fore such working-class leaders, its own Proudhons, Vaillants, Weitlings, and Bebels. And our Russian working-class movement promises not to lag behind the European movement in this respect.’
These workers who were ignored in favour of their more backward fellows were the workers upon whom the future of Russian Social Democracy actually rested. Without them, it was impossible to reach the less advanced in a Marxist manner.
‘At a time when educated society is losing interest in honest, illegal literature, an impassioned desire for knowledge and for socialism is growing among the workers, real heroes are corning to the fore from amongst the workers, who, despite their wretched living conditions, despite the stultifying penal servitude of factory labour, possess so much character and will-power that they study, study, study, and turn themselves into conscious Social-Democrats — “the working-class intelligentsia”. This “working-class intelligentsia” already exists in Russia, and we must make every effort to ensure that its ranks are regularly reinforced, that its lofty mental requirements are met and that leaders of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party come from its ranks.’33
Lenin came back to this point in another article written soon afterward: ‘In no political or social movement, in no country has there ever been, or could there ever have been, any other relation between the mass of the given class or people and its numerically few educated representatives than the following: everywhere and at all times the leaders of a certain class have always been its advanced, most cultivated representatives. Nor can there be any other situation in the Russian working-class movement. The ignoring of the interests and requirements of this advanced section of the workers, and the desire to descend to the level of understanding of the lower strata (instead of constantly raising the level of the workers’ class-consciousness) must, therefore, necessarily have a profoundly harmful effect and prepare the ground for the infiltration of all sorts of non-socialist and non-revolutionary ideas into the workers’ midst.’34
This was the advanced stratum on which Social-Democratic activity had to focus. And this was precisely the stratum, Lenin explained, which the Economists were ignoring when they announced ‘that the working-class masses are not yet able to understand the idea of the political struggle, an idea that is comprehensible only to certain, more developed workers.’ Lenin's answer to such announcements throws into the sharpest relief his understanding of the relationship between leaping over the heads of the advanced workers in order to reach the backward directly (on the one hand) and the origins and method of Economist opportunism (on the other hand):
‘To this objection, which we hear so frequently … our answer is that, firstly, Social-Democracy has everywhere and always been, and cannot but be the representative of the class-conscious, and not of the non-class-conscious, workers and that there cannot be anything more dangerous and more criminal than the demagogic speculation on the underdevelopment of the workers. If the criterion of [our] activity were that which is immediately, directly, and to the greatest degree accessible to the broadest masses, we should have to preach anti-Semitism or to agitate, let us say, on the basis of an appeal to Father Johann of Kronstadt [a notorious pogrom-inciting priest].’35
To mobilize the backward, Lenin explained, to move those who will not understand us completely, it is necessary to first reach the more advanced. Thus he wrote:
‘[T]he backward worker from the lower or middle strata of the masses will not be able to assimilate the general idea of economic struggle; it is an idea that can be absorbed by a few educated workers whom the masses will follow, guided by their instincts and their direct, immediate interests.
‘This is likewise true of the political sphere; of course, only the developed worker will comprehend the general idea of the political struggle, and the masses will follow him because they have a very good sense of their lack of political rights … and because their most immediate, everyday interests regularly bring them into contact with every kind of manifestation of political oppression.’36
The newspapers of the Economists (most prominently, Rabochaya Mysl and Rabocheye Dyelo) oriented to the backward workers and accordingly adapted to them, mis-educating the genuinely advanced workers in their audience. A genuinely Marxist paper, said Lenin, had to orient to the working-class intelligentsia in order to transform it into socialist cadres: ‘The newspaper that wants to become the organ of all Russian Social-Democrats must, therefore, be at the level of the advanced workers; not only must it not lower its level artificially, but, on the contrary, it must raise it constantly, it must follow up all the tactical, political, and theoretical problems of world Social-Democracy. Only then will the demands of the working-class intelligentsia be met, and it itself will take the cause of the Russian workers and, consequently, the cause of the Russian revolution, into its own hands.’
He continued: ‘The average worker will not understand some of the articles in a newspaper that aims to be the organ of the Party, he will not be able to get a full grasp of an intricate theoretical or practical problem. This does not at all mean that the newspaper must lower itself to the level of the mass of its readers. The newspaper, on the contrary, must raise their level and help promote advanced workers from the middle stratum of workers. Such workers, absorbed by local practical work and interested mainly in the events of the working-class movement and the immediate problems of agitation, should connect their every act with thoughts of the entire Russian working-class movement, its historical task, and the ultimate goal of socialism, so that the newspaper, the mass of whose readers are average workers, must connect socialism and the political struggle with every local and narrow question.’
To reach the most backward workers, finally, will require other forms of agitation and propaganda, ‘pamphlets written in more popular language, oral agitation, and chiefly–leaflets on local events’. But this last work, work among the backward masses, requires more than anything else the consolidation of a party of advanced workers capable of effectively undertaking such work in a Marxist (rather than an opportunist) manner. Building a real Marxist party of advanced workers is thus not a hindrance to reaching the most backward; it was the essential pre-condition for doing so.
This was a theme which Lenin was to hammer away at again and again in the years to come: ‘[O]nly an organised party can carry out widespread agitation, provide the necessary guidance (and material) for agitators on all economic and political questions, make use of every local agitational success for the instruction of all Russian workers, and send agitators to those places and into that milieu where they can work with the greatest success. It is only in an organised party that people possessing the capacities for work as agitators will be able to dedicate themselves wholly to this task — to the advantage both of agitation and of other aspects of Social-Democratic work.’
One who passes up a Marxist orientation to the advanced workers in favour of tailing after the backward ‘will, aside from everything else, deprive himself of even an opportunity of successfully and steadily attracting the lower strata of the proletariat to the working-class cause’.37
Those initially determined to fight Economism found themselves in a small minority by 1897-98. The enormous majority included not merely those original agitators now wedded to their new trend. They had also won to their banner a considerable number of newly-recruited workers. Despite the political inattention of the Economists to the needs of the advanced workers, the latter were nonetheless heavily influenced by Economist ideas and literature. Large numbers of them accepted the only form of Social-Democracy which had been presented to them – the bowdlerised form invented by the Economists with the backward stratum of the proletariat in mind. Thus the advanced workers had been recruited to the movement which spoke, in fact, not with the outlook of class-conscious workers but with that of the more backward, dominated by bourgeois ideology.
Lenin’s understanding of the problem determined the solution which he worked out. It would be necessary to rebuild the socialist movement in Russia on a new basis. That movement would have to be consolidated into a party, a party capable of successfully conducting mass agitation and so avoid the errors which had brought the unprepared movement of the 1890s to the brink of utter ruin. This party would have to be based firmly on Marxist theory, the Marxist theory of the class struggle, and on a political programme which laid out with precision exactly what the proletariat had to do to achieve its ends. That Marxist education would have to be brought to bear on all the concrete questions of the class struggle, all questions of strategy and tactics. The new party would have to recognize explicitly that its task was to act as the vanguard, not the rearguard, of the mass movement; it had to shoulder the task of telling the masses what they did not yet know and not content itself with repeating the wisdom already acquired by the masses without the aid of the Social-Democrats.
The new party envisioned by Lenin would have to be tightly unified and disciplined in its activity. This was the only way to prevent every local circle and Party member from succumbing to the parochial pressures brought to bear on them; it was also the only way in which the proletariat could be given a single, crystal-clear leadership rather than a chorus of confusing, contradictory proclamations all coming from the same organisation. Lenin’s party would require strong ties to and a clear understanding of international Social-Democracy, its experiences and principles. This, too, was necessary to help keep the Party from veering away from Marxism under the pressures of its immediate situation. Finally, the party which Lenin envisioned could only be one built upon a membership of the most politically advanced and dedicated Russian workers. Only such a party could give the mass working-class movement the kind of leadership which it so urgently required.
In every particular, the Leninist party described above reflected the negative lessons which Lenin had drawn from the Economist experience. His painstaking struggle to reveal the essential nature and origins of Economism was the necessary prerequisite for appreciating the kind of revolutionary organisation which had to be built for the future if mass work were ever to become a reality. All of this is therefore lost on Tony Cliff, who does not understand Economism at all.
But how was such a party to be achieved? Lenin’s party could not be produced by merely strengthening the ties between all the already-constituted circles claiming adherence to the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.38 Under prevailing circumstances, that would produce not a Marxist vanguard party but an Economist (that is to say tailist, rearguardist, opportunist) party.
Nor could Lenin’s party be built by ignoring the Economist leaders and their working-class following, by trying to build a party based solely on ‘uncontaminated’ workers. The Economists, Lenin understood very well, had managed to win political hegemony (even if only accidentally) over the most advanced workers, the worker-intelligentsia, the workers who wanted to make a revolution. To try to build a party without any of these workers would be to repeat the fundamental mistake of the 1890s all over again – leaping over the most advanced in search of the more backward. No, Lenin would have to build his party out of the human material presently misled by the Economist chieftans. The advanced workers would have to be won away from Economism through a long, difficult, patient ideological struggle. This was the political content of Lenin’s plan to build the RSDLP as a genuinely Marxist party.
Thus it was that Lenin (together with Plekhanov, Axelrod, Zasulich, Martov, and Potresov) set out to create an orthodox Marxist faction within the RSDLP milieu and to conduct an uncompromising factional war against the Economists. The paper Iskra, launched in 1900, was the organ of this new faction. Iskra declared its aim to be the transformation of the RSDLP from a fiction into an actual party, but a party of the type prescribed by Lenin and not by the currently-dominant Economists.
In Cliff’s account, all this is concealed and implicitly denied. Iskra is depicted merely as the organ of those who saw the need for building a nationwide socialist party; the ideological-polemical, factional character of its party-building campaign is completely ignored. All that is left is an arduous campaign to achieve a politically neutral, purely technical accomplishment, the consolidation of all self-proclaimed Marxists in a single organisational framework.
