THE BOLSHEVIKS made use of every legal opportunity to publish their literature. The January 1912 conference of the party, as we have mentioned, decided to publish a legal daily, Pravda. This was to replace the earlier Zvezda, a weekly paper, which had been published legally in St. Petersburg since December 16, 1910. In January 1911, it began to appear twice a week, and from March, three times a week. The authorities banned it repeatedly. They confiscated 30 and fined eight of a total of 63 issues. Zvezda, by organising mass collections of money from workers’ groups, prepared the ground for Pravda, the first issue of which came out on April 22, 1912.
Pravda also suffered from regular persecution, and had to change its name eight times, becoming in turn Rabochaya Pravda (Worker’s Truth), Severnaya Pravda (Northern Truth), Pravda Truda (Labour’s Truth), Za Pravda (For Truth), Proletarskaya Pravda (Proletarian Truth), Put Pravdy (The Way of Truth), Rabochy (The Worker), and Trudovaya Pravda (Labour’s Truth).
Again and again, the Pravda premises were raided, issues confiscated, fines imposed, editors arrested, and the newsboys selling the paper harassed. Still, the paper continued to appear. From April 22, 1912, to July 8, 1914, 645 issues were published. This was made possible by the ingenuity of the paper’s staff in circumventing prosecution, the financial support of the readers, loopholes in the press law, and the inefficiency of the police. 
The use of Aesopian language enabled Pravda to discuss the issues of the day without risking automatic confiscation. Since it was forbidden to refer to the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, it spoke of the “underground”, the “whole”, and the “old”, The three-part Bolshevik program of a democratic republic, the confiscation of the landed estates, and the eight-hour day were referred to as the “uncurtailed demands of 1905,” or the “three pillars.” A Bolshevik was a “consistent democrat” or a “consistent Marxist.” The advanced workers knew how to read and understand the paper.
The press regulations required that the first three copies of each issue be sent to the censor. The Pravda editors were determined to distribute the paper whether the censor liked it or not. So they tried to gain as much time as possible between the dispatch of the three copies and the all-too-frequent arrival of the police at the print shop, and solved the problem ingeniously. The law requiring the dispatch of the copies to the censor did not specify how long the journey should take. The daily task of delivering them was entrusted to a 70-year-old print shop workman, whose advanced years and slow gait guaranteed that it would take him something like two hours to reach the censor’s office. After delivering the papers, the old man remained in the office, ostensibly to rest, but really in order to keep a close watch on the censor, who was examining other papers besides Pravda. If after reading Pravda, the inspector turned to another newspaper, the old man returned at a leisurely pace to the print shop. But if the censor telephoned the Third Police District, which included Pravda’s printing works, the old man flew out of the room, hailed a cab, and raced back. Lookouts would be stationed around the print shop watching for his return, and when they saw him coming around the corner at full speed, they knew immediately what had happened. The alarm was raised and everyone started working feverishly. The newspapers were removed and hidden, the distribution department closed, and the press stopped. By the time the police arrived, most of the papers were gone, only a few left behind for the sake of “protocol.” 
Nominal editors were appointed who would go to prison while the real editors remained free. There were approximately 40 of these “editors,” who were quite often illiterate. In the first year of Pravda’s existence, they spent some 47½ months in prison. Of the 645 published issues, the police tried unsuccessfully to confiscate 155, and 36 issues incurred fines.
Of each issue, half was sold in the streets by newsboys, and half in the factories. In big factories in St. Petersburg, each department had one person in charge. He distributed the paper, collected funds, and kept in touch with the editors. Distribution outside St. Petersburg was very difficult. It is true that Pravda had 6,000 postal subscriptions, but to distribute these was not as easy as it might appear. Copies had to be packed in calico for protection, and mailed from half a dozen different post offices, which were changed daily to throw the police off the track. In addition, bundles of Pravda were delivered to the provinces by a number of intricate routes. Thus, party members or sympathisers working on the railways would throw out bundles at specially arranged spots along the route, where other comrades would wait for them. In one town, copies were sent directly to the post office, where a comrade among the postmen took charge of them when they arrived.
