66) Liquidationism and Otzovism

The demoralization of the Mensheviks was expressed in the phenomenon which became known as liquidationism. Under conditions of reaction, the majority of the petty-bourgeois fellow travellers of the RSDLP swung to the right. This was not so much a worked-out political trend but a definite mood that permeated this social stratum, a mood of skepticism in the future of the socialist revolution, and above all a mood of doubt—doubts about the revolutionary potential of the working class, doubts about the validity of Marxist philosophy, doubts about themselves—doubts about everything. The clearest manifestation of this state of mind among the intelligentsia on the right wing of the movement was “liquidationism” among the Mensheviks, but it had its mirror image on the left in the “otzovism” that emerged in the ranks of the Bolsheviks. The feebleness of the Social Democratic Duma fraction, dominated by the Mensheviks, its organic tendency towards compromise with the liberals, and its rejection of control by the Party provoked the opposite trend of recallism and ultimatism. As Lenin often observed, ultraleftism is the price the movement has to pay for opportunism. But, under conditions of growing reaction, refusal to make use of the Third Duma for the purpose of rallying the scattered forces of the Party would have been clearly harmful.

Liquidationist moods found their most developed expression in a layer of Menshevik intellectuals and writers. People like Potresov, Larin, Dan, Martynov, Axelrod, Cherevanin constantly accused the Bolsheviks of extremism, of going too far, and of fighting the bourgeois liberals. Some advocated giving up the idea of armed uprising altogether and making the Duma the focal point of all Social Democratic activity—that is, they stood for the abandonment of the perspective of revolution. Other Mensheviks like Zhordania did not go so far, but argued that, since the objective character of the revolution was bourgeois-democratic, the bourgeoisie (that is, the liberals) must lead it. This meant the abandonment of the hegemony of the working class—a “theoretical” justification for the organic lack of trust in the working class on the part of the middle class intellectual, who disguises his servile acceptance of the rule of the big bourgeoisie behind a string of sophistries which “prove” that the proletariat is unfit to stand at the head of society. This prejudice may be expressed directly and “sincerely” (the workers are too ignorant, “don’t understand,” etc.) or in more subtle forms— “the revolution is bourgeois-democratic,” “the time is not right,” and so on and so forth. After all, for the intellectuals, accustomed to playing with ideas as with pieces on a chessboard, it is not difficult to make out a clever-sounding argument for any proposition whatever, in line with their current mood or self-interest (the two things are usually closely related). For these people, if one is to tell the truth, the time for the working class to take control of society will never be right. The Mensheviks tried to base themselves on all kinds of “erudite” arguments and quotes from Marx to “prove” that the Russian workers must subordinate themselves to the bourgeois liberals, help them to take power, introduce democracy, and then usher in a long period of capitalist development, after which, in about a hundred years or so, the objective conditions would be ready for socialism. In reality, such a position had nothing to do with Marxism, but was only a scholastic caricature. It was answered many times by Lenin and Trotsky. As a matter of fact, it was already answered in advance by Marx and Engels.

At bottom, all this was an expression of a collapse of morale. As early as October 1907, Potresov wrote to Axelrod:

We are undergoing complete disintegration and utter demoralization . . .
There is not only no organization, but not even the elements for it. And this nonexistence is even extolled as a principle.380

On February 20, 1908, Axelrod wrote a letter to Plekhanov expressing his deep pessimism about the future:

Without leaving it [the Party] for the time being, and without pronouncing the inevitability of its demise, we should nevertheless consider it from this perspective and not identify our future movement with what happens to it.381

In the spring of 1908, the Mensheviks began to disband the underground Party organizations in Moscow and replace them with so-called initiative groups, which mainly limited themselves to those cultural activities and work in cooperatives and clubs that was permitted by the existing legislation. In July, Alexander Martynov and Boris Goldman issued an open call for the dissolution of the Party’s Central Committee and its replacement by an “information bureau.” This, in effect, meant the liquidation of the Party as a revolutionary force and the adaptation to the laws established by the Stolypin reaction.

The struggle against liquidationism was thus the struggle to preserve the Party as a revolutionary organization—the struggle against the attempt of the right wing to water down and abandon its revolutionary aims and policy and to subordinate it to the liberals. Lenin spoke with scorn of the liquidationist tendencies, which he immediately saw as a reflection of the demoralized state of the intellectuals, who were turning their backs on the revolution with the excuse of rejecting “old” methods of struggle and organization.

“The connection between liquidationism and the general philistine mood of ‘weariness’ is obvious,” he wrote.

The “weary” (particularly those weary as a result of doing nothing) are making no effort to work out for themselves an exact answer to the question of the economic and political appraisal of the current moment . . . “Weary” persons of this kind, who ascend the rostrum of the publicist and from it justify their “weariness” of the old, their unwillingness to work on the old, belong to the category of people who are not just “weary,” but are treacherous as well.382

“The more this banner is ‘unfurled,’” Lenin wrote elsewhere, “the clearer does it become that what we have before us is a dirty liberal rag worn to shreds.” This was the essential nature of the struggle between Bolshevism and Menshevism that was to culminate in the split of 1912.

All this was, as Lenin understood, an expression of the counterrevolutionary moods among the intellectuals—their despair, their loss of faith in the working class and the perspective of a new revolution. It was the most obvious manifestation, but not the only one. Lenin often said that ultraleftism is the price which the workers’ movement pays for opportunism. Liquidationism found its reflection in ultraleftism. But whereas the former trend affected the Mensheviks, the latter found an echo in the ranks of Bolshevism, where it caused a great deal of damage. Already in March and April of 1908, some Social Democratic groups in Moscow put forward the idea of recalling the Party’s deputies and of boycotting the Duma. The Russian word for “recall” is “otzvat,” from which we get the name of this tendency—otzovism (recallism). Lenin had come down firmly in favor of participation in the elections to the Third Duma. This was approved by the rank and file in the third Conference of the RSDLP (“Second All-Russian” Conference) which was held on July 21–23, 1907, in Kotka in Finland. Present were 26 full delegates—nine Bolsheviks, five Mensheviks, five Poles, two Letts, and five Bundists. This position was not quite as clear-cut as it appears, since by this time serious cracks had opened up inside the Bolshevik faction. Some of the Bolshevik delegation were “boycottists.” However, the Poles and Letts supported Lenin’s position. The Party participated in the election. Four Bolsheviks were elected out of a total Social Democratic fraction numbering 19.

