The Present Situation in Russia and the Tactics of the Workers' Party
|Written||7 February 1906|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 10, pages 112-119.
The article “The Present Situation in Russia and the Tactics of the Workers’ Party” appeared in Partiiniye Izvestia (Party News), No. 1.
Partiiniye Izvestia was the organ of the Joint Central Commit tee of the RSDLP formed after the merger of the Bolshevik Central Committee and the Menshevik Organising Committee by decision of the Tammerfors Conference. It was published illegally in St. Petersburg before the Fourth (Unity) Congress of the Party. Its editorial board consisted of equal numbers of editors of the Bolshevik and Menshevik organs (Proletary and the new Iskra, respectively). The Bolsheviks were represented on the board by Lenin, Lunacharsky and others. Two issues appeared—in February and March 1906. Issue No. 2 carried Lenin’s article “The Russian Revolution and the Tasks of the Proletariat”, signed “A Bolshevik”.
The publication of Partiiniye Izvestia was discontinued following the Fourth (Unity) Congress of the RSDLP, as the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks had begun to publish their separate news papers.
The Russian Social-Democratic Party is passing through a very difficult time. Martial Law, shootings and floggings, overcrowded prisons, a proletariat worn out by starvation, chaos in organisation, aggravated by the destruction of many of the underground centres and by the absence of legal centres, and lastly the controversy over tactics, coinciding with the difficult task of restoring Party unity, are all inevitably causing a certain disarray of Party forces.
The formal way out of this disarray is the convening of the unity congress of the Party; and it is our profound conviction that all Party workers should do their utmost to hasten this event. But while the work of convening the congress is proceeding, we must bring to everybody’s notice, and very seriously discuss, the extremely important question of the more profound causes of this disarray. Strictly speaking, the question of boycotting the State Duma is only a minor part of the big question of revising the whole tactics of the Party. And this question, in its turn, is only a minor part of .the big question of the present situation in Russia and of the significance of the present moment in the history of the Russian revolution.
We can see two lines of tactics, which are due to two different appraisals of the present moment. Some (see, for example, Lenin’s article in Molodaya Rossiya ) regard the suppression of the insurrection in Moscow and elsewhere merely as preparing the ground and the conditions for another, more decisive, armed struggle. They see the real significance of the present moment in the dispelling of constitutional illusions. They regard the two great months of the revolution (November and December) as the period in which the peaceful general strike grew into an armed uprising of the whole people. The possibility of such an uprising has been proved; the movement has been raised to a higher plane; the broad masses have acquired the practical experience needed for the success of the future uprising; peaceful strikes have spent themselves. This experience must be very carefully collected; the proletariat must be given an opportunity to recuperate; all constitutional illusions and all idea of participating in the Duma must be emphatically discarded. We must more perseveringly and patiently prepare for a new insurrection and establish closer links with the organisations of the peasantry, which in all probability will rise in greater strength towards the spring.
Others appraise the situation differently. Comrade Plekhanov, in No. 3, and particularly in No. 4 of his Dnevnik has formulated this other appraisal more consistently than anybody, although, unfortunately, he has not everywhere fully set forth his ideas.
“The political strike, inopportunely begun,” says Comrade Plekhanov, “resulted in ’armed uprising in Moscow, Rostov, and elsewhere. The strength of the proletariat proved inadequate for victory. It was not difficult to fore see this. And therefore it was wrong to take up arms.” The practical task of the class-conscious elements in the working-class movement “is to point out to the proletariat its mistake, and to explain to it how risky is the game called armed uprising”. Plekhanov does not deny that he wants to put a brake on the movement. He recalls that, six months before the Commune, Marx warned the proletariat of Paris against untimely outbreaks. “The facts of life have shown,” says Plekhanov, “that the tactics our Party has pursued during the past months are unsound. On pain of further de feats, we must learn to adopt new tactics.” ... “The main thing is immediately to pay much more attention to the workers’ trade union movement.” “A very large number of our comrades have become too engrossed with the idea of armed uprising to devote any serious attention to the task of helping the trade union movement.”... “We must value the support of the non-proletarian opposition parties, and not repel them by tactless actions." Quite naturally, Plekhanov also declares against boycotting the Duma (without saying definitely whether he is in favour of taking part in the Duma, or of the electors forming “organs of revolutionary local self-government”, the pet idea of the “Mensheviks”). “Election agitation in the rural districts would sharply bring up the question of the land.” Confiscation of the land has been approved by both sections of our Party and “it is now high time to put their resolutions into effect”.
Such are Plekhanov’s views, which we have outlined almost entirely as the author himself formulated them in his Dnevnik.