There is only one way in which Cliff can eclipse the actual nature of Iskra, its organisation of supporters, and its factional perspectives – by once again ignoring the principal documents in which Lenin clearly discussed all these subjects. Most obvious of all is Cliff’s refusal to confront, or even to acknowledge the existence of, the ‘Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra’, published in 1900. Once again, we will grant Lenin the privilege which Cliff denies him – to speak for himself.
The ‘Declaration’ openly takes note of the ‘ideological wavering’ and consequent ‘disunity’ plaguing the Russian Social-Democratic milieu. It sets for Iskra the task of fighting against that wavering and disunity through ‘the formation of a strong party which must struggle under a single banner of revolutionary Social-Democracy’.
Building the kind of party that was necessary was not possible under the sign of Economism, it continued. Building the party therefore meant first of all changing the political basis, not merely the organisational form, of the present movement.
‘To establish and consolidate the Party means to establish and consolidate unity among all Russian Social-Democrats, and, for the reasons indicated above, such unity cannot be decreed, it cannot be brought about by a decision, say, of a meeting of representatives; it must be worked for. In the first place it is necessary to work for solid ideological unity which should eliminate discordance and confusion that – let us be frank! – reign among Russian Social-Democrats at the present time.’ [emphasis added]
Iskra’s editors called upon the Economist leaders to write for Iskra, to debate the subject of party-building, leadership, programme, etc, before the eyes of the advanced workers, the worker-intelligentsia, in order to advance the clarification of differences necessary to build a firm party.
‘Before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation. Otherwise, our unity will be purely fictitious, it will conceal the prevailing confusion and hinder its radical elimination. It is understandable, therefore, that we do not intend to make our publication a mere storehouse of various views. On the contrary, we shall conduct it in the spirit of a strictly defined tendency... But although we shall discuss all questions from our own definite point of view, we shall give space in our columns to polemics between comrades. Open polemics, conducted in full view of all Russian Social-Democrats and class-conscious workers, are necessary and desirable in order to clarify the depth of existing differences, in order to afford discussion of disputed questions from all angles…’39
Iskra’s focus during the next two years faithfully reflected this perspective. Issue after issue analysed the main questions facing Russian Marxists at a high level of sophistication, a level which was unavoidably above the understanding of all but the most advanced workers. This was a necessity which Lenin had pointed to in 1899. All across the board, Iskra addressed and exposed the false positions of the Economists. The tasks of training the worker-intelligentsia as proletarian leaders and of winning them away from the Economists were thus inextricably intertwined. This was how Iskra aimed to lay the political foundation for a unified RSDLP. By 1902, it was clear that Iskra effectively had won the factional struggle against the Economists. One after another workers’ circle in Russia declared its support for Lenin’s group. The 1903 Party Congress was intended by its convenors to take formal note of the reconquest of the RSDLP for Marxism.
The lessons of Economism and the nature of Iskra’s fight against it is summarised most effectively in the pamphlet What Is to Be Done? (1902). Lenin repeatedly pointed this out: ‘What Is to Be Done? is a summary of Iskra tactics and Iskra organisational policy in 1901 and 1902. Precisely a ‘summary; no more and no less’.40 That Cliff is finally forced to polemise explicitly and hotly against Lenin only in discussing this pamphlet reflects that fact. Cliff’s violent reaction to What Is to Be Done? shows clearly that his distortions of Economism and of the Iskra period were not accidents. It also highlights the essential political continuity which connects Cliff’s earlier, open anti-Leninism with the less candid version concealed in his Lenin: Building the Party.
The central idea of What Is to Be Done? is simple. We have already summarised it above. The working class cannot achieve a clear understanding of the capitalist system, of its own position in that system, and of the steps which it must take to destroy that system and to usher in the communist future unless Marxists help it to do so. The experiences of the economic struggle against individual employers, taken by themselves, cannot relieve Marxists of this job. Without the conscious intervention of Marxists, the class struggle alone will only create a mass movement capable of waging the trade-union struggle, the struggle by the workers (as Lenin put it) ‘to secure … measures for alleviating the distress to which their conditions give rise, but which do not abolish that condition, i.e., which do not remove the subjection of labour to capital’. Trade-union consciousness Lenin identified as a form of bourgeois consciousness, since it accepts the general parameters of the bourgeoisie’s class rule and takes issue with only one or another aspect of it.
Lenin wrote: ‘But why, the reader will ask, does the spontaneous movement, the movement along the line of least resistance, lead to the domination of bourgeois ideology? For the simple reason that bourgeois ideology is far older in origin than socialist ideology, that it is more fully developed, and that it has at its disposal immeasurably more means of dissemination.’41
The Economists had argued as follows in defence of their policy of merely echoing the ideas formulated by the working class without their aid: the ‘spontaneous’ class struggle will itself suffice to bring the proletariat to class-consciousness without the organised political struggle of the Marxists.
Iskra and What Is to Be Done? had to declare war on this ‘slavish cringing before spontaneity’: ‘It is often said that the working class spontaneously gravitates towards socialism. That is perfectly true in the sense that socialist theory reveals the causes of the misery of the working class more profoundly and more correctly than any other theory, and for that reason the workers are able to assimilate it so easily, provided, however, this theory does not itself yield to spontaneity, provided it subordinates spontaneity to itself.’42
But Marxists have no reason for being Marxists unless their theory brings to the ‘spontaneous’ movement something which is necessary for that movement and which will not appear by itself. That ‘something’ was full class-consciousness. To rely on spontaneity in order to minimise the importance of Marxist leadership is criminal, since ‘the “spontaneous element”, in essence, represents nothing more nor less than consciousness in an embryonic form’.43
It was the worship of spontaneity which had given rise to Economism in the first place, Lenin emphasised, with all the mournful results which that produced. Without the intervention of Marxists, the workers’ embryonic consciousness will be subjected to the tender mercies of bourgeois society and bourgeois ideologues alone. Thus ‘all worship of the spontaneity of the working-class movement, all belittling of the role of “the conscious element”, of the role of Social-Democracy, means, quite independently of whether he who belittles that role desires it or not, a strengthening of the influence of bourgeois ideology upon the workers’.44
The Economists’ hosannas for spontaneity, Lenin repeated time and again, did nothing but conceal the fact that there is a constant, ongoing ideological war being waged within the ranks of the working class. Depending on the outcome of that war, the ‘spontaneous element’, the proletariat’s ‘consciousness in an [as yet] embryonic form’, would mature into either bourgeois (trade-unionist) or proletarian (revolutionary socialist, Marxist) consciousness. The worshippers of spontaneity are simply advocating that conscious Marxists withdraw from that ideological struggle and thereby surrender the battle to the bourgeoisie.
‘Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement* the only choice is – either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not yet created a ‘third’ ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms, there can never be a non-class or an above-class ideology). Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree, means to strengthen bourgeois ideology.’45
This is the heart and soul of What Is To Be Done?
There are only two points in this pamphlet which cannot be generalised and which do not form an essential element of Lenin’s theory of the party. First is his emphasis on the temporary need for an undemocratic, top-down structure for the party, necessitated by the party’s totally clandestine status and the consequent inability to introduce internal party democracy without leaving the party vulnerable to police repression. Lenin’s strictures on this point were correct for their time and were also easily modified by Lenin himself later on, when external conditions made that possible.
The second point is this. In distinguishing between vanguard and mass, Lenin at one point employed a formula borrowed from Karl Kautsky which incorrectly argued that the socialist vanguard necessarily originates outside the ranks of the working class as a whole. This formula in fact ran counter to the main theme of What Is to Be Done?, which correctly identified the vanguard with the proletariat’s own most advanced elements fused with Marxist intellectuals from other classes.
The bad formula employed was this one: ‘The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade-union consciousness, ie, the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass, necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophical, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. By their social status, the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia. In the very same way, in Russia, the theoretical doctrine of Social-Democracy arose altogether independently of the spontaneous growth of the working-class movement; it arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of thought among the revolutionary intelligentsia.’46
Lenin himself subsequently abandoned this incorrect framing of the problem.47 The Marxist vanguard is a political, not a sociological, category. It is true that Marxism was first formulated by bourgeois intellectuals. It is also true that young Marxist movements frequently obtain many of their first cadres from among such intellectuals. It is not true, however, that Marxism evolved as the result of simple intellectual evolution ‘independent of’ and uninfluenced by the rise of the working-class movement. And it is not correct to pose Marxism as a doctrine which only intellectuals can arrive at on their own, ‘from the inside’, so to speak.
This poor formulation of Lenin’s was unfortunate. But it is essential to recognise that the formula was central neither to Lenin’s thinking in general nor to What Is to Be Done? in particular. On the contrary; it is a foreign intrusion into them both. It was an isolated polemical exaggeration on his part, encouraged by his misguided attempt to bolster his own, altogether correct, understanding of the questions at issue with Economism by citing an ‘authoritative’ reference from a still universally respected Marxist theoretician.
Lenin’s own actual point was not that workers were alien to Marxism, that workers could not become Marxists without the ‘outside’ aid of intellectuals. His real point was that Marxist consciousness will not arise among the mass of workers ‘spontaneously’ – i.e., as a simple reflex of the struggle against the employers. Worker-Marxists will arise only as the result of the process Lenin had described three years earlier in ‘A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy’. The advanced workers would have to do more than merely mull over their own experiences in the class struggle. They would have to ‘study, study, study, and turn themselves into conscious Social-Democrats – “the working-class intelligentsia”.’ In this process the workers would have to be assisted by those workers who had accomplished this goal even earlier and by Marxists drawn from the bourgeois intelligentsia as well.