The inner Party dispute raised its head at every meeting. On November 5–12, 1907, the fourth—or third “All-Russia”—Conference, held in Helsingfors, once again discussed Duma tactics. Of the 27 delegates present, ten were Bolsheviks, four Mensheviks, five Poles, five Bundists, and three Letts. Lenin argued in favor of using the Duma, not as a vehicle for obtaining reforms—as argued by the Liquidators—but as a platform for revolutionary agitation, and always on the basis of class independence, not blocs with Cadets, as advocated by the Bundists and Mensheviks. It was agreed to accept temporary agreements with working class and peasant groups to the left of the Cadets, with a view to winning away the peasantry from the influence of bourgeois liberals. This was an important boost for Lenin’s position. Things appeared to be going in the right direction. Then there was a new setback.

In the spring of 1908, all the Bolshevik members of the Bureau in Russia were suddenly arrested. This completely disorganized the work of the Bolshevik faction in Russia. It was at this point that the Mensheviks took advantage of the situation by trying to turn the CC into a mere information center. This proposal was defeated at the August Plenum, which took place in 1908 in Geneva. As usual, the Bolsheviks were backed by the Poles and Letts. It was decided to call a party conference to discuss the issue of liquidationism. The Mensheviks opposed this idea, as did the otzovists, who called for a “purely Bolshevik congress,” at a time when Lenin was trying to hold things together. In addition to the recall of the Duma fraction, the otzovist tendency demanded that the Party boycott work in the legal organizations. Under the prevailing conditions of counterrevolution it was essential that the Marxists made use of all legal openings, no matter how limited: trade unions, workers’ clubs, insurance societies and, above all, the Duma. To turn one’s back on these legal possibilities would have been a disastrous error. It would have signified abandoning any attempt to reach the masses, thus reducing the party to a mere sect. Lenin waged an implacable struggle against this ultraleft trend, which he correctly characterized as “liquidationism turned inside-out.”

Ultraleft moods were prevalent among the leading layer of the Bolshevik faction at this time. The main proponents of this trend included such key figures as Alexander Bogdanov (Maximovich), Grigory Alexinsky, A. Sokolov (Volsky), Martin Lyadov (Mandelshtamm), and also Gorky, whose limited grasp of the theoretical basis of Marxism was shown by his support for a semimystical philosophical trend called “god-building.” The urge to criticize and revise the fundamental theoretical postulates of Marxism was equally a reflection of the prevailing moods of pessimism and despair among the intelligentsia which can be observed repeatedly in the history of counterrevolutionary periods. Bogdanov’s support for an ultraleft policy was organically connected to his philosophical revisionism and rejection of dialectical materialism, which antedated the 1905 Revolution. Anxious as ever to make use of the services of talented people, Lenin was prepared to put up with Bogdanov’s eccentric ideas about philosophy, while making clear that he disagreed with them. But in the context of rampant counterrevolution, with desertion, despair, and apostasy on all sides, Lenin realized that it was impermissible to tolerate any further backsliding. To allow the Party to be permeated with the rotten mysticism emanating from its periphery of middle-class intellectuals would have been suicidal. It would have led inevitably to the liquidation of the Marxist party, beginning with its cadres.

It was necessary to make a stand in defense of Marxist theory, and Lenin did not hesitate to take up the cudgels, even though it might lead to a break with most of the leading comrades. Lenin’s fervent defense of Marxist philosophy has earned him many an ironic comment from non-Marxist historians. Naturally. If one does not accept Marxism anyway, how can one understand the need for a struggle for Marxist theoretical principles? Yet Marxism is a scientific doctrine which has an inner logic. It is not possible to separate out the three component parts of Marxism, as Lenin described them, accepting some and rejecting others, as one would select a tie or a pair of socks. Dialectical materialism stands at the heart of Marxism because it is the method of Marxism. Without dialectical materialism, the whole of Marxism falls to the ground, or else is transformed into a formalistic and lifeless dogma. Precisely for this reason, the bourgeoisie and its hangers-on in the universities have directed a constant tirade against Marxist dialectics which it tries to present as some kind of mystical idea or else as a meaningless sophistry. As a matter of fact, dialectical materialism represents the only consistent form of materialism, and therefore the only really consistent way of struggling against all forms of mysticism and religion. And the history of science is sufficient proof that science and religion are mutually incompatible schools of thought. Lenin’s struggle to defend Marxist philosophy was not understood by many party activists at the time. The average theoretical level of the membership had declined as a result of the rapid growth and the loss of experienced cadres through imprisonment and exile. Many of those who remained lacked a thorough grounding in Marxism, and, in the difficult conditions of underground work, looked askance at the apparently obscure and remote discussions taking place among the exiles. There were frequent appeals for unity and complaints about the factional struggle. But nothing could deflect Lenin from his course.


380 See Trotsky, Stalin, 110.

381 Quoted in Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2, 251–52.

382 LCW, Those who would liquidate us, vol. 17, 71–72.

67) Mood of the Intelligentsia

The period of reaction expressed itself not only in physical acts of repression, but in far more insidious ways. The trauma of defeat affected people psychologically in a thousand different ways, in an epidemic of depression, pessimism, and despair. The working class does not live in isolation from other social layers. It is surrounded in all countries and in every period by other classes, in particular the petty bourgeoisie in all its innumerable subdivisions, which acts as a huge conveyer belt transmitting the moods, prejudices, and ideas of the ruling class into every corner of society. The proletariat is not immune to the pressure of alien classes transmitted via the petty bourgeoisie. Such influences play a particularly malevolent role in periods of reaction. Disappointed in the revolution and the working class, sections of the intellectuals withdrew from the struggle to retreat within themselves, where they felt safe against the storm blowing outside. The reactionary mood of the intelligentsia expressed itself in a variety of ways—subjectivism, hedonism, mysticism, metaphysics, pornography. It found its reflection in literature, in the prevailing school of Symbolism; in philosophy, where revolutionary dialectics were rejected in favor of Kantianism, with its strong subjective element. All this was merely an expression of the demoralization of the intellectuals, a turning aside from the world and an attempt to seek refuge in an “interior life,” which under all manner of pretentious and essentially meaningless labels (“Art for Art’s sake,” and so on) provided a comforting excuse for contemplating their navels. A contemporary source recalls how:


The radical sons of petty merchants submitted to their fate and took up positions behind the counters of their father’s business. One or other of the socialist students buried himself in knowledge as in a monastery.

