V. I. Lenin


Communication on Behalf of the “Stariki” to the Members of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class{7}

Written: Written in 1896
Published: First published in 1958 in Vol. 2 of the Fifth Russian edition of the Collected Works. Printed from the original.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 41, pages 33-34.1.
Translated: Yuri Sdobnikov
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) © 2004 Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Mikhailov first put in an appearance at St. Petersburg in 1891 as a Kharkov student expelled for making trouble. He entered a student organisation which bore the name of “corporation”{8} even after it fell apart. There was a rumour at the dental courses about his behaviour during a suspicious acquaintanceship; he was accused of spending money collect ed for the famine-stricken, but he made good the loss. At that time, he became intimate with....{1}

In January 1894, a search was also carried out in the homes of many former members of the said “corporation”, including Mikhailov himself. At the interrogations, all heard a detailed reading on the membership of the society, etc. The gendarmes declared that the case arose on the strength of information supplied by a former member. Mikhailov was cleared of all suspicion by the gendarmes saying that importance had been attached to this trivial case only because an obvious revolutionary was involved in it. At the same time, a strike took place at the Voronin factory.{9} Mikhailov insinuated himself among them and started to make collections for their benefit. In February, eight workers who had dealt with Mikhailov and one student who had collected money on his assignment (Talalayev) were arrested. After that Mikhailov again started to edge closer to the ouvriers{2} and managed to penetrate into circles   led by Narodovoltsi.{10} The latter were arrested in the summer of 1894. The inquiry revealed that the police had been informed of a great deal. At the inquiry involving our Stariki there was the charge that they were acquainted with some of these Narodovoltsi, but it happened....{3} The first Mikhailov case came to an end soon after: ...{4} and others were exiled, but he was let off and told everyone that he had petitioned for clemency and that he had done so with the intention of continuing to work on the old lines. Unfortunately, some people failed to regard this fact as being sufficiently disgraceful and gave him their patronage, so that he who did not command any personal respect among the workers was given an opportunity to consolidate and extend his ties.

There follows a description of his methods, his pressing of money on workers, his invitations to them to visit him at home, the revelation of Party names, etc. In this way and because he enjoyed the full confidence of the said persons, he soon discovered the identity of many members of various groups. They were all arrested. When a worker ...{5} said that he had received books from Mikhailov, the latter was detained, but at once released and is still in St. Petersburg. As one of the accused at the inquiry, he informed on all his comrades; some of the accused ...{6} were read his detailed report on the membership of various groups. (Signatures.)


{1} MS. illegible.—Ed.

{2} Workers.—Ed.

{3} MS. illegible.—Ed.

{4} [DUPLICATE "*" ] MS. illegible.—Ed.

{5} [DUPLICATE "*"] MS. illegible.—Ed.

{6} [DUPLICATE "*"] MS. illegible.—Ed.

{7} The League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class was organised by Lenin in the autumn of 1895. It united about twenty Marxist workers’ circles in St. Petersburg. The work of the League was based on the principles of centralism and strict discipline. It was headed by a Central Group, which included V. I. Lenin, A. A. Vaneyev, P. K. Zaporozhets, G. M. Krzhizhanovsky, N. K. Krupskaya, L. Martov (Y. 0. Tsederbaum), M. A. Silvin, and V. V. Starkey. Immediate guidance on every aspect of the work came from five members of this group led by Lenin. The organisation was subdivided into, district groups connected with factories and plants through forward-looking, class conscious workers (like I. V. Babushkin and V. A. Shelgunov). At the plants there were organisers for the collection of information and distribution of literature, and workers’ circles were set up at the major enterprises.

The League was the first in Russia to bring together socialism and the working-class movement, going forward from the propaganda of Marxism among a small number of leading workers in circles to political agitation among broad masses of the proletariat. It guided the working-class movement, tying in the workers’ struggle far economic demands with the political struggle against tsarism. The influence of the League spread well beyond St. Petersburg. On its initiative, the workers’ circles in Moscow, Kiev, Yekaterinoslav and other cities and regions of Russia united into similar leagues.

In December 1895, the tsarist government dealt the League a heavy blow: on the night of the 8th (20th), many of its leaders, including Lenin, were arrested. In response to the arrest, a leaflet was issued, formulating political demands and proclaiming the existence of the League.

While in prison, Lenin continued to direct the League’s activities, sending out coded letters and leaflets, and wrote a pamphlet On Strikes (which is yet to be discovered) and “Draft and Explanation of the Social-Democratic Party Programme” (see present edition, Vol. 2, pp. 93–121).

The importance of the League lay in the fact that, as Lenin said, it was the first important embryo of a revolutionary party relying on the working-class movement and directing the proletariat’s class struggle.

Communication on Behalf of the ‘Stariki’ to the Members of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class” was Written by Lenin in prison in 1896 as a warning   to the League members at liberty against the provocateur N. Mikhailov. It was written between the lines of page 240 of N. I. Tezyakov’s book, Agricultural Workers and the Organisation of Sanitary Supervision over Them in Kherson Gubernia (1896), which Lenin was reading for his work The Development of Capitalism in Russia.

Apparently for reasons of secrecy, the manuscript contains a great number of abbreviations and is written in a very fine hand with a plain lead pencil poorly visible in places, which is why some of it has not been deciphered. p. 33

{8} The student organisation bearing the name of “corporation” was set up in St. Petersburg University at the end of 1891 from students’ self-education circles. It united revolutionary-minded young people, but had no specified political programme and broke up within a few months. Its members were betrayed to the police by N. Mikhailov, who was one of its organisers but was connected with the secret police. p. 33

{9} The strike at the Voronin factory (a cotton-weaving manufactory owned by the merchant I. A. Voronin) was staged at the end of January 1894 and was caused by a cut in rates which led to a drop in wages. It continued for three days and ended in a victory for the workers: the rates were increased. Several workers, accused of being instigators, were arrested and deported from St. Petersburg. p. 33

{10} Narodovoltsi—members of the Narodnaya Volya (the People’s Will), a secret political organisation of Narodnik terrorists which arose in August 1879 as a result of the split within the Narodnik organisation known as Zemlya i Volya (Land and Freedom). The Narodnaya Volya was headed by an Executive Committee consisting, among others, of A. I. Zhelyabov, A. D. Mikhailov, M. F. Frolenko, N. A. Morozov, V. N. Figner, S. L. Perovskaya and A. A. Kvyatkovsky. The Narodovoltsi, remaining utopian socialists, took the path of political struggle, and regarded as their main task the overthrow of the autocracy and the gaining of political freedom. Their programme provided for the organisation of a “permanent people’s representation” elected on the basis of universal suffrage, proclamation of democratic freedoms, transfer of the land to the people and the working out of measures for the transfer of factories and plants to the workers. Lenin wrote: “The Narodnaya Volya members made a step forward when they took up the political struggle, but they fail ad to connect it with socialism” (present edition, Vol. 8, p. 72).

The Narodovoltsi waged a heroic struggle against the tsarist autocracy. But proceeding from their erroneous theory of active “heroes” and the passive “crowd”, they expected to achieve the reconstruction of society without the people’s participation, through their own efforts, and by individual acts of terrorism to intimidate and disorganise the government. Following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II on March 1, 1881, the government crushed the   Narodnaya Volya by provocations, fierce reprisals and executions.

Lenin, while criticising the erroneous and utopian programme of the Narodovoltsi, spoke with great respect about their selfless struggle against tsarism and put a high value on their conspiratorial techniques and strictly centralised organisation. p. 34

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