The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats
First published in pamphlet form in Geneva, 1898. Published according to the text of the 1902 edition checked with copy of the manuscript, the 1898 and 1905 editions, and the text in the miscellany Twelve Years by Vl. Ilyin, 1907.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 2, pages 323-352.
The pamphlet The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats was written by Lenin in exile (Siberia) at the close of 1897, and was first published in 1898 by the Emancipation of Labour group in Geneva. It circulated widely among Russia’s advanced workers. According to Police Department data for the years 1898-1905, copies of the pamphlet were discovered during searches and arrests made in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Smolensk, Kazan, Orel, Kiev, Vilno, Feodosia, Irkutsk, Archangel, Sormovo, Kovno and other towns.
The second half of the nineties witnessed a remarkable increase in the work being done on the presentation and solution of the problems of the Russian revolution. The appearance of a new revolutionary party, Narodnoye Pravo, the growing influence and successes of the Social Democrats, the evolution within Narodnaya Volya—all this has evoked a lively discussion on questions of programme both in study circles of socialist intellectuals and workers and in illegal literature. Regarding the latter sphere, reference should be made to “An Urgent Question” and the “Manifesto” (1894) of the Narodnoye Pravo Party, to the Leaflet of the Narodnaya Volya Group, to Rabotnik published abroad by the League of Russian Social-Democrats, to the increasing output of revolutionary pamphlets in Russia, mainly for workers, and the agitation conducted by the Social-Democratic League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in St. Petersburg around the important strikes there in 1896, etc.
At the present time (the end of 1897), the most urgent question, in our opinion, is that of the practical activities of the Social-Democrats. We emphasise the practical side of Social-Democracy, because on the theoretical side the most critical period—the period of stubborn refusal by its opponents to understand it, of strenuous efforts to suppress the new trend the moment it arose, on the one hand, and of stalwart defence of the fundamentals of Social-Democracy, on the other—is now apparently behind us. Now the main and basic features of the theoretical views of the Social-Democrats have been sufficiently clarified. The same cannot be said about the practical side of Social-Democracy, about its political programme, its methods, its tactics. It is in this sphere, we think, that misapprehension and mutual misunderstanding mostly prevail, preventing a complete rapprochement between Social-Democracy and those revolutionaries who in theory have completely renounced the principles of the Narodnaya Volya and in practice are either led by the very force of circumstances to carry on propaganda and agitation among the workers—nay, more: to conduct their activities among the workers on the basis of the class struggle—or else strive to base their whole programme and revolutionary activities on democratic tasks. If we are not mistaken, the latter description fits the two revolutionary groups which are operating in Russia at the present time, parallel to the Social-Democrats, namely, the Narodnaya Volya and Narodnoye Pravo.
We, therefore, think it particularly opportune to try to explain the practical tasks of the Social-Democrats and to state the grounds on which we consider their programme to be the most rational of the three now existing and the arguments advanced against it to be based very largely on misunderstanding.
The object of the practical activities of the Social-Democrats is, as is well known, to lead the class struggle of the proletariat and to organise that struggle in both its manifestations: socialist (the fight against the capitalist class aimed at destroying the class system and organising socialist society), and democratic (the fight against absolutism aimed at winning political liberty in Russia and democratising the political and social system of Russia). We said as is well known. And indeed, from the very moment they appeared as a separate social-revolutionary trend, the Russian Social-Democrats have always quite definitely indicated this object of their activities, have always emphasised the dual manifestation and content of the class struggle of the proletariat and have always insisted on the inseparable connection between their socialist and democratic tasks—a connection clearly expressed in the name they have adopted. Nevertheless, to this day you often meet socialists who have the most distorted notions about the Social-Democrats and accuse them of ignoring the political struggle, etc. Let us, therefore, dwell a little on a description of both aspects of the practical activities of Russian Social-Democracy.
Let us begin with socialist activity. One would have thought that the character of Social-Democratic activity in this respect had become quite clear since the Social-Democratic League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in St. Petersburg began its activities among the St. Petersburg workers. The socialist activities of Russian Social-Democrats consist in spreading by propaganda the teachings of scientific socialism, in spreading among the workers a proper understanding of the present social and economic system, its basis and its development, an understanding of the various classes in Russian society, of their interrelations, of the struggle between these classes, of the role of the working class in this struggle, of its attitude to wards the declining and the developing classes, towards the past and the future of capitalism, an understanding of the historical task of international Social-Democracy and of the Russian working class. Inseparably connected with propaganda is agitation among the workers, which naturally comes to the forefront in the present political conditions of Russia and at the present level of development of the masses of workers. Agitation among the workers means that the Social-Democrats take part in all the spontaneous manifestations of the working-class struggle, in all the conflicts between the workers and the capitalists over the working day, wages, working conditions, etc., etc. Our task is to merge our activities with the practical, everyday questions of working-class life, to help the workers understand these questions, to draw the workers’ attention to the most important abuses, to help them formulate their demands to the employers more precisely and practically, to develop among the workers consciousness of their solidarity, consciousness of the common interests and common cause of all the Russian workers as a united working class that is part of the international army of the proletariat. To organise study circles among workers, to establish proper and secret connections between them and the central group of Social-Democrats, to publish and distribute working-class literature, to organise the receipt of correspondence from all centres of the working-class movement, to publish agitational leaflets and manifestos and to distribute them, and to train a body of experienced agitators—such, in broad outline, are the manifestations of the socialist activities of Russian Social-Democracy.
