On Wilhelm Liebknecht





















 collection of quotations

on occasion of the 190th anniversary of Wilhelm Liebknecht

19th of March 1826 - 19th of March 2016

collected and arranged by Wolfgang Eggers






Lenin, Volume 1,

What the “Friends of the People” Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats

In conclusion it will perhaps be worth ...

THEORETICAL work must be directed towards the concrete study of all forms of economic antagonism in Russia, the study of their connections and successive development; they must reveal this antagonism wherever it has been concealed by political history, by the peculiarities of legal systems or by established theoretical prejudice. They must present an integral picture of our realities as a definite system of production relations, show that the exploitation and expropriation of the working people are essential under this system, and show the way out of this system that is indicated by economic development.

emphasising the necessity, importance and immensity of the theoretical work of the Social-Democrats, I by no means want to say that this work should take precedence over PRACTICAL work, still less that the latter should be postponed until the former is completed.

The position is altogether different when the task of the socialists is to be the ideological leaders of the proletariat in its actual struggle against actual and real enemies who stand in the actual path of social and economic development. Under these circumstances, theoretical and practical work merge into one aptly described by theveteran German Social-Democrat, Liebknecht, as:

Studieren, Propagandieren, Organisieren. ( Study, propaganda, organisation. —Ed.)

You cannot be an ideological leader without the above mentioned theoretical work, just as you cannot be one without directing this work to meet the needs of the cause, and without spreading the results of this theory among the workers and helping them to organise.

Such a presentation of the task guards Social-Democracy against the defects from which socialist groups so often suffer, namely, dogmatism and sectarianism.

There can be no dogmatism where the supreme and sole criterion of a doctrine is its conformity to the actual process of social and economic development; there can be no sectarianism when the task is that of promoting the organisation of the proletariat, and when, therefore, the role of the “intelligentsia” is to make special leaders from among the intelligentsia unnecessary.

The political activity of the Social-Democrats lies in promoting the development and organisation of the working-class movement in Russia, in transforming this movement from its present state of sporadic attempts at protest, “riots” and strikes devoid of a guiding idea, into an organised struggle of the WHOLE Russian working CLASS directed against the bourgeois regime and working for the expropriation of the expropriators and the abolition of the social system based on the oppression of the working people. Underlying these activities is the common conviction of Marxists that the Russian worker is the sole and natural representative of Russia’s entire working and exploited population.

It is on the working class that the Social-Democrats concentrate all their attention and all their activities. When its advanced representatives have mastered the ideas of scientific socialism, the idea of the historical role of the Russian worker, when these ideas become widespread, and when stable organisations are formed among the worker to transform the workers’ present sporadic economic war into conscious class struggle—then the Russian WORKER rising at the head of all the democratic elements, will overthrow absolutism and lead the RUSSIAN PROLETARIAT (side by side with the proletariat of ALL COUNTRIES along the straight road of open political struggle to THE VICTORIOUS COMMUNIST REVOLUTION.

The End




Lenin, Volume 4, Book Review: S. N. Prokopovich. The Working-Class Movement in the West (end of 1899)

Mr. Prokopovich’s assertions that Liebknecht, in the sixties, for a time renounced his ideals, betrayed them, etc. (111, 112), are in no sense to be taken seriously.



Lenin, Volume 4, OUR IMMEDIATE TASK, 1899

The necessity to concentrate all forces on establishing a regularly appearing and regularly delivered organ arises out of the peculiar situation of Russian Social-Democracy as compared with that of Social-Democracy in other European countries and with that of the old Russian revolutionary parties. Apart from newspapers, the workers of Germany, France, etc., have numerous other means for the public manifestation of their activity, for organising the movement— parliamentary activity, election agitation, public meetings, participation in local public bodies (rural and urban), the open conduct of trade unions (professional, guild), etc., etc. In place of all of that, yes, all of that, we must be served—until we have won political liberty—by a revolutionary newspaper, without which no broad organisation of the entire working-class movement is possible. We do not believe in conspiracies, we renounce individual revolutionary ventures to destroy the government; the words of Liebknecht, veteran of German Social-Democracy, serve as the watchword of our activities:Studieren, propagandieren, organisieren— Learn, propagandise, organise— and the pivot of this activity can and must be only the organ of the Party.



Lenin, Volume 5, pages 13-14, "Where to begin?", May 1901

In recent years the question of “what is to be done” has confronted Russian Social-Democrats with particular insistence. It is not a question of what path we must choose (as was the case in the late eighties and early nineties), but of what practical steps we must take upon the known path and how they shall be taken. It is a question of a system and plan of practical work. And it must be admitted that we have not yet solved this question of the character and the methods of struggle, fundamental for a party of practical activity, that it still gives rise to serious differences of opinion which reveal a deplorable ideological instability and vacillation. On the one hand, the “Economist” trend, far from being dead, is endeavouring to clip and narrow the work of political organisation and agitation. On the other, unprincipled eclecticism is again rearing its head, aping every new “trend”, and is incapable of distinguishing immediate demands from the main tasks and permanent needs of the movement as a whole. This trend, as we know, has ensconced itself in Rabocheye Dyelo.[3] This journal’s latest statement of “programme”, a bombastic article under the bombastic title “A Historic Turn” (“Listok” Rabochevo Dyela, No. 6[4]), bears out with special emphasis the characterisation we have given. Only yesterday there was a flirtation with “Economism”, a fury over the resolute condemnation of Rabochaya Mysl,[5] and Plekhanov’s presentation of the question of the struggle against autocracy was being toned down. But today Liebknecht’s words are being quoted: “If the circumstances change within twenty-four hours, then tactics must be changed within twenty-four hours.” There is talk of a “strong fighting organisation for direct attack, for storming, the autocracy; of “broad revolutionary political agitation among the masses” (how energetic we are now—both revolutionary and   political!); of “ceaseless calls for street protests”; of “street demonstrations of a pronounced [sic!] political character”; and so on, and so forth.

We might perhaps declare ourselves happy at Rabocheye Dyelo’s quick grasp of the programme we put forward in the first issue of Iskra,[6] calling for the formation of a strong well-organised party, whose aim is not only to win isolated concessions but to storm the fortress of the autocracy itself; but the lack of any set point of view in these individuals can only dampen our happiness.

Rabocheye Dyelo, of course, mentions Liebknecht’s name in vain. The tactics of agitation in relation to some special question, or the tactics with regard to some detail of party organisation may be changed in twenty-four hours; but only people devoid of all principle are capable of changing, in twenty-four hours, or, for that matter, in twenty-four months, their view on the necessity—in general, constantly, and absolutely—of an organisation of struggle and of political agitation among the masses. It is ridiculous to plead different circumstances and a change of periods: the building of a fighting organisation and the conduct of political agitation are essential under any “drab, peaceful” circumstances, in any period, no matter how marked by a “declining revolutionary spirit”; moreover, it is precisely in such periods and under such circumstances that work of this kind is particularly necessary, since it is too late to form the organisation in times of explosion and outbursts; the party must be in a state of readiness to launch activity at a moment’s notice. “Change the tactics within twenty-four hours”! But in order to change tactics it is first necessary to have tactics; without a strong organisation skilled in waging political struggle under all circumstances and at all times, there can be no question of that systematic plan of action, illumined by firm principles and steadfastly carried out, which alone is worthy of the name of tactics. Let us, indeed, consider the matter; we are now being told that the “historic moment” has presented our Party with a “completely new” question—the question of terror. Yesterday the “completely new” question was political organisation and agitation; today it is terror. Is it not strange to hear people who have so grossly forgotten their principles holding forth on a radical change in tactics?

Lenin, Volume 5, "What is to be done?"

