On WILHELM LIEBKNECHT
Preface to the Russian Translation of W. Liebknecht’s Pamphlet: No Compromises, No Electoral Agreements
Published in 1907 in the pamphlet: W. Liebknecht, No compromises, No Electoral Agreements, by Novaya Duma, Publishers.
Lenin Collected Works, Volume 11, pages 401-407.
Liebknecht’s pamphlet, the translation of which is now offered to the Russian reader, is of special interest at the present time, on the eve of the elections to the Second Duma, when the question of electoral agreements has aroused keen interest in the workers’ party and among the liberal bourgeoisie.
We shall not dwell here on the general importance of Liebknecht’s pamphlet. The reader will have to consult Franz Mehring’s history of the German Social-Democratic movement and a number of other works by our German comrades to obtain a clear idea of its importance and to understand correctly certain passages in it which are liable to misinterpretation if divorced from the situation at the time they were written.
The important thing for us here is to note Liebknecht’s method of reasoning, to show how he approached the question of agreements, so as to help the Russian reader to make his own approach to the solution of the question that interests us, viz., that of blocs with the Cadets.
Liebknecht does not in the least deny that agreements with the bourgeois opposition parties are “useful” both from the standpoint of obtaining “seats in parliament” and from the standpoint of enlisting an “ally” (a supposed ally) against the common enemy—reaction. But the true political acumen and the staunch Social-Democratism of this veteran German socialist are revealed by the fact that he does not limit himself to these considerations. He examines the question whether the “ally” is not an enemy in disguise whom it would he particularly dangerous to admit to our ranks; whether and in what way he actually fights against the common enemy; whether agreements, while being useful as a means of obtaining a larger number of seats in parliament, are not detrimental to the more permanent and more profound aims of the proletarian party.
Let us take at least the three questions I have indicated, and see whether an advocate of agreements between the Russian Social-Democrats and the Cadets like Plekhanov, for instance, understands their implications. We shall see that Plekhanov’s presentation of the question of agreements is extremely narrow. The Cadets want to fight reaction, therefore ... agreements with the Cadets! Beyond this Plekhanov does not go; he thinks it would be doctrinaire to go any further into the question. Small wonder that a Social-Democrat so forgetful of the requirements of Social-Democratic policy should find himself in the company of and in collaboration with renegade Social-Democrats like Prokopovich and the other publicists of Tovarishch. Small wonder that even the Mensheviks, who share the principles of this Social-Democrat, either maintain an embarrassed silence, not daring to say aloud what they think of Plekhanov, and repudiating him at workers’ meetings, or simply laugh at him, like the Bundists in Volkszeitung and Nasha Tribuna.
Liebknecht teaches us that a Social-Democrat must be able to expose the dangerous aspects of every ally in the bourgeois camp and not conceal them. Our Mensheviks, how ever, cry out that we must fight not the Cadets but the Black-Hundred danger! It would be useful for these people to ponder over the following words of Liebknecht: “The stupid and cruel outrages perpetrated by the police politicians, the encroachments of the Anti-Socialist Law, the Draconian law, the law against parties that advocate revolution, may evoke feelings of contempt and pity; but the enemy who proffers us his hand for an electoral agreement and worms his way into our ranks as a friend and brother is the enemy, the only enemy we have to fear.”
You see, Liebknecht, too, takes police outrages and Black hundred laws into account. Nevertheless, he tells the workers boldly: it is not this enemy that we must fear, but an electoral agreement with a false friend. Why did Liebknecht think so? Because he always regarded the strength of fighters as real strength only when it is the strength of class-conscious masses of workers. The class-consciousness of the masses is not corrupted by violence and Draconian laws; it is corrupted by the false friends of the workers, the liberal bourgeois, who divert the masses from the real struggle with empty phrases about a struggle. Our Mensheviks and Plekhanov fail to understand that the fight against the Cadets is a fight to free the minds of the working masses from false Cadet ideas and prejudices about combining popular freedom with the old regime.