Our work is primarily and mainly directed to the factory, urban workers. Russian Social-Democracy must not dissipate its forces; it must concentrate its activities on the industrial proletariat, who are most susceptible to Social-Democratic ideas, most developed intellectually and politically, and most important by virtue of their numbers and concentration in the country’s large political centres. The creation of a durable revolutionary organisation among the factory, urban workers is therefore the first and most urgent task confronting Social-Democracy, one from which it would be highly unwise to let ourselves be diverted at the present time. But, while recognising the necessity of concentrating our forces on the factory workers and opposing the dissipation of our forces, we do not in the least wish to suggest that the Russian Social-Democrats should ignore other strata of the Russian proletariat and working class. Nothing of the kind. The very conditions of life of the Russian factory workers very often compel them to enter into the closest relations with the handicraftsmen, the industrial proletariat scattered outside the factory in towns and villages, and whose conditions are infinitely worse. The Russian factory worker also comes into direct contact with the rural population (very often the factory worker’s family live in the country) and, consequently, he cannot but come into close contact with the rural proletariat, with the many millions of regular farm workers and day labourers, and also with those ruined peasants who, while clinging to their miserable plots of land, have to work off their debts and take on all sorts of “casual jobs,” i.e., are also wage-labourers. The Russian Social-Democrats think it inopportune to send their forces among. the handicraftsmen and rural labourers, but they do not in the least intend to ignore them; they will try to enlighten the advanced workers also on questions affecting the lives of the handicraftsmen and rural labourers, so that when these workers come into contact with the more backward strata of the proletariat, they will imbue them with the ideas of the class struggle, socialism and the political tasks of Russian democracy in general and of the Russian proletariat in particular. It is impractical to send agitators among the handicraftsmen and rural labourers when there is still so much work to be done among the factory, urban workers, but in numerous cases the socialist worker comes willy-nilly into contact with these people and must be able to take advantage of these opportunities and understand the general tasks of Social-Democracy in Russia. Hence, those who accuse the Russian Social-Democrats of being narrow-minded, of trying to ignore the mass of the labouring population for the sake of the factory workers, are profoundly mistaken. On the contrary, agitation among the advanced sections of the proletariat is the surest and the only way to rouse (as the movement expands) the entire Russian proletariat. The dissemination of socialism and of the idea of the class struggle among the urban workers will inevitably cause these ideas to flow in the smaller and more scattered channels. This requires that these ideas take deeper root among the better prepared elements and spread throughout the vanguard of the Russian working-class movement and of the Russian revolution. While concentrating all its forces on activity among the factory workers, Russian Social-Democracy is ready to support those Russian revolutionaries who, in practice, come to base their socialist activities on the class struggle of the proletariat; but it does not in the least conceal the point that no practical alliances with other groups of revolutionaries can, or should, lead to compromises or concessions on matters of theory, programme or banner. Convinced that the doctrine of scientific socialism and the class struggle is the only revolutionary theory that can today serve as the banner of the revolutionary movement, the Russian Social-Democrats will exert every effort to spread this doctrine, to guard it against false interpretation and to combat every attempt to impose vaguer doctrines on the still young working-class movement in Russia. Theoretical reasoning proves and the practical activities of the Social-Democrats show that all socialists in Russia should become Social-Democrats.
Let us now deal with the democratic tasks and with the democratic work of the Social-Democrats. Let us repeat, once again, that this work is inseparably connected with socialist activity. In conducting propaganda among the workers, the Social-Democrats cannot avoid political problems, and they would regard any attempt to avoid them, or even to push them aside, as a profound mistake and a departure from the basic principles of international Social-Democracy. Simultaneously with the dissemination of scientific socialism, Russian Social-Democrats set themselves the task of propagating democratic ideas among the working class masses; they strive to spread an understanding of absolutism in all its manifestations, of its class content, of the necessity to overthrow it, of the impossibility of waging a successful struggle for the workers’ cause without achieving political liberty and the democratisation of Russia’s political and social system. In conducting agitation among the workers on their immediate economic demands, the Social-Democrats inseparably link this with agitation on the immediate political needs, the distress and the demands of the working class, agitation against police tyranny, manifested in every strike, in every conflict between workers and capitalists, agitation against the restriction of the rights of the workers as Russian citizens in general and as the class suffering the worst oppression and having the least rights in particular, agitation against every prominent representative and flunkey of absolutism who comes into direct contact with the workers and who clearly reveals to the working class its condition of political slavery. Just as there is no issue affecting the life of the workers in the economic field that must be left unused for the purpose of economic agitation, so there is no issue in the political field that does not serve as a subject for political agitation. These two kinds of agitation are inseparably connected in the activities of the Social-Democrats as the two sides of the same medal. Both economic and political agitation are equally necessary to develop the class-consciousness of the proletariat; both economic and political agitation are equally necessary for guiding the class struggle of the Russian workers, because every class struggle is a political struggle. By arousing the class-consciousness of the workers, by organising, disciplining and training them for united action and for the fight for the ideals of Social-Democracy, both kinds of agitation will enable the workers to test their strength on immediate issues and immediate needs, to wring partial concessions from their enemy and thus improve their economic conditions, compel the capitalists to reckon with the strength of the organised workers, compel the government to extend the workers’ rights, to pay heed to their demands and keep the government in constant fear of the hostility of the masses of workers led by a strong Social-Democratic organisation.
We have pointed to the inseparably close connection between socialist and democratic propaganda and agitation, to the complete parallelism of revolutionary activity in both spheres. Nevertheless, there is a big difference between these two types of activity and struggle. The difference is that in the economic struggle the proletariat stands absolutely alone against both the landed nobility and the bourgeoisie, except, perhaps, for the help it receives (and by no means always) from those elements of the petty bourgeoisie which gravitate towards the proletariat. In the democratic, political struggle, however, the Russian working class does not stand alone; at its side are all the political opposition elements, strata and classes, since they are hostile to absolutism and are fighting it in one form or another. Here side by side with the proletariat stand the opposition elements of the bourgeoisie, or of the educated classes, or of the petty bourgeoisie, or of the nationalities, religions and sects, etc., etc., persecuted by the autocratic government. The question naturally arises of what the attitude of the working class towards these elements should be. Further, should it not combine with them in the common struggle against the autocracy? After all, all Social-Democrats admit that the political revolution in Russia must precede the socialist revolution; should they not, therefore, combine with all the elements in the political opposition to fight the autocracy, setting socialism aside for the time being? Is not this essential in order to strengthen the fight against the autocracy?
