reasons why

M A Jones mark at
Mon Aug 9 23:37:06 MDT 1999

OK, I'll take my tent away. It's your list, after all, Louis.
I permit myself and my sponsor a few closing remarks anyway:

"Marxism is about debate, period" is an Orwellian kind of reason
to give for ending a debate, but as long as Jon Flanders has got
bored and you are pissed off, it's as good  as any. Trotsky would
definitely approve of your little joke. He was heavily into
command-administrative measures. He too, did not fetishise debate. Like
Lenin, like every revolutionary leader, he understood that when you have
power, you have to keep it (even if it's just an e-list). I'm just the same
myself, and in fact I would never have permitted the kind of half-assed
exchanges we've just been indulging, on my own list, Leninist-
International. There, I like to insist that people either know whereof
they speak or fall silent.

 As for Lenin, it was he  who in 1919 set up Glavlit, the state censor.
Lenin whose ideas on freedom of expression mutated from sort-of
believing in it in 1905 but with certain "reservations"
(see (1) below), to (2, below) Lenin the humorist of
1921 who tells his Commissar for Culture that certain poets should not be
published at all and (3, below) Lenin the dialectician and founder of
the Soviet state who explains how we Bolsheviks "laugh at pure
democracy" as a species of "philistine sentimentalism". The more
power he got, the less interested in "debate" he became. Was this cynicism?
No, it was not. It was dire necessity, the need to survive and to
defend the proletarian state. Anyone who posed the matter the
way you just did was certain to get the kind of letter from Lenin
which Myasnikov did; Trotsky was far more likely to simply
shoot you out of hand. He'd have been right too, much as
I love you as a brother (we have emptied whisky bottles
together after all).

You and I understand the reason for all that, and this is why we forgive
Lenin and Trotsky for closing down debates, just as we forgive them for
bathing their hands in the blood of workers. We, at least, understand it,
unlike say the ignoramuses at Xxxzx Xyyxyz's internet archive, who know so
woefully little about the history of the movement they are supposed to be
documenting. Trotsky and Lenin massacred workers and peasants, and they
never hid the fact - the Bolsheviks even gloried in their deeds: never mind
Kronstadt, think of the suppression of the Don Cossacks, to take one example
among many possible others. Trotsky's hands were covered in the blood of at
least 80,000 Cossack men, women and children; not only did the Bolsheviks
not deny this, they gloried in it, making it the subject of a famous book,
Quiet Flows the Don, which was filmed, and for which the author, Mikhail
Sholokhov, was celebrated in Stalin's Soviet Union and even received the
Nobel Prize. This did not bring the victims back to life. (I hope that to be
consistent, the purgers at will now read Sholokhov and then put
Lenin and Trotsky in with the other anathematized revolutionaries; they
should put Castro there too, since he also has atrocities to his name and he
also would appreciate Lou's little joke about ending debates in the name of
freedom to debate).

The Soviet writer Shevtsov described how Soviet people were reduced to
eating the rats and cats in their apartments, in the 1940s. This was not
because of the war but because of the need to have the Bomb, without which,
as Stalin said, 'Mr Truman will beat us, and we shall cease to be a Great
Power'. In such circumstances, forced to make cruel decisions the purposes
of which were almost impossible to explain to the masses then immured in
profound and agonising suffering, which was bound to worsen before it got
better, if it ever did (it didn't), to speak of 'freedom to debate' and to
make of this the 'essence of Marxism' is simply to abandon Marxism,
the revolution and the working class, to their respective fates.
I know you would not do this.

