A brief note by Lenin on Blancism, written in early 1917.
Louis Blanc, the French socialist, won unenviable notriety during the revolution of 1848 by changing his stand from that of the class struggle to that of petty-bourgeois illusions, illusions adorned with would-be “socialist” phraseology, but in reality tending to strengthen the influence of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat. Louis Blanc looked to the bourgeoisie for assistance, hoped, and inspired hopes in others, that the bourgeoisie could help the workers in the matter of “labour organisation”—this vague term purporting to express “socialist” tendencies.
Blancism has now gained the upper hand in Right-wing “Social-Democracy”, in the Organising Committee party in Russia. Chkheidze, Tsereteli, Steklov, and many others, who are now leaders of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies and were also leaders of the recent All-Russia Conference of Soviets have taken the same stand as Louis Blanc.
On all major issues of present-day political life these leaders, who occupy approximately the position of the international Centrist trend represented by Kautsky, Longuet, Turati, and many others, have embraced the petty-bourgeois views of Louis Blanc. Take, for instance, the question of war.
The proletarian standpoint in this matter consists of a definite class characterisation of war, and of an irreconcilable hostility to imperialist war—that is, to a war between groups of capitalist countries (no matter whether monarchies or republics) for a division of capitalist spoils.
The petty-bourgeois viewpoint differs from the bourgeois one (outright justification of the war, outright “defence of the fatherland”, i.e., defence of the interests of one’s own capitalists, defence of their “right” to annexations) in that the petty bourgeois “renounces” annexations, “condemns” imperialism, “demands” from the bourgeoisie that it cease to be imperialistic while keeping within the framework of world-imperialist relations and the capitalist system of economy. Confining himself to this mild, innocuous, wishy-washy declamation, the petty bourgeois, in practice, trail helplessly behind the bourgeoisie, “sympathising” in some things with the proletariat in words, remaining dependent on the bourgeoisie in deeds, unable or unwilling to understand the path leading to the overthrow of the capitalist yoke, the only path that can rid the world of imperialism.
To “demand” of the bourgeois governments that they make a “solemn declaration” in the spirit of renouncing annexations is the height of audacity on the part of the petty bourgeois, and an example of anti-imperialist “Zimmerwaldist” consistency. It is not difficult to see that this is Blancism of the worst type. For one thing, no bourgeois politician with any experience will ever have difficulty in mouthing any number of glib, “brilliant”, high-sounding phrases against annexations “in general”, as meaningless as they are non- committal. But when it comes to deeds, one can always do a conjuring trick after the manner of Rech, which had the deplorable courage to declare that Kurland (now annexed by the imperialist predators of bourgeois Germany) was not annexed by Russia!
This is trickery of the most disgusting kind, the most shameless deception of the workers by the bourgeoisie, for anybody the least familiar with politics must know that Kurland had always been annexed to Russia.
We openly and directly challenge Rech:
--> (1) to present to the people such a political definition of the concept “annexation” as would apply equally to all annexations in the world, German, British, and Russian, past and present, to all without exception;
--> (2) to state clearly and definitely what, in its opinion, is meant by renunciation of annexations, not in word, but in deed. To give such a political definition of the concept “renunciation of annexations in deed” as would apply not only to the Germans, but also to the English and all other nations who have ever practised annexations.
We maintain that Rech will either decline to accept our challenge or it will be exposed by us before the whole nation. And it is precisely because of this question of Kurland touched upon by Rech that our dispute is not a theoretical one but a practical one of the greatest urgency and vital interest.
Second, let us assume, if only for a moment, that the bourgeois ministers are the ideal of honesty, that the Ouchkovs, Lvovs, Milyukovs and Co. sincerely believe in the possibility of renouncing annexations, while preserving capitalism, and that they really want to renounce them.
Let us, for a moment, assume even this, let us make this Blancist assumption.
One is entitled to ask: Can a grown-up person be content with what people think of themselves, without comparing it with what they do? Is it possible for a Marxist not to distinguish good wishes and declarations from objective realities?
No. It is not.
Annexations are maintained by the bonds of finance capital, banking capital, imperialist capital. Herein is the modern, the economic, foundation of annexations. From this angle, annexations are politically guaranteed profits on thousands of millions of capital “invested” in thousands upon thousands of enterprises in the annexed countries.
It is impossible, even given the wish to do so, to renounce annexations without taking decisive steps towards throwing off the yoke of capitalism.
Does that mean, as Yedinstvo, Rabochezya Gazeta and the other “Louis Blancs” of our petty bourgeoisie are ready to conclude and actually do conclude, that we must not take any decisive steps towards overthrowing capitalism, that we must accept at least a modicum of annexations?
No. Decisive steps must be taken towards the overthrow of capitalism. They must be taken ably and gradually, relying only on the class-consciousness and organised activity of the overwhelming majority of the workers and poor peasants. But taken they must be. The Soviets of Workers’ Deputies have already started to take them in a number of places in Russia.
The order of the day now is a decisive and irrevocable parting of the ways with the Louis Blancs—the Chkheidzes, Tseretelis, Steklovs, the party of the O.C., the Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries, etc., etc. The masses must be made to see that Blancism is ruining and will utterly ruin the further success of the revolution, even the success of freedom, unless the masses realise how harmful these petty-bourgeois illusions are and join the class-conscious workers in their cautious, gradual, well-considered, yet firm and direct steps towards socialism.
Outside of socialism there is no deliverance of humanity from wars, from hunger, from the destruction of still more millions and millions of human beings.
Source: Marxist Internet Archive