This phenomenon is not new. It is something common to every period of reaction, when the hopes of the intelligentsia in revolution are dashed. After the fall of Robespierre, we saw the rise of the “gilded youth,” and a tendency towards hedonism and egotism. A similar phenomenon may be observed in England after the restoration of Charles II. The defeat of the 1848 Revolution in France saw a movement of the artists and poets, who had earlier displayed revolutionary tendencies, towards introversion and mysticism, the literary manifestation of which was the Symbolism of Baudelaire. It is no accident that the predominant school of Russian poetry during the years of Stolypin reaction was precisely Symbolism. A schoolboy of the time explains:

Now it was no longer Marx and Engels, but Nietzsche and Baudelaire and Wagner and Leonardo da Vinci whom we passionately discussed, we did not sing revolutionary songs but recited to one another poems of contemporary symbolist poets and our own imitations of them. A new period had begun.383

The principal trait of this poetry is its inward-looking character. The isolated individual turns his back on the world and seeks refuge in the darkness of the soul. As one Russian Symbolist expressed it:

We are all alone,
Always alone.
I was born alone.
Alone I shall die.

The whole movement was impregnated with religious and mystical notions. The author Fyodor Sollogub wrote: “I am the god of a mysterious world, all the world is in my dreams alone.” And V.V. Rozanov: “All religions will pass, but this alone will remain, simply sitting in a chair and looking in the distance.”384 And so on and so forth. This phenomenon was by no means confined to literature. Intellectual fellow travellers of the Cadets produced a journal called Vekhi (Landmarks) which attempted to give a philosophical basis to the mood of despair and pessimism among the petty bourgeoisie.


“The intelligentsia should stop dreaming of the liberation of the people—we should fear the people more than all the executions carried out by the government, and hail this government which alone, with its bayonets and its prisons, still protects us from the fury of the masses,” wrote M.O. Gershenzon in the pages of Vekhi.385

A kind of de facto reactionary division of labor was established. While right-wing journals like Vekhi  and Russkaya Mysl openly lauded and excused the reaction, in the salons of Moscow and St. Petersburg, intellectual ex-lefts, anxious to find some profound justification for their abandonment of the revolutionary cause, opened up a more subtle and more insidious assault on the ideology of Marxism which had so badly let them down. These unconscious or half-conscious antirevolutionary moods among the intelligentsia were given a finished form by those renegades who had earlier formed the basis of the trend which became known as Legal Marxism, such as Struve, the philosopher Bardyayev, A.S. Izgoev, and D.S. Merezhkovsky. These former exponents of an anemic and half-digested university “Marxism,” which is to be found in every period in academic circles, by some misconception imagine themselves to be Marxists, without any real relation to the real world of the class struggle. At the first signs of difficulties, these “fellow travellers” jump ship and become apologists of reaction.

Of the two enemies, it is difficult to say which was the more harmful. This theoretical backsliding threatened the future of the revolutionary movement, gnawing away at its very foundations. It was imperative to engage in an implacable ideological struggle on all fronts to save the Party from a complete debacle. Not by accident, dialectics was singled out for attack by the intellectual critics of Marxism. Despite appearances, dialectics is not at all an abstract philosophical doctrine with no practical implications, but the theoretical basis of Marxism, its method and its revolutionary essence. Rejection of dialectical materialism implies rejection not only of the scientific philosophical basis of Marxism, but above all of its revolutionary essence.

These alien ideas soon began to penetrate the workers’ party itself. Kantianism was smuggled in via the fashionable theories of Ernst Mach, the Austrian physicist and philosopher whose theories were impregnated with the spirit of subjective idealism. In this guise, anti-Marxist philosophical views were echoed by the ultraleft trend in Bolshevism, including such leading members of Lenin’s faction as Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, and V.A. Bazarov. As usual, the lapse into revisionism was carried out under the banner of the search for new ideas. The appeal to novelty and originality always prefaces a reversion to old ideas fished out from the prehistory of the workers’ movement—anarchism, Proudhonism, Kantianism. As the French saying goes: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!” (“The more things change, the more they stay the same!”). This trend tried to marry Marxism with . . . religion! Its supporters gave themselves some fancy names—“God Builders” and “God Seekers”—which reveal their real nature far more accurately than intended. Lunacharsky’s book Religion and Socialism argued that the “cold and impersonal” theories of Marxism could not be grasped by the masses and proposed the creation of a “new religion,” which would be a “godless religion,” a “religion of labor,” and so on and so forth. Socialism was referred to as a “new, powerful religious force.”386 This mystical claptrap masquerading under the name of philosophy filled Lenin with indignation.

After a stormy united Party Conference held in Paris in December 1909, a new editorial board for Sotsial Demokrat was elected, consisting of Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Martov, and Marchiewski. Nine issues were put out in the course of the year, during which, as Krupskaya recalls, “Martov was in a minority of one on the new editorial board, and he often forgot about his Menshevism.” And she adds:

I remember Ilyich once remarked with satisfaction that it was good to work with Martov, as he was an exceedingly gifted journalist. But that was only until Dan arrived.387

Many people get the idea that Lenin was a very hard man who took a perverse delight in “hammering” his opponents in polemics. This impression—very far from the truth—is derived from a one-sided acquaintance with Lenin’s writings. If one merely reads the public articles, many of which were naturally of a polemical character, then it does seem that Lenin treats his opponents none too gently. But this gives only one side of the picture. If one reads Lenin’s correspondence, an entirely different picture emerges. Lenin was always extraordinarily patient and loyal in his dealings with comrades. He would go to great lengths to convince and carry his colleagues with him. Only in the last analysis, when the disputed issues passed over into the public domain, especially where issues of principle were at stake, Lenin would come out fighting. At this juncture, diplomacy took a back seat and no feelings were spared. For Lenin, all other considerations were secondary when it came to the defense of the fundamental principles of Marxism. This method can be seen clearly in this case.

That Bogdanov had reservations about dialectical materialism was not new. But in the storm and stress of the revolution, such things appeared of little importance. In any case, there was no time to devote to philosophy. But under conditions of reaction, the question appeared in an altogether different light. The dangers were all too clear. But to split over such questions, and in such a difficult situation—this thought was too awful to contemplate. Initially, Lenin attempted to play down the differences, so as to avoid a damaging conflict inside the Bolshevik leadership:

“At the end of March,” recalls Krupskaya, “Ilyich had been of the opinion that philosophical disputes could and should be detached from political groupings within the Bolshevik section. He believed that such disputes in the section would show better than anything else that Bogdanov’s philosophy could not be put on the same level as Bolshevism.”