Mark Jones


The new conditions for Social-Democratic work in Russia which have arisen
since the October revolution have brought the question of party literature
to the fore. The distinction between the illegal and the legal press, that
melancholy heritage of the epoch of feudal, autocratic Russia, is beginning
to disappear. It is not yet dead, by a long way. The hypocritical government
of our Prime Minister is still running amuck, so much so that Izvestia
Soveta Rabochikh Deputatov  is printed "illegally"; but apart from bringing
disgrace on he government, apart from striking further moral blows at it,
nothing comes of the stupid attempts to "prohibit" that which the government
is powerless to thwart.
So long as there was a distinction between the illegal and the legal press,
the question of the party and non-party press was decided extremely simply
and in an extremely false and abnormal way. The entire illegal press was a
party press, being published by organisations and run by groups which in one
way or another were linked with groups of practical party workers. The
entire legal press was non-party-since parties were banned-but it
"gravi-tated" towards one party or another. Unnatural alliances, strange
"bed-fellows" and false cover-devices were inevi-table. The forced reserve
of those who wished to express party views merged with the immature thinking
or mental cowardice of those who had not risen to these views and who were
not, in effect, party people.
An accursed period of Aesopian language, literary bond-age, slavish speech,
and ideological serfdom! The prole-tariat has put an end to this foul
atmosphere which stifled everything living and fresh in Russia. But so far
the proletariat has won only half freedom for Russia.
The revolution is not yet completed. While tsarism is no longer strong
enough to defeat the revolution the revolution is not yet strong enough to
defeat tsarism. And we are living in times when everywhere and in everything
there operates this unnatural combination of open forthright, direct and
consistent party spirit with an underground, covert, ''diplomatic" and dodgy
"legality". This unnatural combination makes itself felt even in our
newspaper: for all Mr  Guchkov's witticisms about Social-Democratic tyranny
forbidding the publication of moderate liberal-bourgeois  newspapers,  the
fact  remains  that Proletary, the Central Organ of the Russian
Social-Democratic Labour Party still remains outside the locked doors of
autocratic police-ridden Russia.
Be that as it may, the half way revolution compels all of us to set to work
at once organising the whole thing on new lines. Today literature, even that
published  legally, can be nine-tenths party literature. It must become
party literature. In contradistinction to bourgeois customs, to the
profit-making commercialised bourgeois press, to bourgeois literary
careerism and individualism, "aristocratic anarchism" and drive for profit
the socialist proletariat must put forward the principle of party
literature, must develop this principle and put it into practice as fully
and  completely as possible.
What is this principle of party literature? It is not simply that, for the
socialist proletariat, literature cannot be a means of enriching individuals
or groups  it cannot in fact, be an individual undertaking, independent of
the common cause of the proletariat. Down with non partisan writers! Down
with literary supermen! Literature must become part of the common cause of
the proletariat,  "a cog and a screw"  of one single great Social-Democratic
mechanism set in motion by the entire politically conscious vanguard of the
entire working class. Literature must become a component of organised
planned and integrated Social-Democratic Party work.
"All comparisons are lame  says a German proverb". So is my comparison of
literature with a cog, of a living movement with a mechanism. And I daresay
there will ever be hysterical intellectuals to raise a howl about such a
comparison, which degrades, deadens, "bureaucratises" the free battle of
ideas, freedom of criticism, freedom of literary creation, etc., etc. Such
outcries, in point of fact, would be nothing more than an expression of
bourgeois-intellectual individualism. There is no question that litera-ture
is least of all subject to mechanical adjustment or levelling, to the rule
of the majority over the minority. There is no question, either, that in
this field greater scope must undoubtedly be allowed  for  personal
initiative, individual inclination, thought and fantasy, form and content.
All this is undeniable; but all this simply shows that the literary side of
the proletarian party cause can-not be mechanically identified with its
other sides. This, however, does not in the least refute the proposition,
alien and strange to the bourgeoisie and bourgeois democracy, that
literature must by all means and necessarily become an element of
Social-Democratic Party work, inseparably bound up with the other elements.
Newspapers must be-come the organs of the various party organisations, and
their writers must by all means become members of these organisations.
Publishing and distributing centres, book-shops and reading-rooms, libraries
and similar establish-ments-must all be under party control. The organised
socialist proletariat must keep an eye on all this work, supervise it in its
entirety, and, from beginning to end, without any exception, infuse into it
the life-stream of the living proletarian cause, thereby cutting the ground
from under the old, semi-Oblomov, semi-shopkeeper Russian principle: the
writer does the writing, the reader does the reading.
We are not suggesting, of course, that this transforma-tion of literary
work, which has been defiled by the Asiatic censorship and the European
bourgeoisie, can be accomplished all at once. Far be it from us to advocate
any kind of standardised system, or a solution by means of a few decrees.
Cut-and-dried schemes are least of all applicable here. What is needed is