We hope that this outline has convinced the reader that the question of the tactics to be adopted towards the Duma is only part of the general question of tactics, which, in its turn, is subordinate to the question of how the present revolutionary moment as a whole should be appraised. The roots of the disagreement on tactics may be summed up as follows. Some say it was wrong to take up arms, and urge that the risks involved in insurrection be explained and that the emphasis be shifted to the trade union movement. Both the second and third strikes and the insurrection were blunders. Others say it was necessary to take up arms, for otherwise the movement would not have risen to a higher plane, it would not have obtained the necessary practical experience of insurrection ·nor freed itself from the narrow limits of the peaceful strike alone, which had spent itself as a weapon in the struggle. Thus for some the question of insurrection is shelved, at all events until a new situation arises that will compel us to revise our tactics once again. The logical conclusion that inevitably follows from this is that we must adjust ourselves to the “constitution” (participate in the Duma and work vigorously in the legal trade union movement). For others, on the contrary, it is now that the question of insurrection comes to the forefront, on the basis of the practical experience which has been acquired, which has proved that it is quite possible to fight against regular troops, and which has suggested the immediate task of a more persevering and more patient preparation for the next outbreak. Hence the slogan “Away with constitutional illusions!” and the assignment to the legal trade union movement of a modest, at any rate not the “principal”, place.
It goes without saying that we must examine this point of dispute in the light of the present objective conditions and of an assessment of social forces, not from the point of view of whether any particular line of action is desirable. We think that Plekhanov’s views are wrong. His appraisal of the Moscow insurrection, summed up in the words, “it was wrong to take up arms”, is extremely one-sided. Shelving the question of insurrection virtually means admitting that the revolutionary period has drawn to a close, and that a “constitutional” period of the democratic revolution has set in, i.e., it means placing the suppression of the December uprisings in Russia on a par, for example, with the suppression of the insurrections in Germany in 1849. Of course, it is by no means impossible for our revolution to end like that; and in the light of the present moment, when reaction is becoming rampant, it is quite easy to draw the conclusion that such a finale has already set in. Nor can there be any doubt that it is more advisable fully to abandon the idea of insurrection, if objective conditions have made it impossible, than to waste our forces on new and fruitless attempts.
But that would mean making too hasty a generalisation about the state of affairs at the present moment, and elevating it to a law for a whole period. Have we not seen reaction raging in all its fury after nearly every important advance of our revolution? And has not the movement risen again after a time with mightier force despite the reaction? The autocracy has not yielded to the inexorable demands of all social development; on the contrary, it is retrogressing, and is now evoking protests even among the bourgeoisie, which welcomed the suppression of the insurrection. The strength of the revolutionary classes, the proletariat and the peasantry, is far from exhausted. The economic crisis and financial dislocation are growing and becoming more acute, rather than diminishing. The probability of a fresh outbreak even now, when the first insurrection has not yet been completely crushed, is admitted even by the “law abiding” bourgeois press, which is certainly hostile to insurrection. The farcical character of the Duma is becoming clearer and clearer, and the hopelessness of the Party attempting to participate in the elections more and more unquestionable.
It would be short-sightedness, slavish acquiescence in the present situation, if we shelved the question of insurrection in these circumstances. See how Plekhanov contradicts himself when, on the one hand, he strongly advises us to put into effect the resolutions on agitation among the peasantry in favour of confiscating the land, and, on the other hand, warns us against repelling the opposition parties by tactless actions, and dreams about the question of the land coming up “sharply” in the course of election agitation in the countryside. It is safe to say that the liberal landlords will forgive you a million “tactless” actions, but they will never forgive you for advocating the confiscation of the land. No wonder even the Cadets say that they, too, are in favour of suppressing peasant revolts with the aid of troops, provided they, and not the bureaucracy, are in command of the troops (see Prince Dolgorukov’s article in Pravo). We can be quite sure that the question of land will never come up as “sharply” in election agitation as it did come, is coming, and will come up outside the Duma and outside elections conducted with the aid of the police.
We have whole-heartedly accepted the slogan of confiscating the land. But this slogan is merely a hollow sound if it does not imply the victory of armed uprising; for the peasants are now confronted not only by regular troops, but also by volunteers hired by the landlords. When we preach the confiscation of the land, we are actually calling upon peasants to revolt. And unless we want to indulge in revolutionary phrase-mongering, have we a right to do this if we do not count on a workers’ insurrection in the towns, on the workers supporting the peasants? It would be cruel mockery if, when the peasants rise in a body and begin to confiscate the land, the workers were to offer them the co operation of trade unions that were under the tutelage of the police, instead of the co-operation of fighting organisations.
