V A Myakotin makes the case for the People's Socialist Party

(early 1906)

The People's Socialists represented the most moderate wing of the narodnik, agrarian-socialist movement. The party was led largely by writers on the respected legally-published journal Russkoe bogatstvo, which had for a long time expressed moderate narodnik positions. The new party (usually known by its Russian acronym NS) was formally established at the end of 1906, after about one year in gestation, and represented a split from the much larger Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries. Its leaders - V A Myakotin, A V Peshekhonov and N F Annensky - had argued at the first congress of the SR Party, at the end of 1905, that the time had come to create an open political organisation and abandon underground work, which would have meant rejecting the armed struggle and liquidating the SRs' fighting organisation and its campaign of political assassinations. However, at that very moment the Russian government was crushing the revolutionary movement of 1905 and embarking on its campaign of repression, and the majority of SRs opposed the proposal to abandon underground work and armed struggle.
Convinced that open, legal politics was now possible and necessary, the NS leaders tried to build a legal opposition party, operating within the narrow confines of what was permitted in the second half of Nicholas II's reign. The party was, in effect, a small group of narodnik intellectuals with very little popular support, although it did have a close political relationship with the Trudovik group of deputies in the various Dumas elected after 1906. After the fall of tsarism in February-March 1917, the NS party represented the extreme right of the Soviet political spectrum, where socialist politics shaded into liberal politics.
Myakotin (1867-1937) was imprisoned by Lenin's government in 1920 and expelled from Soviet Russia with a large group of politically-inconvenient intellectuals in 1922. He died in Prague, aged 70. - FK

Venedikt Aleksandrovich Myakotin, "On the People's Socialist Party" (excerpt)

...The socialist parties which have existed in Russia up to now and exist today have been and remain conspiratorial parties. The People's Socialist Party is intended to be an open party. That is its basic distinguishing feature, from which all its other organisational peculiarities flow. Clearly, this was the difference which we weighed up and assessed first and foremost when the question of a new socialist party arising was being considered.
It would of course be strange to dismiss the seriousness and weightiness of the reasons which compel the socialist parties already operating in Russia to remain underground and conserve their conspiratorial organisation. But at the same time it is no less hard to dispute the pressing need for an open organisation of socialist forces in the interests of the great people's struggle which is taking place in Russia. The present moment is posing the tasks of such an organisation as starkly as possible, presenting the people with the enormous task of simultaneously reorganising both the political and the social life of the country. The old order, which was based entirely on oppressing people without rights, is breaking down before our eyes. To be sure, it is still not short of defenders, standing up for it and supporting it with furious energy, but their energy is that of desperation. They are defending a cause which is already doomed to perish. The old order has managed to raise against itself the entire mass of the people it has been oppressing, and is now feeling the full force of those lethal blows of which that mass is capable. Indeed, the great mass of the population of Russia has already been drawn into the struggle for a better future, and is waging that struggle with all the power of a spontaneous popular movement. But for the outcome of this struggle to be most fruitful, both the destruction of the old state order and the construction of a new one should conform as far as possible with the interests of the working people. For this to happen, the mass of the people needs an organisation which could allow it to set its goals together and unite its forces to defend its interests, and could combine the spontaneous force with the power of clear consciousness and strict calculation. Only the people itself can reorganise its existence in accordance with its interests, and only conscious thought and the organised power of the mass of the people together can be equal to the magnitude of that task. Organisation is enormously important in the struggle of social forces, and insufficient unity in the masses of working people threatens serious damage to their most vital interests. Moreover, a solid unity among the masses can only be created through open organisation, and the most developed form of that organisation is a political party. A party can gather the most diverse forces behind one common programme. With its many-sided activities it can equally satisfy both those who are primarily concerned to work on the most pressing needs of the present, and those whose attention is mainly drawn towards the wide horizons of the future. It sets itself the ultimate goal of bringing in a socialist order, and is able to defend the interests of labour through the united forces of the working people. For those who wish to devote their efforts to the task of uniting the broad masses of the people into such an organisation, the task of creating an open socialist party naturally arises. And this task is not being taken up or cannot be taken up by the socialist organisations which are currently active here.

In saying this, I do not for one minute wish to downplay the significance of the present-day or earlier conspiratorial socialist parties in awakening the consciousness, or even beginning to organise, the mass of the people. The energetic and self-sacrificing activity of these parties had tangible results in both the areas we have mentioned. Moreover, it was precisely this activity by the conspiratorial parties which was one - and certainly not the least important - of those reasons which made it possible in the first place to set the task of involving the mass of the people within a party organisation. But closed parties, all the time they remain closed, have no chance of fulfilling this task of this size, because it is impossible to bring the broad masses together within the confines of a conspiratorial organisation. To fill this gap, which is necessarily left by the activities of the existing socialist parties, is the main aim of our proposed People's Socialist Party, which should be an open and democratically-structured party. In keeping with this, the central organ should serve only to represent, express and carry out the will of the freely-formed local organisations, and the local committees, in their turn, should merely represent the will of the local groups which make up the party.

Although it aims to unite the forces of the working people, the People's Socialist Party cannot imagine that all the forces in the socialist camp will immediately rally behind its banner. Nor can it set itself the task of immediately bringing together all the currents of socialist thought, which have moved very far apart from each other at present. There are certain principles underlying the programme of the People's Socialist Party. They unite all the members of the circle which has undertaken to organise that party. The organisers believe that in line with these principles a possible platform can be created for the party, bringing together all the demands which we should be putting forward at the present moment. But, of course, only the founding congress of that party will be able to finalise that platform, because only that congress can be an organ of the collective will of the party, able and competent to determine its immediate goals and current tasks.

All this applies even more to the question of party tactics. One could, of course, impose preconceived, strictly defined tactics on the party. This has happened quite often when parties have been formed in Russian conditions. But it is beyond doubt that this is not the best way to form a party. It is not means, but ends which should serve as the central point around which a party organisation is created. Around a given programme, as many forces as possible should gather who are able to struggle for its implementation. On the other hand, all the social forces which join the party which forms around that programme should be able freely to determine not only what they would like to see, but what is possible for them. Only by observing these conditions can we hope to see tactics worked out which are best adapted to the circumstances around us, are best protected against miscalculations, and which are acceptable not only to individual political circles but also to wide circles of the population who are able to struggle actively for their programme...

First published in Narodno-sotsialisticheskoe obozrenie, No. 1, 1906, pp. 3-10. Republished in A V Sypchenko and K N Morozov, compilers, Trudovaya Narodno-sotsialisticheskaya partiya. Dokumenty i materialy, ROSSPEN, Moscow, 2003, pp. 79-82.