But then she adds: “It grew clearer every day, however, that the Bolshevik group would soon fall apart.”388

In his shallow and pretentious memoirs, N.V. Volsky (Valentinov) gives a picture of the sharp conflicts over philosophy that shook the Bolshevik organization at this time.389 Reading this, one realizes that Lenin must have had the patience of Job. But everything has its limits. Despite all Lenin’s attempts at peacemaking, the differences were too serious to paper over. To make matters worse, a defiant Bogdanov wrote an article in Kautsky’s journal Die Neue Zeit praising Machism. For Lenin, this was like a red rag to a bull. The German Party was the leading party of the International. To go public in the German party press was an open provocation. Worse still, the SPD had an ambiguous position on the question of philosophy, while the Austrian Social Democratic theoretician Friedrich Adler hailed Machism as a great scientific discovery. By giving the polemic in the Russian Party such a high profile internationally, Bogdanov upped the ante and deepened the split. From this moment there was no turning back.

It was very hard for Lenin to break with people with whom he had worked closely, as Krupskaya points out: “For about three years prior to this we had been working with Bogdanov and the Bogdanovites hand in hand, and not just working, but fighting side by side. Fighting for a common cause draws people together more than anything. Ilyich, on the other hand, was wonderful at being able to fire people with his ideas, infect them with his enthusiasm, while at the same time bringing out the best in them, taking from them what others had failed to take. Every comrade working with him seemed, as it were, to have a part of Ilyich in him, and that perhaps is why he was so close to them.


The conflict within the group was a nerve-wracking business. I remember Ilyich once coming home after having had words with the otzovists. He looked awful, and even his tongue seemed to have turned grey. We decided that he was to go to Nice for a week to get away from the hurly-burly and take it easy in the sunshine. He did, and returned fit again.390

Lenin now felt he had no alternative but to wage a war to the death against the supporters of Bogdanov. But as it happened, it was not Lenin, but Plekhanov who fired the first shot. His article Materialismus Militans (Militant Materialism), was written partly as an open letter to Bogdanov. But the main theoretical response was Lenin’s philosophical masterpiece, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, one of the seminal works of modern Marxism. This book played a key role in the ideological rearmament of the Russian working class and the reorientation of the movement, combating retrograde tendencies and reactionary ideas. Lenin cuts across the fog of mysticism as a hot knife cuts through butter. It was now a question of war to the finish. The hardening of Lenin’s attitude can be seen from his letters to his sister Anna, who was handling relations with the publisher of Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. The latter tried to tone down the language used against the other side. But Lenin was now adamant that no concessions at all be made. In his text he used the word popovshchina (an untranslatable word, meaning approximately “priestliness”) to describe the outlook of the supporters of empirio-monism. This was incorrectly translated as “fideism,” which, apart from being linguistically inaccurate, clearly marked an attempt to water down the tone of Lenin’s polemic. This called forth a sharp rebuke from the author, expressed not in one letter but in several, for example, one dated March 9, 1909:

Please do not tone down the places against Bogdanov and against Lunacharsky’s popovshchina. We have completely broken off relations with them. There is no reason for toning them down. It is not worth the truble.391

And again, only three days later:

Please do not tone down anything in the places against Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, and Co. They must not be toned down. You have deleted the passage about Chernov being a “more honest” opponent than they, which is a great pity. The shade of meaning you have given it is not the one I want. There is now no overall consistency in my accusations. The crux of the issue is that our Machists are dishonest, mean-spirited, cowardly enemies of Marxism in philosophy.392


383 Quoted in L. Kochan, Russia in Revolution, 155 in both quotes.

384 Ibid., 155.

385 Quoted in O. Figes, A People’s Tragedy, 209.

386 Lunacharsky, Revolutionary Silhouettes, 35.

387 Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, 193.

388 Ibid., 181.

389 See Valentinov, Encounters with Lenin, 1968.

390 Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, 193–94.

391 Letter to his sister Anna, March 9, 1909, LCW Vol. 37, 414.

392 Letter to his sister Anna, March 12, 1909, LCW Vol. 37, 416.

68) The Bolsheviks Split

The leadership of the Bolshevik faction was now openly split. Their journal Proletary had a “narrow” editorial board, composed of Lenin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev, whose collaboration began in these years, together with Bogdanov and CC members Goldenberg and Dubrovinsky. The above-named editors met together with others in a mini-Conference in Paris in June 8–17 (21–30), 1909. Among those present were Rykov and Tomsky, the future trade union leader from Petersburg. The aim of the conference was to discuss “otzovism” and “ultimatism.” In open debate, Bogdanov defended his position, but was practically isolated. With the exception of Shantser, who took a conciliationist position, and two abstentions (Tomsky and Goldenberg), all the other delegates voted for Lenin’s position. The conference also discussed the philosophical views of Bogdanov’s group which were condemned. However, it should be noted that all Lenin’s positions were accepted with votes against and abstentions. Of course, there is nothing unusual about decisions being taken by majority votes. The idea that every vote must be unanimous belongs to the tradition of Stalinism, with its cult of the infallible Leader, something completely alien to the democratic traditions of Bolshevism. But in this case, the abstentions were significant in that many Party activists in Russia regarded the dispute on philosophy as an incomprehensible luxury in the difficult conditions in which the Party was now operating. For such people, to tell the truth, disputes about theory are always “inopportune.”

A typical example of this cast of mind was Stalin, who completely failed to grasp what Lenin was driving at. In a letter to M.G. Tskhkaya, he stated that empirio-criticism had good sides also, and that the task of Bolsheviks was to develop the philosophy of Marx and Engels “in the spirit of J. Deitzgen, mastering on the way the good sides of Machism.” This winged phrase, like others of the same kind that reveal Stalin’s narrow, ignorant, and crude vision of Marxism, were naturally omitted from his Collected Works, but survived in some forgotten corner of the Party archives, from whence they were extracted by the authors of the official Party history published under Khrushchev.393 In all probability Stalin had never read a single line of Mach, and, as the personification of the Party “practico,” was indifferent to such theoretical questions, which were regarded as an annoying irrelevance and a distraction to everyday Party tasks. The above quote represents a clumsy attempt to achieve unity by the simple device of ignoring principled questions altogether.