The circulation of Pravda was quite impressive, especially if one takes into account the illegal status of the party publishing it. It ranged between 40,000 and 60,000 a day, the higher figure achieved on Saturdays. This was a giant step from the original four copies of leaflets that Lenin wrote by hand and then copied carefully in printed letters. It was also a great contrast with the first paper on which Lenin collaborated in 1897, the St. Petersburg Rabochy Listok (St. Petersburg Workers’ Bulletin), organ of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. This early journal had had two editions – one mimeographed in Russia, with 300–400 copies (January 1897), and the second printed in Geneva (September 1897). A circulation of 40,000–60,000 may seem modest by present Western standards, but under the repressive conditions of tsarism, it was a grand achievement, and the paper’s ideas found response among hundreds of thousands of workers. [1*]
However Lenin was far from satisfied with the circulation. He wrote in April 1914, in an article called Our Tasks,
Put Pravdy must be circulated in three, four and five times as many copies as today. We must put out a trade union supplement, and have representatives of all trade unions and groups on the editorial board. Our paper must have regional (Moscow, Urals, Caucasian, Baltic, Ukrainian) supplements ... The chronicle of the organisational, ideological and political life of the class-conscious workers should be expanded many times over
... Put Pravdy in its present shape is essential for the class-conscious worker and should be still further enlarged, but it is too dear, too difficult, too big for the worker in the street, for the rank-and-filer, for any of the millions not yet drawn into the movement.
There is need to start a kopek Vechernaya Pravda [2*], with a circulation of 200,000 or 300,000 copies ...
We must secure a much greater degree of organisation on the part of the readers of Put Pravdy than there is now, in their various factories, districts, etc., and more active participation in correspondence and running and circulating the paper. We must get the workers to take a regular part in editorial work. 
Lenin’s aspirations for a mass-circulation paper were not to be achieved until after the revolution.
Pravda was not a paper for workers; it was a workers’ paper. It was very different from its namesake, the bimonthly edited by Trotsky in Vienna (1908–12), which was practically entirely written by a tiny group of brilliant journalists (Trotsky, Adolphe Ioffe, David Ryazanov, and others). As Lenin wrote, “Trotsky’s workers’ journal is Trotsky’s journal for the workers, as there is not a trace in it of either workers’ initiative, or any connection with working-class organisations.”  In contrast, in Lenin’s Pravda, more than 11,000 letters and items of correspondence from workers were published in a single year, or about 35 items per day.
A few months after it started publication, Lenin spelled out his concept of a workers’ paper:
As they look through the reports on workers’ collections in connection with letters from factory and office workers in all parts of Russia, Pravda readers, most of whom are dispersed and separated from one another by the severe external conditions of Russian life, gain some idea how the proletarians of various trades and various localities are fighting, how they are awakening to the defence of working-class democracy.
The chronicle of workers’ life is only just beginning to develop into a permanent feature of Pravda. There can be no doubt that subsequently, in addition to letters about abuses in factories, about the awakening of a new section of the proletariat, about collections for one or another field of the workers’ cause, the workers’ newspaper will receive reports about the views and sentiments of the workers, election campaigns, the election of workers’ delegates, what the workers read, the questions of particular interest to them, and so on.
The workers’ newspaper is a workers’ forum. Before the whole of Russia the workers should raise here, one after another, the various questions of workers’ life in general and of working-class democracy in particular. 
Lenin believed that the workers themselves must write about their lives.
Workers should, despite all the obstacles, again and again attempt to compile their own workers’ strike statistics. Two or three class-conscious workers could compile an accurate description of each strike, the time it begins and ends, the number of participants (with distribution according to sex and age wherever possible), the causes and the results of the strike. Such a description should be sent in one copy to the headquarters of the workers’ association concerned (trade union or other body, or the office of the trade union newspaper); a second copy should be sent to the central workers’ newspaper; lastly, a third copy should be sent to a working-class deputy of the state Duma for his information ... Only by getting down to business themselves will the workers – in time, after stubborn work and persistent effort – be able to help towards a better understanding of their own movement and thus ensure bigger successes for that movement. 
Lenin knew how to write very popular, short articles for Pravda. They were always factual, and every article centred on just one idea, which was argued out. He might repeat one theme again and again, but always using different angles, a different example, different stories. To give an impression of what his articles were like, two samples are reproduced here.
What a strange comparison, the reader may think. How can a race be compared with a nation?