That this is the central axis of What Is to Be Done? will be obvious to any unbiased and informed reader. Thus, for example, immediately after correctly declaring that ‘there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement’, Lenin introduces the following characteristic note: ‘This does not mean, of course, that the workers have no part in creating such an ideology. They take part, however, not as workers, but as socialist theoreticians, as Proudhons and Weltlings; in other words, they take part only when they are able, and to the extent that they are able, more or less, to acquire the knowledge of their age and develop that knowledge. But in order that working men may succeed in this more often, every effort must be made to raise the level of the consciousness of the workers in general; it is necessary that the workers do not confine themselves to the artificially restricted limits of “literature for workers” but that they learn to an increasing degree to master general literature. It would be even truer to say “are not confined” instead of “do not confine themselves” because the workers themselves wish to read and do read all that is written for the intelligentsia, and only a few (bad) intellectuals believe it is enough “for workers” to be told a few things about factory conditions, and to have repeated to them over and over again what has long been known.’48
This is the note which Lenin continues to sound in the rest of the pamphlet – the importance of assisting the Marxist education of the largest possible number of workers. This is the idea which informs the entire pamphlet, Lenin's concrete organisational recommendations, and the general theory of Leninism as a whole: ‘And we must see to it, not only that the masses “advance” concrete demands, but that the masses of the workers “advance” an increasing number of such professional revolutionaries.49
‘And we will succeed in doing this, because the spontaneously awakening masses will also produce increasing numbers of “professional revolutionaries” from their own ranks (that is, if we do not take it into our heads to advise the workers to keep on marking time).50
‘Attention, therefore, must be devoted principally to raising the workers to the level of revolutionaries; it is not at all our task to descend to the level of the “working masses” as the Economists wish to do, or to the level of the “average worker” as Svoboda desires to do…’51
And: ‘[T]he masses will never learn to conduct the political struggle until we help to train leaders for this struggle, both from among the enlightened workers and from among the intellectuals. Such leaders can acquire training solely by systematically evaluating all the everyday aspects of our political life, all attempts at protest and struggle on the part of the various classes and on varied grounds.’52
The driving thoughts of What Is to Be Done? were far richer and more fruitful than was the Kautskyan formula which Lenin tried to appropriate. To employ that formula at all Lenin had to empty it of Kautsky’s original meaning and fill it with his own distinctive content.
Cliff disagrees. He prefers to seize upon Lenin’s isolated misformulation and to bracket it with completely correct ideas in What Is to Be Done? in order to denounce the latter along with the former as anti-Marxist. His aim is to discredit What Is to Be Done? as a whole. In the process, Cliff returns to the argument he began in his Rosa Luxemburg and ‘Trotsky on Substitutionism’. Cliff quotes the Kautskyan formula discussed above and follows it immediately with four other passages from the pamphlet. These four passages are all above reproach. They simply explain that real Marxist consciousness can be acquired only by studying capitalist society as a whole, that conscious Marxists must take an active part in the ideological war raging within the working class, and that their failure to do so can only ensure ‘the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie.’53
Cliff then objects not merely to the Kautskyan formula but to all of the specifically Leninist ideas bracketed with it. He amalgamates them into an allegedly uniform viewpoint and declares: ‘There is no doubt that this formulation overemphasised the difference between spontaneity and consciousness. For in fact the complete separation of spontaneity from consciousness is mechanical and non-dialectical. Lenin, as we shall see later, admitted this [ie, in 1905]. Pure spontaneity does not exist in life – ‘every “spontaneous” movement contains rudimentary elements of conscious leadership, of discipline’ [wrote Gramsci]. The smallest strike has at least a rudimentary leadership.’54
Isn’t this incredible? Cliff is seriously arguing that Lenin was unaware that spontaneity and consciousness are interrelated! But it was precisely Lenin – and nowhere more clearly than in this pamphlet – who tore the mystical veil off the Economists’ cult of spontaneity and revealed this interrelationship. It was precisely because Lenin knew very well that spontaneity was nothing but ‘embryonic’, unfinished, still immature consciousness that he denounced the Economists so mercilessly. He knew that unless Marxists intervened, the embryonic consciousness of the masses (spontaneity) would follow the ‘path of least resistance’ and mature into not a Marxist but a form of bourgeois consciousness. The observation of Gramsci’s, offered in evidence against Lenin, is nothing but a paraphrase of Lenin himself. While Cliff attempts to use Gramsci’s point to belittle Lenin’s war against the spontaneity-cult, Gramsci himself correctly employed it to justify that same war.55
Having now added poor Gramsci to his pantheon of heroes, Cliff quickly proceeds to cite yet another authority’s views in order to refute What Is to Be Done? Who is this new champion? None other than V. I. Lenin! Says Cliff: ‘Lenin himself, in an article written at the end of 1899, entitled “On Strikes”, sharply contradicted his later statements in What Is to Be Done? on the relation between the spontaneous class struggle and socialist consciousness.’56
And just what was it that Lenin wrote in 1899 which Cliff finds preferable to the thesis of What Is to Be Done? We faithfully reproduce in their entirety all the passages which Cliff sees fit to quote from ‘On Strikes’: ‘Every strike brings thoughts of socialism very forcibly to the worker’s mind, thoughts of the struggle of the entire working class for emancipation from the oppression of capital.’
And: ‘A strike teaches workers to understand what the strength of the employers and what the strength of the workers consists in; it teaches them not to think of their own employer alone and not of their own immediate workmates alone but of all the employers, the whole class of capitalists and the whole class of workers.’
Finally: ‘A strike, moreover, opens the eyes of the workers to the nature, not only of the capitalists, but of the government and the laws as well.’
And that is all. These are the ideas about ‘the relation between the spontaneous class struggle and socialist consciousness’ which Cliff prefers to those in What Is to Be Done? If this was all Lenin had really had to say on this subject in 1899, we would have to conclude that in that year he was himself in the grip of Economism. But in fact Lenin was not an Economist in 1899; Cliff has torn his quotations out of context once again. Had he deigned to quote a bit more, it would have become clear that in the quoted passages Lenin was only arguing that their struggles do indeed make workers receptive to socialist ideas. But he was not at all arguing that such struggles (like strikes) are sufficient to transform strikers into Marxists, into class-conscious workers. On the contrary: the same strikes which open the door for Marxists simultaneously give rise also to the most backward ideas among the workers: ‘When strikes are widespread among the workers, some of the workers (including some socialists) begin to believe that the working class can confine itself to strikes, strike funds, or strike associations alone; that by strikes alone the working class can achieve a considerable improvement in its conditions or even its emancipation... It is a mistaken idea.’57
Indeed, says Lenin, the successful organisation even of strikes in Russia requires of strikers a degree of class consciousness far higher than mere strike consciousness. Lenin wrote: ‘[S]trikes can only be successful where workers are sufficiently class-conscious, where they are able to select an opportune moment for striking, where they know how to put forward their demands, and where they have connections with socialists and are able to procure leaflets and pamphlets through them.’58
The problem with our strikes, Lenin continues, is that ‘There are still very few such [class-conscious] workers in Russia, and every effort must be exerted to increase their number in order to make the working-class cause known to the masses of workers and to acquaint them with socialism and the working-class struggle. This is a task which the socialists and class-conscious workers must undertake jointly by organising a working-class party for this purpose.’59
And Lenin is still not finished. The workers’ struggle must be aimed against the entire ruling class and its state. This will not occur ‘by itself’, as a mere reflex of strike activity. On the contrary: ‘As we have said, only a socialist workers’ party can carry on this struggle by spreading among the workers a true conception of the government and of the working-class cause.’
By deleting these passages from ‘On Strikes’, Cliff has produced (and attributed to Lenin) a theory ‘on the relation between the spontaneous class struggle and socialist consciousness’ which is spontaneist, Economist, opportunist. Cliff is arguing – for his own purposes but in Lenin’s name – that strikes by themselves make workers class conscious. Having foisted his own Economist views on the Lenin of 1899, Cliff proceeds again to castigate What Is to Be Done? He does this by presenting a thoroughly philistine version of that pamphlet’s overall viewpoint and programme.
Thus Cliff declares: ‘The logic of the mechanical juxtaposition of spontaneity and consciousness was the complete separation of the party from the actual elements of the working-class leadership that had already risen in the struggle. It assumed that the party had answers to all the questions that spontaneous struggle might bring forth. The blindness of the embattled many is the obverse of the omniscience of the few.’61
Read that paragraph, then read it again: keep in mind that it is taken from an allegedly pro-Bolshevik biography of Lenin. Amazing, isn’t it? In fact, Cliff has merely reproduced in this paragraph the standard, shop-worn slanders and diatribes hurled against What Is to Be Done? by all Lenin’s critics from 1902 down to the present day.
We have already demonstrated that Lenin above all repudiated the ‘mechanical juxtaposition of spontaneity and consciousness’. We needn’t cover that ground again. Cliff's allegation that Lenin’s logic required ‘the complete separation of the party from the actual elements of the working-class leadership that had already risen in the struggle’ is more elusive. Cliff may be trying to say one of two things here. He may be charging Lenin (or Lenin's ‘logic’) with ignoring on principle all leaders who arise from the ranks from the workers. If this is Cliff's point, he is distorting the record of the Iskra organisation as well as the spirit and letter of What Is to Be Done? We have already quoted Lenin’s emphasis in that pamphlet precisely on reaching the advanced workers and training them as working-class Marxists.
But Cliff probably means something else. He is probably attacking Lenin for denying that every individual propelled into the leadership of the mass movement by ‘the struggle’ would automatically become a socialist and deserve a place in the socialist party. If this is Cliff’s point, he is not slandering Lenin here at all. Lenin certainly did believe that the mass movement would at various times raise up into its leadership elements who were completely hostile to socialism and who would remain so for the rest of their lives. And Lenin was dead set against bringing these elements into the RSDLP simply because they had managed to become mass leaders.
Was Lenin wrong in this opinion of his? Hasn’t the entire history of the socialists in the labour movement been one of struggle against those leaders of the workers’ economic and political organisations who betray their followers because of their loyalty to capitalism’s interests? The police agent, Father G. A. Gapon, was an ‘actual element of working class leadership’ thrust forward in 1905 by ‘the struggle’. Should Lenin therefore have pulled him into the RSDLP? And what about the man elected as the first president of the Petrograd Soviet in 1905 – Khrustalev-Nosar? Trotsky describes the man as ‘an accidental figure in the revolution, representing an intermediate stage between Gapon and the Social-Democracy.62 Still, he was undoubtedly an ‘actual’ leader who ‘had already risen in the struggle’. Did he, too, belong among the Bolsheviks for that reason alone?