However, Stalin was not the only one to fail to recognize the importance of the struggle for theoretical principles. On the contrary. Such attitudes were widespread in the ranks of the Bolsheviks, including Lenin’s closest collaborators. The future leader of the Soviet trade unions, Mikhail Tomsky, was against all philosophy and declared, “I have never felt nostalgic about philosophy. Those who are going into philosophy want to escape the realities.”394

On May 26, 1908, Kamenev wrote in the first version of a letter to Bogdanov:

If . . . I am confronted with the ultimatum of working together politically, you must approve all the steps taken by us against our philosophical opponents . . . of course, in the struggle of these groups I have no other way out but to withdraw from this struggle.395

Following the line of least resistance, he advocated that the Party’s central organ, Sotsial Demokrat, should publish not only articles by those who defended dialectical materialism, but also by those who opposed it. This at a time when Lenin had come to the conclusion that a complete break with the Bogdonovites was necessary. In the summer of 1908, Lenin wrote to Vorovsky, who had worked with him in Vperyod and in 1905, in terms which make it clear that an open break with the Bogdanov group was only a matter of time. Lenin even envisaged that he might be in a minority, in which case, he would make the break:

Dear friend,

Thanks for the letter. Both your “suspicions” are wrong. I was not suffering from nerves, but our position is difficult. A split with Bogdanov is imminent. The true cause is offense at the sharp criticism of his philosophical views at lectures (not at all in the newspaper). Now Bogdanov is hunting out every kind of difference of opinion. Together with Alexinsky, who is kicking up a terrible row and with whom I have been compelled to break off all relations, he has dragged the boycott out into the light of day.

They are trying to bring about a split on empirio-monistic and boycott grounds. The storm will burst very soon. A fight at the coming conference is inevitable. A split is highly probable. I shall leave the faction as soon as the policy of the “Left” and of true “boycottism” gets the upper hand.396

During this period, Lenin’s fortunes fell to their nadir. Although the support of the Polish and Latvian Social Democrats gave a majority to the Bolshevik positions at Party meetings, within the Bolshevik faction Lenin now found himself in a minority. Most of his closest former collaborators—Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, Lyadov—were otzovists. The new generation of leaders were strongly inclined to conciliationism. Lenin, Krupskaya, and the men who were to become their closest companions in the next few years, Zinoviev and Kamenev, were compelled to emigrate to Switzerland. An inveterate optimist by nature, Lenin was not given to bouts of depression. But when he arrived back in Geneva in January 1908, the signs of strain were showing. The atmosphere of gloom and depression permeates every line of the following passage of Krupskaya’s memoirs:

Geneva looked bleak. There was not a speck of snow about, and a cold cutting wind was blowing—the bise. Postcards with a view of the freezing water near the railings of the Geneva Lake embankment were being sold. The town looked dead and empty. Among the comrades living there at the time were Mikha Tskhakaya, V. Karpinsky, and Olga Ravich. Mikha Tskhakaya lived in a small room and got out of bed with difficulty when we arrived. The conversation flagged. The Karpinskys were then living in the Russian library (formerly Kuklin’s) where Karpinsky was manager. He had a very bad headache when we arrived and kept wincing all the time. All the shutters were closed, since the light hurt him. As we were going back from the Karpinskys through the desolate streets of Geneva, which had turned so unfriendly, Ilyich let fall: “I have a feeling as if I’ve come here to be buried.”397

Lenin’s misgivings were understandable. The situation of the Russian exiles was far worse than ever before. Funds had dried up, creating appalling hardship for people already traumatized by mental and physical suffering. The Bolsheviks had suffered most from arrests in the period of reaction, because the Liquidators confined themselves mainly to legal activities. Their organization had less money than the Mensheviks, who could always rely on wealthy backers from the intelligentsia. Mainly for this reason, Lenin had tolerated the continuation of the “expropriations” for longer than was really justified from a strictly political point of view. In January 1908, Lenin wrote a letter to the English socialist, Theodore Rothstein, underlining the dire financial position:

The Finnish smashup, the arrests of many comrades, the seizure of papers, the need to remove printing presses and to send many comrades abroad—all this has entailed heavy and unforeseen expenditure. The Party’s financial plight is all the more unfortunate because during two years everyone has grown out of the habit of working illegally and has been “spoiled” by legal or semilegal activities. Secret organizations have had to be organized almost afresh. This is costing a mint of money. And all the intellectualist, philistine elements are abandoning the Party; the exodus of the intelligentsia is enormous. Those remaining are pure proletarians who have no opportunity of making open collections.398

The acute shortage of funds meant that there was no longer any money to pay for the large number of exiles who flocked abroad. In mid-December 1908, Lenin moved to Paris with his mother-in-law and Krupskaya. The life of the exiles was even worse there than in Geneva because there were so many of them. A hardship fund was set up, but it was pathetically small and could only be used in cases of extreme necessity. Lenin eked out a living from writing articles and the small amounts that his mother could send him from time to time. Poverty, depression, and sickness were the common lot of the exiles. Some went mad and ended their lives in insane asylums, others in lonely hospital beds, or at the bottom of the river Seine. It was a frustrating and lonely time. Krupskaya recalls the case of a man who had fought in the Moscow uprising and was now living in a working class suburb in Paris, keeping himself to himself. One day he went mad and started to babble incoherently. Recognizing that the delirium was brought on by starvation, Krupskaya’s mother gave the man some food:

“Ilyich was white with misery as he sat beside the man,” she remembered. “I ran off to find a psychiatrist, who was a friend of ours, and the psychiatrist came and talked to the patient and gave it as his opinion that this was a serious case of insanity brought about by starvation, which had not yet reached a terminal stage; it would develop into persecution mania, and then the patient would be likely to commit suicide.”399

Such was the fate of the Russian exiles in the dark years of the Stolypin reaction.

While the Fifth Congress marked an important step forward for the Bolsheviks, it did not alter the fact that the movement inside Russia was facing very difficult times. The Bolsheviks were gaining the ear of the most radicalized sections of the workers and youth, but the general picture was one of unrelieved gloom. The June 3 coup ushered in a period of profound reaction. In 1907, the Party’s total membership was nominally 100,000. But this figure was to suffer a swift collapse. Only in the Caucasus was the decline somewhat less steep, but that was a stronghold of Menshevism. Nominal membership of the Bolshevik organization in Petersburg stood at 6,778 early in 1907. One year later the figure was halved to 3,000, but by the start of 1909, only 1,000 people admitted to membership. By the spring of 1910, the Okhrana put the total membership at a mere 506.400 Police raids continued to wreak havoc on the Party’s severely depleted underground organizations. In the first three months of 1908 the police struck again, this time concentrating on Party organizers in certain areas of Moscow and Petersburg. A member of the Bolshevik committee in Petersburg was forced to admit in private that, after the spring arrests, “work in the districts almost ceased . . .”401

Nor does this tell the whole story. Internal conflicts and splits meant that Lenin was almost totally isolated within his own faction. After the expulsion of Bogdanov’s group, the dominant trend in the leadership was the so-called conciliationist faction, which was increasingly disinclined to follow Lenin’s lead. Many years later, Trotsky described the situation of those bleak years in an interview with C.L.R. James (“Johnson”):

James: How many were there in the Bolshevik Party?