Let us examine these two questions.
The attitude of the working class, as a fighter against the autocracy, towards all the other social classes and groups in the political opposition is very precisely determined by the basic principles of Social-Democracy expounded in the famous Communist Manifesto. The Social-Democrats support the progressive social classes against the reactionary classes, the bourgeoisie against the representatives of privileged landowning estate and the bureaucracy, the big bourgeoisie against the reactionary strivings of the petty bourgeoisie. This support does not presuppose, nor does it call for, any compromise with non-Social-Democratic programmes and principles—it is support given to an ally against a particular enemy. Moreover, the Social-Democrats render this support in order to expedite the fall of the common enemy, but expect nothing for themselves from these temporary allies, and concede nothing to them. The Social-Democrats support every revolutionary movement against the present social system, they support all oppressed nationalities, persecuted religions, downtrodden social estates, etc., in their fight for equal rights.
Support for all elements of the political opposition will be expressed in the propaganda of the Social-Democrats by the fact that, in showing that the autocracy is hostile to the workers’ cause, they will also point to its hostility towards various other social groups; they will point to the solidarity of the working class with these groups on a particular issue, in a particular task, etc. In agitation, this support will be expressed by the Social-Democrats’ taking advantage of every manifestation of the police tyranny of the autocracy to point out to the workers how this tyranny affects all Russian citizens in general, and the representatives of the exceptionally oppressed social estates, nationalities, religions, sects, etc., in particular; and how that tyranny affects the working class especially. Finally, in practice, this support is expressed in the readiness of the Russian Social-Democrats to enter into alliances with revolutionaries of other trends for the purpose of achieving certain particular aims, and this readiness has been shown in practice on more than one occasion.
This brings us to the second question. While pointing to the solidarity of one or other of the various opposition groups with the workers, the Social-Democrats will always single out the workers from the rest, they will always point out that this solidarity is temporary and conditional, they will always emphasise the independent class identity of the proletariat, who tomorrow may find themselves in opposition to their allies of today. We shall be told that “such action will weaken all the fighters for political liberty at the present time.” We shall reply that such action will strengthen all the fighters for political liberty. Only those fighters are strong who rely on the consciously recognised real interests of certain classes, and any attempt to obscure these class interests, which already play a predominant role in contemporary society, will only weaken the fighters. That is the first point. The second point is that, in the fight against the autocracy, the working class must single itself out, for it is the only thoroughly consistent and unreserved enemy of the autocracy, only between the working class and the autocracy is no compromise possible, only in the working class can democracy find a champion who makes no reservations, is not irresolute and does not look back. The hostility of all other classes, groups and strata of the population towards the autocracy is not unqualified; their democracy always looks back. The bourgeoisie cannot but realise that industrial and social development is being retarded by the autocracy, but it fears the complete democratisation of the political and social system and can at any moment enter into alliance with the autocracy against the proletariat. The petty bourgeoisie is two-faced by its very nature, and while it gravitates, on the one hand, towards the proletariat and democracy, on the other, it gravitates towards the reactionary classes, tries to hold up the march of history, is apt to be seduced by the experiments and blandishments of the autocracy (for example, the “people’s policy” of Alexander III), is capable of concluding an alliance with the ruling classes against the proletariat for the sake of strengthening its own small-proprietor position. Educated people, and the “intelligentsia” generally, cannot but revolt against the savage police tyranny of the autocracy, which hunts down thought and knowledge; but the material interests of this intelligentsia bind it to the autocracy and to the bourgeoisie, compel it to be inconsistent, to compromise, to sell its oppositional and revolutionary ardour for an official salary, or a share of profits or dividends. As for the democratic elements among the oppressed nationalities and the persecuted religions, everybody knows and sees that the class antagonisms within these categories of the population are much deeper-going and stronger than the solidarity binding all classes within any one category against the autocracy and in favour of democratic institutions. The proletariat alone can be—and because of its class position must be—a consistently democratic, determined enemy of absolutism, incapable of making any concessions or compromises. The proletariat alone can be the vanguard fighter for political liberty and for democratic institutions. Firstly, this is because political tyranny bears most heavily upon the proletariat whose position gives it no opportunity to secure a modification of that tyranny—it has no access to the higher authorities, not even to the officials, and it has no influence on public opinion. Secondly, the proletariat alone is capable of bringing about the complete democratisation of the political and social system, since this would place the system in the hands of the workers. That is why the merging of the democratic activities of the working class with the democratic aspirations of other classes and groups would weaken the democratic movement, would weaken the political struggle, would make it less determined, less consistent, more likely to compromise On the other hand, if the working class stands out as the vanguard fighter for democratic institutions, this will strength the democratic movement, will strengthen the struggle for political liberty, because the working class will spur on all the other democratic and political opposition elements, will push the liberals towards the political radicals, will push the radicals towards an irrevocable rupture with the whole of the political and social structure of present society. We said above that all socialists in Russia should become Social-Democrats. We now add: all true and consistent democrats in Russia should become Social-Democrats.