Chapter II; The Spontaneity of the Masses and the Consciousness of the Social-Democrats

C. The Self-Emancipation Group and Rabocheye Dyelo

To confound recognition, in principle, of all means of struggle, of all plans and methods, provided they are expedient, with the demand at a given political moment to be guided by a strictly observed plan is tantamount, if we are to talk of tactics, to confounding the recognition by medical science of various methods of treating diseases with the necessity for adopting a certain definite method of treatment for a given disease. The point is, however, that Rabocheye Dyelo, itself the victim of a disease which we have called bowing to spontaneity, refuses to recognise any “method of treatment” for that disease. Hence, it has made the remarkable discovery that “tactics-as-plan contradicts the fundamental spirit of Marxism” (No. 10, p. 18), that tactics are “a process of growth of Party tasks, which grow together with the Party” (p. 11, Rabocheye Dyelo’s italics). This remark has every chance of becoming a celebrated maxim, a permanent monument to the Rabocheye Dyelo “trend”. To the question, whither? the leading organ replies: Movement is a process of changing the distance between the starting-point and subsequent points of the movement. This matchless example of profundity is not merely a curiosity (were it that, it would not be worth dealing with at length), but the programme of a whole trend, the very programme which R. M. (in the “Separate Supplement” to Rabochaya Mysl) expressed in the words: That struggle is desirable which is possible, and the struggle which is possible is that which is going on at the given moment. This is precisely the trend of unbounded opportunism, which passively adapts itself to spontaneity.

“Tactics-as-plan contradicts the essence of Marxism!” But this is a slander of Marxism; it means turning Marxism into the caricature held up by the Narodniks in their struggle against us. It means belittling the initiative and energy of class-conscious fighters, whereas Marxism, on the contrary, gives a gigantic impetus to the initiative and energy of the Social-Democrat, opens up for him the widest perspectives, and (if one may so express it) places at his disposal the mighty force of many millions of workers “spontaneously” rising for the struggle. The entire history of international Social-Democracy teems with plans advanced now by one, now by another political leader, some confirming the far-sightedness and the correct political and organisational views of their authors and others revealing their short-sightedness and their political errors. At the time when Germany was at one of the crucial turning-points in its history — the formation of the Empire, the opening of the Reichstag, and the granting of universal suffrage — Liebknecht had one plan for Social-Democratic politics and work in general, and Schweitzer had another. When the anti-socialist law came down on the heads of the German socialists, Most and Hasselmann had one plan — they were prepared then and there to call for violence and terror; Hochbert, Schramm, and (partly) Bernstein had another — they began to preach to the Social-Democrats that they themselves had provoked the enactment of the law by being unreasonably bitter and revolutionary, and must now earn forgiveness by their exemplary conduct. There was yet a third plan, proposed by those who prepared and carried out the publication of an illegal organ. It is easy, of course, with hindsight, many years after the struggle over the selection of the path to be followed, and after history has pronounced its verdict as to the expediency of the path selected, to utter profound maxims about the growth of Party tasks, which grow together with the Party. But at a time of confusion, when the Russian “Critics” and Economists are degrading Social-Democracy to the level of trade-unionism, and when the terrorists are strongly advocating the adoption of “tactics-as-plan” that repeats the old mistakes, at such a time, to confine oneself to profundities of this kind, means simply to issue to oneself a “certificate of poverty”. At a time when many Russian Social-Democrats suffer from a lack of initiative and energy, from an inadequate “scope of political propaganda, agitation, and organisation,” from a lack of “plans” for a broader organisation of revolutionary work, at such a time, to declare that “tactics-as-plan” contradicts the essence of Marxism means not only to vulgarise Marxism in the realm of theory, but to drag the Party backward in practice.


Lenin, Volume 5, "What is to be done?"

Chapter  III: Trade-Unionist Politics and Social-Democratic Politics (E). The Working Class as Vanguard Fighter for Democracy

Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside the economic struggle, from outside the sphere of relations between workers and employers. The sphere from which alone it is possible to obtain this knowledge is the sphere of relationships of all classes and strata to the state and the government, the sphere of the interrelations between all classes. For that reason, the reply to the question as to what must be done to bring political knowledge to the workers cannot be merely the answer with which, in the majority of cases, the practical workers, especially those inclined towards Economism, mostly content themselves, namely: “To go among the workers.” To bring political knowledge to the workers the Social Democrats must go among all classes of the population; they must dispatch units of their army in all directions.

We deliberately select this blunt formula, we deliberately express ourselves in this sharply simplified manner, not because we desire to indulge in paradoxes, but in order to “impel” the Economists to a realisation of their tasks which they unpardonably ignore, to suggest to them strongly the difference between trade-unionist and Social-Democratic politics, which they refuse to understand. We therefore beg the reader not to get wrought up, but to hear us patiently to the end.

Let us take the type of Social-Democratic study circle that has become most widespread in the past few years and examine its work. It has “contacts with the workers” and rests content with this, issuing leaflets in which abuses in the factories, the government’s partiality towards the capitalists, and the tyranny of the police are strongly condemned. At workers’ meetings the discussions never, or rarely ever, go beyond the limits of these subjects. Extremely rare are the lectures and discussions held on the history of the revolutionary movement, on questions of the government’s home and foreign policy, on questions of the economic evolution of Russia and of Europe, on the position of the various classes in modern society, etc. As to systematically acquiring and extending contact with other classes of society, no one even dreams of that. In fact, the ideal leader, as the majority of the members of such circles picture him, is something far more in the nature of a trade union secretary than a socialist political leader. For the secretary of any, say English, trade union always helps the workers to carry on the economic struggle, he helps them to expose factory abuses, explains the injustice of the laws and of measures that hamper the freedom to strike and to picket (i. e., to warn all and sundry that a strike is proceeding at a certain factory), explains the partiality of arbitration court judges who belong to the bourgeois classes, etc., etc. In a word, every trade union secretary conducts and helps to conduct “the economic struggle against the employers and the government”. It cannot be too strongly maintained that this is still not Social-Democracy, that the Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat. Compare, for example, a leader like Robert Knight (the well-known secretary and leader of the Boiler-Makers’ Society, one of the most powerful trade unions in England), with Wilhelm Liebknecht, and try to apply to them the contrasts that Martynov draws in his controversy with Iskra. You will see — I am running through Martynov’s article — that Robert Knight engaged more in “calling the masses to certain concrete actions” (Martynov, op. cit., p. 39), while Wilhelm Liebknecht engaged more in “the revolutionary elucidation of the whole of the present system or partial manifestations of it” (38-39); that Robert Knight “formulated the immediate demands of the proletariat and indicated the means by which they can be achieved” (41), whereas Wilhelm Liebknecht, while doing this, did not hold back from “simultaneously guiding the activities of various opposition strata”, “dictating a positive programme of action for them”(41); that Robert Knight strove “as far as possible to lend the economic struggle itself a political character” (42) and was excellently able “to submit to the government concrete demands promising certain palpable results” (43), whereas Liebknecht engaged to a much greater degree in “one-sided” “exposures” (40); that Robert Knight attached more significance to the “forward march of the drab everyday struggle” (61), whereas Liebknecht attached more significance to the “propaganda of brilliant and completed ideas” (61); that Liebknecht converted the paper he was directing into “an organ of revolutionary opposition that exposed the state of affairs in our country, particularly the political state of affairs, insofar as it affected the interests of the most varied strata of the population” (63), whereas Robert Knight “worked for the cause of the working class in close organic connection with the proletarian struggle” (63) — if by “close and organic connection” is meant the subservience to spontaneity which we examined above, by taking the examples of Krichevsky and Martynov — and “restricted the sphere of his influence”, convinced, of course, as is Martynov, that “by doing so he deepened that influence” (63). In a word, you will see that de facto Martynov reduces Social-Democracy to the level of trade-unionism, though he does so, of course, not because he does not desire the good of Social-Democracy, but simply because he is a little too much in a hurry to render Plekhanov more profound, instead of taking the trouble to understand him.