Trotsky: In 1910 in the whole country there were a few dozen people. Some were in Siberia. But they were not organized. The people whom Lenin could reach by correspondence or by agent numbered about 30 or 40 at most. However, the tradition and the ideas among the more advanced workers was a tremendous capital which was used later during the revolution, but practically, at this time we were absolutely isolated.402

The accuracy of this estimate is attested to by Zinoviev, who writes:


The years of Stolypin’s counterrevolution were the most critical and most dangerous in the Party’s existence. In retrospect we can say quite unhesitatingly that in those hard times the Party as such did not exist: it had disintegrated into tiny individual circles which differed from the circles of the 1880s and early 1890s in that, following the cruel defeat that had been inflicted upon the revolution, their general atmosphere was extremely depressed.403

The difficulties facing the underground Party were unprecedented.

“In the course of one year after the Fifth Congress,” writes Schapiro, “in many organizations where membership had been estimated in hundreds it was now reckoned in tens.”

And the same author estimates that “in the summer of 1909 only five or six Bolshevik committees in all were functioning.”404 The same story is told by many different authors. “No more than five or six Bolshevik committees were still operating in Russia, and the Moscow organization could boast only 150 members at the end of 1909,” writes Stephen Cohen.405

Krupskaya recalls the position:

They were difficult times. In Russia the organizations were going to pieces. The police, with the aid of agent provocateurs, had arrested the leading Party workers. Big meetings and conferences became impossible. It was not so easy for people, who had only recently been in the eye of the public, to go underground. In the spring (April-May) Kamenev and Warski (a Polish Social Democrat and intimate friend of Dzerzhinsky, Tyszka, and Rosa Luxemburg) were arrested in the street. A few days later Zinoviev, and then N.A. Rozhkov (a Bolshevik, member of our CC) were arrested, too, in the street. The masses withdrew into themselves. They wanted to think things over, try to understand what had happened; agitation of a general kind had palled and no longer satisfied anyone. People readily joined the study circles, but there was no one to take charge of them. These moods provided a favorable soil for otzovism.406

With the greatest difficulty, the Bolshevik center maintained contacts with local groups in Russia, using conspiratorial methods. Osip Piatnitsky once again found himself in charge of sending illegal literature into Russia, especially the Bolshevik journals Proletary and Sotsial Demokrat—just as in the bad old days before 1905. The external center for this activity was Leipzig, the internal center in Minsk. And, just as in the old times, his work was closely observed by the tsarist Okhrana, whose agent Zhitomirsky had infiltrated a key position in the Bolsheviks’ foreign organization. The Fifth Congress had approved a new way of electing the Party leadership at all levels. Given the acute problems of security, this had to include co-option. As leading people fell victim to police raids (efficiently directed by the likes of Zhitomirsky), so new people had to be co-opted to fill the gaps.

A letter from the Urals described the situation:

Our ideological forces are melting away like snow. The elements who avoid illegal organizations in general . . . and who joined the Party only at the time of the upsurge and of the de facto liberty that then existed in many places, have left our Party organizations.407

An article in the central organ summed up the position with the words: “The intellectuals, as is known, have been deserting in masses in recent months.” Commenting on this, Lenin writes:

But the liberation of the Party from the half-proletarian, half-petty-bourgeois intellectuals is beginning to awaken to a new life the new purely proletarian forces accumulated during the period of the heroic struggle of the proletarian masses. That same Kulebaki organization which was, as the quotation from the report shows, in a desperate condition—and was even quite “dead”—has been resurrected, it turns out. “Party nests among the workers [we read] scattered in large numbers throughout the area, in most cases without any intellectual forces, without literature, even without any connection with the Party Centers, don’t want to die . . . The number of organized members is not decreasing but increasing . . . There are no intellectuals, and the workers themselves, the most class-conscious among them, have to carry on propaganda work.” And the general conclusion reached is that “in a number of places responsible work, owing to the flight of the intellectuals, is passing into the hands of the advanced workers.” (Sotsial-Demokrat, no. 1, 28).408

This had its disadvantages, however. The Party had lost many of its most experienced people, one way or another. The new influx were mainly raw and inexperienced in underground work, which made them easier targets for the police. On the other hand, it was far easier for the police to infiltrate their agents into the underground committees, which were soon full of spies and provocateurs. In order to tighten up on security, methods of election were changed to fit the new conditions. Local organizations seem to have had different ways of electing their committees, reflecting the demands of illegality. In Moscow, instead of electing committees at an all-city aggregate, they were now elected by smaller local meetings. In the beginning there were party cells, committees, and groups in all the big factories, but as time went on and the police intensified their hunt for activists, the party committees were increasingly disrupted and the active membership reduced to a minimum expression. As a rule, district committees were supposed to meet once a month, while the executive of the DC was to meet weekly. But it is doubtful if this was really maintained in most areas. In general only small numbers were involved and those groups that remained active tended to function autonomously.

These changes, however, did little to protect the Party from the attentions of the ever-increasing network of spies and provocateurs that, in the prevailing climate of demoralization, managed to infiltrate even the most responsible posts and committees:

The gendarmes made visible the invisible text of the letter and—increased the population of the prisons. The scantiness of revolutionary ranks led unavoidably to the lowering of the Committee’s standards. Insufficiency of choice made it possible for secret agents to mount the steps of the underground hierarchy. With a snap of his finger the provocateur doomed to arrest any revolutionist who blocked his progress. Attempts to purge the organization of dubious elements immediately led to mass arrests. An atmosphere of suspicion and mutual distrust stymied all initiative. After a number of well-calculated arrests, the provocateur Kukushkin, at the beginning of 1910 became head of the Moscow district organization. “The ideal of the Okhrana is being realized,” wrote an active participant of the movement. “Secret agents are at the head of all the Moscow organizations.” The situation in Petersburg was not much better. “The leadership seemed to have been routed, there was no way of restoring it, provocation gnawed away at our vitals, organizations fell apart . . .” In 1909, Russia still had five or six active organizations; but even they soon sank into desuetude. Membership in the Moscow district organization, which was as high as 500 toward the end of 1908, dropped to 250 in the middle of the following year and half a year later to 150; in 1910 the organization ceased to exist.