We will illustrate what we mean by quoting the following example. Take the civil service, the bureaucracy, as representing a special category of persons who specialise in the work of administration and occupy a privileged position as compared with the people. We see this institution everywhere, from autocratic and semi-Asiatic Russia to cultured. free and civilised England, as an essential organ of bourgeois society. The complete lack of rights of the people in relation to government officials and the complete absence of control over the privileged bureaucracy correspond to the backwardness of Russia and to its absolutism In England powerful popular control is exercised over the administration, but even there that control is far from being complete, even there the bureaucracy retains not a few of its privileges, and not infrequently is the master and not the servant of the people. Even in England we see that powerful social groups support the privileged position of the bureaucracy and hinder the complete democratisation of that institution. Why? Because it is in the interests of the proletariat alone to democratise it completely ; the most progressive strata of the bourgeoisie defend certain prerogatives of the bureaucracy and are opposed to the election of all officials, opposed to the complete abolition of electoral qualifications, opposed to making officials directly responsible to the people, etc., because these strata realise that the proletariat will take advantage of such complete democratisation in order to use it against the bourgeoisie. This is the case in Russia, too. Many and most diverse strata of the Russian people are opposed to the omnipotent, irresponsible, corrupt, savage, ignorant and parasitic Russian bureaucracy. But except for the proletariat, not one of these strata would agree to the complete democratisation of the bureaucracy, because all these strata (bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie, the “intelligentsia” in general) have some ties with the bureaucracy, because all these strata are kith and kin of the Russian bureaucracy. Who does not know how easy it is in Holy Russia for a radical intellectual, or socialist intellectual, to turn into an official of The Imperial Government, an official who takes comfort from the thought that he does “good” with in the limits of office routine, an official who pleads this “good” in justification of his political indifference, his servility towards the government of the knout and the whip? The proletariat alone is unreservedly hostile to the autocracy and the Russian bureaucracy, the proletariat alone has no ties with these organs of aristocratic bourgeois society and the proletariat alone is capable of irreconcilable hostility towards them and of waging a determined struggle against them.
When we show that the proletariat, led in its class struggle by Social-Democracy, is the vanguard fighter of Russian democracy, we encounter the very widespread and very strange opinion that Russian Social-Democracy relegates political tasks and political struggle to the background. As we see, this opinion is the very opposite of the truth. How are we to explain this astonishing failure to understand the principles of Social-Democracy that have often been expounded and were expounded in the very first Russian Social-Democratic publications, in the pamphlets and books published abroad by the Emancipation of Labour group? In our view, the explanation of this amazing fact lies in the following three circumstances.
First, it lies in the general failure of the representatives of old revolutionary theories to understand the principles of Social-Democracy, accustomed as they are to base their programmes and plans of activity on abstract ideas and not on an exact appraisal of the actual classes operating in the country, classes that have been placed in certain relationships by history. This lack of realistic discussion of the interests which support Russian democracy can only give rise to the opinion that Russian Social-Democracy leaves the democratic tasks of Russian revolutionaries in the background.
Second, it lies in the failure to understand that when economic and political issues, and socialist and democratic activities, are united into one whole, into the single class struggle of the proletariat, this does not weaken but strengthens the democratic movement and the political struggle, by bringing it closer to the real interests of the mass of the people, dragging political issues out of the “stuffy studies of the intelligentsia” into the street, into the midst of the workers and labouring classes, and replacing abstract ideas by real manifestations of political oppression from which the greatest sufferers are the proletariat, and on the basis of which the Social-Democrats conduct their agitation. It often seems to the Russian radical that instead of frankly and directly calling upon the advanced workers to join the political struggle, the Social-Democrat points to the task of developing the working-class movement, of organising the class struggle of the proletariat, and thereby retreats from his democracy, relegates the political struggle to the background. But if this is retreat, it is the kind of retreat that is meant in the French proverb: “Il faut reculer pour mieux sauter !” (Step back in order to leap farther forward.)
Third, the misunderstanding arises from the fact that the very term “political struggle” means something different to the Narodovoltsi and Narodopravtsi, on the one hand, and to the Social-Democrats, on the other. The Social-Democrats understand the political struggle differently, they understand it much more broadly than do the representatives of the old revolutionary theories. A clear illustration of this seeming paradox is provided by the Leaflet of the Narodnaya Volya Group, No. 4, December 9, 1895. While heartily welcoming this publication, which testifies to the profound and fruitful thinking that is going on among the present-day Narodovoltsi, we cannot refrain from mentioning P. L. Lavrov’s article, “Programme questions” (pp. 19-22), which vividly reveals the different conception of the political struggle entertained by the old-style Narodovoltsi. “... Here,” writes P. L. Lavrov, speaking of the relation of the Narodnaya Volya programme to the Social-Democratic programme, “one thing and one thing alone is material, viz., is it possible to organise a strong workers’ party under the autocracy and to do so apart from the organisation of a revolutionary party directed against the autocracy?” (p. 21, col. 2); also a little before that (in col. 1): “. . . to organise a Russian workers’ party while autocracy reigns without at the same time organising a revolutionary party against this autocracy.” We cannot at all understand these distinctions which seem to be of such cardinal importance to P. L. Lavrov. What is the meaning of “a workers’ party apart from a revolutionary party against the autocracy”?? Is not a workers’ party itself a revolutionary party? Is it not directed against the autocracy? This queer idea is explained in the following passage in P. L. Lavrov’s article: “A Russian workers’ party will have to be organised under the rule of the autocracy with all its charms. If the Social-Democrats succeeded in doing this without at the same time organising a political conspiracy against the autocracy, with all that goes with such a conspiracy, then, of course, their political programme would be a fit and proper programme for Russian socialists, since the emancipation of the workers by the efforts of the workers themselves would be accomplished. But this is very doubtful, if not impossible” (p. 21, col. 1). So that’s the point! To the Narodovoltsi, the term political struggle is synonymous with the term political conspiracy ! It must be confessed that in these words P. L. Lavrov has managed to bring out in bold relief the fundamental difference between the tactics in the political struggle adopted by the Narodovoltsi and by the Social-Democrats. Blanquist, conspiratorial traditions are fearfully strong among the former, so much so that they cannot conceive of political struggle except in the form of political conspiracy. The Social-Democrats, however, are not guilty of such a narrow