1919 - Theses of the Right Mensheviks

for the RSDRP conference held in Moscow, 5 - 7 August 1919

[Translator's note: The status of this document is unclear, in that we do not know whether its arguments were supported by a significant number of people or not. It exists as a typescript in the archive of the Menshevik activist S O Portugeys, held in Amsterdam, and is clearly a response to the programme "What is to be done?" issued by the Menshevik Central Committee on 12 July 1919. (This programme is available in English in Abraham Ascher (ed.), The Mensheviks in the Russian Revolution, Thames & Hudson, London, 1976, pp. 111 - 117.) In the programme, the Menshevik CC, dominated by the left of the party, called for victory for the Red forces in the civil war "to defend the workers' power and the conquests of the Revolution against its enemies". At the same time, it criticised the Bolsheviks' repressive style of rule and their disastrous economic policies. The Right Mensheviks' theses show just how deeply the Menshevik party was divided on the most fundamental political question in Russia in 1919 - should one back the Reds or the Whites in the civil war? Basing their case on traditional Menshevik perspectives and passages from Engels, the Right Mensheviks argued that the cause of historical progress and the working class would be better served by a White victory. This further illustrates the point about the party's disintegration made in late 1917 by Rafail Grigor'ev. (See the document on this site) - FK]

On the current situation

Russia is disintegrating and dying. The reasons for this situation are well known to everyone. Some of the most prominent reasons are: the long domination of the autocracy, the military defeat, the flight of the peasants from the front, and the almost two years' rule by the Bolsheviks.

The February revolution of 1917 was a spontaneous surge of the nation towards its salvation. This creative revolutionary upsurge was cut short by the October seizure of power and the subsequent sale of the Russian people into slavery under Imperial Germany at Brest-Litovsk.

From October, the Russian counterrevolution began to develop. Operating under revolutionary banners, in the name of the workers and toiling peasantry, the reactionary authorities have used an artificially fomented anarchy and have ensconsed themselves in Russia under the protection and sponsorship of the troops of Bloody Wilhelm.

Following the latter's defeat by the alliance of democratic powers, these authorities now feel themselves strong enough in their atomised and exhausted country to hold on to power on their own account and are gradually revealing their true essence.

The clique that holds power, in accordance with the old Bakuninist recipe, expresses and represents the pauperised proletariat, the "beggars, plebs and bourgeoisie" of men and youths without profession, domicile or shame. They constitute an enormous corporation of official parasites, thieves and robbers.

It lacks even the most minimal relevance ... [missing word] and exists through the merciless exploitation not only of present, but also of future generations.

The politics of these authorities are the politics of civil war and naked violence. They divide the people into castes, enserf them, deprive them of freedom of movement and so forth. This is the politics of police domination, the politics of house-to-house searches and daily or hourly cruel, pointless, individual or mass killings.

The domination of the ruling clique is based on the Red Army. Part of that army is comprised of forcibly mobilised peasants and citizens, who desert at the first opportunity. The other part is a privileged and very well paid nucleus - made up of Latvians, Chinese, Kirghiz, Bashkirs, Buriats and a sundry anarchic and criminal rabble willing to do anything. It is an oprichnina, terrorising the peaceful working population.

Such a power could not take a single step towards solving any of the questions thrown up by the revolution: neither the agrarian question, nor the questions of the economy, food, or transport, nor the questions of political and civil organisation. By destroying Russia's productive forces at their very roots, they have undermined the very basis on which these questions could be resolved satisfactorily.

Moreover, at a time when Europe is no longer fighting, this power, which promised peace, is subjecting the country to the perils and privations of war without end. It may not be the only one, but it is the main obstacle to the renaissance of Russia, a malignant ulcer, which is exhausting and killing our national organism.

A country which wishes to survive must cure itself of this ulcer first and foremost and at all costs.

But how can it cure itself?.. Burdened by appalling oppression, the ever worsening decline of the economic base, the destruction of the working class, the debauchery, corruption, famine, epidemics and degeneration - the internal progressive forces of Soviet Russia are getting weaker on a daily basis.

But now we find socialists(1) who declare that the situation can be changed on the basis of the Soviet constitution: it is merely necessary to correct and remove inadequacies in the mechanism, large and small. They advance a programme for defending the revolution within the ranks of the Bolshevik Red Army, democratising the political structure along with general economic reforms and - in order to implement these measures - a united socialist government.

This programme is obviously utopian and profoundly mistaken.

We know - the Soviet leaders have themselves admitted it - that their disastrous economic line is determined by nothing other than the interests of the current rulers. They can only pay for their bureaucratic, police and military apparatus through a system of monopolies, requisition and robbery.

We know - the Chairman of the laughable "3rd International" recently reaffirmed this in his "manifesto" - that democracy and parliamentarism are "thrice and absolutely incompatible with Soviet power". This extreme aversion to democracy has been consistently displayed more than once by the head of the government clique. That is the theory. The practice speaks for itself.

As for the "united front of socialists", the Russian revolution has already had the experience of an admittedly tacit, but de facto administration of united socialist groups heading the soviets - between February and October 1917. It was a disastrous experience... It was these groups which opened the way to power for the Communist-Bolsheviks.

