Published in the pamphlet
Published according to
From V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th English Edition,
Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965,
Vol. 7, pp. 193-98.
Translated by Abraham Fineberg and by Naomi Jochel
Edited by Clemens Dutt
Geneva, February 20, 1904
As your pamphlet touches on the circumstances which induced me to resign from the Iskra editorial board, I would request you to find space in the Appendix for this reply of mine to Comrade Plekhanov's letter of January 29, 1904, to Comrade Martov, published in Martov's pamphlet on combating the "state of siege".
Comrade Plekhanov finds that the statement of the case in my letter to the editors is inaccurate. However, he has not made, nor could he have made, a single correction of fact. He has merely supplemented my account with an inaccurate version of private conversations I had with him.
Generally speaking, to quote private conversations is, I consider, a sure sign that serious arguments are lacking. I still hold the opinion so recently held by Comrade Plekhanov in reference to Comrade Martov's accounts of private conversations (League Minutes, p. 134), namely, that it is scarcely possible for such conversations to be "reproduced accurately", and that "controversy" regarding them "leads nowhere ".
But since Comrade Plekhanov does cite our private conversations, I consider myself entitled to explain them and amplify, particularly as these conversations took place in the presence of third persons.
The first conversation, in which Comrade Plekhanov said that he had decided* to resign if I absolutely refused to
agree to co-optation, took place on the evening of the day the League Congress ended and the following morning, in the presence of two members of the Party Council. The conversation revolved around concessions to the opposition. Plekhanov insisted that concessions were essential, for he felt certain that the opposition would not obey any decision of the Party Council and that a complete split of the Party might take place at any moment. I insisted that, after what had happened at the League, after the measures taken at its Congress by the representative of the Central Committee (each of which Comrade Plekhanov had taken part in discussing and had fully approved), it was impossible to yield to anarchistic individualism, and that the formation of a separate writers' group (which I had repeatedly declared in conversation with Plekhanov, and contrary to his own opinion, to be quite permissible) need not necessarily imply a split. When the upshot of the conversation was that one of us would have to resign, I at once said that I would do so, not wishing to hamper Plekhanov in his attempts to settle the conflict and avoid what he considered would be a split.
Comrade Plekhanov is so amiable towards me now as to find no other motive for my action than the most cowardly evasiveness. In order to paint this characteristic of mine in the liveliest colours, Comrade Plekhanov quotes me as saying: "Everybody will say that Lenin must be wrong if even Plekhanov disagrees with him."
That is laying the colours on thick, no doubt about it! So thick, in fact, that, all unnoticed by Comrade Plekhanov, the result is a patent absurdity. If I had been convinced that "everybody" would consider Plekhanov right (as he modestly thinks to himself), and had thought it necessary to reckon with the opinion of this everybody, then, obviously, I would never have ventured to disagree with Plekhanov, I would have followed him in this instance too. In his desire to present my conduct in the most unprepossessing light and ascribe it to the most ignominious motives, he fathers on me
a motive devoid of all sense. I am supposed to have been so afraid of disagreeing with Plekhanov in anything that -- I did disagree with him. It doesn't hold water, this argument of Comrade Plekhanov's.
Actually, my idea was that it would be better for me to resign, for otherwise my dissenting opinion would hamper Plekhanov's attempts to secure peace. I did not want to hamper those attempts -- perhaps we might in fact agree on peace terms -- but I considered it impossible to assume responsibility for an editorial board on which an émigré circle imposed candidates in this way.
A few days later I did go with a certain Council member to see Plekhanov, and our talk took the following course:
"You know," said Plekhanov, "there are some wives who are so quarrelsome that it's best to give way to them in order to avoid hysterics and an unsavoury row in public."
"Perhaps so," I replied, "but in giving way you must take care to leave yourself strong enough to prevent an even bigger 'row'."
"Well, but by resigning you surrender everything," said Plekhanov.
"Not always," I rejoined, and cited the case of Chamberlain. My idea was one I have also expressed in print should Plekhanov succeed in securing a peace acceptable to the majority, in whose ranks he had fought so long and so vigorously, then I would not start war either; if he should not succeed, I reserved to myself freedom of action, so as to denounce the "quarrelsome wife" if even Plekhanov could not calm and pacify her.