Lenin, Volume 5, "What is to be done?"

IV The Primitiveness of the Economists and the Organisation of the Revolutionaries

(C). Organisation of Workers and Organisation of Revolutionaries

Take the Germans. It will not be denied, I hope, that theirs is a mass organisation, that in Germany everything proceeds from the masses, that the working-class movement there has learned to walk. Yet observe how these millions value their “dozen” tried political leaders, how firmly they cling to them. Members of the hostile parties in parliament have often taunted the socialists by exclaiming: “Fine democrats you are indeed! Yours is a working-class movement only in name; in actual fact the same clique of leaders is always in evidence, the same Bebel and the same Liebknecht, year in and year out, and that goes on for decades. Your supposedly elected workers’ deputies are more permanent than the officials appointed by the Emperor!” But the Germans only smile with contempt at these demagogic attempts to set the “masses” against the “leaders”, to arouse bad and ambitious instincts in the former, and to rob the movement of its solidity and stability by undermining the confidence of the masses in their “dozen wise men”. Political thinking is sufficiently developed among the Germans, and they have accumulated sufficient political experience to understand that without the “dozen” tried and talented leaders (and talented men are not born by the hundreds), professionally trained, schooled by long experience, and working in perfect harmony, no class in modern society can wage a determined struggle. The Germans too have had demagogues in their ranks who have flattered the “hundred fools”, exalted them above the “dozen wise men”, extolled the “horny hand” of the masses, and (like Most and Hasselmann) have spurred them on to reckless “revolutionary” action and sown distrust towards the firm and steadfast leaders. It was only by stubbornly and relentlessly combating all demagogic elements within the socialist movement that German socialism has managed to grow and become as strong as it is. Our wiseacres, however, at a time when Russian Social-Democracy is passing through a crisis entirely due to the lack of sufficiently trained, developed, and experienced leaders to guide the spontaneously awakening masses, cry out ,with the profundity of fools: “It is a bad business when the movement does not proceed from the rank and file.”


Lenin, Vomune 6, pages 312 - 318, January 1903

Some Reflections on the Letter from “7 Ts. 6 F.”

“Mass”literature “by the hundredweight” —this battle-cry of yours is nothing but an imaginary recipe for someone else to cure you of your own inactivity. Believe me, no such recipes will ever work! If you yourselves are not energetic and alert, no one will help you in any way. It is highly unreasonable to wail, “g i v e us this or that, d e l i v e r something or other,” when you yourselves should do the getting and delivering. It is useless to write about it to us, for we cannot do it from here, whereas you can and should do it by yourselves: I am referring to the delivery of literature we are publishing and have on hand.

Some local “activists” (so called because they are inactive), who have seen no more than a few issues of Iskra and who do not work actively to get and distribute it in mass quantities, invent the flimsy excuse: “That is not what we want. Give us mass literature, for the masses! Masticate it for us, put it into our mouths, and perhaps we’ll manage to do the swallowing ourselves.”

“This is old stuff!” you wail. Yes. All parties that have good popular literature have been distributing   o l d   s t u f f:   Guesde and Lafargue, Bebel, Bracke, Liebknecht, etc.,   f o r   d e c a d e s.   Do you hear: for decades! And the   o n l y   popular literature that is good, the only popular literature that is suitable is that which can serve for decades. For popular literature is a series of textbooks for the people, and textbooks teach the ABC, which remains unchanged for   f i f t y   y e a r s   at a time. The “popular” literature which “captivates” you and which the Svoboda group and Socialist-Revolutionaries publish by the hundredweight every month is waste paper and charlatanism. Charlatans always bustle and make the greatest noise, and some naïve people mistake that for energy.

It is only the Germans who do things in such a way that, for example, in 1903 Bebel’s Our Aims, written thirty-four years ago, is being republished for the eleventh time!!

To go so far as to state that the local organisations (consisting of slothful “activists”?) cannot manage to issue local leaflets, that these leaflets should be delivered from abroad, that is the limit.


Lenin, Volume 6, pages 433 - 437

Les Beaux Esprits Se Rencontrent (Which May Be Interpreted Roughly as: Birds of a Feather Flock Together)

And, while the petty bourgeoisie is being “thrust to the wall” in the sphere of agriculture and industry, a “new middle social-estate,” as the Germans say, is emerging and developing, a new stratum of the petty bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, who are also finding life in capitalist society harder and harder and for the most part regard this society from the viewpoint of the small producer. It is quite natural that this must inevitably lead to widespread dissemination and constant revival of petty-bourgeois ideas and doctrines in the most varied forms. It is quite natural that the Russian “Socialist- Revolutionaries,” who are wholly in thrall to the ideas of petty-bourgeois Narodism, inevitably turn out to be “birds of a feather” with the European reformists and opportunists, who, when they would be consistent, inevitably arrive at Proudhonism.

We have said, “when they would be consistent,” and this brings us to an essential feature—one that distinguishes the present-day Socialist-Revolutionaries from both the old Russian Narodniks and at least some of the European opportunists—which can only be called adventurism. Adventurism is not concerned with consistency, but endeavours to grasp at the fleeting opportunity and make use of the battle of ideas in order to justify and preserve its ideological poverty. The old Russian Narodniks wanted to be consistent and they upheld, preached, and professed their own, distinct programme. David wants to be consistent and rises up resolutely against the whole “Marxist agrarian theory,” emphatically preaches and professes the conversion of large farms into small farms, and, at least, has the courage of his convictions, and is not afraid to come out openly as the champion of small-scale farming. Our Socialist-Revolutionaries are, to put it as mildly as possible, far more “prudent.” They never rise up resolutely against Marx—God forbid! On the contrary, they come forward with quotations plucked at random from Marx and Engels, assuring us with tears in their eyes that they agree with the latter almost in every thing. They do not come out against Liebknecht and Kautsky—on the contrary, they are profoundly and sincerely convinced that Liebknecht was a Socialist-Revolutionary—in very truth, a Socialist-Revolutionary. They do not come forward as the champions of small-scale farming on principle—on the contrary, they are heart and soul for the “socialisation of the land,” and it is only by accident that they sometimes blurt out that this all-embracing Russo-Dutch socialisation can mean anything and everything: either the transference of the land to society, to be used by the working people (exactly as David puts it!), or simply the transference of the land to the peasants, or, finally, quite “simply” the addition of plots of land gratis....



Lenin, Volume 7, February-May 1904

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back; (J.) Innocent Victims of a False Accusation of Opportunism

But instead of defending their case on its merits, our dear comrades assumed a ludicrous air of injury and even went to the length of complaining in writing about a “false accusation of opportunism”!