that the whole of our Party, and the entire politically-conscious
Social-Democratic proletariat throughout Russia, should become aware of this
new problem, specify it clearly and everywhere set about solving it.
Emerging from the captivity of the feudal censorship, we have ho desire to
become, and shall not become, pris-oners of' bourgeois-shopkeeper literary
relations. We want to establish, and we shall establish, a free press, free
not simply from the police, but also from capital, from career-ism, and what
is more, free from bourgeois anarchist individualism.
These last words may sound paradoxical, or an affront to the reader. What!
some intellectual, an ardent champion of liberty, may shout. What, you want
to impose collective control on such a delicate, individual matter as
literary work! You want workmen to decide questions of science, philosophy,
or aesthetics by a majority of votes! You deny the absolute freedom of
absolutely individual ideological work!
Calm yourselves, gentlemen! First of all, we are discussing party literature
and its subordination to party control. Everyone is free to write and say
whatever he likes, without any restrictions. But every voluntary association
(including the party) is also free to expel members who use the name of the
party to advocate anti-party views. Freedom of speech and the press must be
complete. But then freedom of association must be complete too. I am bound
to accord you in the name of free speech, the full right to shout, lie and
write to your heart's content. But you are bound to grant me, in the name of
freedom of association, the right to enter into, or withdraw from,
association with people advocating this or that view. The party is a
voluntary as-sociation, which would inevitably break up, first
ideolo-gically and then physically, if it did not cleanse itself of people
advocating anti-party views. And to define the border-line between party and
anti-party there is the party programme,  the  party's  resolutions  on
tactics  and its rules and, lastly, the entire experience of international
Social-Democracy, the voluntary international associations of the
proletariat, which has constantly brought into its parties individual
elements and trends not fully consistent, not completely Marxist and not
altogether correct and which, on the other hand. has constantly conducted
peri-odical "cleansings" of its ranks. So it will be with us too, supporters
of bourgeois "freedom of criticism", within the Party. We are now becoming a
mass party all at once, changing abruptly to an open organisation, and it is
inevitable that we shall be joined by many who are incon-sistent (from the
Marxist standpoint), perhaps we shall be joined even by some Christian
elements, and even by some mystics. We have sound stomachs and we are
rock-like Marxists. We shall digest those inconsistent elements. Free-dom of
thought and freedom of criticism within the Party will never make us forget
about the freedom of organising people into those voluntary associations
known as parties.
Secondly, we must say to you bourgeois individualists that your talk about
absolute freedom is sheer hypocrisy. There can be no real and effective
"freedom" in a society based on the power of money, in a society in which
the masses of working people live in poverty and the handful of rich live
like parasites. Are you free in relation to your bourgeois publisher, Mr.
Writer, in relation to your bour-geois public, which demands that you
provide it with por-nography in novels and paintings, and prostitution as a
"supplement" to "sacred" scenic art? This absolute freedom is a bourgeois or
an anarchist phrase (since, as a world outlook, anarchism is bourgeois
philosophy turned inside out). One cannot live in society and be free from
society. The freedom of the bourgeois writer, artist or actress is simply
masked (or hypocritically masked) dependence on the money-bag, on
corruption, on prostitution.
And we socialists expose this hypocrisy and rip off the false labels, not in
order to arrive at a non-class literature and art (that will be possible
only in a socialist extra-class society), but to contrast this
hypocritically free literature, which is in reality linked to the
bourgeoisie, with a really free one that will be openly linked to the
It will be a free literature, because the idea of socialism and sympathy
with the working people, and not greed or careerism, will bring ever new
forces to its ranks. It will be a free literature, because it will serve,
not some satiated heroine, not the bored "upper ten thousand" suffering from
fatty degeneration, but the millions and tens of millions of working
people-the flower of the country, its strength and its future. It will be a
free literature, enriching the last word in the revolutionary thought of
mankind with the experience and living work of the  socialist proletariat
bringing about permanent interaction between the experience of the past
(scientific socialism the completion of the development of socialism from
its primitive utopian forms) and the experience of the present (the present
struggle of the worker comrades)
To work, then comrades!  We are faced with a new and difficult task.  But it
is a noble and grateful one -  to organise a broad multiform and varied
literature inseparably linked  with the Social Democratic working class
movement. All Social Democratic literature must become Party literature.
Every newspaper, journal, publishing house, etc., must immediately set about
reorganising its work, leading up to a situation in which it will in one
form or another, be integrated into one Party organisation or another. Only
then will  Social Democratic  literature really become worthy of that name,
only then will it be able to fulfil its duty and even within the framework
of bourgeois society break out of bourgeois slavery and merge with the
movement of the really advanced and thoroughly revolutionary class.

