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Essential Works of Lenin
"What Is to Be Done?" and Other Writings
By Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Henry Christman
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1966 Bantam Books,Inc.
All rights reserved.
DOGMATISM AND "FREEDOM OF CRITICISM"
A. WHAT IS "FREEDOM OF CRITICISM"?
"Freedom of criticism," this undoubtedly is the most fashionable slogan at the present time, and the one most frequently employed in the controversies between the Socialists and democrats of all countries. At first sight, nothing would appear to be more strange than the solemn appeals by one of the parties to the dispute for freedom of criticism. Can it be that some of the advanced parties have raised their voices against the constitutional law of the majority of European countries which guarantees freedom to science and scientific investigation? "Something must be wrong here," an onlooker, who has not yet fully appreciated the nature of the disagreements among the controversialists, will say when he hears this fashionable slogan repeated at every cross-road. "Evidently this slogan is one of the conventional phrases which, like a nickname, becomes legitimatized by use, and becomes almost a common noun," he will conclude.
In fact, it is no secret that two separate tendencies have been formed in international Social-Democracy. The fight between these tendencies now flares up in a bright flame, and now dies down and smoulders under the ashes of imposing "resolutions for an armistice." What this "new" tendency, which adopts a "critical" attitude towards "obsolete doctrinaire" Marxism, represents has been stated with sufficient precision by Bernstein, and demonstrated by Millerand.
Social-Democracy must change from a party of the social revolution into a democratic party of social reforms. Bernstein has surrounded this political demand with a whole battery of symmetrically arranged "new" arguments and reasonings. The possibility of putting socialism on a scientific basis and of proving that it is necessary and inevitable from the point of view of the materialist conception of history was denied, as also were the facts of growing impoverishment and proletarianization and the intensification of capitalist contradictions. The very conception, "ultimate aim," was declared to be unsound, and the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat was absolutely rejected. It was denied that there is any difference in principle between liberalism and socialism. The theory of the class struggle was rejected on the grounds that it could not be applied to a strictly democratic society, governed according to the will of the majority, etc.
Thus, the demand for a definite change from revolutionary Social-Democracy to bourgeois social-reformism was accompanied by a no less definite turn towards bourgeois criticism of all the fundamental ideas of Marxism. As this criticism of Marxism has been going on for a long time now, from the political platform, from university chairs, in numerous pamphlets and in a number of scientific works, as the younger generation of the educated classes has been systematically trained for decades on this criticism, it is not surprising that the "new, critical" tendency in Social-Democracy should spring up, all complete, like Minerva from the head of Jupiter. The content of this new tendency did not have to grow and develop, it was transferred bodily from bourgeois literature to socialist literature.
To proceed. If Bernstein's theoretical criticism and political yearnings are still obscure to anyone, the French have taken the trouble to demonstrate the "new method." In this instance, also, France has justified its old reputation as the country in which "more than anywhere else, the historical class struggles were each time fought out to a decision ..." (Engels, in his introduction to Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire.) The French Socialists have begun, not to theorize, but to act. The more developed democratic political conditions in France have permitted them to put Bernsteinism into practice immediately, with all its consequences. Millerand has provided an excellent example of practical Bernsteinism; not without reason did Bernstein and Vollmar rush so zealously to defend and praise him! Indeed, if Social-Democracy, in essence, is merely a reformist party, and must be bold enough to admit this openly, then not only has a Socialist the right to join a bourgeois cabinet, it is even his duty always to strive to do so. If democracy, in essence, means the abolition of class domination, then why should not a Socialist minister charm the whole bourgeois world by orations on class co-operation? Why should he not remain in the cabinet even after the shooting down of workers by gendarmes has exposed, for the hundredth and thousandth time, the real nature of the democratic co-operation of classes? Why should he not personally take part in welcoming the tsar, for whom the French Socialists now have no other sobriquet than "Hero of the Knout, Gallows and Banishment" (knouter, pendeur et deportateur)? And the reward for this utter humiliation and self-degradation of socialism in the face of the whole world, for the corruption of the socialist consciousness of the working class—the only basis that can guarantee our victory—the reward for this is imposing plans for niggardly reforms, so niggardly in fact that much more has been obtained from bourgeois governments!