We really have no grounds for shelving the question of insurrection. We must not revise our Party tactics to suit the conditions of the present moment of reaction. We cannot, and must not, give up hope of at last merging the three separate streams of insurrection—workers’, peasants’ and military—into a single victorious insurrection. We must prepare for this, without, of course, renouncing any “legal” means of extending propaganda, agitation and organisation: but harbouring no illusions about the durability and importance of these means. We must collect the experience of the Moscow, Donets, Rostov and other uprisings and spread knowledge of them far and wide; we must perseveringly and patiently prepare new fighting forces, train and steel them in a series of fighting guerrilla operations. The new outbreak may not take place in the spring; but it is approaching, and in all probability is not very far off. We must meet it armed, organised. in military fashion, and prepared for determined offensive operations.
We will make a slight digression here about the guerrilla operations by the fighting squads. We think it is wrong to put these operations on a par with the old type of terrorism. Terrorism consisted in acts of vengeance against individuals. Terrorism was a conspiracy by groups of intellectuals. Terrorism in no way reflected the temper of the masses. Terrorism never served to train fighting leaders of the masses. Terrorism was the result—and also the symptom and concomitant—of lack of faith in insurrection, of the absence of conditions for insurrection.
Guerrilla operations are not acts of vengeance, but military operations. They no more resemble adventurous acts than the harassing of the enemy’s rear by raiding parties of huntsmen during a lull on the main battlefield resembles the killing of an individual in a duel or by assassination. Guerrilla operations conducted by fighting squads—formed long ago by Social-Democrats of both factions in all the important centres of the movement and consisting mainly of workers—undoubtedly reflect, clearly and directly, the temper of the masses. Guerrilla operations by fighting squads directly train fighting leaders of the masses. The guerrilla operations of the fighting squads today do not spring from lack of faith in insurrection, and are not conducted because insurrection is impossible; on the contrary, they are an essential component of the insurrection now in progress. Of course, mistakes may be made in all things and always:
premature and unnecessary attempts at insurrection are possible; so also are over-zealousness and excesses, which are always and definitely harmful, and may injure even the best of tactics. But the fact is that in most of the purely Russian centres we have so far been suffering from the other extreme, namely, insufficient initiative among our fighting squads, lack of fighting experience, and insufficient determination in their activities. In this respect we have been outstripped by the Caucasus, Poland and the Baltic Provinces, i. e., the centres where the movement has left the old terrorism farthest of all behind, where preparations for insurrection have been made best, and where the proletarian struggle most clearly and vividly bears a mass character.
We must catch up with these centres. We must not re strain but encourage the guerrilla operations of the fighting squads if we want to prepare for insurrection not merely in words, and if we recognise that the proletariat is seriously ready for insurrection.
The Russian revolution started with petitions to the tsar to grant freedom. Shootings, reaction and Trepovism did not stamp out, but fanned the flames of the movement. The revolution took a second step forward. It forcibly compelled the tsar to recognise freedom. It defended this freedom arms in hand. It did not succeed at the first attempt. Shootings, reaction and Dubasovism will not stamp out the movement, they will fan its flames. Taking shape before our eyes is the third step, which will decide the outcome of the revolution: the struggle of the revolutionary people for an authority that will really introduce freedom. In this struggle, we must count on the support of the revolutionary-democratic parties, and not of the opposition parties. Shoulder to shoulder with the socialist proletariat will march the democratic and revolutionary peasantry. It will be a great and arduous struggle, a struggle for the completion, for the complete victory, of the democratic revolution. But all the signs now are that such a struggle is being brought near by the course of events. Let us see to it that the new wave finds the proletariat of Russia at a new stage of fighting preparedness.
- See pp. 93-96 of this volume.—Ed.
- Dnevnik Sotsial-Demokrata (Diary of a Social-Democrat)—a non-periodical organ published by G. Plekhanov. See present edition, Vol. 11, Note 88. p. 113—Lenin
- The reference is to the “Second Address of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association on the Franco Prussian War. To the Members of the International Working Men’s Association in Europe and the United States”, September 9, 1870 (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, p. 491).
- This, for example, is what the conservative bourgeois Slovo (No. 364 of January 25) writes: “Among the most convinced adherents of the Centre, one more and more often hears the opinion, hesitant and timid though it still is, that unless there is another outbreak, prepared by the revolutionary parties, reform will not be brought about with the necessary fulness and completeness.... There is now hardly any hope that reforms will be brought about peacefully from above.”—Lenin
- Pravo (Law)—a juridical bourgeois-liberal daily published in St. Petersburg from the end of 1898 to 1917.
- Trepov, D. F. (1855-1906)—Chief of Police in Moscow from 1896 to 1905. In January 1905 he was appointed Governor General of St. Petersburg, and later became Vice-Minister of the Interior. He inspired Black-Hundred pogroms.