outlook; they do not believe in conspiracies; they think that the period of conspiracies has long passed away, that to reduce political struggle to conspiracy means, on the one hand, immensely restricting its scope, and, on the other hand, choosing the most unsuitable methods of struggle. Everyone will understand that P. L. Lavrov’s remark that “the Russian Social-Democrats take the activities of the West as an unfailing model” (p. 21, col. 1) is nothing more than a polemical manoeuvre, and that actually the Russian Social-Democrats have never forgotten the political conditions here, they have never dreamed of being able to form a workers’ party in Russia legally, they have never separated the task of fighting for socialism from that of fighting for political liberty. But they have always thought, and continue to think, that this fight must be waged not by conspirators, but by a revolutionary party based on the working-class movement. They think that the fight against the autocracy must consist not in organising conspiracies, but in educating, disciplining and organising the proletariat, in political agitation among the workers which denounces every manifestation of absolutism, which pillories all the knights of the police government and compels this government to make concessions. Is this not precisely the kind of activity being conducted by the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class? Does not this organisation represent the embryo of a revolutionary party based on the working-class movement, which leads the class struggle of the proletariat against capital and against the autocratic government without hatching any conspiracies, while deriving its strength from the combination of socialist and democratic struggle into the single, indivisible class struggle of the St. Petersburg proletariat? Brief as they may have been, have not the activities of the League already shown that the proletariat, led by Social-Democracy, is a big political force with which the government is already compelled to reckon, and to which it hastens to make concessions? Both the haste with which the law of June 2, 1897, was passed, and the content of that law clearly reveal its significance as a concession wrung by the proletariat, as a position won from the enemy of the Russian people. This concession is a very tiny one, the position won is very small, but the working-class organisation that has succeeded in forcing this concession is also not distinguished for breadth, stability, long standing or wealth of experience or resources. As is well known, the League of Struggle was formed only in 1895-96, and its appeals to the workers have been confined to hectographed or lithographed leaflets. Can it he denied that an organisation like this, if it united, at least, the biggest centres of the working-class movement in Russia (the St. Petersburg, Moscow-Vladimir, and the southern areas, and also the most important towns like Odessa, Kiev, Saratov, etc.), if it had a revolutionary organ at its disposal and enjoyed as much prestige among the Russian workers generally as the League of Struggle does among the St. Petersburg workers—can it be denied that such an organisation would be a tremendous political factor in contemporary Russia, a factor that the government would have to reckon with in its entire home and foreign policy. By leading the class struggle of the proletariat, developing organisation and discipline among the workers, helping them to fight for their immediate economic needs and to win position after position from capital, by politically educating the workers and systematically and unswervingly attacking the autocracy and making life a torment for every tsarist bashi-bazouk who makes the proletariat feel the heavy paw of the police government—such an organisation would at one and the same time be a workers’ party organisation adapted to our conditions, and a powerful revolutionary party directed against the autocracy. To discuss in advance what methods this organisation will resort to in order to deliver a smashing blow at the autocracy, whether, for example, it will prefer insurrection, a mass political strike, or some other form of attack, to discuss these things in advance and to decide this question now would be empty doctrinairism. It would be akin to generals calling a council of war before they had mustered their troops, mobilised them, and under taken a campaign against the enemy. When the army of the proletariat fights unswervingly and under the leader ship of a strong Social-Democratic organisation for its economic and political emancipation, that army will itself indicate the methods and means of action to the generals. Then, and then only, will it be possible to decide the question of striking the final blow at the autocracy; for the solution of the problem depends on the state of the working-class movement, on its breadth, on the methods of struggle developed by the movement, on the qualities of the revolutionary organisation leading the movement, on the attitude of other social elements to the proletariat and to the autocracy, on the conditions governing home and foreign politics—in a word, it depends on a thousand and one things which cannot be guessed, and which it would be useless to try to guess in advance.
That is why the following argument of P. L. Lavrov’s is also extremely unfair:
“If, however, they” (the Social-Democrats) “have, in one way or another, not only to group the workers’ forces for the struggle against capital, but also to rally revolutionary individuals and groups for the struggle against the autocracy, the Russian Social-Democrats will actually be adopting the programme of their opponents, the Narodnaya Volya, no matter what they may call themselves. Differences of opinion concerning the village community, the destiny of capitalism in Russia and economic materialism are points of detail of very little importance to the real cause, either facilitating or hindering the solution of particular problems, particular methods of preparing the main points, but nothing more” (p. 21, col. 1).
It is strange to have to challenge this last proposition—that differences of opinion on the fundamental questions of Russian life and of the development of Russian society, on the fundamental problems of the conception of history, concern only “points of detail”! It was said long ago that without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement, and it is hardly necessary to advance proof of this truth at the present time. The theory of the class struggle, the materialist conception of Russian history and the materialist appraisal of the present economic and political situation in Russia, recognition of the need to relate the revolutionary struggle strictly to the definite interests of a definite class and to analyse its relation to other classes—to call these great revolutionary questions “points of detail” is so colossally wrong and unexpected, coming from a veteran of revolutionary theory, that we are almost prepared to regard this passage as a lapsus. As for the first part of the tirade quoted, its unfairness is still more astonishing. To state in print that the Russian Social-Democrats only group the workers’ forces for the struggle against capital (i.e., only for the economic struggle!) and do not rally revolutionary individuals and groups for the struggle against the autocracy, means that the author either does not know or does not want to know generally known facts concerning the activities of the Russian Social-Democrats. Or, perhaps, P. L. Lavrov does not regard the Social-Democrats who are engaged in practical work in Russia as “revolutionary individuals” and “revolutionary groups”?! Or (and this, perhaps, is more likely) by “struggle” against the autocracy he means only conspiracies against it? (Cf. p. 21, col. 2: “. . . it is a matter of . . . organising a revolutionary conspiracy”; our italics.) Perhaps, in P. L. Lavrov’s opinion, those who do not organise political conspiracies are not engaged in political struggle? We repeat once again: opinions like these fully correspond to the old-time traditions of the old-time Narodnaya Volya, but do not correspond at all either to contemporary conceptions of the political struggle or to contemporary conditions.