It is a permissible comparison. The Negroes were the last to be freed from slavery, and they still bear, more than anyone else, the cruel marks of slavery – even in advanced countries – for capitalism has no “room” for other than legal emancipation, and even the latter it curtails in every possible way.
With regard to the Russians, history has it that they were “almost” freed from serf bondage in 1861. It was about the same time, following the civil war against the American slave-owners, that North America’s Negroes were freed from slavery.
The emancipation of the American slaves took place in a less “reformative” manner than that of the Russian slaves.
That is why today, half a century later, the Russians still show many more traces of slavery than the Negroes. Indeed, it would be more accurate to speak of institutions and not merely of traces. But in this short article we shall limit ourselves to a little illustration of what we have said, namely, the question of literacy. It is known that illiteracy is one of the marks of slavery. In a country oppressed by pashas, Purishkeviches, and their like, the majority of the population cannot be literate.
In Russia there are 73 per cent of illiterates, exclusive of children under nine years of age.
Among the U.S. Negroes, there were (in 1900) 44.5 per cent of illiterates.
Such a scandalously high per centage of illiterates is a disgrace to a civilised, advanced country like the North American Republic. Furthermore, everyone knows that the position of the Negroes in America in general is one unworthy of a civilised country – capitalism cannot give either complete emancipation or even complete equality.
It is instructive that among the whites in America the proportion of illiterates is not more than 6 per cent. But if we divide America into what were formerly slave-holding areas (an American “Russia”) and non-slave-holding areas (an American non-Russia), we shall find 11–12 per cent of illiterates among the whites in the former and 4–6 per cent in the latter areas!
The proportion of illiterates among the whites is twice as high in the former slave-holding areas. It is not only the Negroes that show traces of slavery!
Shame on America for the plight of the Negroes. 
In connection with the recent anniversary of February 19, 1861 [3*] a reminder of the present distribution of land in European Russia will not be out of place.
The last official statistics of land distribution in European Russia were published by the ministry of the interior and dated from 1905.
According to these statistics there were (in round numbers) about 30,000 big landlords owning over 500 desiatins each, their total land amounting to about 70,000,000 desiatins.
Some 10,000,000 poor peasant households owned the same amount of land.
It follows that on the average there are about 330 poor peasant families for each big landlord, each peasant family owning about 7 desiatins, while each big landlord owns about 2,300 desiatins.
To show this graphically, we have drawn the above diagram.
The large white rectangle in the middle stands for the estate of a big landlord. The small squares around it represent the small peasant holdings.
Altogether there are 324 squares, and the area of the white rectangle equals 320 squares. 
What a marvellously simple unfolding of a complicated Marxist analysis, with no vulgarisation, and full of interest.
It is far more difficult to write in Marxist terms for the masses than it is to write for party cadres. For the latter, the argument can be developed analytically. For the former, it has to be based on the workers’ own experience, without using arguments that demand a knowledge of Marxism. Lenin excelled in writing for both kinds of audience. His style was simple and direct. He was simply a man who wanted to convince. He was indifferent to literary form. His writing is plain, hard hitting, and repetitive. It is this strictness and directness of style that demonstrates the sincerity and depth of his thought. His writing is without embellishment or ambiguity, evasion or reservation.
Lenin admired G.N. Chernyshevsky as the greatest of the Russian revolutionaries. The similarity between the two men, including their style, was striking. Chernyshevsky at the beginning of his What is to be Done? addresses the reader as follows: “I don’t have the shadow of an artistic talent. I even use the language poorly. But that is not important: read on, kind public. You will read this with benefit. Truth is a great thing; it compensates for the deficiency of the writer who serves it.” This was also Lenin’s attitude. He detested poseurs, phrase-mongers, and elegant stylists who erected a barrier between their writing and the reality it was supposed to depict. One would look in vain in Lenin, as in Chernyshevsky, for any touch of stylistic grace.
In justifying an inelegantly written draft program that he wrote in 1919, Lenin had this to say:
A program made up of heterogeneous parts is inelegant (but that, of course, is not important), but any other program would simply be incorrect. However unpleasant it may be, whatever it may lack in proportion, we shall be unable for a long time to escape this heterogeneity, this necessity of constructing from different materials. 