Their narrow circle mentality and astonishing immaturity as Party members, which cannot stand the fresh breeze of open controversy in the presence of all, is here clearly revealed. It is the mentality so familiar to the Russian, as expressed in the old saying: either coats off, or let’s have your hand! These people are so accustomed to the bell-jar seclusion of an intimate and snug little circle that they almost fainted as soon as a person spoke up in a free and open arena on his own responsibility. Accusations of opportunism!—against whom? Against the Emancipation of Labour group, and its majority at that—can you imagine anything more terrible? Either split the Party on account of this ineffaceable insult, or hush up this “domestic unpleasantness” by restoring the “continuity” of the bell-jar—this alternative is already pretty clearly indicated in the letter we are examining. Intellectualist individualism and the circle mentality had come into conflict with the requirement of open speaking before the Party. Can you imagine such an absurdity, such a squabble, such a complaint about “false accusations of opportunism” in the German party? There, proletarian organisation and discipline weaned them from such intellectualist flabbiness long ago. Nobody has anything but the profoundest respect for Liebknecht, let us say; but how they would have laughed over there at complaints that he (together with Bebel) was “openly accused of opportunism” at the 1895 Congress, when, on the agrarian question, he found himself in the bad company of the notorious opportunist Vollmar and his friends. Liebknecht’s name is inseparably bound up with the history of the German working-class movement not, of course, because he happened to stray into opportunism on such a comparatively minor and specific question, but in spite of it. And similarly, in spite of all the acrimony of the struggle, the name of Comrade Axelrod, say, inspires respect in every Russian Social-Democrat, and always will; but not because Comrade Axelrod happened to defend an opportunist idea at the Second Congress of our Party, happened to dig out old anarchistic rubbish at the Second Congress of the League, but in spite of it. Only the most hidebound circle mentality, with its logic of “either coats off, or let’s have your hand”, could give rise to hysterics, squabbles, and a Party split because of a “false accusation of opportunism against the majority of the Emancipation of Labour group”.

But politically his error was revealed in the fact that people who undoubtedly gravitated towards opportunism began to form around him an ever more solid and “compact” majority.

It is literally the same point and the same jibe as was addressed by Clara Zetkin to Bebel and Liebknecht in 1895, when she said: "Es tut mir in der Seele weh, dass ich dich in der Gesellschaft seh ’" (“It cuts me to the quick to see you [i.e., Bebel] in such company [i.e., of Vollmar and Co.]”). It is strange, to be sure, that Bebel and Liebknecht did not send a hysterical message to Kautsky and Zetkin complaining of a false accusation of opportunism....


Lenin, Volume 9, pages 265-280.

Playing at Parliamentarianism

Proletary, No. 18, September 26 (13), 1905.

We have on repeated occasions (in Proletary, No. 12, before promulgation of the State Duma Act, and in Nos. 14 to 17 after August 6) enlarged on our tactics with regard to the State Duma, and now we must consider them anew in their relation to the new views expressed by Parvus (special reprint from Iskra, No. 110, the article: “Social-Democracy and the State Duma”).

No,my dear Parvus! So long as there is no parliament in Russia, applying the tactics of parliamentarianism to Russia means so much unbecoming playing at parliamentarianism, means turning into hangers-on to the landlords, instead of being leaders of the revolutionary workers and politically conscious peasants. To enter into secret deals with the Rodichevs and the Petrunkeviches about support for them against Stakhovich, as a substitute for temporary agreements between open political parties, which are non-existent in our country, means sowing corruption in the workers’ midst. To the direct and clear slogan of the Zemstvo and Osvobozhdeniye people—down with criminal advocacy of insurrection, let us work in the Duma and through the Duma—we must reply with our direct and clear slogan—down with the bourgeois betrayers of liberty, the Osvobozhdeniye gentry and their like, down with the Duma, and hail the armed uprising!

To combine the insurrection slogan and “participation” in the elections of Foma or Ivan means introducing utter confusion, under the pretext of “comprehensiveness” and “multiformity” of agitation, and “flexibility” and “responsiveness” of slogans; in practice such a combination amounts to Manilovism. In practice, Parvus’s and Martov’s appearance before the Zemstvos in “support” of Petrunkevich against Stakhovich (admitting the possibility of exceptional cases when such an appearance would be at all feasible) will not be an open appearance before the mass of the people, but the backstage appearance of a duped leader of the workers before a handful of betrayers of the workers. From the standpoint of theory or of the general principles of our tactics, to combine these slogans now, at the given moment, is a variety of parliamentary cretinism. For us revolutionary Social-Democrats insurrection is not an absolute slogan, but a concrete one. We put it off in 1897, in 1902 we put it forward in the sense of general preparations, and only after January 9, 1905, did we advance it as a direct appeal. We do not forget that Marx was in favour of an uprising in 1848, whereas in 1850 he condemned the ravings and phrase mongering about an uprising; that before the war of 1870-71 Liebknecht denounced participation in the Reichstag, whereas after the war he participated in it himself. We at once stated in Proletary, No. 12, that it would be ridiculous to renounce for the future all struggle based on the Duma. We know that not only a parliament but even a travesty of a parliament may, when the conditions for an uprising are lacking, become the focal point of all our agitation for the entire period when an uprising is out of the question.If an uprising is possible and necessary, that means there can be no legal centre for a legal struggle for the aims of the uprising, nor can Manilov-like phrase-mongering take its place.

If an uprising is possible and necessary, it means that the government “has placed the bayonet as the main point on the agenda”, has launched civil war, proclaimed martial law as a form of counter-criticism of democratic criticism; under such circumstances, to take the “near-parliamentary” signboard of the State Duma seriously, to begin to play a shady and furtive two some at parliamentarianism with the Petrunkeviches, means substituting the political chicanery of clowning intellectuals for the policy of the revolutionary proletariat.


Lenin, Volume 11, Pages 81 - 82. Ekho No. 9, July 1, 1906.

The Unsound Arguments of the “Non-Party” Boycotters

But does the fact that we boycotted the Duma necessarily mean that we must not form our Party Group in the Duma?   Not at all. The boycotters who, like Mysl, think so, are mistaken. We were obliged to do—and did—everything in our power to prevent the convocation of a sham representative body. That is so. But since it has been convened in spite of all our efforts, we cannot shirk the task of utilising it. Only bourgeois politicians who care nothing for the revolutionary struggle, and for the struggle for the complete success of the revolution, can see anything illogical in this. Let us recall the example of Liebknecht, who denounced, flayed and spurned the German Reichstag in 1869, but went into the Reichstag after 1870. Liebknecht fully appreciated the importance of the revolutionary struggle for a revolutionary and not a treacherously bourgeois representative assembly of the people. He did not cravenly repudiate his past actions. He quite rightly said: I did all I could to fight against such a Reichstag, to fight for the best possible result. The result turned out to be the worst. I shall be able to make use even of this worst result without betraying my revolutionary traditions.

Thus, the boycott cannot be used to deduce that we must refrain from utilising the Duma, or from forming our Party Group in it. The issue is an entirely different one, namely, that we must exercise the greatest caution (and this is the issue that the Bolsheviks raised at the Unity Congress, as anyone can see by reading their draft resolution ). We must consider whether we can utilise the Duma now by working inside it; whether we have Social-Democrats who are suit able for this work, and whether the external conditions are favourable for it.

We think that the answer to these questions is in the affirmative. We have had occasion to point out minor mistakes our Duma deputies have made, but on the whole they have adopted a correct position. An alignment has arisen in the Duma actually corresponding to the revolutionary situation; the Octobrists and the Cadets on the right, the Social-Democrats and the Trudoviks (or more correctly, the best of the Trudoviks), on the left. We can and must utilise this alignment to warn the people against the dangerous side of the Cadet Duma, so as to develop a revolutionary   movement not restricted to the Duma, to Duma tactics, to Duma aims, etc. In view of this alignment we shall—if we manage things properly—also utilise the non-party revolutionary democrats, and at the same time come forward definitely and determinedly as a Social-Democratic, proletarian party.

Preface to the Russian Translation of

W. Liebknecht’s


No Compromises, No Electoral Agreements

December 1906


Lenin Collected Works, Volume 12, pages 359-378.

Preface to the Russian Translation of Letters by Johannes Becker, Joseph Dietzgen, Frederick Engels, Karl Marx, and Others to Friedrich Sorge and Others

April 6 (19), 1907

The collection of letters by Marx, Engels, Dietzgen, Becker and other leaders of the international working-class movement in the last century, here presented to the Russian public, is an indispensable complement to our advanced Marxist literature.