Of course not. The vanguard party does not include every individual catapulted into the leadership of the proletariat at every stage of its own political development. How can it? The task of the party is to point out to the class what must be done, not simply to reflect what has already been accomplished. Consequently, its members are selected not merely because of their success in winning mass acceptance as leaders but on the basis of their political views and commitment. Cliff's attack on this Leninist conception of party membership is indicative of his general distaste for Bolshevism’s insistence on a politically defined and politically educated party membership.
We continue. What, now, is this drivel about Lenin’s logic assuming ‘that the party had answers to all the questions that spontaneous struggle might bring forth’? Where does Lenin ever claim such total omniscience for the party or for the proletarian vanguard? What is it in What Is to Be Done? which ‘assumes’ such omniscience, which requires it as an essential premise? This is simply demagogy. Is it really necessary to counterpose the party’s omniscience to the mass’s supposed imbecility in order to support Lenin and agree with his pamphlet, i.e., to assert that a party really composed of worker-Marxists is more likely to make correct decisions about the class’s tasks than are the non-party, non-Marxist, politically backward workers? Or does Cliff dispute this assertion, too? If you do not agree with this as a generalisation, what justification remains for building a Marxist party in the first place, much less for trying to win for such a party the leadership of its class?
Indeed, if Marxism does not arm us with more foresight and insight than we would have without it, what value is there in Marxism itself? This is not merely a rhetorical question. All doubts about the vanguard’s general ability to see and understand things better than do the backward workers actually boil down to doubts about the practical value of the vanguard’s world-view – Marxism.
Naturally, there are occasions in which the vanguard is wrong and the less advanced are right. This occurs most frequently over tactical questions, but it may also occur when the vanguard clings to ideas which may once have been valid but which are no longer timely. In such cases, the mass movement may in fact see further than its own vanguard – or at least act (if only instinctively, only half-consciously) in a manner more in tune with the objective situation (February-March, 1917). Nevertheless, if such circumstances are presented as the general case (or even as being applicable 50% of the time), the very concept of the vanguard party loses its validity. This is the direction in which Cliff's ‘logic’ pulls him.
In 1903, the Iskra organisation (which by this time had won the support of most Social-Democrats active in Russia) convened the Second Congress of the RSDLP. The Congress was intended by Lenin to crown the years-long struggle not merely to rebuild a party but one which was all-Russian, centralised, and which stood firmly upon the orthodox Marxist platform of the Iskra faction and not on the platform of Economism-opportunism.
Tragically, this goal was not attained. The 1903 Congress did not produce a unified party standing on Leninist programmatic and organisational principles. Instead, it produced a newly-fragmented party in which Lenin and his close associates found themselves a small and despised minority. Even worse, the Leninist minority found itself opposed by a majority led by the balance of the old Iskra Editorial Board – Plekhanov, Axelrod, Zasulich, Potresov and Martov, with very vocal support from Trotsky.
Why did this calamity occur? Was the split in the Iskra leadership really a bolt out of the blue, or did it have its origins (even if they were unclear at the time) in the earlier period? How was it possible for the Iskra leadership, whom everyone had previously regarded as virtually monolithic, to polarise so thoroughly and so quickly? Cliff cannot provide the answers to such questions. All he can do is narrate some of the events at the Congress, noting that when Lenin fought to make the RSDLP accept ‘the harsh necessity for democratic centralism’, Iskra-ists like Martov and Trotsky ‘baulked at this’63 But why did they baulk?
They did so because prior to 1903 they had never fully accepted either Lenin’s interpretation of the nature and origins of Economism or Lenin’s specific way of fighting Economism. They had therefore, never fully accepted Lenin’s definition of the kind of party which had to be built. This lack of fundamental agreement among the members of the old Editorial Board was hidden from their own view because it was not put to the test and thereby exposed until the 1903 Congress itself. At that point it burst into view precisely when Lenin attempted to translate the presumed Iskra consensus into specific organisational proposals. The ideological roots of the 1903 split remain obscure in Cliff’s account, despite the fact that it is written more than seven decades later and with the benefit of hindsight, for a very simple reason. Cliff himself subscribes to the analysis of Economism and to the very same view of the socialist party which led Martov, Trotsky, et al to ‘baulk’ at adopting Lenin’s proposals and leadership in 1903.
In 1903, the role of chief spokesman for the new anti-Leninist bloc fell to Martov. Retrospectively, we can see that his pre-Congress differences with Lenin over the nature of Economism and the kind of party needed to resist opportunism (internally and in the class at large) prepared him for that role. The first such difference with Lenin concerned Economism. In 1899, Lenin wrote his penetrating article ‘A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy’, in which he laid bare the roots of the Economist-opportunist backsliding within the Marxist ranks – the Marxists’ political adaptation to the backward workers during the agitational turn of the 1890s. In that same year, however, Martov wrote an article in Krasnoe znamia v Rossii defending the way in which the agitational turn had been made.64
When Martov finally recognized the existence of a defined Economist trend he attacked it. But he did so like a Tony Cliff, not like a Lenin. The error of the Economists, said Martov, lay not in a generalised opportunism. No, it was to be found only in their too-rigid stage theory, their over-emphasis on economic as opposed to political agitation. This one-sidedness was tolerable while the mass movement was itself concerned solely with economic issues, added Martov, but it was plainly ridiculous now that the masses themselves had taken up political demands.
Lenin’s understanding that Economism was fundamentally opportunism, which in turn fed upon and adapted to the prejudices of more backward workers, led Lenin to emphasise the importance of fashioning a vanguard party, a party which leads the proletariat and which must therefore be restricted in composition to the most advanced workers. Martov’s superficial appraisal of Economism barred the way to Lenin’s conclusions. Indeed, once the Economists made the transition to ‘lending the economic struggle a political character’, Martov considered the fight against Economism already won. He therefore objected to Lenin’s restricted conception of which workers belonged in the party; even before the 1903 Congress Martov argued for an RSDLP based on the model of the West European ‘all-inclusive' parties.65
The analysis of Economism adopted by Martov and others (and now blithely accepted by Cliff as well) was far too superficial to reveal the pitfalls involved in the all-inclusive party concept. Trotsky entered the Second Congress as a firm supporter of Lenin. But he, too, ‘baulked’ at Lenin's proposal for a narrowly-defined vanguard party. In his article of 1959 (‘Trotsky on Substitutionism’), Cliff noted the reason for Trotsky’s 1903 split with Lenin : ‘… Trotsky [still] counterposed a “broadly-based party” on the model of the Western European Social Democratic parties.’ The theoretical justification for building a socialist party on an all-inclusive basis rested on the same kind of historical fatalism counterposed by Cliff himself to What Is to Be Done? – the belief, in Cliff’s words, that ‘capitalism itself inculcates a socialist consciousness in the working class’ and that What Is to Be Done's insistence on organising the fight to spread such a consciousness represented a ‘mechanical over-emphasis on organization’.66 Karl Kautsky expressed this same really naive, mechanical attitude toward the relationship between the class and its party in The Class Struggle, the popular exposition of the German Social-Democratic Party’s Erfurt Programme (1891): ‘Thus it appears that wherever an independent Labour party is formed it must sooner or later exhibit socialist tendencies; if not socialist in the beginning, it must [inevitably] become so in the end.’
And in repudiating it later on, Trotsky again pointed to the theoretical roots of his early opposition to Lenin’s party-building methods: ‘I began with the radically wrong perspective that the course of the revolution and the pressure of the proletarian masses would ultimately force [the entire RSDLP] to follow the same [revolutionary] road.’68
The rise of Economism had already proven to Lenin that such thinking was bankrupt and that a party whose structure and perspectives were based on such thinking was doomed repeatedly to succumb to opportunism. The failure of the other members of lskra’s Editorial Board to draw these lessons from the Economist experience – that is, their failure to see any farther in 1903 than Tony Cliff is able to see even in 1975 – laid the basis for their hostility toward and split from Lenin at the Second Congress.
Cliff’s attacks upon What Is to Be Done? lay bare his actual attitude toward the ideas for which Lenin fought in 1903. Duncan Hallas, Cliff’s enthusiastic reviewer and co-thinker, makes that attitude even more explicit. In the article in International Socialism already quoted (where Cliff’s Lenin is praised as a ‘manual for revolutionaries’), Halls congratulates Cliff for helping to expose various ‘misunderstandings’ commonly encountered ‘about the What Is to Be Done? type of organisation’. Hallas is particularly amused by the ‘comic misunderstanding’ which ‘used to crop up every now and then in disputes about recruitment’.
Just what was this comic misunderstanding? ‘It is that the reason Lenin favoured a restricted membership was to ensure “a high political level” amongst that membership…’ Moreover, Hallas does not know which is funnier – the belief that Lenin favoured restricting party membership in order to guarantee ‘a high political level’ or the further ‘misunderstanding’ that Lenin did so in order ‘that everything could be most democratically decided and the leadership subject to more effective control by the membership’. To believe that Lenin desired a high political level among party members, according to Hallas, is patently ridiculous. ‘A more absurd proposition would be difficult to imagine,’ he says. ‘The Tsarist police ensured that party members had a high level of commitment; the ‘high political level’ is a myth, if it is taken to mean – as it usually is – a knowledge of the Marxist texts and the history of the movement.’70 In Hallas Cliff has found a reviewer closely in tune with the spirit and the letter of Cliff’s biography of Lenin. Hallas’s scorn for this ‘absurd proposition’ merely reflects Cliff’s contempt for Lenin’s emphasis on reaching, and recruiting and educating the ‘working-class intelligentsia’ who ‘study, study, study, and turn themselves into conscious Social-Democrats’.
The first appearance of the Second Congress of the division between future Bolsheviks and Mensheviks was caused by just this question – as expressed in the famous dispute over paragraph one of the proposed party rules. Lenin demanded that membership be limited exclusively to such individuals ‘who recognise the party’s programme and support it by material means and by personal participation in one of the party’s organizations’. Martov disagreed; he wanted to cast the net of membership wider. Members should accept the party programme but need only support that programme ‘by regular personal association under the direction of one of the party organizations’. (Note that both formulas require acceptance, much less knowledge, of at least one ‘Marxist text’ – ie, the RSDLP programme!)