He would not tolerate flowery presentation at the cost of facing reality honestly. He explained very complicated problems simply. He did not talk down to his audience, but on the contrary showed great respect for them.
The popular writer leads his reader towards profound thoughts, towards profound study, proceeding from simple and generally known facts; with the aid of simple arguments or striking examples he shows the main conclusions to be drawn from those facts and arouses in the mind of the thinking reader ever newer questions. The popular writer does not presuppose a reader that does not think, that cannot or does not wish to think; on the contrary, he assumes in the undeveloped reader a serious intention to use his head and aids him in his serious and difficult work, leads him, helps him over his first steps, and teaches him to go forward independently. The vulgar writer assumes that his reader does not think and is incapable of thinking; he does not lead him in his first steps towards serious knowledge, but in a distortedly simplified form, interlarded with jokes and facetiousness, hands out “ready-made” all the conclusions of a known theory, so that the reader does not even have to chew but merely to swallow what he is given. 
Lenin was a great teacher. He did not descend to his pupils from Olympian heights but rose to new levels together with them. He led workers and they led him. Together with them, he strove to find ways of overcoming difficulties, and his listeners must have felt that the leader was thinking aloud for them and with them. His speeches usually ended not with rhetoric, but with very simple phrases. “If we understand this, if we act thus, then we shall surely conquer,” or, “One must strive for that not in words but in deeds,” or, even more simply, “That is all that I wanted to say to you.”
Many people, meeting Lenin for the first time, were disappointed. They expected to see a man nine feet tall, and saw instead someone very small. But after listening to him they themselves felt nine feet tall.
Lenin’s simple, unpretentious style shows at its best in his numerous articles in Pravda. They gave the worker reader confidence in his own ability to grasp issues, to understand the world and to change it. At the same time, they did not blur the line separating the Bolsheviks from other groups, especially the Mensheviks. They gave a clear political direction. In this, too, Lenin’s Pravda was completely different from Trotsky’s paper of the same name. Trotsky “intended to address himself to ‘plain workers’ rather than to politically-minded party men, and to ‘serve not to lead’ his readers.” 
Deutscher comments on this statement that Trotsky’s
Pravda’s plain language and the fact that it preached the unity of the party secured to it a certain popularity but no lasting political influence. Those who state the case for a faction or group usually involve themselves in more or less complicated argument and address the upper and medium layers of their movement rather than the rank and file. Those who say, on the other hand, that, regardless of any differences, the party ought to close its ranks have, as Trotsky had, a simple case, easy to explain and sure of appeal. But more often than not this appeal is superficial. Their opponents who win the cadres of a party for their more involved argument are likely eventually to obtain the hearing of the rank and file as well; the cadres carry their argument, in simplified form, deeper down. Trotsky’s calls for the solidarity of all socialists were for the moment applauded by many ... But the same people who now applauded the call were eventually to disregard it, to follow the one or the other faction, and to leave the preacher of unity isolated. Apart from this there was in Trotsky’s popular posture, in his emphasis on plain talk and his promise to “serve not to lead,” more than a touch of demagogy, for the politician, especially the revolutionary, best serves those who listen to him by leading them. 
Lenin’s Pravda articles were directed not only to the rank and file, but also to the cadres.
The teaching of the ABC, instruction in the rudiments of knowledge and in independent thinking, will never, under any circumstances, be neglected in this big school. But if anyone sought to invoke the need for teaching the ABC as a pretext for dismissing questions of higher learning, if anyone attempted to offset the impermanent, dubious, and “narrow” results of this higher learning (accessible to a much smaller circle of people than those learning the ABC) to the durable, profound, extensive and solid results of the elementary school, he would betray incredible short-sightedness. He might even help to pervert the whole purpose of the big school, since by ignoring higher education he would simply be making it easier for charlatans, demagogues, and reactionaries to mislead the people who had only learned the ABC. 
Lenin practically ran Pravda. The main editorial line was decisively shaped by him. Every day, he sent the paper articles, criticisms of others’ articles, proposals, corrections, etc. In order to direct the paper better, in June 1912, he moved from Paris to Cracow in Austria (Polish Galicia), which was only 24 hours by express train from St. Petersburg.