In early 1909 Krupskaya wrote despairingly: “We have no people at all. All are scattered in prison and places of exile.”409 At the end of March 1910, Lenin complained:

There are few forces in Russia. Ah, if only we could send from here a good Party worker to the CC or for convening a conference! But here everyone is a “has-been.”410


393 See Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2, 272 (my emphasis).

394 Protokoly soveshchaniya rasshirennoy redaksii Proletariya, 12.

395 Pod Znamenem Marksizma, No. 9–10, 1932, 203 (my emphasis).

396 LCW, Letter to V.V. Vorovsky, July 1, 1908, vol. 34, 395.

397 Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, 162.

398 LCW, Letter to Theodore Rothstein, January 29, 1908, vol. 34, 375.

399 Quoted in Stanley Payne, The Life and Death of Lenin, 240.

400 See McKean, Between the Revolutions, 53.

401 Kudelli, in Krasnaya letopis’, No. 14, quoted in McKean, Between the Revolutions, 53.

402 Trotsky, Fighting Against the Stream, in Writings, 1938–39, 257.

403 Zinoviev, History of the Bolshevik Party, 165.

404 Schapiro, History of the CPSU, 101.

405 Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, 12.

406 Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, 183.

407 See LCW, On to the Straight Road, vol. 15, 18.

408 Ibid., 18 in both quotes

409 Quoted in Trotsky, Stalin, 95 in both quotes.

410 LCW, Letter to N.Y. Vilonov, March 27, 1910, vol. 34, 415.

69) The Pro-Party Mensheviks

Meanwhile, the Mensheviks had their own problems. The danger of liquidationism was becoming clear, not only to the Bolsheviks, but to a growing number of rank-and-file Mensheviks. The opportunism of the Duma fraction provoked the indignation of the Menshevik workers. By the end of 1908, a process of inner differentiation was taking place in their ranks. Many Menshevik workers were breaking with the Liquidators who increasingly found themselves politically isolated. The “Pro-Party Mensheviks,” headed by Plekhanov, defended the maintenance of the underground party organization, and naturally gravitated towards the Bolsheviks. Soon after the Fifth Congress Plekhanov left the editorial board of Golos Sotsial Demokrata (Social Democrat’s Voice) and launched his own journal, Dnevnik (The Diary), from which he launched a blistering attack on the “legalistic renegades.” Independent local groups broadly sympathetic to Plekhanov’s positions sprang up, especially among the exiles—in Paris, Geneva, Nice, and San Remo.

This unexpected development provided welcome relief for Lenin. Not only did it appear to hold out the hope of reuniting the revolutionary wing of the Party on a principled basis, but it might have fundamentally altered the balance of forces within the rival factions. Despite all the conflicts and hard words of the past, he showed great enthusiasm for the return of his old mentor to the revolutionary camp. Lenin probably hoped that unification with Plekhanov would help him to overcome the ultraleft tendencies in his own faction. In the delicate negotiations with the Pro-Party Mensheviks, Lenin showed both skill and sensitivity. Although the Bolsheviks were numerically far superior to the Plekhanovites, Lenin was careful not to present the relationship between the two trends in triumphalistic terms, but as a growing together of two equal groups of co-thinkers. He had to take into account the personal sensitivities of the eternally prickly Plekhanov, who wrote: “I mean a mutual drawing closer together, and not the Mensheviks switching to the Bolsheviks standpoint.”411 Lenin showed himself to be very tactful in this respect: “I am speaking of a mutual rapprochement, and not of the Mensheviks going over to the standpoint of the Bolsheviks,” he wrote.412

This was the real Lenin—a thousand light-years removed from the caricature of the rigid and unforgiving sectarian and fanatic which malicious and dishonest critics have systematically tried to peddle. On the other hand, considerations of tact and diplomacy for Lenin never outweighed the need for political clarity. What was needed was

an agreement on the basis of the struggle for the Party and the Party principle against liquidationism, without any ideological compromises, without any glossing over of tactical and other differences of opinion within the limits of the Party line.413

By forming a bloc with Lenin to combat both opportunism and ultraleftism, the founder of Russian Marxism paid his last service to the cause of the revolutionary working class and its party. Plekhanov came close to making the break with Menshevism at this time. He supported Lenin against both Liquidators and otzovists. But ultimately he proved unable to go the whole way. He balked at unity with the Bolsheviks, and this proved to be an insurmountable obstacle, preventing Pro-Party Mensheviks from going over to the camp of consistent revolutionism. This scenario has been played out many times in the history of the international labor movement. Under certain conditions, honest left reformist or centrist leaders can make the transition to the camp of revolutionary Marxism. But history shows that this is rather the exception than the rule. More often than not, the mental habits and inertia of long periods of stagnation, and the vacillations and ambiguity which flow from confusion and unwillingness to call things by their right name, act as a powerful brake to prevent the process from coming to fruition. Such individuals—even the best of them, like Plekhanov and Martov—tend to recoil at the moment of truth and sink back into the morass of opportunist politics.

For a time, however, the united front with Plekhanov’s group gave new heart to Lenin’s supporters. Ordzhonikidze wrote to Lenin: “I welcome Plekhanov’s about-turn with all my heart . . . If he now really takes up a firm position, that will undoubtedly be a plus for the Party.”414 Alas, it was not to be. Plekhanov’s rapprochement with Bolshevism was almost entirely confined to the organizational question. Politically, he remained in the orbit of Menshevism, reluctant to completely break the umbilical cord that tied him to his old friends. Inevitably, he veered to the right once more—this time for good. In the First World War, he found himself in the camp of reactionary patriotism. From the standpoint of the revolution, the great man was dead. But for the time being, the collaboration of Leninists and “Plekhanovites” had a positive effect. Many “Pro-Party Menshevik” workers later became Bolsheviks.


411 G.V. Plekhanov, Works, in Russian, vol. 19, 37.

412 Lenin, Collected Works, Russian edition, vol., XIX, 23.

413 LCW, Methods of the Liquidators and Party Tasks of the Bolsheviks, vol. 16, 101.

414 Quoted in Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2, 269.

70) Tensions in Proletary

The first and most pressing necessity was to resolve the simmering conflict with the ultraleft otzovists. In June 1909, the enlarged editorial board of Proletary met in Paris. Lenin hoped to make use of this meeting to firm up the leadership of the Bolshevik faction. In reality, it was a meeting of the Bolshevik factional center. At the meeting, there was a clash on an important question, which fully reveals the difference between Leninism and ultraleftism. Bogdanov called for a “purely Bolshevik congress,” that is to say, he wanted the Bolsheviks to split from the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party and constitute themselves as a separate party. The demand for a “purely Bolshevik congress” was supported by the other ultraleft Bolsheviks: Shantser, Lyadov, and Sokolov (Volsky). This doctrinaire appeal for the “independence” of the revolutionary party, whether it is a party of two, or two million, is the constant refrain of ultralefts throughout history. It has nothing in common with Lenin’s skillful and flexible tactics, which were always guided by the need to connect with the masses. The first task was to win over the advanced layers of the working class, which in Russia were organized in the RSDLP. The rise of the right-wing liquidationist tendency in the RSDLP was not an argument for splitting away the revolutionary wing but, on the contrary, for redoubling the fight to defeat the right wing inside the party and tear the workers away from their influence. Upon the results of this struggle depended the future of the revolution in Russia.