In the ensuing debate, it quickly became clear that the dispute over how to formulate paragraph one in fact reflected deep-going differences over exactly who should and who should not be permitted into the party – ie, who should be given the right to represent the party publicly and who should have the power to join in shaping the party’s policies.
What was Martov's line of thinking? He was for greater ‘elasticity’ in defining Party membership, he said, because he held that ‘The more widespread the title of Party member, the better. We could only rejoice if every striker, every demonstrator, answering for his actions [before a tsarist tribunal], could proclaim himself a Party member.’71
The party had to be as broad as possible, had to reflect the views of the entire class as closely as possible, if it wanted to express the needs and experiences of that class. ‘Our Party is the conscious spokesman of an unconscious process,’ said Martov.72 Lenin disagreed. Martov's striving for ‘elasticity’, Lenin argued, would debase the party with backward elements, would dilute the much-ridiculed ‘high political level’ of its vanguard elements: ‘And in the period of Party life that we are now passing through it is just this “elasticity” that undoubtedly opens the door to all elements of confusion, vacillation, and opportunism... The need to safeguard the firmness of the Party’s line and the purity of its principles has now become particularly urgent, for, with the restoration of its unity, the Party will recruit into its ranks a great many unstable elements, whose number will increase with the growth of the Party.’73
Cliff does quote from this speech of Lenin’s – but not the passage reproduced above. (Perhaps there was not enough room in his book?) He tailors the speech in a way that makes Lenin champion a restricted party membership simply to guard against tsarist infiltration and repression.74
Lenin’s most definitive views on the membership dispute were set forward in the aftermath of the Congress in the book One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. Once again, however, Cliff sees fit to ignore the opinions advanced by Lenin there. And once again, let us rescue Lenin from his censor.
What did Lenin say in One Step Forward… on this subject? Citing Martov’s desire to allow every striker into the Party, Lenin replied incredulously: ‘Is that so? Every striker should have the right to proclaim himself a Party member? In this statement Comrade Martov instantly carries his mistake to the point of absurdity, by lowering Social-Democracy to the level of mere strike-making...’
Certainly, he adds, ‘strikes are one of the most profound and powerful manifestations’ of the class struggle. But the level of consciousness necessary to down tools is not as high as that required of a Marxist, a Social-Democrat: ‘[W]e should be tail-enders if we were to identify this primary form of struggle, which ipso facto is no more than a trade unionist form, with the all-round and conscious Social-Democratic struggle. We should be opportunistically legitimitising a patent falsehood if we were to allow every striker the right to “proclaim himself a Party member”, for in the majority of cases such a “proclamation” would be false. We should be indulging in complacent day-dreaming if we tried to assure ourselves and others that every striker can be a Social-Democrat and a member of the Social-Democratic Party, in face of the infinite disunity, oppression, and stultification which under capitalism is bound to weigh down upon such very wide sections of the “untrained”, unskilled workers.’75
Strikes require no more than an unconscious (or spontaneous, or embryonically-conscious) acceptance of the conflict between labour and capital. It is this alone which (in Cliff’s words again) ‘capitalism itself inculcates... in the working class’. But to obtain true class-consciousness, socialist consciousness, we need more than merely the willingness to join in – and the experiences and understanding gleaned from – strikes alone.
Lenin explained. “‘Our Party is the conscious spokesman of the unconscious process” [Martov said]. Exactly. And for that very reason it is wrong to want “every striker” to have the right to call himself a Party member, for if “every striker” were not only a spontaneous expression of the powerful class instinct and of the class struggle which is leading inevitably to the social revolution, but a conscious expression of that process, then ... then our Party would forthwith and at once embrace the whole working class, and, consequently, would at once put an end to bourgeois society as a whole. If it is to be a conscious spokesman in fact, the Party must be able to work out organisational relations which will ensure a definite level of consciousness and systematically raise this level.’76
Martov’s concept of Party membership, therefore, was one which precisely refused to demand of prospective members any ‘definite level of consciousness’, particularly as measured by their knowledge and acceptance of ‘Marxist texts’ (like the Party’s own programme). One of Lenin’s supporters at the Congress (Pavlovich) made this point explicitly, noting: ‘If we are to go the way of Martov, we should first of all delete the clause on [insisting on new members] accepting the programme, for before a programme can be accepted it must be mastered and understood… Acceptance of the programme presupposes a fairly high level of political consciousness.’77
Indeed it does. It was precisely to facilitate the mastering, understanding, and acceptance of that programme that the original Iskra team had set itself the task of ‘creating a common literature, consistent in principle and capable of ideologically uniting revolutionary Social-Democracy’ – in short, of creating stacks of ‘Marxist texts’. Was all that work without practical purpose, unrelated after all to the programme and therefore the membership requirements of the party which Iskra was fighting to build?
If Martov (and now Cliff and Hallas) could not see the connection between setting high political standards of party membership and defending the integrity of the party’s programme, more consistent supporters of Martov (the hard right-wingers Akimov and Lieber) certainly could.
Lenin reminded the RSDLP membership: ‘That Comrade Pavlovich’s warning regarding the programme was not superfluous became apparent at once, during that very same sitting. Comrades Akimov and Lieber, who secured the adoption of Comrade Martov’s formulation [on party membership criteria], at once betrayed their true nature by demanding … that in the case of the programme, too, only platonic acceptance, acceptance only of its “basic principle”, should be required (for “membership” in the Party).’78
Lenin’s opponents at the Congress denounced his stand in favour of a politically restricted party membership as a logical outgrowth of What Is to Be Done? and its alleged disdain for the intellectual powers of the working class, its fundamental repudiation of the proletariat’s ability to reach class consciousness.
Lenin replied that, on the contrary, it was precisely the Leninists who were fighting against debasing the concept of Social-Democratic workers, just as Lenin himself had fought in What Is to Be Done?: ‘Lenin [say my critics] takes no account whatever of the fact that the workers, too, have a share in the formation of an ideology. Is this so? Have I not said time and again that the shortage of fully class-conscious workers, worker-leaders, and worker-revolutionaries is, in fact, the greatest deficiency of our movement? Have I not said there that the training of such worker-revolutionaries must be our immediate task? Is there no mention there of the importance of developing a trade-union movement and creating a special trade-union literature? Is not a desperate struggle waged there against every attempt to lower the level of the advanced workers to that of the masses, or of the average workers?’79
This defence of What Is to Be Done? is naturally left out of Cliff’s account of the 1903 Congress’s proceedings. Its inclusion would have helped to show that the views expressed in that pamphlet and the views for which Lenin still fought in 1903 were indivisible.
This, then, was the broad theoretical background to the struggle at the Congress cited by Cliff over democratic centralism. For Cliff, the terms of that dispute all boil down to the following: ‘The harsh necessity for democratic centralism within the revolutionary working-class party is derived from the harsh imperatives of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Martov and Trotsky baulked at this.’80
This explanation of democratic-centralism is woefully incomplete. Moreover, it completely fails to identify the central dispute between Martov and Trotsky, on the one hand, and Lenin, on the other.
The necessity for democratic centralism springs from the role which the party must play throughout the class struggle, of which the proletarian dictatorship is only one (albeit critically important) phase. The party exists in order to organise the political struggle of the proletarian vanguard against those elements within the proletariat who act as carriers for bourgeois consciousness and programmes. This is true because capitalism does not automatically bring socialist consciousness to the working class but only provides the working class with the experiences from which they can derive a socialist consciousness: To make certain that the class does, in fact, derive the correct conclusions from its experience is a very, very difficult task. It is no less difficult decades prior to the proletarian dictatorship than it is on the very eve of the insurrection; in fact, in some ways the job is the hardest the further away is the seizure of power.
To carry out this task at all times requires a party of a specific type. It must be ideologically defined along revolutionary Maxist lines. It must recruit only those who adhere to that ideological platform as presented in the party programme. It functions best when its members are the freest to discuss party policy among themselves – ie, when the collective mind of the proletarian vanguard is able to think freely. Thus the importance of inner-party democracy. Part and parcel of that democracy, however, is centralism: the right of the party majority to decide party policy and to impose its will on the organisation as a whole, including its leaders. Democracy is meaningless unless the majority has the right to enforce its decisions; otherwise you have not democracy but anarchy. Moreover, the party cannot exercise any kind of decisive leadership within the proletariat as a whole unless it marshals its resources to put forward and fight for one consistent programme, not a multitude of conflicting ones. The party must be the class’s teacher. Who respects, much less depends upon, a teacher who provides a score of answers to the question ‘How much is two plus two?’ Since the party teaches not pedantically but in the course of the class struggle, the importance of party discipline in external work is magnified tremendously. Democratic centralism is the expression of these imperatives.
Commenting upon the disputes over this question at the 1903 Congress, Lenin showed the relationship between democratic centralism and the overall nature, role, and composition of the Party: ‘[T]he stronger our Party organisations, consisting of real Social-Democrats, the less wavering and instability there is within the Party, the broader, more varied, richer, and more fruitful will be the Party’s influence on the elements of the working-class masses surrounding it and guided by it. The Party, as the vanguard of the working class, must not be confused, after all, with the entire class.’81
We repeat: the dictatorship of the proletariat is ‘derived’ from the fact that socialism can be attained only through uncompromising class struggle. It is from the nature of this class struggle (and from the fact that the proletariat does not automatically obtain class consciousness in the course of it) that the need for a democratic-centralist party is derived. By isolating the dictatorship from the general class struggle of which it is in fact only one moment, and by pointing to ‘the harsh imperatives’ of that dictatorship as the fundamental reason for imposing democratic centralism on the party, Cliff has seriously distorted Lenin’s viewpoint.