He who does not deliberately close his eyes cannot fail to see that the new "critical" tendency in socialism is nothing more nor less than a new species of opportunism. And if we judge people not by the brilliant uniforms they deck themselves in, not by the imposing appellations they give themselves, but by their actions, and by what they actually advocate, it will be clear that "freedom of criticism" means freedom for an opportunistic tendency in Social-Democracy, the freedom to convert Social-Democracy into a democratic reformist party, the freedom to introduce bourgeois ideas and bourgeois elements into socialism.
"Freedom" is a grand word, but under the banner of free trade the most predatory wars were conducted; under the banner of free labor, the toilers were robbed. The modern use of the term "freedom of criticism" contains the same inherent falsehood. Those who are really convinced that they have advanced science would demand, not freedom for the new views to continue side by side with the old, but the substitution of the new views for the old. The cry "Long live freedom of criticism," that is heard today, too strongly calls to mind the fable of the empty barrel.
We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and are under their almost constant fire. We have combined voluntarily, precisely for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not to retreat into the adjacent marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now several among us begin to cry out: let us go into this marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: how conservative you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the right to invite you to take a better road! Oh yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don't clutch at us and don't besmirch the grand word "freedom"; for we too are "free" to go where we please, free not only to fight against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh.
B. THE NEW ADVOCATES OF "FREEDOM OF CRITICISM"
Now, this slogan ("freedom of criticism") is solemnly advanced in No. 10 ofRabocheye Dyelo, the organ of the League of Russian Social-Democrats Aboard, not as a theoretical postulate, but as a political demand, as a reply to the question: "is it possible to unite the Social-Democratic organizations operating abroad?"—"in order that unity may be durable, there must be freedom of criticism."
From this statement two very definite conclusions must be drawn: 1) that Rabocheye Dyelo has taken the opportunist tendency in international Social-Democracy under its wing; and 2) that Rabocheye Dyelo demands freedom for opportunism in Russian Social-Democracy. We shall examine these conclusions.
Rabocheye Dyelo is "particularly" displeased with Iskra's and Zarya's "inclination to predict a rupture between the Mountain and the Gironde in international Social-Democracy."
"Generally speaking," writes Krichevsky, editor of Rabocheye Dyelo, "this talk about the Mountain and the Gironde that is heard in the ranks of Social-Democracy represents a shallow historical analogy, which looks strange when it comes from the pen of a Marxist. The Mountain and the Gironde did not represent two different temperaments, or intellectual tendencies, as ideologist historians may think, but two different classes or strata—the middle bourgeoisie on the one hand, and the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat on the other. In the modern socialist movement, however, there is no conflict of class interests; the socialist movement in its entirety, all of its diverse forms [B. K.'s italics], including the most pronounced Bernsteinists, stand on the basis of the class interests of the proletariat and of the proletarian class struggle, for its political and economic emancipation."
A bold assertion! Has not B. Krichevsky heard the fact, long ago noted, that it is precisely the extensive participation of the "academic" stratum in the socialist movement in recent years that has secured the rapid spread of Bernsteinism? And what is most important—on what does our author base his opinion that even "the most pronounced Bernsteinists" stand on the basis of the class struggle for the political and economic emancipation of the proletariat? No one knows. This determined defense of the most pronounced Bernsteinists is not supported by any kind of argument whatever. Apparently, the author believes that if he repeats what the pronounced Bernsteinists say about themselves, his assertion requires no proof. But can anything more "shallow" be imagined than an opinion of a whole tendency that is based on nothing more than what the representatives of that tendency say about themselves? Can anything more shallow be imagined than the subsequent "homily" about the two different and even diametrically oppo-site types, or paths, of Party development? (Rabocheye Dyelo.) The German Social-Democrats, you see, recognize complete freedom of criticism, but the French do not, and it is precisely the latter that present an example of the "harmfulness of intolerance."