Liebknecht laid so much emphasis on the point that false friends are more dangerous than open enemies that he said: “The introduction of a new Anti-Socialist Law would be a lesser evil than the obscuring of class antagonisms and party boundary lines by electoral agreements.”
Translate this sentence of Liebknecht’s into terms of Russian politics at the end of 1906: “A Black-Hundred Duma would be a lesser evil than the obscuring of class antagonisms and party boundary lines by electoral agreements with the Cadets.” If Liebknecht had said this, what a howl would have been raised against him by those who have deserted socialism for the liberals and are now writing for Tovarishch and similar newspapers! How often have we heard the Bolsheviks “condemned” at workers’ meetings and in the columns of the Menshevik press for expressing ideas similar to those for which Liebknecht was attacked (see p. 54 of the pamphlet). But the Bolsheviks will be as little intimidated by these howls and condemnations as Liebknecht was. Only bad Social-Democrats can make light of the harm done to the working masses by the liberal betrayers of the cause of the people’s liberty who ingratiate themselves with them by means of electoral agreements.
Apropos of this treachery of the liberals. Our opportunists, Plekhanov among them, cry: It is tactless in our country, and at the present time, to say that liberalism is treacherous. Plekhanov has even written a whole pamphlet to teach the tactless socialist workers to be polite to the Cadets. But Liebknecht’s pamphlet clearly shows that Plekhanov’s ideas are second-hand and that his phrases have already been worn threadbare by the German bourgeois liberals. It transpires that the “trump card” that Plekhanov has been playing against the revolutionary Social-Democrats is the very same childish fable about the shepherd and the wolf that the German opportunists used to frighten Liebknecht with. The argument runs: people will get so accustomed to hearing you shout “wolf, wolf!” that when the wolf does come no one will believe you. Liebknecht had an apt answer for the present Plekhanov’s numerous kindred spirits in Germany: “In any case, the interests of the Party are not worse protected by cautious men than by scoffers.”
Let us take the second question: Are our bourgeois liberals, i. e., the Cadets, really fighting against the Black-Hundred danger and if so, how? Plekhanov is unable either to formulate that question or to answer it by a careful analysis of Cadet policy in revolutionary Russia. Plekhanov, in violation of the elementary principles of Marxism, deduces the concrete relations between the Russian Social-Democrats and the Cadets from the “general concept” bourgeois revolution, instead of studying the actual specific features of the Russian bourgeois revolution in order to obtain a general conception of the mutual relations between the bourgeoisie, the proletariat and the peasantry in contemporary Russia.
Liebknecht teaches us to reason differently. When he was told that the bourgeois liberals were fighting reaction, he replied by carefully analysing the manner in which they were fighting. And he showed—in the present pamphlet and in many other writings—that the German liberals (just like our Cadets) were “betraying liberty”, that they were coming to an understanding with the “Junkers [the landlords] and the clergy”; that they had proved incapable of being revolutionary in a revolutionary epoch.
Liebknecht says: “As soon as the proletariat begins to come forward as a class distinct from the bourgeoisie and in its interests hostile to the bourgeoisie, the latter ceases to be democratic.”
But our opportunists, as if in mockery of the truth, call the Cadets democrats (even in the resolutions of Social-Democratic Party conferences) in spite of the fact that the Cadets repudiate democracy in their programme, recognise the principle of an Upper Chamber, etc., and in spite of the fact that in the State Duma they proposed Draconian laws against the holding of meetings and opposed the formation, without permission from above, of local land committees on the basis of universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot!