It would be making mock of Marx’s historical method to attempt to apply conclusions drawn from such arguments to countries or historical situations where the proletariat has formed its party prior to the liberal bourgeoisie forming theirs, where the tradition of voting for bourgeois politicians is absolutely unknown to the proletariat, and where the immediate tasks are not socialist but bourgeois-democratic.

While complaining about the German Social-Democrats’ compromises with the Lassalleans and Dühring (letter of October 19, 1877), Marx also condemns the compromise   "with a whole gang of half-mature students and super-wise diploma’d doctors [in German “doctor” is an academic degree corresponding to our “candidate” or “university graduate, class I”], who want to give socialism a ’higher, idealistic’ orientation, that is to say, to replace its materialistic basis (which demands serious objective study from anyone who tries to use it) by modern mythology with its goddesses of Justice, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Dr. Höchberg, who publishes the Zukunft, is a representative of this tendency, and has ’bought his day’ into the Party—with the ’noblest’ intentions, I assume, but I do not give a damn for ’intentions’. Anything more miserable than his programme of the Zukunft has seldom seen the light of day with more ’modest presumption’.” (Letter No. 70.)

In another letter, written almost two years later (September 19, 1879), Marx rebutted the gossip that Engels and he stood behind J. Most, and gave Sorge a detailed account of his attitude towards the opportunists in the German Social-Democratic Party. Zukunft was run by Höchberg, Schramm and Eduard Bernstein. Marx and Engels refused to have anything to do with such a publication, and when the question was raised of establishing a new Party organ with the participation of this same Höchberg and with his financial assistance, Marx and Engels first demanded the acceptance of their nominee, Hirsch, as editor-in-chief, to exercise control over this “mixture of doctors, students and Katheder-Socialists” and then addressed a circular letter directly to Bebel, Liebknecht and other leaders of the Social-Democratic Party, warning them that they would openly combat “such a vulgarisation [Verluderung—an even stronger word in German] of Party and theory”, if the Höchberg, Schramm and Bernstein trend did not change.

The result of Marx’s “furious” attack was that the opportunists retreated and—made themselves scarce. In a letter dated November 19, 1879, Marx announced that Höchberg had been removed from the editorial committee and that all the influential leaders of the Party—Bebel, Liebknecht, Bracke, etc. —had repudiated his ideas. Sozial-Demokrat, the Social-Democratic Party organ, began to appear under the editorship of Vollmar, who at that time belonged to the revolutionary wing of the Party. A year later (November 5, 1880), Marx related that he and Engels constantly fought the “miserable” way in which Sozial-Demokrat was being conducted, and often expressed their opinion sharply (“wobei’s oft scharf hergeht”). Liebknecht visited Marx in 1880 and promised that there would be an “improvement” in all respects.

1887. Engels replied to Sorge, who had written to him, that the Party was disgracing itself by electing such deputies as Viereck (a Social-Democrat of the Höchberg type). Engels excused himself, saying that there was nothing to be done, the workers’ Party could not find good deputies for the Reichstag. “The gentlemen of the Right wing know that they are being tolerated only because of the Anti-Socialist Law, and that they will be thrown out of the Party the very day the Party again secures freedom of action.” And, in general, it was preferable that “the Party should be better than its parliamentary heroes, than the other way round” (March 3, 1887).Liebknecht is a conciliator—Engels complained—he always uses phrases to gloss over differences. But when it comes to a split, he will be with us at the decisive moment.

1889. Two international Social-Democratic congresses in Paris. The opportunists (headed by the French Possibilists)   split away from the revolutionary Social-Democrats. Engels (who was then sixty-eight years old) flung himself into the fight with the ardour of youth. A number of letters (from January 12 to July 20, 1889) were devoted to the fight against the opportunists. Not only they, but. also the Germans—Liebknecht, Bebel and others—were flagellated for their conciliatory attitude.

The Possibilists had sold themselves to the French Government, Engels wrote on January 12, 1889. And he accused the members of the British Social-Democratic Federation (S.D.F.) of having allied themselves with the Possibilists. “The writing and running about in connection with this damned congress leave me no time for anything else” (May 11, 1889). The Possibilists are busy, but our people are asleep, Engels wrote angrily. Now even Auer and Schippel are demanding that we attend the Possibilist congress. But “at last” this opened Liebknecht’s eyes. Engels, together with Bernstein, wrote pamphlets (they were signed by Bernstein but Engels called them “our pamphlets”) against the opportunists.

“You can have no idea of the naïveté of the Germans. It has cost me tremendous effort to explain even to Bebel what it all really meant” (June 8, 1889). And when the two congresses met, when the revolutionary Social-Democrats   outnumbered the Possibilists (who had united with the trade-unionists, the S.D.F., a section of the Austrians, etc.), Engels was jubilant (July 17, 1889). He was glad that the conciliatory plans and proposals of Liebknecht and others had failed (July 20, 1889). “It serves our sentimental conciliatory brethren right that, for all their amicableness, they received a good kick in their tenderest spot. This may cure them for some time.”

“The revolutionary language and action of the French have made the hypocrisy of Viereck and Co. [the opportunist Social-Democrats in the German Reichstag Social-Democratic group] sound quite feeble” (this was said in reference to the formation of a labour group in the French Chamber and to the Decazeville strike, which split the French Radicals from the French proletariat). “OnlyLiebknecht and Bebel spoke in the last Socialist debate and both of th6m spoke well. We can with this debate once more show our selves in decent society, which was by no means the case with all of them. In general it is a good thing that the Germans’ leadership of the international socialist movement, particularly after they sent so many philistines to the Reichstag (which, it is true, was unavoidable), is being challenged. In Germany everything becomes philistine in peaceful times; and therefore the sting of French competition is absolutely necessary....” (Letter of April 29, 1886.)

Lenin, Volume 16, Notes of a publicist

II) The “Unity Crisis” in our Party

On reading this title, some readers perhaps will hardly believe their eyes. “Well, that’s the limit! What a lot of crises we have had in our own Party, and now all of a sudden a new crisis, a unity crisis!”

The expression which sounds so queer I have borrowed from Liebknecht. He used it in 1875 in a letter (dated April 21) to Engels, giving an account of the union of the Lassalleans and the Eisenachers. Marx and Engels thought at that time that no good would come of this union. Liebknecht brushed aside their fears and asserted that the German Social-Democratic Party, which had successfully survived all sorts of crises,, would also survive the “unity crisis” (see Gustav Mayer, Johann Baptist von Schweitzer und die Sozialdemokratie, Jena, 1909, S. 424).

In the very first words of his resolution Trotsky expressed the full spirit of the worst kind of conciliation, “conciliation” in inverted commas, of a sectarian and philistine conciliation, which deals with the “given persons” and not the given line of policy, the given spirit, the given ideological and political content of Party work.

It is in this that the enormous difference lies between real partyism, which consists in purging the Party of liquidationism and otzovism, and the “conciliation” of Trotsky and Co., which actually renders the most faithful service to the liquidators and otzovists, and is therefore an evil that is all the more dangerous to the Party the more cunningly, artfully and rhetorically it cloaks itself with professedly pro-Party, professedly anti-factional declamations.

In point of fact, what is it that we have been given as the task of the Party?

Is it “given persons, groups and institutions” that we have been “given” and that have to be “reconciled” irrespective of their policy, irrespective of the content of their work, irrespective of their attitude towards liquidationism and otzovism?

Or have we been given a Party line, an ideological and political direction and content of our entire work, the task of purging this work of liquidationism and otzovism—a task that must be carried out irrespective of “persons, groups and institutions”, in spite of the opposition of “persons, institutions and groups” which disagree with that policy or do not carry it out?

Two views are possible on the meaning of and conditions for the achievement of any kind of Party unity. It is extremely important to grasp the difference between these   views, for they become entangled and confused in the course of development of our “unity crisis” and it is impossible to orientate ourselves in this crisis unless we draw a sharp line between them.