This misrepresentation is directly bound up with Cliff’s general disagreement with Lenin over the nature of class consciousness and how it is reached by the proletariat and, therefore, with the role which the revolutionary party plays in the class struggle. For Cliff, the party can play little or no role in bringing the class to self-consciousness. The ‘harsh necessity for democratic centralism’ must in his view, therefore, arise from something separate and apart from the day-to-day waging of the class struggle. For Lenin, the Party was a weapon with which the proletariat’s vanguard elements fought against the bourgeoisie’s ideological hegemony over the proletariat (and thereby its exploitation of the proletariat). Hence democratic centralism was only one characteristic of that weapon, and the value of that facet was every bit as great when the party was first forming as when it was already in control of state power. That is why Lenin fought so doggedly in 1903 for a party with a clear programme, a high political level, and a strong discipline. All these were necessary not merely to exercise a class dictatorship but just as much in 1903… ‘in the period of Party life we are now passing through’ when ‘the need to safeguard the firmness of the Party’s line and the purity of its principles has... become particularly urgent “since” with the restoration of its unity, the Party will recruit into its ranks a great many unstable elements, whose number will increase with the growth of the Party.’82
This is what made Trotsky and Martov ‘baulk’ in 1903. As we have seen, they both at the time (and Martov for the rest of his life) adhered to a mechanical interpretation of the relationship between the class struggle, class consciousness, and the proletarian party. They both looked not to the party, its programme, its composition, and its rules to bring self-consciousness to the class but saw both the consciousness of the class and the nature and composition of the party as simple reflexes of the class struggle.
Trotsky, thus, objected strenuously to Lenin’s demand for strict Party rules with which to combat opportunism within the Party. This demand seemed to him voluntarist, mechanical, undialectical. Cliff quotes Trotsky to this effect but does not understand the significance of what he is quoting: ‘I do not believe [Trotsky said] that you can put statutory exorcism on opportunism. I do not give the statutes any sort of mystical interpretation... Opportunism is produced by many more complex causes than one or another clause in the rules; it is brought about by the relative level of development of bourgeois democracy and the proletariat.’83
How did Lenin reply? Cliff does not tell us. Some pages earlier he finds ample space to show us how Lenin could express contempt for unnecessarily lengthy Party rules, mountains of red tape, and ‘bureaucratic formulas’.84 He neglects to tell us how Lenin defended his own conception of the party rules presented at the 1903 Congress. Thus Cliff’s readers are once again denied the opportunity to view Lenin’s understanding of the role of the party and, consequently, of the way in which it must be organised and structured.
In reply to Trotsky, Lenin wrote: ‘The point is not that clauses in the rules may produce opportunism, but that with their help a more or less trenchant weapon against opportunism can be forged. The deeper its causes, the more trenchant should this weapon be. Therefore, to justify a formulation which opens the door to opportunism on the grounds that opportunism has “deep causes” is tailism of the first water.’85
If Cliff is sheepish in reporting the disputes and exploring the significance of the 1903 RSDLP Congress, he is positively expansive in his discussions of the views expressed by Lenin on party-building during and after the year 1905. It is Cliff’s belief that in this year Lenin effectively discarded the mechanical, undialectical, and un-Marxist views on party and class expressed in What Is to Be Done?. Cliff believes that the position taken by Lenin in particular at the Third Bolshevik Congress of the RSDLP in 1905 is qualitatively superior to because fundamentally different from the views he expressed in 1902. Indeed, says Cliff, Lenin had to war against his older and undialectical views continually: Now ‘the unfortunate Lenin had to persuade his supporters to oppose the line proposed in What be Done?’86
To make it clear that Lenin’s 1905 views represented not merely a modification of the older views or an adaptation of the older views to new circumstances, Cliff insists: ‘On the idea that socialist consciousness could be brought in only from the “outside”, and that the working class could spontaneously achieve only trade-union consciousness, Lenin now formulated his conclusions in terms which were the exact opposite of those of What Is to Be Done? In an article called “The Reorganisation of the Party,” written in November 1905, he says bluntly: “The working class is instinctively, spontaneously Social-Democratic.”’87
Cliff bolsters this assertion by saying that: ‘A few years later, in an article commemorating the 1905 revolution, Lenin goes even further in expressing the view that capitalism itself inculcates a socialist consciousness in the working class.”
And just what policy was Lenin now proposing in defence of which it was necessary to repudiate What Is to Be Done? According to Cliff, Lenin now declared in favour of throwing open wide the doors of the party to the entire mass of the working class.
As Cliff recounts it: ‘[I]n a pamphlet called New Times [sic] and New Forces, he called even more vehemently for the party to be opened up… At the third Congress, in the spring of 1905, Lenin and Bogdanov proposed a resolution urging the party to open up its gates wide to workers….’89
And further: ‘During this period he [Lenin] called continually for the party to be opened up to the mass of workers…
‘So extreme was Lenin’s intention to have the Bolshevik Party ‘opened up to the mass of workers,’ Cliff argues, that Lenin even demanded that ‘The party doors should be wide open even to religious workers, if they were opponents of the employers and the government.’90 Such is Cliff's rendition.
Now let us examine what Lenin really wrote. We begin with the context. The year 1905 witnessed a massive working-class upsurge in Russia. In the course of that upsurge, the working class formed councils (Soviets) of democratically elected representatives which conducted their struggle. This was unquestionably the high-water mark of mass working-class activity up until that time. It was very much the result of the working-class masses (and especially their most politically advanced elements) drawing lessons from their previous struggles against employers and the autocracy. The previous decade of tireless propagandistic and agitational activity of the Social Democracy played an important role in assisting the masses to draw correct lessons from those experiences. Ever-larger numbers of workers learned in mere months, weeks, and days that the Marxist vanguard had been fundamentally correct in their prognoses and prescriptions during that decade as well as in 1905 itself. As a result of this process, the number of Social-Democratic-minded workers was growing at an unprecedented pace in Russia, although the manner in which they absorbed their Social-Democracy certainly differed from the manner which predominated during earlier years of relative social quiescence.
In ‘New Tasks and New Forces,’ Lenin explained that ‘The development of a mass working-class movement in Russia in connection with the development of Social-Democracy’ is marked by ‘transitions’: ‘Each of these transitions was prepared, on the one hand, by socialist thought working mainly in one direction, and on the other, by profound changes that had taken place in the conditions of life and in the whole mentality of the working class, as well as by the fact that increasingly wider strata of the working class were roused to more conscious and active struggle.’91
The conditions and stepped-up rate at which these strata are coming to Social-Democratic consciousness in 1905, said Lenin, was one aspect of this transition, in which ‘at the present time far greater significance in the matter of [political] training and education attaches to the military operations, which teach the untrained precisely and entirely in our sense. We must remember that our “doctrinaire” faithfulness to Marxism is now being reinforced by the march of revolutionary events, which is everywhere furnishing object lessons to the masses and that all these lessons confirm our dogma.’92
This new situation produced what Lenin referred to as the ‘new forces’ available for swelling the ranks of Social-Democracy. This was in addition to the number of workers who had been Social-Democrats subjectively even before 1905 but who could not safely enroll in the party per se because of the former effectiveness of the tsarist repression. The newly (if temporarily) won freedom to organize added these individuals to the ranks of Lenin’s potential ‘new forces’ as well. That same freedom, in addition, made it necessary for the party to draw those workers (Social-Democratic workers) into direct action under the guidance of the party and into direct control over the party apparatus and policy, to shoulder the party’s ‘new tasks’.
This is how Lenin appraised the developments within the working class. In what way does this represent a repudiation of What Is to Be Done? Cliff quotes Lenin’s observation in the article ‘The Reorganisation of the Party’ to the effect that ‘The working class is instinctively spontaneously Social-Democratic,’ and concludes that this observation embodied a rejection of the view that ‘socialist consciousness could be brought in only from the “outside,” and that the working class could spontaneously achieve only trade-union consciousness.’ Cliff implies that this new discovery of Lenin’s was the reason why he altered his approach to recruitment into the party. This is totally incorrect.
To begin with, Cliff has butchered the quotation from Lenin. Where Cliff chooses to place a full stop and complete Lenin’s sentence, Lenin himself preferred to place a comma and then to complete his thought. Thus he actually said this: ‘The working class is instinctively, spontaneously Social-Democratic, and more than ten years of work put in by Social-Democracy has done a great deal to transform this spontaneity into consciousness.’93
This looks a bit different, doesn't it? Far from being a repudiation of Lenin’s earlier views, the passage triumphantly misquoted by Cliff only restates them – and records the successes achieved by the vanguard which guided itself by them. The point is not merely to expose Cliff’s tactics (deplorable as they are) but to really understand what Lenin is saying here. Ten years of work put in by the vanguard was now, in combination with the new ‘object lessons’ provided by ‘the march of revolutionary events’, yielding unprecedented numbers of workers who were Social-Democratic not merely in their unconscious yearnings and strivings but in their consciousness. This is the fact upon which Lenin bases his new policy on recruitment into the Party.
Next, we have to examine Lenin’s evaluation of his already-existing party apparatus in 1905. This evaluation was the second factor which entered into the formulation of his party-building policies in that year.
In this regard, the holding of the Bolshevik Third RSDLP Congress is very important. That Congress represented an organisational breach with Menshevism and thus the establishment formally of a party standing on clear and thoroughly revolutionary principles. This was now possible, moreover, only as the result of a protracted ideological war with Menshevism (and before that, Economism), a war which had driven the principles of Bolshevism deeply into the consciousness of the Bolshevik cadres. In consequence, the Marxist vanguard was far more ideologically and organisationally stable in 1905 than it had been at any time in the past and was therefore more resistant to the dangers of opportunist infection than ever before. With such an organisation it was possible to undertake tasks and responsibilities which could (and in the past actually did) wreck organisations with less stability. The disintegration of the vanguard into the ranks of the mass (ie, as in the case of Economism’s birth) would present itself as a danger to the Bolsheviks now, wrote Lenin, only ‘if we showed any inclination towards demagogy, if we lacked party principles Programme, tactical rules, organisational experience) entirely, or if those principles were feeble and shaky. But the fact is that no such “ifs” exist!’94
This sentence of Lenin’s discussion of the question Cliff, too, quotes. But in place of the two sentences which followed it in Lenin’s original article, Cliff inserts three dots before resuming the text. Perhaps this is because Cliff does not approve of the point which Lenin was making in those sentences?