It was during this conversation that I told Plekhanov (who did not yet know the opposition's terms) of my "decision" to join the Central Committee (I could "decide" to do so, but of course all the members of the Central Committee would have to give their consent). Plekhanov was entirely sympathetic to this plan, as a last attempt to find some sort of mode of living with the "quarrelsome wife". When, in a letter to Plekhanov on November 6, 1903, I expressed the opinion that perhaps he was simply going to hand over the editorial board to the Martovites, he replied (on November 8): ". . . You seem to have a wrong idea of my intentions. I explained them again yesterday to Comrade Vasilyev" (the
Central Committee member who had attended the League Congress). Writing to this same Comrade Vasilyev on November 10 about whether to expedite or delay the 52nd issue of Iskra, containing a statement about the Congress, Plekhanov said: ". . . Publishing anything about the Congress means either 1) announcing that Martov and the others are not taking part in Iskra, or 2) refusing this request of Martov's -- in which case he will announce it himself in a special leaflet. In either case it would bring the split to the knowledge of the public, and that is exactly what we have to avoid just now " (my italics -- N. L.). On November 17, Plekhanov wrote to the same comrade: ". . . What would you say to the immediate co-optation of Martov and the others? I am beginning to think that this would be the way to settle the matter with the least difficulty. I do not want to act without you. . ." (Plekhanov's italics).
These quotations show clearly that Plekhanov was trying to act in agreement with the majority, and wanted to co-opt the editors solely for the sake of peace and on the condition of peace, and not for the purpose of war against the majority. If it has worked out the other way, that only goes to show that the cart of anarchistic individualism had got rolling too recklessly in the tactics of boycott and disruption; the strongest brakes could not hold it back. That is a great pity, of course, and Plekhanov, who sincerely wanted peace, has landed in an unpleasant position; but that is no reason for putting all the blame on me.
As to Plekhanov's statement that I was willing to keep quiet in return for a suitable "equivalent", and his proud declaration, "I did not see fit to purchase his silence", this polemical trick only makes a comical impression when compared with the words I have just quoted from his letter of November 10. It was Plekhanov who attached the utmost importance to silence, to keeping the split from the knowledge of the public.* What more natural than that I should
tell him I agreed to that too, provided there was peace? This talk about "equivalents" and "purchases" leads one to expect that next time Plekhanov will inform the public that Lenin is forging currency for transactions of this kind. That sort of thing has happened, after all, in our émigré quarrels -- and the present atmosphere is conducive to it.
Comrade Plekhanov's letter involuntarily leads one to wonder whether he is not now having to purchase the right to be in the minority. The tactics of the minority in our so-called Party organ are already quite clear. What they are trying to do is obscure the controversial issues and the facts which really led to our divergence. They are trying to show that Martynov was far closer to Iskra than Lenin -- just how, where and to what extent the muddled editors of the new Iskra will be a long time endeavouring to explain. They hypocritically condemn dragging personalities into the controversy, while actually their whole struggle is one big campaign against an individual, in which they do not even hesitate to ascribe to the "enemy" pernicious qualities of the most incompatible kind -- from the crassest pig-headedness to the most cowardly evasiveness. Anything to make it good and strong. And those new allies, Comrades Plekhanov and Martov, make it so good and strong that they will soon be no whit behind the famous Bundists with their famous epithet -- "scum". They are bombarding me so fiercely from their battleships that I am beginning to wonder whether this is not a conspiracy of two-thirds of the dreadful trio. Ought I not to pose as injured too? Ought I not to cry out about a "state of siege"? That is sometimes so convenient and so useful, you know. . . .
To be sure, to become a true minority man Comrade Plekhanov has still, I would say, to take two little steps: first, to avow that the formulation of Paragraph 1 of the Rules advocated by Comrades Martov and Axelrod at the Congress (and so zealously hushed up by them now) constitutes, not a step towards opportunism, not a surrender to bourgeois individualism, but the germ of new, truly Social-Democratic, Akimov-Martov and Martynov-Axelrod organisational views; and, secondly, to avow that the struggle with the minority since the Congress has not been a struggle against gross violations of Party discipline, against methods of
agitation that only arouse disgust, not a struggle against anarchism and anarchistic phraseology (see pp. 17, 96, 97, 98, 101, 102, 104, etc., etc., of the League Minutes), but a struggle against a "state of siege", bureaucracy, formalism, and so forth.
I shall deal at length with controversial issues of this kind in a pamphlet I am now preparing for the press. Meanwhile . . . meanwhile let us scan the gallery of Gogol types opened in the columns of our leading organ, which is making a practice of presenting its readers with conundrums. Who resembles a stiff-necked Sobakevich treading on everybody's vanity -- I beg pardon, their corns? Who is like an evasive Chichikov purchasing silence as well as dead souls? Who are like Nozdrev and Khlestakov, Manilov and Skvoznik-Dmukhanovsky? Interesting and edifying puzzles. . . . "A controversy over principles"