One view on unity may place in the forefront the “reconciliation” of “given persons, groups and institutions”. The identity of their views on Party work, on the policy of that work, is a secondary matter. One should try to keep silent about differences of opinion and not elucidate their causes, their significance, their objective conditions. The chief thing is to “reconcile” persons and groups. If they do not agree on carrying out a common policy, that policy must be interpreted in such a way as to be acceptable to all. Live and let live. This is philistine “conciliation”, which inevitably leads to sectarian diplomacy. To “stop up” the sources of disagreement, to keep silent about them, to “adjust” “conflicts” at all costs, to neutralise the conflicting trends—it is to this that the main attention of such “conciliation” is directed. In circumstances in which the illegal Party requires a base of operations abroad, this sectarian diplomacy opens the door to “persons, groups and institutions” that play the part of “honest brokers” in all kinds of attempts at “conciliation” and “neutralisation”


Lenin, Volume 17, pages 94-95

Paul Singer - Died January 18 (31), 1911

And this practical organiser [Paul Singer], who spent most of his time in minor, everyday, technical parliamentary and every kind of “executive” activity was great for the reason that he did not make a fetish of details, he did not yield to the quite usual and quite philistine tendency to keep out of any sharp struggle on questions of principle, allegedly for the sake of this “executive” or “positive” activity. On the contrary, every time a question arose concerning the fundamental nature of the revolutionary party of the working class, its ultimate aims, blocs (alliances) with the bourgeoisie, concessions to monarchism, etc., Singer, who devoted all his life to this practical activity, was always to be found at the head of the staunchest and most resolute fighters against every manifestation of opportunism. During the operation of the Anti-Socialist Law, Singer together with Engels, Liebknecht and Bebel was in the fight on two fronts: against the “young”, the semi-anarchists, who repudiated the parliamentary struggle, and against the moderate “legalists at any price”. In later years, Singer fought just as resolutely against the revisionists.

Lenin, Volume 17, pages 229-241.

Sotsial-Demokrat No. 23, September 14(1), 1911.

Reformism in the Russian Social-Democratic Movement

The tremendous progress made by capitalism in recent decades and the rapid growth of the working-class movement in all the civilised countries have brought about a big change in the attitude of the bourgeoisie to the proletariat. Instead of waging an open, principled and direct struggle against all the fundamental tenets of socialism in defence of the absolute inviolability of private property and freedom of competition, the bourgeoisie of Europe and America, as represented by their ideologists and political leaders, are coming out increasingly in defence of so-called social reforms as opposed to the idea of social revolution. Not liberalism versus socialism, but reformism versus socialist revolution—is the formula of the modern, “advanced”, educated bourgeoisie. And the higher the development of capitalism in a given country, the more unadulterated the rule of the bourgeoisie, and the greater the political liberty, the more extensive is the application of the “most up-to-date” bourgeois slogan: reform versus revolution, the partial patching up of the doomed regime with the object of dividing and weakening the working class, and of maintaining the rule of the bourgeoisie, versus the revolutionary over throw of that rule.

From the viewpoint of the universal development of socialism this change must be regarded as a big step forward. At first socialism fought for its existence, and was con fronted by a bourgeoisie confident of its strength and boldly and consistently defending liberalism as an integral system of economic and political views. Socialism has grown into a force and, throughout the civilised world, has already   upheld its right to existence. It is now fighting for power and the bourgeoisie, disintegrating and realising the inevitability of its doom, is exerting every effort to defer that day and to maintain its rule under the new conditions as well, at the cost of partial and spurious concessions.

The intensification of the struggle of reformism against revolutionary Social-Democracy within the working-class movement is an absolutely inevitable result of the changes in the entire economic and political situation throughout the civilised world. The growth of the working-class movement necessarily attracts to its ranks a certain number of petty-bourgeois elements, people who are under the spell of bourgeois ideology, who find it difficult to rid themselves of that ideology and continually lapse back into it. We can not conceive of the social revolution being accomplished by the proletariat without this struggle, without clear demarcation on questions of principle between the socialist Mountain and the socialist Gironde prior to this revolution, and without a complete break between the opportunist, petty-bourgeois elements and the proletarian, revolutionary elements of the new historic force during this revolution.

As the only consistently   revolutionary class of contemporary society, it must be the leader in the Struggle of the whole people for a fully democratic revolution, in the Struggle of all the working and exploited people against the oppressors and exploiters. The proletariat is revolutionary only insofar as it is conscious of and gives effect to this idea of the hegemony of the proletariat. The proletarian who is conscious of this task is a slave who has revolted against slavery. The proletarian who is not conscious of the idea that his class must be the leader, or who renounces this idea, is a slave who does not realise his position as a slave; at best he is a slave who fights to improve his condition as a slave, but not one who fights to overthrow slavery.

The socialists teach that revolution is inevitable, and that the proletariat must take advantage of all the contradictions in society, of every weakness of its enemies or of the intermediate classes, to prepare for a new revolutionary struggle, to repeat the revolution in a broader arena, with a more developed population. The bourgeoisie and the liberals teach that revolutions are unnecessary and even harmful to the workers, that they must not “shove” toward revolution, but, like good little boys, work modestly for reforms.

Half a century after the “constitutional” crisis which “without any revolution” completed the transformation of his country into a bourgeois-Junker monarchy, the leader of the German Social-Democrats refers to the revolutionary possibilities of the situation at that time, which the liberals did not take advantage of owing to their fear of the workers.

But since there was no fully class-conscious leadership with a clear vision of the goal and enjoying the confidence of the workers, and since there existed no strong organisation that could rally the forces, the mood petered out [verpuffte]. Never did a movement, so splendid in its essence [in Kern vortreffliche], turn out to be so futile in the end. All the meetings were packed, and the most vehement speakers were hailed as the heroes of the day. This was the prevailing mood, particularly, in the Workers’ Educational Society at Leipzig.” A mass meeting in Leipzig on May 8, 1866, attended by 5,000 people, unanimously adopted a resolution proposed by Liebknecht and Bebel, which demanded, on the basis of universal, direct, and equal suffrage, with secret ballot, the convening of a Parliament supported by the armed people. The resolution also expressed the “hope that the German people will elect as deputies only persons who repudiate every hereditary central government power”. The resolution proposed by Liebknecht and Bebel was thus unmistakably revolutionary and republican in character.

Thus we see that at the time of the “constitutional” crisis the leader of the German Social-Democrats advocated resolutions of a republican and revolutionary nature at mass meetings. Half a century later, recalling his youth and telling the new generation of the events of days long gone by, he stresses most of all his regret that at that time there was no leadership sufficiently class-conscious and capable of understanding the revolutionary tasks (i.e., there was no revolutionary Social-Democratic Party understanding the   task implied by the hegemony of the proletariat); that there was no strong organisation; that the revolutionary mood “petered out”.

This is all the more reason why we must organise “for revolution” (for socialist revolution), “in expectation” of revolution, for the sake of the “hopes” (not vague “hopes”, but the certainty based on exact and growing scientific data) of a socialist revolution.

But that’s the whole point—-to the reformist the twaddle about the consummated bourgeois revolution (like Martov’s twaddle about the Achilles heel, etc.) is simply a verbal screen to cover up his renunciation of all revolution.

Lenin, Volume 19, pages 295-301.

Severnaya Pravda No. 6, August 8, 1913.

August Bebel

Evil tongues among Marx’s opponents were saying at that time that Marx’s party consisted of three people—Marx, the head of the party, his secretary Engels, and his “agent” Liebknecht. The unintelligent shunned Liebknecht as the “agent” of exiles or foreigners, but Bebel found in Liebknecht just what he wanted—living contact with the great work done by Marx in 1848, contact with the party formed at that time, which, though small, was genuinely proletarian, a living representative of Marxist views and Marxist traditions. “There is something to be learnt from that man, damn it!” the young turner Bebel is said to have remarked, speaking of Liebknecht.