Whom, in fact, could this socialist government represent? The proletariat and the sections of society allied to it. But if the conscious proletariat is in power and fulfils its task as a class, it will strive for the socialist reorganisation of society.

Is such a reorganisation possible in an agrarian country, a ruined country, where the inhabitants of the capital receive barely one sixth of the food necessary for subsistence, while in certain villages they do not even get that, where the very notion of human society is being lost? Anyone can understand that it is not possible.

As far back as the 1870s, Engels explained to Tkachev(2), one of the forerunners of present-day Bolshevism:

"Only at a certain level of development of these social productive forces, even at a very high level for our modern conditions, does it become possible to raise production to such an extent that the abolition of class distinctions can constitute real progress, can be lasting without bringing about stagnation or even decline in the mode of social production..."

The Russian revolution is not a socialist revolution, but a bourgeois one. It is time to grasp this at last. Its objective task is to construct a free capitalist state on the ruins of the system of serfdom. The land should pass into the ownership of the peasants. Industry should be freed from tutelage. Capital should be able to be invested freely in industry and agriculture. Human and civil rights, applicable to everyone, should be realised. Otherwise there will be decline and putrefaction.

But a bourgeois revolution is unthinkable without a bourgeoisie.

What about the proletariat? The proletariat is more interested than all other progressive social strata in the development of the country's productive forces, it is interested in the free system which would give it guarantees, the opportunity to organise, and a basis for future struggles. Anyone who promises more is practising deception.

The old populist dissolution of the working class into the entire working people should have been abandoned long ago. The working class has its own particular tasks, it should carry on its own independent politics. But in conducting its own politics it must, in its own interests, take part in the all-national movement. Against the slogan of the "united socialist front" it is necessary to counterpose the slogan of a coalition of all the democratic forces of the country against economic and political reaction, under whatever flag it may appear: anarchist, communist, internationalist(3) or monarchist.

Our internal forces are not now strong enough to throw off armed reaction. But on the periphery of Russia forces have gathered which - one way or another - are meeting force with force. These forces are not homogeneous. There are the strong productive Siberian peasants, organised into cooperatives, and the Ukrainian corn-growers, and bourgeois politicians, and former landowners. There are fugitive generals, and fugitive socialists. These forces, the so-called whites - enjoy the support of the democratic countries.

Whatever the secret wishes and aspirations of individual military commanders or even entire groups, they can offer Russia the possibility of economic rebirth and development, the removal of the blockades, and peace with Europe and America.

Whatever their real desires and sympathies may be, they are obliged to advance a democratic programme, introduce political freedom and the corresponding institutions, and proclaim the convocation of a National Assembly.

Lavrov,(4) and following him the first Russian Marxists, used to say that only a new revolution can wrest dictatorship from the hands of usurpers. Whatever the forces may be which serve this cause: bourgeois, imperialist and the like, they are serving the cause of the revolution. It is the cause of revolutionaries and socialists, and the duty of conscious workers and all honest citizens to take their side. We can call on people to join the ranks of the Red Army only when and if it turns its weapons against its communist masters, the most reactionary power in the entire world.

If democrats and socialists do not join the ranks of those fighting against this government, so much the worse for them and for the country. Then the right will really be victorious. In determining the direction of the future structure of Russia, a major part will be played by those social groups that the advancing white armies, if successful, find on the ground.

The task of democratic and proletarian elements is not to stage premature outbursts, but to organise their forces on the ground, to create cells, however small, with branches maintaining broader links. At the appropriate time these groups will act as an independent social force and will support democratic and revolutionary elements within the "white" coalition.

The Russian proletariat, or whatever remains of it, should on no account strive for domination. Only under such circumstances will our working class not only assist the great cause of national liberation, but will be able to solve its own independent tasks, to defend its original gains and emerge intact from the difficult and long ordeals which currently await it, whatever happens.

On the Allies

The objective economic and political interests of the Entente powers, supported by the historic traditions of the free countries and thereby by what might be called the "spirit of the times", dictates that they follow a democratic policy, on the international level as well as within the individual countries.

The basic direction of this policy is confirmed by the adoption by these powers of Wilson's theses,(5) by their attitude to small nations on the territory of Europe, and by the creation of the League of Nations, an idea which had earlier been put forward by F. Engels. It is confirmed by the powers' note to Admiral Kolchak promising him support only if he introduces a free system into Russia and convenes a national Constituent Assembly and, finally, by the recent example of Hungary, where, despite all the fabrications of our official press, the allies refused to support the representatives of the Imperial dynasty and assisted in the formation of a national government and the convocation of a Constituent Assembly.

The active intervention of such an important democratic force as the League of Nations can significantly ease the internal conflict and tensions within those forces which have organised the crusade against Bolshevism, and repel reactionary incursions and attempts to restore the old monarchy, if such things occur. It can also greatly assist in the restoration of the unity of Russia and the regulation of its relations with the neighbouring peripheral nations which comprised the former Russian Empire.