To which we reply that the very example B. Krichevsky quotes proves that those who regard history literally from the Ilovaysky point of view sometimes describe themselves as Marxists. There is no need whatever, in explaining the unity of the German Socialist Party and the dismembered state of the French Socialist Party, to search for the special features in the history of the respective countries, to compare the conditions of military semi-absolutism in the one country with republican parliamentarism in the other, or to analyze the effects of the Paris Commune and the effects of the Anti-Socialist Law in Germany; to compare the economic life and economic development of the two countries, or recall that "the unexampled growth of German Social-Democracy" was accompanied by a strenuous struggle, unexampled in the history of socialism, not only against mistaken theories (Mühlberger, Dühring, the Socialists of the Chair), but also against mistaken tactics (Lassalle), etc., etc. All that is superfluous! The French quarrel among themselves because they are intolerant; the Germans are united because they are good boys.
And observe, this piece of matchless profundity is intended to "refute" the fact which is a complete answer to the defense of Bernsteinism. The question as to whether the Bernsteinists do stand on the basis of the class struggle of the proletariat can be completely and irrevocably answered only by historical experience. Consequently, the example of France is the most important one in this respect, because France is the only country in which the Bernsteinists attempted to stand independently, on their own feet, with the warm approval of their German colleagues (and partly also of the Russian opportunists). (Cf. Rabocheye Dyelo, Nos. 2-3.) The reference to the "intolerance" of the French, apart from its "historical" significance (in the Nozdrev sense), turns out to be merely an attempt to obscure a very unpleasant fact with angry invectives.
But we are not even prepared to make a present of the Germans to B. Krichevsky and to the numerous other champions of "freedom of criticism." The "most pronounced Bernsteinists" are still tolerated in the ranks of the German Party only because they submit to the Hanover resolution, which emphatically rejected Bernstein's "amendments," and to the Lübeck resolution, which, notwithstanding the diplomatic terms in which it is couched, contains a direct warning to Bernstein. It is a debatable point, from the standpoint of the interests of the German Party, whether diplomacy was appropriate and whether, in this case, a bad peace is better than a good quarrel; in short, opinions may differ in regard to the expediency, or not, of themethods employed to reject Bernsteinism, but one cannot fail to see the fact that the German Party did reject Bernsteinism on two occasions. Therefore, to think that the German example endorses the thesis: "The most pronounced Bernsteinists stand on the basis of the proletarian class struggle, for its economic and political emancipation," means failing absolutely to understand what is going on before one's eyes.
More than that. As we have already observed, Rabocheye Dyelo comes beforeRussian Social-Democracy, demands "freedom of criticism," and defends Bernsteinism. Apparently it came to the conclusion that we were unfair to our "critics" and Bernsteinists. To whom were we unfair, when and how? What was the unfairness? About this not a word. Rabocheye Dyelo does not name a single Russian critic or Bernsteinist! All that is left for us to do is to make one of two possible suppositions: first, that the unfairly treated party is none other than Rabocheye Dyelo itself (and that is confirmed by the fact that, in the two articles in No. 10, reference is made only to the insults hurled at Rabocheye Dyelo by Zarya and Iskra). If that is the case, how is the strange fact to be explained that Rabocheye Dyelo, which always vehemently dissociates itself from Bernsteinism, could not defend itself, without putting in a word on behalf of the "most pronounced Bernsteinists" and of freedom of criticism? The second supposition is that third persons have been treated unfairly. If the second supposition is correct, then why are these persons not named?
Excerpted from Essential Works of Lenin by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Henry Christman. Copyright © 1966 Bantam Books,Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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