We have still to say a few words about the Narodopravtsi. P. L. Lavrov is quite right, in our opinion, when he says that the Social-Democrats “recommend the Narodopravtsi as being more frank, and are ready to support them, without, however, merging with them” (p. 19, col. 2); he should only have added: as more frank democrats, and to the degree that the Narodopravtsi act as consistent democrats. Unfortunately, this condition is more a matter of the desired future than of the actual present. The Narodopravtsi expressed a desire to free the democratic tasks from Narodism and from the obsolete forms of “Russian socialism” generally; but they themselves were still far from being freed from old prejudices, and were far from consistent when they described their party, exclusively a party for political reforms, as a “social (??!)-revolutionary” party (see their “Manifesto” dated February 19, 1894), and declared in their “Manifesto” that “the term people’s rights includes the organisation of people’s industry” (we are obliged to quote from memory) and thus introduced Narodnik prejudices sub rosa. Hence, P. L. Lavrov was, perhaps, not altogether wrong when he described them as “masquerade politicians” (p. 20, col. 2). But perhaps it would be fairer to regard the doctrine of Narodnoye Pravo as transitional, to the credit of which it must be said that it was ashamed of the original character of the Narodnik doctrines and openly gave battle to those most abominable Narodnik reactionaries who, despite the existence of absolute rule by the police and the upper class, have the audacity to speak of the desirability of economic and not political reforms (see “An Urgent Question,” published by the Narodnoye Pravo Party). If the Narodnoye Pravo Party does not really contain anybody but ex-socialists who conceal their socialist banner for tactical considerations, and who merely don the mask of non-socialist politicians (as P. L. Lavrov assumes, p. 20, col. 2), then, of course, that party has no future whatever. If, however, the party also contains not masquerade, but real non-socialist politicians, non-socialist democrats, then this party can do no little good by striving to draw closer to the political opposition among our bourgeoisie, by striving to arouse the political consciousness of our petty bourgeoisie, small shopkeepers, small artisans, etc.—the class which, everywhere in Western Europe, played a part in the democratic movement and, in Russia, has made exceptionally rapid progress in cultural and other respects in the post-Reform period, and which cannot avoid feeling the oppression of the police government that gives its cynical support to the big factory owners, the magnates of finance and industrial monopoly. All that is needed for this is that the Narodopravtsi should make it their task to draw closer to various strata of the population and should not confine themselves to the very same “intelligentsia” whose impotence, owing to their isolation from the real interests of the masses, is admitted even in “An Urgent Question.” What is needed is that the Narodopravtsi abandon all idea of merging different social elements and of pushing socialism aside in favour of political tasks, that they abandon the false shame which prevents them from drawing closer to the bourgeois strata of the population, i.e., that they not only talk about a programme for non-socialist politicians, but act according to this programme, rousing and developing the class-consciousness of those social groups and classes for whom socialism is quite unnecessary, but who, as time goes on, increasingly feel the oppression of the autocracy and the need for political liberty.
Russian Social-Democracy is still very young. It is only just emerging from its embryonic state in which theoretical questions predominated. It is only just beginning to develop its practical activity. In place of criticism of Social-Democratic theories and programmes, revolutionaries of other parties have of necessity moved on to criticism of the practical activity of the Russian Social-Democrats. And it must be admitted that this latter criticism differs most sharply from the criticism of theory, differs so much, in fact, that it was possible to float the comical rumour that the St. Petersburg League of Struggle is not a Social-Democratic organisation. The very fact that such a rumour appeared shows how unfounded is the accusation now current that the Social-Democrats ignore the political struggle. The very fact that such a rumour appeared shows that many revolutionaries whom the Social-Democrats’ theory could not convince are beginning to be convinced by their practice.
Russian Social-Democracy is still faced with an enormous, almost untouched field of work. The awakening of the Russian working class, its spontaneous striving for knowledge, organisation, socialism, for the struggle against its exploiters and oppressors becomes more widespread, more strikingly apparent every day. The enormous progress made by Russian capitalism in recent times is a guarantee that the working-class movement will grow uninterruptedly in breadth and depth. We are apparently now passing through the period in the capitalist cycle when industry is “prospering,” when business is brisk, when the factories are working at full capacity and when countless new factories, new enterprises, joint-stock companies, railway enterprises, etc., etc., are springing up like mushrooms. One need not be a prophet to foretell the inevitable and fairly sharp crash that is bound to succeed this period of industrial “prosperity.” This crash will ruin masses of small owners, will throw masses of workers into the ranks of the unemployed, and will thus confront all the workers in an acute form with the problems of socialism and democracy which have long faced every class-conscious, every thinking worker. Russian Social-Democrats must see to it that when this crash comes the Russian proletariat is more class-conscious, more united, able to understand the tasks of the Russian working class, capable of putting up resistance to the capitalist class—which is now reaping huge profits and always strives to burden the workers with the losses—and capable of leading Russian democracy in a decisive struggle against the police autocracy, which binds and fetters the Russian workers and the whole of the Russian people.
And so, to work, comrades! Let us not lose precious time! Russian Social-Democrats have much to do to meet the requirements of the awakening proletariat, to organise the working-class movement, to strengthen the revolutionary groups and their mutual ties, to supply the workers with propaganda and agitational literature, and to unite the workers’ circles and Social-Democratic groups scattered all over Russia into a single Social-Democratic Labour Party!