As well as Pravda, Lenin used other journals to serve the cadres. For instance, there was Prosveshcheniye (Enlightenment), a socio-political and literary journal published in St. Petersburg from December 1911 to June 1914. Lenin was its main contributor, and its art and literary section was edited by Maxim Gorky. The circulation reached 5,000 copies.
The party also had another theoretical journal directed at the party cadres, Sotsial-Demokrat. This was illegal, and could deal more openly than the legal press with certain questions. Fifty-eight issues were published between February 1908 and January 1917, five with supplements. More than 80 articles and items written by Lenin were published in this journal. In 1912-13, Sotsial-Demokrat appeared only at long intervals with a total of only six issues in the two years. Lenin found it very difficult to get Sotsial-Demokrat into Russia. In a letter of 1913, he says, “It is almost impossible to establish proper transport into Russia. The experience of 1910 and 1911 shows that literature that had been brought in lay around by the puds [4*] in store houses and there are no addresses, no meeting places for their distribution.”  This was not surprising, as the person in charge of the distribution of literature brought into Russia until 1912 was Brendinsky, an okhrana agent.
However, the okhrana made the mistake of underestimating the significance of the Bolshevik press published abroad. A report by one of its agents in June 1914 stated:
Despite the energy and resources expended on transporting it, it brought no positive results: stuffed entirely by émigré theoreticians and arriving in Russia after a considerable delay, this literature has lost all topical interest, is not intelligible to the semi-literate lower classes and has no significance in arousing social feelings. 
On the contrary, Sotsial-Demokrat, like Proletary before it, played a key role in directing the leading cadres in the Bolshevik party. The journals provided the main channel by which the ideas of Lenin and the handful of émigrés round him reached their close co-workers in Russia.
The Bolsheviks also had a publishing house, which published books and pamphlets. One of the most popular publications was a pocket calendar for 1914, Sputnik Rabochego (Workers’ Handbook). It contained essential information on labour legislation in Russia, the Russian and international working-class movement, political parties, associations and unions, the press, etc. The Workers’ Handbook was seized by the police, but the issue was in fact sold out in one day, before the police managed to get their hands on it. When Lenin received a copy, he wrote to Inessa Armand that 5,000 copies had already been sold.  A second edition was published in February 1914, with deletions and amendments made for censorship purposes; altogether 20,000 copies were sold.
Lenin insisted that all political publishing should be completely subordinated to party institutions:
In contradistinction to bourgeois customs, to the profit-making, commercialised bourgeois press, to bourgeois literary careerism and individualism, “aristocratic anarchism” and drive for profit, the socialist proletariat must put forward the principle of party literature, must develop this principle and put it into practice as fully and completely as possible.
What is this principle of party literature? It is not simply that, for the socialist proletariat, literature cannot be a means of enriching individuals or groups: it cannot, in fact, be an individual undertaking, independent of the common cause of the proletariat. Down with the non-partisan writers! Down with literary supermen! Literature must become part of the common cause of the proletariat, “a cog and a screw” of one single great Social Democratic mechanism set in motion by the entire politically conscious vanguard of the entire working class. Literature must become a component of organised, planned and integrated Social Democratic Party work.
... Publishing and distributing centres, bookshops and reading-rooms, libraries and similar establishments – must all be under party control. We want to establish, and we shall establish, a free press, free not simply from the police, but also from capital, from careerism, and what is more, free from bourgeois-anarchist individualism. 
About a year later Lenin added the following remarks, dealing with Social Democrats and the bourgeois press.
Is it permissible for a Social Democrat to contribute to bourgeois newspapers?
Have we any right to depart from these rules here in Russia? Some might retort: there is an exception to every rule. That is quite true. It could be wrong to condemn a person in banishment for writing to any newspaper. It is sometimes hard to condemn a Social Democrat who is working in a minor department of a bourgeois newspaper to earn a living. One can justify the publication of an urgent and businesslike refutation, etc. 
