Contemporary Russia and the Working-Class Movement

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 22 April 1913


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First published in Russian in the fourth Russian edition of V. I. Lenin’s Collected Works. Published April 22, 1913 in the newspaper Naprzód No. 92. Published according the Naprzód text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 47-51.
Collection(s): Naprzód

This newspaper report of a lecture delivered by Lenin in Cracow on April 18, 1913 (N.S.) was published in Naprzód (Forward), the Central Organ of the Polish Social-Democratic Party of Galicia and Silesia, issued in Cracow from 1892 onwards.

A few days ago in Cracow a report was delivered by Comrade Lenin, one of the most outstanding leaders of the Russian Social-Democrats. Here follows a brief outline of the report; for the information of our Galician readers we must add that Lenin is the leader of the so-called “Bolshevik” trend, that is, the more radical, implacable trend in the Russian Social-Democratic Party.

While describing the working-class movement in Russia, the speaker noted its great importance to the Western countries as well, since there was no doubt that in the period of socialist revolutions events there would resemble those that had taken place in Russia. As an example, the speaker mentioned the sudden transition from relative calm to the emergence of mass movements. In 1895 the number of strikers in Russia had been only 40,000 whereas in 1905 there had been 400,000 striking workers in January alone; in the course of the whole year the figure had increased to three million.

The present political situation in Russia had come about as a result of revolutionary experience, as a result of the class battles that had taken place at that time. A certain Japanese had called the Russian revolution “an impotent revolution under an incompetent government”. The government, however, had made full use of the experience of the revolution. It would suffice to mention the attitude of the government to the peasantry. At first, when the law governing the elections to the First Duma had been drawn up, the government had placed great hopes in the peasantry as a quiet, patriarchal element. But when it turned out that the Russian peasant, fighting for land, is by nature, not a socialist indeed, as some Narodnik utopians had thought, but, at any rate, a democrat, the government made a volte-face and changed the election law.[1]

The present Duma, he said, was no plaything, but an actual organ of power of the reactionary strata, the tsarist bureaucracy allied to the feudal landowners and the top bourgeoisie.

What had been the role of the Russian liberals? In the First and Second Dumas the liberals had tried to pacify the peasants, to divert them from the revolutionary to the so-called constitutional path. It was obvious, however, that the purchase of part of the landed estates, proposed by the Cadets, was only a fresh attempt to plunder and deceive the Russian peasant. This attempt had failed mainly owing to the tactics of the Social-Democrats in the Duma, who had been persistently urging the peasants leftward.

The October strike had been a turning-point in Russian liberalism. Before the revolution the liberals had said that “the revolution must become the ruling power” (Struve), but they later changed their tone, allegedly in fear of the excesses of the revolution although they knew perfectly well that the only “excesses” were those of the government. The Octobrists departed from liberalism and went over directly to the side of the government, serving the government as its lackeys. It was at that time that Guchkov, leader of the Octobrists, had written to Prince Trubetskoi that further revolutionary explosions menaced the very well-being of the bourgeoisie.

Such was the class basis of contemporary counter-revolution. Acts of lawlessness were committed quite openly and the class character of the government had been exposed. The government handed out praise and medals for lawless acts against revolutionary elements. The speaker gave an example: during the recent search of Deputy Petrovsky’s apartment the police, in violation of the law, had locked him in a room, and when a question was asked about it in the Duma, the Minister said that they should be grateful to the police for such zeal.

Stolypin had learned from the experience of Class battles during the revolution and had launched his notorious agrarian policy of stratifying the peasants into affluent petty bourgeois and semi-proletarian elements. This new policy was a mockery of the old “patriarchal slogans” of Katkov and Pobedonostsev.[2] The government, however, could not have acted otherwise.

The government, therefore, relied on the landowners and the terrified bourgeoisie in introducing the present counter revolutionary system. It was true that the “united nobility”[3] had tried to get the Duma disbanded as far back as 1906, but the government had then waited before making the coup, expecting results from its agrarian policy in respect of the peasants and changes in the psychology of a bourgeoisie terrified by the revolution.

This counter-revolutionary system had now played itself out, had exhausted its social forces. Circumstances had arisen that made any social reforms in contemporary Russia impossible. The Duma was concerned with trivialities; if it did adopt any decision, the Council of State and the Court annulled it or changed it beyond all recognition. There were no possibilities of effecting reforms in contemporary Russia. This made clear the demagogy of Cadet tactics in submitting to the Duma various “bills of principle” for all kinds of liberties; they introduced them because they knew that the Duma could under no circumstances adopt them. “We have a constitution, thank God!” Milyukov had exclaimed. There could not be any reforms under the existing social system although Russia’s internal situation was pitiful and her backwardness, even as compared with Asia, was obvious. Even the Octobrist press had said “it is impossible to go on living like this any longer”.

All this made clear the tasks of a proletariat faced with another revolution. The mood was rising. In 1910 the number of strikers, according to official statistics, had been only 40,000, but in 1912 it had been 680,000, of which 500,000 had taken part in political strikes.