In the later sixties Bebel broke with the liberals, separated the socialist section of the workers’ unions from the bourgeois-democratic section and, together with Liebknecht, took his place in the front ranks of the Eisenacher party, the party of Marxists that was to struggle for many long years against the Lassalleans, the other working-class party.

Lassale and his followers, in view of the poor chances for the proletarian and democratic way, pursued unstable tactics and adapted themselves to the leadership of the Junker Bismarck. Their mistake lay in diverting the   workers’ party on to the Bonapartist-state-socialist path. Bebel and Liebknecht, on the other hand, consistently supported the democratic and proletarian path and struggled against any concessions to Prussianism, Bismarckism or nationalism.

History showed that Bebel and Liebknecht were right, despite Germany’s having been united in the Bismarckian way. It was only the consistently democratic and revolutionary tactics of Bebel and Liebknecht, only their “unyielding” attitude towards nationalism, only their “intractability” in respect of the unification of Germany and her renovation “from above”, that helped provide a sound basis for a genuinely Social-Democratic workers’ party. And in those days the essential thing was the basis of the party.

That the Lassalleans’ flirting with Bismarckism, or their “accommodations” to it, did not harm the German working-class movement was due only to the very energetic, ruthlessly sharp rebuff dealt to their intrigues by Bebel and Liebknecht.

When the question was settled historically, five years after the foundation of the German Empire, Bebel andLiebknecht were able to unite the two workers’ parties and ensure the hegemony of Marxism in the united party.

Under the leadership of Bebel and Liebknecht the party learned to combine illegal and legal work. When the majority of the legally-existing Social-Democratic group in parliament adopted an opportunist position on the famous question of voting for the shipping subsidy, the illegal Sozialdemokrat opposed the group and, after a battle four weeks long, proved victorious.

Lenin, Volume 21, page 49 - 91; 1914

Karl Marx

From 1864 to 1870, when the period of the consummation of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Germany was coming to an end, a period in which the Prussian and Austrian exploiting classes were struggling to complete that revolution in one way or another from above, Marx not only rebuked Lassalle, who was coquetting with Bismarck, but also corrected Liebknecht, who had “lapsed into Austrophilism” and a defense of particularism; Marx demanded revolutionary tactics which would combat with equal ruthlessness both Bismarck and the Austrophiles, tactics which would not be adapted to the “victor”—the Prussian Junkers—but would immediately renew the revolutionary struggle against him despite the conditions created by the Prussian military victories (Briefwechsel, Vol. 3, pp. 134, 136, 147, 179, 204, 210, 215, 418, 437, 440-41).


Lenin, Volume 21, pages ; 1st February 1915

Sotsial-Demokrat No. 37

The Russian Brand of Südekum

The word Südekum has come to be used in a generic sense to denote a type of smug and unscrupulous opportunist and social-chauvinist. It is a good sign that the Südekums are held in general contempt. There is, however, only one way for us to avoid falling into chauvinism ourselves in so doing: we must do everything we can to help unmask the Russian Südekums.

By his pamphlet On the War, Pleklianov has definitely placed himself at the head of the latter. His arguments are a substitution of sophistry for dialectics all along the line. He sophistically denounces German opportunism so as to shield French and Russian opportunism. The result is not a struggle against international opportunism, but support for it.

He sophistically confuses the period of imperialism (i.e., one in which, as all Marxists hold, the objective conditions are ripe for the collapse of capitalism, and there are masses of socialist proletarians), and the period of bourgeois-democratic national movements; in other words, he confuses a period in which the destruction of bourgeois fatherlands by an international revolution of the proletariat is imminent.

To analyse all of Plekhanov’s sophisms would require a series of articles, and many of his ridiculous absurdities are hardly worth going into. We shall touch upon only one of his alleged arguments. In 1870 Engels wrote to Marx that Wilhelm Liebknecht was mistaken in making anti-Bismarckism his sole guiding principle. Plekhanov was glad to have discovered the quotation: the same is true, he argues, with regard to anti-tsarism! Let us, however, try to replace sophistry (i.e., the method of clutching at the outward similarity of instances, without considering the nexus between events) with dialectics (i.e., the method of studying all the concrete. circumstances of an event and of its development). The unification of Germany was a necessity which Marx recognised as such both prior to and following 1848. As early as 1859, Engels called forthright upon the German people to fight for unification.[3] When unification through revolution failed, Bismarck achieved it in a counter-revolutionary, Junker fashion, Anti-Bismarckism became absurd as a sole principle, since the necessary unification was an accomplished fact. But what about Russia? Did our brave Pleklianov formerly have the courage to declare that Russia’s development demanded the conquest of Galicia, Constantinople, Armenia, Persia, etc.? Has he the courage to say so now? Has he considered that Germany had to progress from the national disunity of the Germans (who had been oppressed both by France and Russia in the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century) to a unified nation, whereas in Russia the Great Russians have crushed rather than united a number of other nations? Without giving thought to such things, Pleklianov has simply masked his chauvinism by distorting the meaning of the Engels quotation of 1870 in the same fashion as Südekum has distorted an 1891 quotation from Engels to the effect that the Germans must wage a life-and-death struggle against the allied armies of France and Russia.

We know that, for decades, three robbers (the bourgeoisie and the governments of Britain, Russia and France) were arming to pillage Germany. Is there anything surprising that two robbers began the attack before the other three got the new knives they had ordered? Is it not a sophism for phrases about “who started the war” to be used to gloss over the equal “guilt” of the bourgeoisie of all countries, which was unanimously recognised without question by all socialists at Basle?

Bourgeois fatherlands will exist until they are destroyed by the international revolution of the proletariat.

In reality, it is the bourgeois fatherlands that mutilate, cripple, crush and destroy the “living bond” between the German workers and the German land by creating a “bond” between the slave and the slave-owner. In reality, only the destruction of the bourgeois fatherlands can give the workers of all countries a “bond with the land”, freedom of their own language, bread, and the benefits of civilisation.

Lenin, Volume 21, pages ; July-August 1915

Socialism and War

Chapter I

The Principles of Socialism and the War of 1914–1915

The Attitude of Socialists Towards Wars

The Difference Between Aggressive and Defensive War

The epoch of 1789-1871 left deep tracts and revolutionary memories. Before feudalism, absolutism and alien oppression were overthrown, the development of the proletarian struggle for Socialism was out of the question. When speaking of the legitimacy of “defensive” war in relation to the wars of such an epoch, Socialists always had in mind precisely these objects, which amounted to revolution against medievalism and serfdom. By “defensive” war Socialists always meant a “just” war in this sense (W. Liebknecht once expressed himself precisely in this way). Only in this sense have Socialists regarded, and now regard, wars “for the defence of the fatherland”, or “defensive” wars, as legitimate, progressive and just. For example, if tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, India on England, Persia or China on Russia, and so forth, those would be “just”, “defensive” wars, irrespective of who attacked first; and every Socialist would sympathise with the victory of the oppressed, dependent,   unequal states against the oppressing, slaveowning, predatory “great” powers.