To the Workers and Socialists of St. Petersburg From the League of Struggle[edit source]
The St. Petersburg revolutionaries are experiencing hard times. It seems that the government has concentrated all its forces for the purpose of crushing the recently born working-class movement which has given such a display of strength. Arrests are being made on an unprecedented scale and the prisons are overcrowded. Intellectuals, men and women, and masses of workers are being dragged off and exiled. Almost every day brings news of ever new victims of the police government, which has flung itself in fury upon its enemies. The government has set itself the aim of preventing the new trend in the Russian revolutionary movement from gaining strength and getting on its feet. The public prosecutors and gendarmes are already boasting that they have smashed the League of Struggle.
This boast is a lie. The League of Struggle is intact, despite all the persecution. With deep satisfaction we declare that the wholesale arrests are doing their job—they are a powerful weapon of agitation among the workers and socialist intellectuals, that the places of the fallen revolutionaries are being taken by new people who are ready, with fresh energy, to join the ranks of the champions of the Russian proletariat and of the entire people of Russia. There can be no struggle without sacrifice, and to the brutal persecution of the tsarist bashi-bazouks we calmly reply: Revolutionaries have perished—long live the revolution!
So far, increased persecution has only been able to cause a temporary weakening of certain functions of the League of Struggle, a temporary shortage of agents and agitators. This is the shortage that we now feel and that impels us to call upon all class-conscious workers and all intellectuals desirous of devoting their energies to the revolutionary cause. The League of Struggle needs agents. Let all study circles and all individuals desirous of working in any sphere of revolutionary activity, even the most restricted, inform those in touch with the League of Struggle. (Should any group be unable to contact such individuals—this is very unlikely—they can do so through the League of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad.) People are needed for all kinds of work, and the more strictly revolutionaries specialise in the various aspects of revolutionary activity, the more strictly they give thought to their methods of underground work and ways of screening it, the more selflessly they concentrate on the minor, unseen, particular jobs, the safer will the whole thing be and the more difficult will it be for the gendarmes and spies to discover the revolutionaries. In advance the government has enmeshed not only the existing centres of anti-government elements, but also possible and probable ones, in a network of agents. The government is steadily developing the size and range of the activities of those of its lackeys who are hounding revolutionaries, is devising new methods, introducing more provocateurs, trying to exert pressure on the arrested by means of intimidation, confrontation with false testimony, forged signatures, planting faked letters, etc., etc. Without a strengthening and development of revolutionary discipline, organisation and underground activity, struggle against the government is impossible. And underground activity demands above all that groups and individuals specialise in different aspects of work and that the job of co-ordination be assigned to the central group of the League of Struggle, with as few members as possible. The aspects of revolutionary work are extremely varied. Legal agitators are needed who can talk to the workers in a way that does not render them liable to prosecution, and can say just a, leaving it to others to say b and c. Literature and leaflet distributors are needed. Organisers of workers’ study circles and groups are needed. Correspondents are needed who can give a complete picture of events in all factories. People are needed who will keep an eye on spies and provocateurs. People are needed who will arrange underground meeting places. People are needed to deliver literature, transmit instructions, and to arrange all kinds of contacts. Fund collectors are needed. Agents are needed to work among the intelligentsia and government officials, people in contact with the workers and factory life, with the administration (with the police, factory inspectors, etc.). People are needed for contact with the different towns of Russia and other countries. People are needed to arrange various ways of running off all sorts of literature. People are needed to look after literature and other things, etc., etc. The smaller and more specific the job undertaken by the individual person or individual group, the greater will be the chance that they will think things out, do the job properly and guarantee it best against failure, that they will consider all the details of underground work and use all possible means of hoodwinking and misleading the gendarmes, the more will success be assured, the harder will it be for the police and gendarmes to keep track of the revolutionaries and their links with their organisations, and the easier for the revolutionary party to replace, without prejudice to the cause as a whole, agents and members who have fallen. We know that specialisation of this kind is a very difficult matter, difficult because it demands from the individual the greatest endurance and selflessness, demands the giving of all one’s strength to work that is inconspicuous, monotonous, that deprives one of contact with comrades and subordinates the revolutionary’s entire life to a grim and rigid routine. But it was only in conditions such as these that the greatest men of revolutionary practice in Russia succeeded in carrying out the boldest undertakings, spending years on all-round preparation, and we are profoundly convinced that the Social-Democrats will prove no less self-sacrificing than the revolutionaries of previous generations. We are also aware that the preliminary period envisaged by our system during which the League of Struggle will collect the necessary information about individuals or groups offering their services and give them something to do by way of trial will be a very difficult one for many people eager to devote their energies to revolutionary work. But without this preliminary testing, revolutionary activity in present-day Russia is impossible.
In suggesting this system of work to our new comrades we are expressing a view arrived at after long experience, being deeply convinced that it best of all guarantees successful revolutionary work.
- Narodnoye Pravo (People’s Right )—an illegal organisation of Russian democratic intellectuals founded in the summer of 1893, its illitiators including O. V. Aptekman, A. I. Bogdanovich A. V. Gedeonovsky, M. A. Natanson, and N. S. Tyutchev who had formerly belonged to the Narodnaya Volya. The Narodopravtsi, as the members of the party were called, set themselves the aim of uniting all opposition forces to fight for political reforms. Their organisation issued two programme documents, “Manifesto “ and “An Urgent Question.” In the spring of 1894 the group was broken up by the tsarist government. Lenin’s estimation of the Narodnoye Pravo as a political party will be found in his What the “Friends of the People” Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats (see present edition, Vol. 1) and on page 344 of the present volume. Most of the Narodopravtsi subsequently joined the Socialist-Revolutionary Party.