Novaya Zhizn No. 12, November 13, 1905
Signed: N. Lenin

Collected Works, Vol.10, pp.44-49
[from 'Lenin on Literature and Art' p22, Moscow, 1967]


Aren't you ashamed of yourself voting for the publication of Mayakovsky's
"150,000,000" in 5,000 copies?
Nonsensical, stupid, sheer stupidity and affectation 170 I think that only
one out of ten such things should be printed and in no more than 1,500
copies for libraries and cranks.
And Lunacharsky ought to be flogged for his futurism.

Written on May 6,1921 First published in 1957

Collected Works, Fifth Russian Edition, Vol.52, p.179

[ibid., p. 216]


August 5, 1921
Comrade Myasnikov,
I have only just managed to read both your articles. I am unaware of the
nature of the speeches you made in the Perm (I think it was Perm)
organisation and of your conflict with it. I can say nothing about that; it
will be dealt with by the Organisation Bureau, which, I hear, has appointed
a special commission.
My object is a different one: it is to appraise your articles as literary
and political documents.
They are interesting documents.
Your main mistake is, I think, most clearly revealed in the article "Vexed
Questions". And I consider it my duty to do all I can to try to convince
At the beginning of the article you make a correct application of
dialectics. Indeed whoever fails to under-stand the substitution of the
slogan of civil peace for the slogan of ' civil war  lays himself open to
ridicule  if nothing worse. In this you are right.
But precisely because you are right on this point I am surprised that in
drawing your conclusions you should have forgotten the dialectics which you
yourself had properly applied.
'Freedom of the press, from the monarchists to the anarchists,
inclusively"...  Very good! But just a minute:
every Marxist and every worker who ponders over the four years' experience
of our revolution will say, "Let's look into this--what sort of freedom of
the press? What for? For which class?"
We do not believe in "absolutes". We laugh at "pure democracy".
The "freedom of the press" slogan became a great world slogan at the close
of the Middle Ages and remained so up to the nineteenth century. Why?
Because it expressed the ideas of the progressive bourgeoisie, i.e., its
struggle against kings and priests, feudal lords and landowners.
No country in the world has done as much to liberate the masses from the
influence of priests and landowners as the R.S.F.S.R. has done, and is
doing. We have been performing this function of "freedom of the press"
better than anyone else in the world.
All over the world, wherever there are capitalists, freedom of the press
means freedom to buy up newspapers, to buy writers, to bribe, buy and fake
"public opinion" for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.
This is a fact.
No one will ever be able to refute it.
And what about us? Can anyone deny that the bour-geoisie in this country has
been defeated, but not destroyed? That it has gone into hiding? Nobody can
deny it.
Freedom of the press in the R.S.F.S.R., which is surrounded by the bourgeois
enemies of the whole world, means freedom of political organisation for the
bourgeoisie and its most loyal servants, the Mensheviks and
This is an irrefutable fact.
The bourgeoisie (all over the world) is still very much stronger than we
are. To place in its hands yet another weapon like freedom of political
organisation (=freedom of the press, for the press is the core and
foundation of political organisation) means facilitating the enemy's task,
means helping the class enemy.
We have no wish to commit suicide, and therefore, we will not do this.
We clearly see this fact: "freedom of the press" means in practice that the
international bourgeoisie will immedi-ately buy up hundreds and thousands of
Cadet, Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik writers, and will organise
their propaganda and fight against us.
That is a fact. "They" are richer than we are and will buy a "force'' ten
times larger than we have, to fight us.
No, we will not do it; we will not help the international bourgeoisie.
How could you descend from a class appraisal -   from the appraisal of the
relations between all classes  - to the sentimental  philistine appraisal?
This is a mystery to me.
On the question of  "civil peace or civil war", on the question of how we
have won over and will continue to ''win over'', the peasantry (to the side
of the proletariat) on these two key world questions (=  questions that
affect the very substance of world politics), on these questions (which are
dealt with in both your articles) you were able to take the Marxist
standpoint instead of the philistine sentimental standpoint. You did take
account of the relationships of all classes in a practical, sober way.
And suddenly you  slide down  into   the  abyss  of sentimentalism!
"Outrage and abuses are rife in this country  freedom of the press will
expose them."
That, as far as I can judge from your two articles, is where you slipped up.
You have allowed yourself to be depressed by certain sad and deplorable
facts and lost the ability soberly to appraise the forces.
Freedom of the press will help the force of the world bourgeoisie. That is a
fact "Freedom of the press" will not help to purge the Communist Party in