These are the positive aspects of Allied "intervention". But it would be strange to expect that the Entente powers could create a Russian democracy as a viable force, if no such thing were already in existence. It is essential that our democracy be organised and have a definite orientation, if Allied support is to attain its goals.

It is said that the armed intervention of the Allies in Russian affairs threatens the despoliation of the country and its conversion into a foreign colony. This is the fruit of idle fantasy or deliberately dishonest calculation. There can be no more favourable conditions for the urge to plunder to triumph, than the domination of authorities which break up and weaken the country, which stir up and support civil war within every oblast, town and uezd...

No appetite for plunder could be better satisfied than that of Imperial Germany by the Brest peace. In its note to the allies, which the communist authorities recently reaffirmed over the radio, the Council of People's Commissars offered such concessions which could not be beaten by any government in the world: territory, natural resources, concessions, cash payments - all on condition that the government in question be preserved.(6)

This readiness to sell off Russia wholesale and retail demonstrates clearly, without a shadow of doubt, that war is now being waged not at all to defend the state, but purely in the interests of those in power, interests which diverge sharply from those of the country.

The horse-trading, bourgeois-egotistical calculations of the Allies may well manifest themselves in an insufficiently energetic and consistent struggle against Soviet power, in a willingness to wait, come to agreements, or even recognise it as the legitimate representative of the Russian people. Unfortunately, as we have seen from the beginning of the war, even certain socialist parties and their leaders are permeated with these tendencies to national egotism and exclusivity. It is partly this circumstance, and partly the confusion of the masses which explain the objections on the part of certain leaders of the Socialist International to the Allies' intervention in Russian affairs, under the pretext of respecting the right of nations to self-determination. This position is partly encouraged by an inadequate understanding of Russian events, insufficient information and confusion, brought about by the behaviour of a certain section of our socialist parties: a significant group of socialist-revolutionaries and particularly that section of the social-democrats which follows the line of the Menshevik CC.

Self-determination for a country which has been seized by a bunch of gangsters consists in throwing off the yoke of the usurpers as quickly as possible. This is why these calls to national defence in the ranks of the Red Army are a sign of the most extreme stupidity, if not of direct deception. It is essential to defend Russia against that enemy which is suffocating, robbing and enslaving it: against the communist clique. In order to overthrow the usurpers' yoke we have a right to request help from international democracy and socialists. And the socialists of the West - in the name of international solidarity - are obliged to support our demand.

The conscious workers of the Western countries should, in addition, remember the crimes committed by the gang running Russia in relation to their own countries: this gang reneged on their obligations and betrayed the Allies who had shed their blood for Russian freedom. They struck a shameful deal with the reactionary government of the German Emperor, supplying his army with provisions and conspiring against the democratic states. They have cast a web of intrigue across the entire world, practising provocation and bribery on a grand scale, sowing anarchist confusion, perverting and disorganising the workers' movement, hindering the cause of making peace in Europe after a terrible war and of making the most painless transition back to normal life.

Yesterday the representatives of this gang were grovelling to the German Emperor, and were prepared to grovel to any bourgeois or imperialist government, in order to remain in power. Today, having been rejected, they are threatening Europe with half-savage hordes of Bashkirs and Chinese, who have unexpectedly displayed the "heights of socialist consciousness" and "internationalism"...

The socialists of all countries are not only obliged to support their governments in their struggle against this cancer, which is eating away at Russia and threatening Europe, but should urge them to take the most serious and decisive action against it. It is vital that we clear the ground as quickly as possible and create the social conditions in which the further struggle of the working class for its final liberation becomes possible and productive.


1. That is - the Central Committee of the RSDRP (the Menshevik Party).

2. Petr Nikitich Tkachev (1844-1885) was an ideologist of Russian revolutionary populism, and a follower of of the French insurrectionist Auguste Blanqui. He favoured conspiratorial methods of work. Engels' polemic with him can be found in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works, Volume 24.

3. This is a swipe at the left-wing leadership of the Menshevik party, many of whom in 1917 had belonged to the "Menshevik-Internationalist" faction, regarded by the right as far too close to Bolshevism.

4. Petr Lavrovich Lavrov (1823-1900) was an ideologist of revolutionary populism. He was opposed to insurrectionism and terrorism. From 1870 he was on friendly terms with Marx and Engels, without himself becoming a Marxist.

5. This refers to US President Woodrow Wilson's "14 Points" on the post-war international order.

6. This refers to People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs G V Chicherin's note to the governments of Great Britain, France, Italy, the USA and Japan of 4 February 1919. In his note, Chicherin spoke of the readiness of the Soviet government to make "serious concessions" in respect of honouring its international debts, permitting foreign firms to exploit forestry and other resources, and accepting the annexation of parts of the former Russian Empire. However, Chicherin continued: "...the scale of the concessions that the Russian Soviet Government will be willing to grant will depend on its military position vis-à-vis the Entente powers, and at present that situation is improving daily..."

(Original typescript held in collection of S O Portugeys, at International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam. Reprinted in Z Galili, A Nenarokov and D Pavlov (editors and compilers) Men'sheviki v 1919-1920 gg., ROSSPEN, Moscow, 2000, pp. 241 - 247. Footnote 2 is based on those in the book.)