The paper acted as an organiser not only because thousands of workers read it, wrote for it, and sold it, but also because it encouraged the formation of workers’ groups to collect money for it. Both the Bolshevik daily and Luch, the Menshevik daily, published regular reports of collections and donations. In Pravda of July 12, 1912, Lenin wrote:
From the point of view of the initiative and energy of the workers themselves, it is much more important to have 100 roubles collected by, say, 30 groups of workers than 1,000 roubles collected by some dozens of “sympathisers.” A newspaper founded on the basis of five-kopek pieces collected by small factory circles of workers is a far more dependable, solid and serious undertaking (both financially and, most important of all, from the standpoint of the development of the workers’ democratic movement) than a newspaper founded with tens and hundreds of roubles contributed by sympathising intellectuals. 
A couple of days later, he added:
It should be made a custom for every worker to contribute one kopek to the workers’ newspaper every pay-day. Let subscriptions to the paper be taken as usual, and let those who can contribute more do so, as they have done in the past. It is very important, besides, to establish and spread the custom of “a kopek for the workers’ newspaper”.
The significance of such collections will depend above all on their being regularly held every pay-day, without interruption, and on an ever greater number of workers taking part in these regular collections. Accounts could be published in a simple form: “so-and-so many kopeks” would imply that so many workers at the given factory had contributed to the workers’ paper, and if there were any larger contributions, they could be stated as follows: “In addition, so-and-so many workers contributed so-and-so much.” 
In 1912, Pravda received money contributions from 620 workers’ groups, while the Menshevik paper received donations from 89 groups. During 1913, Pravda received 2,181 money contributions from workers’ groups and the Mensheviks 661. In 1914, up to May 13, Pravda had the support of 2,873 workers’ groups, and the Mensheviks of 671. Thus the Pravdists organised 77 per cent of the workers’ groups in Russia in 1913, and 81 per cent in 1914.  The formation of groups to collect money for Pravda made up for the lack of a legal party. And Lenin quite correctly drew the conclusion, “... four-fifths of the workers have accepted the Pravdist decisions as their own, have approved of Pravdism, and actually rallied around Pravdism.” 
The total number of workers’ groups making donations to Pravda from April 1912, to May 13, 1914 was 5,674 (of course some groups made several collections, but separate data for these are not available, so that the actual number of groups around the paper was considerably smaller). The average donation from workers’ groups in the period from January 1 to May 13, 1914, was 6.59 roubles, or about the average weekly wage of a St. Petersburg worker.
Pravda was almost completely dependent on financial support from workers. Of the donations to the paper between January 1 and May 13, 1914, 87 per cent came from workers’ collections, and 13 per cent from non-workers. (For the Menshevik paper, 44 per cent came from workers, and 56 per cent from non-workers). 
Lenin wrote in Trudovaya Pravda on June 14, 1914: “5,674 workers’ groups united by the Pravdists in less than two-and-a-half years is a fairly large number, considering the harsh conditions obtaining in Russia. But this is only a beginning. We need, not thousands, but tens of thousands of workers’ groups. We must intensify our activities tenfold.” 
Unfortunately, the war broke out a few weeks later, and Pravda never managed to achieve Lenin’s target.
1*. Pravda’s circulation was quite unstable, changing very much according to circumstances. Thus, in April and May 1912, its circulation was 60,000, while in the summer it went down to 20,000. 
2*. Pravda cost 2 kopeks.
3*. The anniversary of the abolition of serfdom in Russia.
4*. A pud = 16.38 kilos.
1. For a very interesting description, see W. Bassow, The pre-revolutionary Pravda and tsarist censorship, The American Slavic and East European Review, February 1954.
3. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.36, p.212.
4. ibid., p.283.
5. ibid., vol.20, p.328.
6. ibid., vol.18, p.300.
7. ibid., vol.19, p.324.
8. ibid., vol.18, pp.543-44.
9. ibid., pp.586-87.
10. ibid., vol.29, pp.166-67.
11. ibid., vol.5, pp.311-12.
12. Pravda, Vienna, no.1; Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, op. cit., p.193
13. ibid., pp.194-94.
14. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.8, pp.454-55.
15. Proletarskaia revoliutsiia, no.2(14), 1923, p.45.
16. ibid., p.455.
17. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.35, p.132.
18. ibid., vol.10, pp.45-47.
19. ibid., vol.11, p.262.
20. ibid., vol.8, p.188.
21. ibid., p.201.
22. ibid., vol.20, p.363.
23. ibid., p.320.
24. ibid., p.369.
25. ibid., p.370.
Last updated on 10.12.2003