Here is the material deleted by Cliff: ‘We Bolsheviks have never shown any inclination towards demagogy. On the contrary, we have always fought resolutely, openly, and straight-forwardly against the slightest attempts at demagogy; we have demanded class-consciousness from those joining the Party, we have insisted on the tremendous importance of continuity in the Party’s development, we have preached discipline and demanded that every Party member be trained in one or another of the Party organisations.’95
Because the Bolsheviks had consistently demanded discipline and class consciousness from those joining the ranks (in other words, because Lenin had always insisted upon ‘a high political level’ in the membership), Lenin could now point out that ‘Social Democracy has established a name for itself, has created a trend and has built up cadres of Social-Democratic workers.’ These gave the party ‘a steadfast and solid core of Social-Democrats’ which could withstand a great deal of alien-class pressure.96
Now what was the party policy constructed by Lenin which rested upon these pillars? We have already quoted Cliff’s summary of it: the party must be ‘opened up to the mass of workers’. Lenin's actual policy was rather different, however.
Certainly, Lenin was now for drastically increasing the number of workers included in the membership and the leadership of the party. But he was talking about the class-conscious workers, the consciously Social-Democratic workers. It is not possible to read ‘Lenin’s writings in this period conscientiously without acknowledging this fact.
Even Tony Cliff is unable to produce a single quotation from Lenin which calls for the kind of politically indiscriminate recruitment of workers which Cliff claims Lenin desired. Lenin was naturally anxious to transform the Bolshevik organisation into a workers’ party – but he aimed to accomplish this by drawing into the party the growing number of class-conscious workers, who had to be identified with wartime criteria.
This is the message of the article ‘New Tasks and New Forces’. It demands that the party recognise that there are new Social-Democratic forces arising daily in the midst of the revolutionary upsurge. It demands that the party find ways to integrate these forces into its ranks. To be sure, Lenin says, the new forces lack in experience, training, and education. This is because the circumstances in which they are arising are so different from the non-revolutionary years of the past. But all this means is that the party must address itself to the new needs of the worker-socialists. In essence, Lenin is instructing the Bolshevik party in the new manner in which it must apply its long-standing insistence on being the party of the working-class vanguard to a fast-moving revolutionary situation:
‘A revolutionary epoch is to the Social-Democrats what war-time is to an army. We must broaden the cadres of our army, we must advance them from peace strength to war strength, we must mobilise the reservists, recall the furloughed, and form new auxiliary corps, units, and services. We must not forget that in war we necessarily and inevitably have to put up with less trained replacements, and to speed up and simplify the promotion of soldiers to officers’ rank.’97
In order that he not be misunderstood, Lenin underlined in the same article the importance of resisting all pressures on the party to lower its political guard. The party must not now cease to speak and act as the vanguard. It must not become the voice of the more backward, petty-bourgeois-minded workers. This, he pointed out, was the way that the Mensheviks were reacting to the new situation, relapsing into Economist, tailist formulations of party tasks.
‘Once again [Lenin wrote], excessive (and very often foolish) repetition of the word “class” and the belittlement of the Party’s tasks in regard to the class are used to justify the fact that Social-Democracy is lagging behind the urgent needs of the proletariat. The slogan “workers’ independent activity” is again being misused by people who worship the lower forms of activity and ignore the higher forms of really Social-Democratic independent activity, the really revolutionary initiative of the proletariat Lenin demands the creation of hundreds of new party organisations into which the socialist workers must be organised. He emphatically does not call for bringing huge non-Social-Democratic masses into the party proper.
Rather, such people must be organised into separate auxiliary organizations: ‘Let all such [newly-organized workers’] circles, except those that are avowedly non-Social-Democratic, either directly join the Party or align themselves with the Party. In the latter event we must not demand that they accept our programme or that they necessarily enter into organisational relations with us… these circles of sympathisers [will tend] under the impact of events to be transformed at first into democratic assistants and then into convinced members of the Social-Democratic working-class party.’99
Later that year, Lenin continues to elaborate the viewpoint contained in ‘New Tasks and New Forces’. The committee-men within the Bolshevik party resist Lenin’s proposals, fearing that the introduction into the organisation of such untrained workers will mean diluting the party’s programme and principles. In reply, Lenin points out once again that the workers being brought into the party will be overwhelmingly Social-Democratic. We have already quoted part of this discussion, in which Lenin is pointing to the existence of a firm party cadre as a guarantee against the party’s being swamped by backwardness.
Here is the entire passage: ‘Let us not exaggerate the dangers, comrades. Social-Democracy has established a name for itself, has created a trend and has built up cadres of Social-Democratic workers. And now that the heroic proletariat has proved by deeds its readiness to fight consistently and in a body for clearly understood aims, to fight in a purely Social-Democratic spirit, it would be simply ridiculous to doubt that the workers who belong to our Party, or who will join it tomorrow at the invitation of the Central Committee, will be Social-Democrats in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. The working class is instinctively, spontaneously Social-Democratic, and more than ten years of work put in by Social-Democracy has done a great deal to transform this spontaneity into consciousness.’100
Yes, there will be the one per cent which is not Social-Democratic at all. In a time of mass recruitment, such ‘leakage’ is unavoidable. And yes, even the ninety-nine per cent will be politically unstable because only newly and rapidly won to Social-Democracy. Lenin’s reaction was not to celebrate this instability much less to demand that ‘the party doors should be wide open even to religious workers, if they were opponents of the employers and the government’ (as Cliff alleges).
No, Lenin pointed once more to the hard-won possession of a firm Bolshevik cadre who were well-educated, politically developed, selectively recruited, and time-tested. This cadre would safeguard the party’s principles during the difficult new turn in party policy: ‘Don't invent bugaboos, comrades! Don't forget that in every live and growing party there will always be elements of instability, vacillation, and wavering. But these elements can be influenced, and they will submit to the influence of the steadfast and solid core of Social-Democrats.’101
And once again, Lenin makes clear that the Bolshevik Party ‘calls upon all worker Social-Democrats to join such [new Party] organisations.’102
Now in fact there were people who looked around in 1905 and concluded that the time had come to throw party doors wide open to all workers. These same people, like Cliff today, read Lenin’s ‘New Tasks and New Forces' and concluded that Lenin actually agreed with them, that Lenin had sheepishly abandoned the views he formulated in 1902 and 1903.
These people were the Mensheviks. Cliff could have helped his readers to understand Lenin’s 1905 views on the party by discussing the Menshevik outlook in that year and the polemic which Lenin conducted against it. Since Cliff prefers to avoid the subject, we will round out the picture here.
In an article aptly entitled ‘The Guilty Blaming the Innocent’, in April, 1905, Lenin set the record straight on who was advocating what policy. He wrote: ‘[The Menshevik] Iskra says that the editorial in issue number 9 of Vperyod, “New Tasks and New Forces”, by insisting on the necessity of considerably increasing the number of Party organisations of every description, contradicts the spirit of Clause 1 of the Rules as formulated by Lenin, who, in defending his idea at the  Congress, had urged the necessity of narrowing the concept of the Party. The objection raised by Iskra can be recommended as a high-school problem in logic to train young people in debating. The Bolsheviks have always held that the Party should be limited to the sum-total of Party organisations and that the number of these organizations should be increased...’
Iskra, Lenin explained, could not distinguish between expanding the size (‘framework’) of the party and lowering the political level (‘the concept’) of the party: ‘The new Iskra confounds extension of the Party’s framework with extension of the concept of the Party… To explain this perplexing riddle, we shall give a plain, easy illustration: let us assume for the sake of simplicity an army consisting exclusively of men of a single arm of the service; the manpower of the army must be narrowed down to a total of men who have actually proved themselves able to shoot, with none allowed to get past with general phrases or verbal assurances of military fitness; after that, every effort must be made to increase the number of men who can pass the rifleman’s test. Aren’t you beginning to see a glimmer of light, gentlemen of the new Iskra?’
Iskra, said Lenin, attempts to prove its case regarding Lenin’s alleged change of views on who belongs in the party by confusing the meaning of certain passages in ‘New Tasks and New Forces’. All this confusion-mongering was aimed at justifying their own genuinely-and consistently-opportunist attitude: ‘Is it not clear that Iskra is simply juggling, confounding what was “previously needed” for joining the Party with “what is now permitted” for aligned groups?’
Like Cliff, the Mensheviks ignored Lenin’s distinction between expanding the party itself and creating new ‘auxiliary’ organisations for non-Party people. All this was calculated simply to blur the clear line which had always – and still – separated Bolshevism from Menshevism, which currently distinguished the Bolshevik V peryod from the Menshevik’s new Iskra.
Lenin directed his readers’ attention back to that clear line of division: V peryod’s slogan [this year] was: Organise new forces for the new tasks into Party organisations, or, at least, into organisations aligned with the Party. Iskra’s slogan is: “Open the doors wider!”
The one says: “Take new marksmen into your regiments, organize those who are learning to shoot into auxiliary units.” The others say: “Open the doors wider! Let all comers enroll themselves in the army, any way they please!”’103
‘Open the doors wider!’ It is clear, now, how Cliff has become confused about Lenin’s party-building prescription in 1905. He has once again confused Lenin with his opponents. Promising to show the history and principles of Bolshevism, he has instead shown us the thinking which gave rise to and sustained Menshevism.
We began by emphasising the importance of studying the history of Bolshevism. That study is essential if the present generation of revolutionary socialists is truly to stand on Lenin’s shoulders.
As we have shown, Tony Cliff’s contribution to this necessary study is overwhelmingly negative. Cliff has consistently misinterpreted or openly polemised against Lenin’s central ideas in a fundamentally Menshevik spirit. On every key question and at every critical historical juncture, Cliff has misrepresented the record of Bolshevism – regarding the character and causes of Economism; the nature, methods, and purpose of Lenin’s Iskra; the centrality of the advanced workers in the construction of the proletarian party; the defining viewpoint and lasting value of What Is to Be Done?; the reasons for and political meaning of the 1903 split in the RSDLP; and, finally, Lenin’s response to the events of 1905. Cliff’s anti-Leninist views on these subjects were foreshadowed in his own previous writings; they are also the foundations on which he has constructed his own organisation, the International Socialists. The IS of both Great Britain and the U.S. stand squarely in the tradition of the Economists and the Mensheviks.