Russia of a number of its weaknesses, mistakes misfortunes and maladies (it
cannot be denied that there is a spate of these maladies) because this is
not what the world bourgeoisie wants. But freedom of the press will be a
weapon in the hands of this world bourgeoisie. It is not dead; it is alive.
It is lurking nearby and watching it has already hired Milyukov, to whom
Chernov and Martov  (partly because of their stupidity, and partly because
of factional spleen against us, but mainly because of the objective logic of
their petty bourgeois-democratic position) are giving  "faithful and loyal"
You took the wrong fork in the road.
You wanted to cure the Communist Party of its maladies and have snatched at
a drug that will cause certain death -- not at your hands, of course, but at
the hands of the world bourgeoisie (+Milyukov+Cliernov+Martov).
You forgot a minor point, a very tiny point, namely: the world bourgeoisie
and its "freedom" to buy up for itself newspapers, and centres of political
No, we will not take this course. Nine hundred out of every thousand
politically-conscious workers will refuse to take this course.
We have many maladies. Mistakes (our common mistakes, all of us have made
mistakes, the Soviet of Labour and Defence, the Soviet of People's
Commissars and the Central Committee) like those we made in distributing
fuel and food in the autumn and winter of 1920 (those were enormous
mistakes!) have greatly aggravated the maladies springing from our
Want and calamity abound.
They have been terribly intensified by the famine of 1921.
It will cost us a supreme effort to extricate ourselves, but we will get
out, and have already begun to do so. We will extricate ourselves, for, in
the main, our policy is a correct one, and takes into account all the class
forces on an international scale. We will extricate ourselves because we do
not try to make our position look better than it is. We realise all the
difficulties. We see all the maladies, and are taking measures to cure them
methodically, with  perseverance, and without giving way to panic.
You have allowed panic to get the better of you; panic is a slope-once you
stepped on it you slid down into a position that looks very much as if you
are forming a new party, or are about to commit suicide.
You must not give way to panic.
Is there any isolation of the Communist Party cells from the Party? There
is. It is an evil, a misfortune, a malaise.
It is there. It is a severe ailment.
We can see it.
It must be cured by proletarian and Party measures and not by means of
"freedom" (for the bourgeoisie).
Much of what you say about reviving the country's economy, about mechanical
ploughs, etc., about fighting for "influence" over the peasantry, etc., is
true and useful.
Why not bring this out separately? We shall get together and work
harmoniously in one party. The benefits will be great; they will not come
all at once, but very slowly.
Revive the Soviets; secure the co-operation of non-Party people; let
non-Party people verify the work of Party members: this is absolutely right.
No end of work there, and it has hardly been started.
Why not amplify this in a practical way? In a pamphlet for the Congress?
Why not take that up?
Why be afraid of spade work (denounce abuses through the Central Control
Commission, or the Party press, Pravda)? Misgivings about slow, difficult
and arduous spade work cause people to give way to panic and to seek an
"easy" way out: "freedom of the press" (for the bour-geoisie).
Why should you persist in your mistake-an obvious mistake-in your non-Party,
anti-proletarian slogan  of "freedom of the press"? Why not take up the less
"bril-liant" (scintillating with bourgeois brilliance) spade work of driving
out abuses, combating them, and helping non-Party people in a practical and
business-like way?
Have you ever brought up any particular abuse to the notice of the C.C., and
suggested a definite means of -eradicating it?
No, you have not.
Not a single time.
You saw a spate of misfortunes and maladies, gave way to despair and rushed
into the arms of the enemy, the bourgeoisie ("freedom of the press" for the
bourgeoisie). My advice is: do not give way to despair and panic.
We, and those who sympathise with us, the workers and peasants, still have
an immense reservoir of strength. We still have plenty of health and vigour.
We are not doing enough to cure our ailments.
We are not doing a good job of practising the slogan: promote non-Party
people let non Party people verity the work of Party members.
But we can, and w]ll, do a hundred times more in this field than we are
I hope that after thinking this over carefully you will not, out of false
pride persist in an obvious political mistake ("freedom of the press' ),
but, pulling yourself together and overcoming the panic, will get down to
practical work: help to establish ties with non-Party people, and help
non-Party people to verify the work of Party members.
There can be no end of work in this field. Doing this work you can (and
should) help to cure the disease, slowly but surely, instead of chasing
after will-o'-the-wisps like "freedom of the press".

With communist greetings,


Published in 1921
CW, Vol. 32, pp 504-09

[ibid., pp 215-220]

More information about the Marxism mailing list