This made clear the tactics of the Russian Social-Democrats. They would have to strengthen their organisation, their press, etc.; that was the ABC of socialist tactics long since elaborated in the West, especially by the German Social-Democrats. The primary task of the RSDLP, however, was to train the masses for democratic revolution. This task was no longer on the order of the day in the West; theirs was an altogether different task, that of mobilisation, of mustering the masses and training and organising them for the abolition of the capitalist system.

If attention were concentrated on the question of the approaching revolution in Russia and on the tasks of the Social Democrats in that revolution, the essence of the dispute with those known as “liquidators” among the Russian Social-Democrats would be understood. Liquidationism was not the invention of a section of the Russian Social-Democrats; the first liquidators were the “Narodniks”, who in 1906 published their slogans in the magazine Russkoye Bogatstvo[4]—down with the underground movement, down with the republic! The liquidators wanted to abolish the illegal party and organise an open party. That was ridiculous, especially if we bear in mind that even the Progressists (a mixture of Octobrists and Cadets) dared not ask to be legalised. Under such circumstances the liquidators’ slogans were downright treachery. It stood to reason that an illegal party should take advantage of all legal opportunities—the press, the Duma, even the insurance law[5]—but only for the purpose of extending agitation and organisation; the substance of the agitation must remain revolutionary. There must be a struggle against the illusion that there was a constitution in Russia, and reformist slogans should be counter-posed by the slogan of revolution, of a republic!

Such was the content of Comrade Lenin’s report. One of those present asked him about his attitude to the national question; the speaker said that the Russian Social-Democratic Party recognised in full the right of every nation to “self-determination”, to decide its own fate, even to secede from Russia. The Russian revolution and the cause of democracy were not in any way connected (as was the case in Germany) with the cause of unification, centralisation. The democratisation of Russia depended not on the national but on the agrarian question.

At the same time Comrade Lenin stressed the necessity for full unity throughout the revolutionary army of the proletariat of different nationalities in the struggle for the full democratisation of the country. Only on that basis could the national question be solved, as in America, Belgium and Switzerland. The speaker dealt polemically with Renner’s theses on the national question and came out sharply against the slogan of cultural-national autonomy. There were people in Russia who maintained that Russia’s further development would follow the Austrian path, a path that was slow and rotten. But, said the speaker, we must beware of any national struggle within Social-Democracy because it would militate against the great task of revolutionary struggle; in that respect the national struggle in Austria should be a warning to us.[6] The Caucasian Social-Democrats should be a model for Russia; they conducted propaganda simultaneously in the Georgian, Armenian Tatar and Russian languages.[7]

  1. Lenin is here referring to the reactionary coup d’état of June 3 (16), 1907 when the government dissolved the Second Duma and changed the law regulating elections to the Duma.
    The new election law greatly increased the Duma representation of the landed proprietors and the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie and greatly reduced the already tiny number of peasant, worker and non-Russian deputies. The new law allotted one elector to 230 voters in the Landowner curia, 1,000 voters in the first urban curia (big bourgeoisie), 15,000 voters in the second urban curia (other urban voters), 60,000 voters in the peasant curia, and 125 000 in the worker curia. As a result of the June Third Election Law, the Third and Fourth Dumas were mainly Black-Hundred and Cadet in composition.
  2. The “patriarchal slogans” of Katkov and Pobedonostsev was the name Lenin gave to their demand for the “inalienability” of peasant allotments, the preservation of the village commune and other survivals of serfdom. Katkov was the editor of the reactionary Moskovskiye Vedomosti (Moscow Recorder) and Pobedonostsev was the Procurator General of the Synod; both were ardent advocates of the policy of privileges for the landed nobility, pursued by Alexander III.
  3. This refers to a reactionary organisation, the Council of the United Nobility, founded in May 1906. The Council exercised considerable influence over the policy of the tsarist government. Lenin called it the “Council of the United Feudalists”.
  4. Russkoye Bogatstvo (Russian Wealth)—a monthly magazine published in St. Petersburg from 1876 to the middle of 1918. In the early 1890s it became an organ of the liberal Narodniks. From 1906 onwards the magazine was actually the organ of the Popular Socialist Party, a semi-Cadet organisation. In this period Lenin defined the policy of Russkoye Bogatstvo as “Narodnik, Narodnik Cadet”.
  5. The law referred to was promulgated on June 23 (July 6), 1912; it provided for insurance against illness and accidents and was adopted by the Third Duma under pressure from the working-class movement. The law covered only 20 per cent of all industrial workers and did not provide benefits in cases of disablement, old age and unemployment.
    The Bolshevik Party organised a mass campaign for the expansion of workers’ insurance, thereby strengthening its influence among the working-class masses.
  6. The struggle within the Austrian Social-Democratic Party resulted in the fragmentation of the united party into six national Social-Democratic parties—German, Czech, Polish, Ruthenian, Italian and South-Slav. There was constant friction between these parties.
  7. The Social-Democrat Bolshevik organisations in the Caucasus united the advanced proletarians of many nationalities.