Bogdanov’s argument about splitting from the RSDLP in order to establish the “independence” of the revolutionary party was false to the core. In fact, the Bolsheviks were always independent, in the sense that they never compromised in the defense of their revolutionary program, policy, and theory. But that is insufficient. It is necessary to find a way of carrying these revolutionary ideas to the working class, starting with the most advanced, organized layers. To the extent that a significant part of the organized workers in Russia were still under the influence of the Mensheviks, it was essential to continue the struggle inside the RSDLP—to fight to win the majority. That was Lenin’s line. But in order to do this, it was necessary to organize the revolutionary wing separately, as a faction inside the RSDLP. The Bolsheviks had their own center, their own publications defending their revolutionary positions and carrying on a constant struggle against the party’s right wing. What more “independence” than this was required? The formal declaration of a separate party? That would be merely an empty gesture, or worse, an adventure. To have accepted this ultraleft line would have doomed the Bolsheviks to sectarian impotence and handed the party over to the reformists on a plate. Bogdanov’s position on this issue was a further manifestation of ultraleft moods born out of impatience and frustration.

To the disgust of the Bogdanovites, the meeting not only threw out the demand for the “purely Bolshevik congress,” but also underlined the need for a rapprochement with the Pro-Party Mensheviks. According to Soviet historians, this meeting “expelled” Bogdanov, but this is untrue. Despite the highly provocative behavior of Bogdanov and his followers, they were not expelled from the Bolsheviks at the Paris meeting, which limited itself to a declaration that the Bolshevik faction “could accept no responsibility” for their activities. This public disassociation of Bolshevism from ultraleftism was the prior condition for a rapprochement with the Pro-Party Mensheviks. But in any case, the break was clearly inevitable. The meeting also voted a resolution that instructed the Proletary representative on the central organ (CO) to “take a definite stand for the dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels on philosophical questions, if such should arise, in the CO.” This position was by no means unanimous. Tomsky voted against and Kamenev, true to form, abstained.

After the meeting of the enlarged editorial board of Proletary in Paris, the position did not improve, but rapidly deteriorated into an open conflict. Bogdanov’s group had no intention of accepting the decision of the majority, but went onto the offensive, publishing a factional leaflet, defending the minority’s position in defiance of the decisions of the meeting. As a result of his defiance, Bogdanov was expelled from the Bolshevik faction. “The Bolshevik group was breaking up,” writes Krupskaya.415 Lunacharsky moaned about Lenin’s “impatience” while Bogdanov published a tendentious account of the discussions. The Vperyodists replied by entering into an open and public conflict with the Bolshevik majority faction. They moved a motion at the Petersburg committee against participation in the Duma elections campaign. Lenin’s supporters replied by calling a better attended district aggregate, where they managed to get this reversed. Sverdlov, released from jail in autumn 1909, played an important role in the Moscow organization. This was a big help. But Lenin’s position was generally very insecure.

After the conference, the otzovists regrouped and established a factional center of their own. Realizing that they could not easily defeat Lenin in open debate, the Bogdanov group took advantage of the personal wealth and connections of Gorky, who sympathized with their philosophical views, to organize what was effectively a factional school in the unlikely surroundings of the Italian island of Capri. Bogdanov and Lunacharsky also launched their own faction organ, Vperyod (Forward). Lenin tried to take the struggle into the camp of the Bogdanovites, sending people to the Capri school. But the only result was to deepen the split. The workers in Russia were furious with the behavior of the Vperyodists, but in general they were losing patience with all the émigrés and their philosophical disputes, which seemed remote from the problems on the ground in Russia. Despite everything, Lenin tried his best to save at least some of the boycotters from themselves. Contrary to the widespread picture of Lenin as a virulent factionalist, Krupskaya recalls that:

Ilyich hit back hard when he was attacked, and defended his point of view, but when new problems had to be tackled and it was found possible to cooperate with his opponent, Ilyich was able to approach his opponent of yesterday as a comrade. He did not have to make any special effort to do this. Herein lay Ilyich’s tremendous advantage. Very guarded though he always was on matters where principles were involved, he was a great optimist as far as people were concerned. Despite an occasional error of judgment, this optimism of his was, on the whole, very useful to the cause. But where there was no agreement on matters of principle, there was no reconciliation.416

In June 1909 he wrote in Proletary of his conviction that

comrade Lyadov, who has worked for many years in the ranks of the revolutionary Social Democracy, will not remain for long in the new God-building-“otzovist” faction but will return to the Party.

This detail once again shows a side of Lenin which the professional detractors of Bolshevism have carefully concealed—his tolerance, loyalty, and patience with people, qualities that are absolutely necessary for any true leader. Gorky recalled how Lenin would say to him:

Lunacharsky will come back to the party. He is less individualistic than the other two [Bogdanov and Bazarov]. He has an exceptionally gifted nature. I have a soft spot for him, know you. I love him as an excellent comrade!417 418

Lenin spared no effort to help people where they showed a clear tendency to evolve in a revolutionary direction, to hold out his hand and to invite them to return, setting aside past differences and polemics, no matter how bitter. But he never allowed the search for unity to cloud the central question of the need to defend the purity of the revolutionary message. If that meant a split then so be it. As old Engels once expressed it, “the party becomes strong by purging itself.” Once he saw the inevitability of a break, Lenin could also be implacable.


415 Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, 198.

416 Ibid., 251.

417 Quoted in Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2, 296.

418 In fact not only Lunacharsky and Lyadov, but most of the Vperyodists later did rejoin the Bolshevik Party. Even Bogdanov returned in the end. He surfaced in 1918 as a Party activist and theoretician. One of his books (on Marxist economics) was used in the 1920s as a Party textbook. Later he was one of the leading lights of the so-called Proletkult tendency, a sure sign that he had lost none of his iconoclastic tendencies and formalistic leanings. But in the years of bureaucratic counterrevolution he dropped out of politics. Not all the Vperyodists returned to the Party, however. V.A. Bazarov gave up politics altogether and was hostile to the October Revolution.