Lenin, Volume 21 ; July-August 1915

Socialism and War

False References to Marx and Engels

The Russian social-chauvinists (headed by Plekhanov), refer to Marx’s tactics in the war of 1870; the German (of the type of Lensch, David and Co.) to Engels’ statement in 1891 that in the event of war against Russia and France together, it would be the duty of the German Socialists to defend their fatherland; and lastly, the social-chauvinists of the Kautsky type, who want to reconcile and legitimatize international chauvinism, refer to the fact that Marx and Engels, while condemning war, nevertheless, constantly, from to 1870-1871 and 1876-1877, took the side of one or another belligerent state once war had broken out

All these references are outrageous distortions of the views of Marx and Engels in the interest of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, in just the same way as the writings of the Anarchists Guillaume and Co. distort the views of Marx and Engels in justification of anarchism. The war of 1870-1871 was a historically progressive war on the part of Germany until Napoleon III was defeated; for the latter, together with the tsar, had oppressed Germany for many years, keeping her in a state of feudal disintegration. But as soon as the war developed into the plunder of France (the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine), Marx and Engels emphatically condemned the Germans. And even at the beginning of that war Marx and Engels approved of the refusal of Bebel and Liebknecht to vote for credits and advised the Social-Democrats not to merge with the bourgeoisie, but to uphold the independent class interests of the proletariat. To apply the appraisal of this bourgeois-progressive and national-liberating war to the present   imperialist war means mocking at truth. The same applies with still greater force to the war of 1854-1855, and to all the wars of the nineteenth century, when there was no modern imperialism, no ripe objective conditions f or Socialism, and no mass Socialist parties in any of the belligerent countries, i.e., none of the conditions from which the Basle Manifesto deduced the tactics of “proletarian revolution” in connection with a war between the great powers.

Whoever refers today to Marx’s attitude towards the wars of the epoch of the progressive bourgeoisie and forgets Man’s statement that “the workers have no fatherland”, a statement that applies precisely to the epoch of the reactionary, obsolete bourgeoisie, to the epoch of the socialist revolution. shamelessly distorts Marx and substitute, the bourgeois for the socialist point of view.  

Lenin, Volume 24; pages 552-555; May 1917

First published in 1925 in the journal Krasnaya Letopis (Red Annals), No. 3 (14).

Letter to the District Committees of the Petrograd Organisation of the R.S.D.L.P. (Bolsheviks)

If you, comrades, have weighty and serious reasons for not trusting the C.C., then say so openly. It is the duty of every member of our democratically organised Party to do so, and then it would be the duty of our Party’s C.C. to give special consideration to this distrust of yours, report it to the Party congress and enter into special negotiations with a view to overcoming this deplorable lack of confidence in the C.C. on the part of the local organisation.

If there is no such lack of confidence, then it is unfair and wrong to challenge the C.C.’s right, vested in it by the Party congress, to direct the activities of the Party in general and its activities in the capital in particular.

Is our C.C. asking too much in wanting to direct the Petrograd papers? It is not. In the German Social-Democratic Party, in its best days, when Wilhelm Liebknecht stood at the head of the party for scores of years, he was the editor of the party’s Central Organ. The C.O. was published in Berlin. The Berlin organisation never had a special Berlin paper of its own. There was a Press Committee of workers, and there was a local section in the party’s Central Organ. Why should we depart from this good example which our comrades in other countries have set us?


Lenin, Volume 25


Letter to Bebel

"The 'people's state' has been thrown in our faces by the anarchists". In saying this, Engels above all has in mind Bakunin and his attacks on the German Social-Democrats. Engels admits that these attacks were justified insofar as the "people's state" was as much an absurdity and as much a departure from socialism as the "free people's state". Engels tried to put the struggle of the German Social-Democrats against the anarchists on the right lines, to make this struggle correct in principle, to ride it of opportunist prejudices concerning the “state”. Unfortunately, Engels' letter was pigeon-holed for 36 years. We shall see farther on that, even after this letter was published, Kautsky persisted in virtually the same mistakes against which Engels had warned.

Bebel replied to Engels in a letter dated September 21, 1875, in which he wrote, among other things, that he "fully agreed" with Engels' opinion of the draft programme, and that he had reproached Liebknecht with readiness to make concessions (p.334 of the German edition of Bebel's memoirs, Vol.II). But if we take Bebel's pamphlet, Our Aims, we find there views on the state that are absolutely wrong.

"The state must... be transformed from one based on class rule into a people's state." (Unsere Ziele, 1886, p.14)

This was printed in the ninth (ninth!) edition of Bebel's pamphlet! It is not surprising that opportunist views on the state, so persistently repeated, were absorbed by the German Social-Democrats, especially as Engels' revolutionary interpretations had been safely pigeon-holed, and all the conditions of life were such as to “wean” them from revolution for a long time.

* * *

And when we recall the importance which the Erfurt Programme acquired for all the Social- Democrats of the world, and that it became the model for the whole Second International, we may say without exaggeration that Engels thereby criticizes the opportunism of the whole Second International.

"The political demands of the draft," Engels wrote, "have one great fault. It lacks [Engels' italics] precisely what should have been said."

And, later on, he makes it clear that the German Constitution is, strictly speaking, a copy of the extremely reactionary Constitution of 1850, that the Reichstag is only, as Wilhelm Liebknecht put it, "the fig leaf of absolutism" and that to wish "to transform all the instruments of labor into common property" on the basis of a constitution which legalizes the existence of petty states and the federation of petty German states is an "obvious absurdity".

"To touch on that is dangerous, however," Engels added, knowing only too well that it was impossible legally to include in the programme the demand for a republic in Germany. But he refused to merely accept this obvious consideration which satisfied “everybody”. He continued: "Nevertheless, somehow or other, the thing has to be attacked. How necessary this is is shown precisely at the present time by opportunism, which is gaining ground [einreissende] in a large section of the Social-Democrat press. Fearing a renewal of the Anti-Socialist Law, or recalling all manner of overhasty pronouncements made during the reign of that law, they now want the Party to find the present legal order in Germany adequate for putting through all Party demands by peaceful means...."

Lenin, Volume 33, pages 351-352

2 May 1922

On the Tenth Anniversary of Pravda

Some infant Spenglers—I apologise for the expressionmay conclude (every variety of nonsense can he expected from the “clever” leaders of the Second and Two-and-aHalf Internationals) that this estimate of the revolutionary forces fails to take into account the European and American proletariat. These “clever” leaders always argue as if the fact that birth comes nine months after conception necessarily means that the exact hour and minute of birth can be defined beforehand, also the position of the infant during delivery, the condition of the mother and the exact degree of pain and danger both will suffer. Very “clever”! These gentry cannot for the life of them understand that from the point of view of the development of the international revolution the transition from Chartism to Henderson’s servility to the bourgeoisie, or the transition from Varlin to Renaudel, from Wilhelm Liebknecht and Bebel to Sudekum, Scheidemanu and Noske, can only be likened to an automobile passing from a smooth highway stretching for hundreds of miles to a dirty stinking puddle of a few yards in length on that highway.

Men are the makers of history. But the Chartists, the Varlins and the Liebknechts applied their minds and hearts to it. The leaders of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals apply other parts of the anatomy: they fertilise the ground for the appearance of new Chartists, new Varlins and new Liebknechts.

At this most difficult moment it would be most harmful for revolutionaries to indulge in self-deception. Though Bolshevism has become an international force, though in all the civilised and advanced countries new Chartists, new Varlins, new Liebknechts have been born, and are growing up as legal (just as legal as our Pravda was under the tsars ten years ago) Communist Parties, nonetheless, for the time being, the international bourgeoisie still remains incomparably stronger than its class enemy. This bourgeoisie, which has done everything in its power to hamper the birth of proletarian power in Russia and to multiply tenfold the dangers and suffering attending its birth, is still in a position to condemn millions and tens of millions to torment and death through its whiteguard and imperialist wars, etc. That is something we must not forget. And we must skilfully adapt our tactics to this specific situation. The bourgeoisie is still able freely to torment, torture and kill. But it cannot halt the inevitable and—from the standpoint of world history—not far distant triumph of the revolutionary proletariat.

May 2, 1922