Organisation of the Masses and Choice of the Moment for Struggle
|Written||4 July 1906|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 90-93.
In June 1906 the Socialist-Revolutionaries began a campaign for reviving the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. The Mensheviks supported this idea, the Bolsheviks opposed it. On June 21 (July 4), 1906, the St. Petersburg Committee of the RSDLP adopted a resolution which, after pointing out the militant significance of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, noted that its re-establishment was untimely and exposed the provocative nature of the Socialist-Revolutionaries’ agitation. This resolution (published in Ekho, No. 5, July 27, 1906) was widely discussed at meetings and was approved by the overwhelming majority of the workers. The Menshevik G. S. Khrustalev-Nosar, who bad been president of the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies in October-November 1905, opposed the resolution of the St. Petersburg Committee and defended the S.-R.’s campaign.
In this issue we publish an article by Comrade Khrustalev on the question of whether it is now opportune to form Soviets of Workers’ Deputies. Needless to say, the author’s name is a guarantee of his intimate knowledge of the subject. All St. Petersburg workers are aware of this. They are also aware that at this particular moment the proletariat in the capital is very keenly interested in the question whether a Soviet of Workers’ Deputies should be formed.
Under these circumstances, Comrade Khrustalev’s polemic against the decision of the St. Petersburg Committee of our Party assumes immense importance.
We cannot agree with Comrade Khrustalev. He is quite wrong in defending the idea of Soviets of Workers’ Deputies in general, and their historical role at the end of 1905, against the St. Petersburg Committee, as it were. He is wrong in refusing to place December to the Soviet’s account. We would do so without hesitation; but we, of course, would place it on the “asset” and not on the “liability” side. In our opinion, the greatest merit of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, and the one that is still far from being fully appreciated, is the militant role they played.
But the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was a special type of fighting organisation; and platitudes about the utility of organisation will not help in the least to throw light on the question of the utility of forming this special type of organisation at the present moment. “The Soviet was the revolutionary parliament of the revolutionary proletariat,” writes Comrade Khrustalev. Quite right. It is this role, which is by no means confined to the technique of fighting, that is characteristic of the Soviet. Its functions as the organiser of trade unions, as the initiator of inquiries, as a Conciliation Board, and so forth, were quite subsidiary and secondary. One can easily conceive of these functions being fulfilled without a Soviet. But one can hardly conceive of a general strike without a mass, non-party, strike committee. The Soviet was called into being by the requirements of the direct mass struggle, and as an organ of that struggle. That is a fact. It is this fact alone that explains the special type of role and the actual significance of the Soviet. And it is to this fact that the word “militant” in the resolution of the St. Petersburg Committee refers.
No one would dream of setting up a Soviet of Workers’ Deputies to institute inquiries, to form trade unions, and so forth. Forming Soviets means forming organs of the direct mass struggle of the proletariat. These cannot-be formed at any time; whereas trade unions and political parties are always and absolutely necessary. They can and should be formed under all circumstances. It is a profound mistake, therefore, to answer the St. Petersburg Committee by referring to the importance of organisation in general. For the same reason it is also a mistake to refer to the fact that all Social-Democrats support the idea of forming peasant land committees. These committees are being proposed in connection with the country-wide discussion of the agrarian reform, in connection with the agrarian movement that is already growing.
But these committees also may lead to “premature” action!—says Comrade Khrustalev ironically. The whole point, however, is that at the present time there is an important difference between peasant actions and workers’ actions. A broad peasant action cannot be “premature” at the present time; but a broad workers’ action may be very much so. The reason for this is clear. In political development the working class is ahead of the peasantry; and the peasantry has not yet caught up with the working class in preparedness for nation-wide revolutionary action. It has been catching up with the working class since December, and to a large extent as a result of December (no matter what timid pedants may say who are prone to underestimate the importance of December, or even to repudiate December), It will catch up with the working class still faster with the aid of local land committees. It is certainly useful to urge on the rearguard that did not succeed in coming to the assistance of the vanguard in the previous battle; and there is nothing risky in that. But it is very risky to urge on the vanguard which did not get the assistance of the rearguard in the previous battle; and we must think very carefully before doing so.
Now it is this peculiar political situation that, in our opinion, Comrade Khrustalev has not taken into account. He is a thousand times right in his appraisal of the merits and importance of Soviets in general. But he is wrong in his estimate of the present situation and of the relation between peasant actions and workers’ actions. He has apparently forgotten another proposal made by the St. Petersburg Committee in another resolution, viz., to support the idea of forming an Executive Committee representing the Left groups in the Duma for the purpose of co-ordinating the activities of the free organisations of the people. Such a committee could determine more accurately the degree of readiness and determination of the peasantry as a whole, and consequently put the question of forming Soviets of Workers’ Deputies on a practical basis. In other words: the St. Petersburg Committee is now aiming at something more: not only to form militant organisations of the proletariat, but also to co-ordinate them with the militant organisations of the peasantry, etc. The St. Petersburg Committee is postponing the formation of Soviets of Workers’ Deputies at the present time, not because it fails to appreciate their enormous importance, but because it is making allowance for another, new condition for success that is now coming very much to the fore, namely, joint action of the revolutionary peasants and workers. Thus, the St. Petersburg Committee is not committing itself, and is not determining the tactics of the future beforehand. The St. Petersburg Committee is at this moment advising the vanguard: Do not go into battle, but first of all send a delegation to the rearguard; tomorrow the rearguard will have drawn up closer, and the assault on the enemy will be more vigorous; tomorrow we shall be in a position to issue a more timely slogan for action.
To conclude. Speaking generally, Comrade Khrustalev has advanced very convincing arguments in favour of forming Soviets. He has appraised their general importance excellently. His main purpose was to combat those who be little the role of the Soviets, and the importance of revolutionary actions in general. In this Comrade Khrustalev was quite right. There are not a few “belittlers” of this sort, and they are not only to be found among the Cadets. But Comrade Khrustalev, lacking permanent and close contacts with the proletariat—owing to the efforts of the hangmen and pogrom-mongers—has not fully appreciated the present situation and the present “disposition” of the revolutionary forces. Today, the vanguard must concentrate attention not on immediate action, but on consolidating and extending the closest contacts with the rearguard and with all the other units.
- See present edition, Vol. 10, p. 515—Ed.