- The Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will ) group (Narodovoltsi) came into existence In St. Petersburg in the autumn of 1891 with its own programme. Its original membership included M. S. Olminsky (Alexandrov), N . L. Meshcheryakov, Y. M. Alexandrova, A. A. Fedulov, and A. A. Yergin. Pamphlets and Rabochy Sbornik (Workers’ Miscellany ) and two issues of Letuchy Listok (The Leaflet ) were published illegally by the group’s press. In April 1894 the group was broken up by the police, but soon renewed its activities. At that period it was in process of abandoning Narodnaya Volya views for Social-Democracy. The last issue of Letuchy Listok, No. 4, that appeared in December 1895, clearly bore traces of Social-Democratic influence. The group established contact with the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, used its press to issue several of the League’s publications, for example, Lenin’s Explanation of the Law on Fines Imposed on Factory Workers (see pp. 29-72 of the present volume), and negotiated with the League about the joint publication of the newspaper Rabocheye Dyelo. It was intended to use the group’s press to issue Lenin’s pamphlet On Strikes, which was smuggled out of prison in May 1896. But the suggestion fell through in view of the police discovery and destruction of the press, and the arrest of members of the group in June 1896. The group then went out of existence, and some of its members (P. F. Kudelli, N. L. Meshcheryakov, M. S. Olminsky, and others) later became active figures in the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, although the majority joined the Socialist-Revolutionary Party.
- The League of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad was founded in 1894 in Geneva, on the initiative of the Emancipation of Labour group, and had its own press where it printed revolutionary literature. At first the Emancipation of Labour group guided the League and edited its publications. The League issued the Rabotnik miscellanies and the Listki “Rabotnika,” and published Lenin’s Explanation of the Law on Fines Imposed on Factory Workers (1897), Plekhanov’s New Drive Against Russian Social-Democracy (1897), etc. The First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P., held in March 1898, recognised the League as the Party’s representative abroad. As time proceeded the opportunist elements—the “economists,” or so-called “young’ group, secured the upper hand in the League. At the First Congress of the League held in Zurich in November 1898, the Emancipation of Labour group announced their refusal to edit League publications, with the exception of No. 5-6 of Rabotnik and Lenin’s pamphlets The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats and The New Factory Law, which the group undertook to publish. From then on the League published Rabocheye Dyelo, a magazine of the “economists.” The Emancipation of Labour group finally broke with the League and left its ranks in April 1900, at the League’s Second Congress held in Geneva, when the Emancipation of Labour group and its supporters left the Congress and established an independent Sotsial-Demokrat organisation. In 1903 the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. adopted a decision to disband the League.
- This passage refers to the policy pursued by N. P. Ignatyev, Minister of Internal Affairs in 1881-82, which was intended, as Lenin put it, “to bamboozle” the liberals; by playing at democracy it was hoped to hide the fact that the government of Alexander III had gone over entirely to the side of reaction. Part of the policy was the calling of conferences of “knowledgeable people” which included Marshals of the Nobility, representatives of the Zemstvo Administrations and similar people to discuss problems relating to a reduction in land redemption payments, the proper organisation of migration, and local government reform. A suggestion was even made to convene a so-called Zemsky Sobor, to be attended by a crowd of three thousand strong. All these devices, however, ended in Ignatyev’s resignation, followed by a period of “unbridled, incredibly senseless and brutal reaction” (see What the “Friends of the People” Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats, present edition, Vol. 1).
- The Emancipation of Labour group was the first Russian Marxist group. It was founded in Geneva by G. V. Plekhanov in 1883, and included P. B. Axelrod, L. G. Deutsch, Vera Zasulich, and V. N. Ignatov.
The group did much to spread Marxism in Russia. It translated such Marxist works as Manifesto of the Communist Party by Marx and Engels, Wage-Labour and Capital by Marx, and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, by Engels, etc., published them abroad and organised their distribution in Russia. Plekhanov and his group seriously undermined Narodism. In 1883 Plekhanov drafted a programme for the Russian Social-Democrats and in 1885 made another draft. The two drafts were published by the Emancipation of Labour group and marked an important step towards the establishment of a Social-Democratic Party in Russia. Plekhanov’s Socialism and the Political Struggle (1883), Our Differences (1885), The Development of the Monist View of History (1895) played a considerable part in disseminating Marxist views. The group, however, made some serious mistakes. It clung to remnants of Narodnik views, underestimated the revolutionary role of the peasantry, and overestimated the part played by the liberal bourgeoisie. These errors were the germs of the future Menshevik views held by Plekhanov and other members of the group. The group played a great part in imbuing the Russian working class with revolutionary class-consciousness but it had no practical ties with the working-class movement. Lenin pointed out that the Emancipation of Labour group “only theoretically founded the Social-Democracy and took the first step in the direction of the working-class movement.” The group established ties with the international labour movement, and represented Russian Social-Democracy at all congresses of the Second International from the first held in Paris in 1889 onwards.
At the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P held in August 1903, the Emancipation of Labour group announced its dissolution.
- P. L. Lavrov’s article in No. 4 is, in fact, only an “excerpt” from a long letter written by him for Material. We have heard that the full text of this letter and a reply by Plekhanov were also published abroad this summer (1897) but we have seen neither the one nor the other. Nor do we know whether Leaflet of the Narodnaya Volya Group, No. 5, in which the editors promised to publish an editorial article on P. L. Lavrov’s letter, has appeared yet. See No. 4, p. 22, col. 1, footnote. —Lenin
- Our italics. —Lenin
- Our italics. [DUPLICATE "*"] —Lenin
- Blanquism—a trend in the French socialist movement headed by the outstanding revolutionary and prominent representative of French utopian communism, Louis-Auguste Blanqui (1805-81).
The Blanquists denied the class struggle, and awaited “mankind’s emancipation from wage slavery by a conspiracy of a small minority of intellectuals and not by the class struggle of the proletariat” (V. I. Lenin, Results of the Congress. See present edition, Vol. 10). They did not take account of the concrete situation requisite for the victory of an uprising and showed their disdain for ties with the masses, substituting the actions of a clandestine handful of conspirators for the activity of a revolutionary party.