The need to study in detail the construction and tempering of the Bolshevik Party, therefore, remains before us. Whoever undertakes to publish such a study can learn more than one lesson from Cliff’s failure. For one thing, a serious study of Bolshevism will have to ground itself in a far more careful and honest survey of Lenin’s own writings than has gone into Cliff’s Lenin.
In addition, it will have to take much more seriously than has Tony Cliff one of Cliff’s own warnings, ‘If [Lenin] is cited on any tactical or organizational question, the concrete issues which the movement was facing at the time must be absolutely clear.”104
But most importantly of all, the author of this necessary work will have to be politically in tune with his subject. It is simply not possible to understand Lenin if you cannot see his world through his eyes. You cannot do this if you begin, as did Tony Cliff, with political premises fundamentally alien to those of Lenin himself. Cliff’s book provides fresh evidence to support a conclusion reached by Leon Trotsky some fifty years ago: ‘One can understand and recognise Lenin for what he is only after becoming a Bolshevik.’105
Bruce Landau February 1976
1. Duncan Hallas, ‘Building the Revolutionary Party,’ International Socialism 79, June 1975, p17.
2. Tony Cliff, Rosa Luxemburg (London: Socialist Review Publishing Co, 1969, 1968), p41. Emphasis added.
3. Ibid, p45. Emphasis added.
4. Ibid, p49.
5. Loc cit.
6. Ibid, p48.
7. Ibid (1959 edition), p54.
8. Ibid (1968 edition), p54.
9. Cliff, ‘Trotsky on Substitutionism,’ in Party and Class, pp26-27; originally published in International Socialism 2, autumn 1960. Original emphasis.
10. Ibid. Emphasis added.
11. Trotsky, My Life (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), p162.
12. Cliff, ‘Trotsky on Substitutionism,’ p27.
13. Trotsky, Lenin: Notes for a Biographer (New York: Capricorn, 1971), p31.
14. Cliff, Lenin, p48.
15. Ibid, p59.
16. Ibid, p60.
17. Theodore Dan, The Origins of Bolshevism (New York: Schocken, 1970), PP218-219.
18. Martov, Zapiski Sotsialdemocrata, emphasis added. (Quoted in Dan, p198.)
19. Grigorii Zinoviev, History of the Bolshevik Party: From the Beginnings to February 1917 (London: New Park Publications, 1973), p69.
20. Quoted in Dan, p218.
21. Quoted in Leopold Haimson, The Russian Marxists and the Origins of Bolshevism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966), p123.
22. Ibid, p122.
23. Lenin, ‘Our Fundamental Tasks’, 1899. Collected Works [English edition translated from the fourth Russian edition; hereafter abbreviated as CW], Vol 4, p216. Emphasis added. (Quoted in Cliff, pp79-82.)
24. Ibid, p217.
25. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, 1902, CW 5, p378. Original emphasis.
26. Cliff, p82.
27. Lenin, CW 5, pp386, 387. Original emphasis.
28. For this evaluation of the RSDLP cadres and the tasks which Lenin posed for them on that basis, see Lenin, ‘The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats’, 1897, CW 2, pp328-329, 330.
29. Cliff, p59.
30. Lenin, CW 4, p278.
31. Cliff takes note of this fact (as on pp42-45) but seems able to understand it only as more proof of ‘an excessive emphasis on theory’ per se.
32. Lenin, CW 4, pp279-280.
33. Ibid, pp280-281. The Revolutionary Socialist League of the US, which shares Cliff’s understanding of Bolshevik history, dismisses ‘A Retrograde Trend’ and Lenin’s orientation to the working-class intelligentsia as inherently centrist and labour-aristocratic. The absurdity of such a characterisation of Lenin’s views is obvious from a simple reading of the passages from Lenin cited here. For a more extensive discussion of the subject of the working-class intelligentsia and the concrete application of Lenin’s party-building views to the tasks of Leninists today, see the collection ‘In Defence of Bolshevism’ in the Revolutionary Marxist Papers, nos. I, 2, and 3, published by the Revolutionary Marxist Committee of the US.
34. Lenin, ‘Apropos of the Profession de Foi,’ CW 4, p292.
35. Ibid, p291.
36. Ibid, pp291-292.
37. Lenin, CW 4, pp281-283. See also Lenin’s ‘Preface to the Pamphlet May Days in Kharkov’, CW 4, p361.
38. The RSDLP was formally founded at its first Congress in 1898, but as a result of police persecution it remained an organisational fiction until 1903.
39. Lenin, CW 4, pp354-355.
40. Lenin, ‘Preface to the Collection Twelve Years’, 1908, CW 13, p104.
41. Lenin, CW 5, p386.
42. Lenin, CW 5, p386n.
43. Ibid, p374.
44. Ibid, pp382-383.
45. Ibid., p384. *Here Lenin introduces a footnote which we will discuss below.
46. Ibid, pp375-376.
47. Eg, Lenin, ‘Preface to the Collection Twelve Years,’ CW 13, pp106-108. Here Lenin scores Plekhanov for treating What Is To Be Done? in the same manner as has Cliff – focusing on the ‘from the outside’ formula in order to distort the meaning of the pamphlet as a whole. Plekhanov’s attacks, writes Lenin, were ‘based on phrases torn out of context, on particular expressions which I had not quite adroitly or precisely formulated. Moreover, he ignored the general content of the whole spirit of my pamphlet What Is To Be Done?...’ See also Trotsky’s Stalin and its reference to the idea that ‘revolutionary class-consciousness was brought to the proletariat from the outside, by Marxist intellectuals’. Trotsky notes, ‘The author of “What To Do?” himself subsequently acknowledged the biased nature, and therewith the erroneousness, of his theory, which he had parenthetically interjected as a battery in the battle against “Economism” and its deference to the elemental nature of the labour movement.’ (New York: Grossett and Dunlap, copyright 1941; p58.)
48. Lenin, CW 5, p384n.
49. Lenin, CW 5, p450.
50. Lenin, CW 5, p451.
51. Lenin, CW 5, p470.
52 Lenin, CW 5, p500.
53. Cliff, pp79-80.
54. Ibid, p80.
55. See Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1973), pp196-7.
56. Cliff, pp80-81.
57. Lenin, CW 4, p318. Original emphasis.
58. Ibid, p318. Emphasis added.
59. Ibid, p319. Emphasis added.
60. Ibid, p310.
61. Cliff, p81. Final emphasis added.
62. Trotsky, My Life, pp181-182.
63. Cliff, p110.
64. Israel Getzler, Martov: A Political Biography of a Russian Social Democrat (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), pp41, 50.
65. Ibid, pp68-71, 78. See also Samuel Baron, Plekhanov; The Father of Russian Marxism (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1966), p240.
66. Cliff, pp176, 82.
67. Karl Kautsky, The Class Struggle (Erfurt Programme) (New York: Norton, 1971), p191.
68. Trotsky, ‘Our Differences’, 1924, in The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975), p263.
69. One subscriber to this ‘absurd proposition’ was Leon Trotsky. He defended this proposition vigorously in the teeth of the ultimately successful attempt to lower the political level of the Russian Communist Party by throwing open its doors wide in the so-called ‘Lenin levy’ beginning in 1924. This attack on the RCP’s ‘high political level’ was aimed at providing the bureaucracy with an unquestioning membership over which it could easily elevate itself – a classic Bonapartist manoeuver. In 1931, Trotsky wrote: ‘The fundamental crime of the centrist bureaucracy in the USSR is its false position regarding the party. The Stalin faction seeks to include administratively in the ranks of the party the whole working class. The party ceases to be the vanguard, that is, the voluntary selection of the most advanced, the most conscious, the most devoted, and the most active workers. The party is fused with the class as it is and loses its power of resistance to the bureaucratic apparatus. (See Leon Trotsky on the Trade Unions [New York: Merit Publishers, 1969], p35. Stalin’s assault on what Hallas (and Cliff) regard as an absurd proposition was integrally bound up with the destruction of the Russian proletariat’s class dictatorship in the state-capitalist counter-revolution.
70. Halm, ‘Building the Party’, p18. Original emphasis.
71. Getzler, p79. Quoted also in Lenin, CW 7, p261.
72. Quoted in Lenin, CW 7, p275. 73. Lenin, ‘Second Speech in the Discussion of the Party Rules’, CW 6, p502.
74. See Cliff, pp108-109.
75. Lenin, CW 7, p262. Original emphasis.
76. Ibid, p275. Original emphasis.
77. Quoted in Ibid, p275.
78. Ibid, p276. Original emphasis.
79. Lenin, CW 6, p491.
80. Cliff, p110.
81. Lenin, CW 7, p260. Original emphasis.
82. Lenin, CW 6, p502.
83. Quoted in Cliff, p109.
84. Cliff, pp92-3.
85. Lenin, CW 7, pp273n-274n.
86. Cliff, p175. Emphasis added.
87. Cliff, p176.
88. Ibid. Emphasis added.
89. Cliff, pp172-173. The correct title of the work which Cliff refers to (not a pamphlet but a newspaper editorial) is ‘New Tasks and New Forces’.
90. Cliff, pp177-178. Emphasis added.
91. Lenin, CW 8, p211.
92. Ibid, p217.
93. Lenin, CW 10, p32. Emphasis added.
94. Ibid, p31.
95. Loc. cit. Emphasis added.
96. Ibid, p32.
97. Lenin, CW 8, p217.
98. Ibid, p212.
99. Ibid., p219-220.
100. Lenin, CW 10, p32.
101. Loc cit.
102. Ibid, p34.
103. Lenin, CW 8, pp312-313.
104. Cliff, p67.
105. Trotsky, ‘Our Differences’, p266.