Liebknecht quite rightly condemned the practice of using the word “revolution” as a shibboleth. When he spoke of revolution, he really meant it; he analysed all questions and all steps in tactics, not only from the point of view of the interests of the moment, but also from the point of view of the vital interests of the revolution as a whole. Liebknecht, like the Russian revolutionary Social-Democrats, had had to experience the painful transitions from direct revolutionary struggle to a miserable, abominable and vile Black-Hundred constitution. Liebknecht knew how to adapt himself to these painful transitions, he knew how to work for the proletariat even in the most adverse circumstances. But he did not rejoice at passing from the fight against an infamous constitution to work under this constitution, he did not jeer at those who had done everything to prevent the emergence of such a “constitution”. By “caution” Liebknecht did not mean kicking the revolution as soon as it begins to decline (even though temporarily) and adjusting oneself as soon as possible to a truncated constitution. No. By “caution” this veteran of the revolutionary movement meant that a proletarian leader must be the last to “adjust” himself to the conditions created by the temporary defeats of the revolution; that he must not do so until long after the bourgeois poltroons and cowards have done so. Liebknecht says: “Practical politics forced us to adjust ourselves to the institutions of the society in which we live; but every step we took in the direction of adjusting ourselves to the present social order was hard for us, and we took it only with great hesitation. This called forth no little ridicule from various quarters. But he who fears to tread on this inclined plane is in any case a more reliable comrade than he who leers at our hesitation.”
Remember these golden words, worker comrades who boycotted the Witte Duma. Remember them especially when miserable pedants jeer at you for having boycotted the Duma, forgetting that it was under the flag of the boycott of the Bulygin Duma that. the first (and so far the only, but we are sure not the last) popular movement against institutions of that type flared up. Let the Cadet traitors be proud of having been the first voluntarily to crawl on their bellies under the laws of the counter-revolution. Class-conscious proletarians will be proud that they kept their colours flying and the open battle going longer than all the rest, that they fell only under heavy blows in the midst of the fray, and that they, longer than all the rest, continued their efforts and called upon the people to rise again and rush forward to a man, and crush the enemy.
Finally, let us take the third and last question. Will not electoral agreements be prejudicial to what we hold most dear: “the purity of time principles” of Social-Democracy? Alas! This question has already been answered by the realities of Russian political life in facts which make class-conscious workers blush with shame.
The Mensheviks assured us in their resolutions, vowed and swore at meetings that they would go no further than technical agreements, that they would continue the ideological struggle against the Cadets, that not for the world would they swerve a hairbreadth from their Social-Democratic principles, from their purely proletarian slogans.
And what was the outcome? No less a person than Plekhanov went knocking at the door of the Cadet press so as to offer the people a “middle” slogan, neither Cadet nor Social-Democratic, but agreeable to all and offensive to none: “a Duma with full power”. What does it matter if this slogan is a downright deception of the people, that it throws dust in their eyes—so long as there is an agreement with the liberal landlords! But the Cadets have dismissed Plekhanov with contempt; and the Social-Democrats have turned away from him, some with embarrassment, others with indignation. Now he is alone, venting his spleen by railing against the Bolsheviks for their “Blanquism”, against the writers on Tovarishch for their “lack of modesty”, against the Mensheviks for their lack of diplomacy, against everybody but himself! Poor Plekhanov! How cruelly the candid, plain, proud and outspoken words of Liebknecht’s on the harmfulness in principle of agreements have proved justified in his case!
And “Comrade” Vasilyev (who has also peeped at the revolution from the Swiss kitchen window) proposes in Tovarishch (December 17), with a direct reference to Plekhanov, that we should simply dissolve the Social-Democratic Party and temporarily—only temporarily!—merge with the liberals. Yes, well might Liebknecht say that in the German Party, too, there was hardly any one who wanted to deviate “from Party principles”. But it is not a matter of what one wants, but of what the force of circumstances drives the Party to for committing a false step. Plekhanov, too, had the best of intentions: peace and good will with the Cadets against the Black-Hundred danger; but the outcome was an infamy and disgrace for the Social-Democrats.
Worker comrades, read Wilhelm Liebknecht’s pamphlet very carefully and be more critical of those who advise you to enter into agreements with the Cadets, which would be fatal to the proletariat and to the cause of liberty.
 Nasha Tribuna (Our Tribune)—a weekly paper of the Bund published in Wilno from December 1906 to March 1907. Twelve numbers appeared.
recent revision 19. 03. 2016
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