V. I.   Lenin

A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy

Written: Written at the end of 1899
Published: First published in 1924 in the magazine Proletarskaya Revolyutsiya (Proletarian Revolution), No. 8-9. Published according to a manuscript copied by an unknown hand and looked over by Lenin.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 4, pages 255-285.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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The Editorial Board of Rabochaya Mysl has published a Separate Supplement to “Rabochaya Mysl” (September 1899), for the purpose of “dispelling the mass of misunderstanding and indefiniteness that exists with regard to the trend of Rabochaya Mysl (such as our ’renunciation of politics’).” (From the Editorial Board.) We are very glad that Rabochaya Mysl is at last raising programmatic questions which, until now, it sought to ignore, but we emphatically protest against the statement that the “trend of Rabochaya Mysl is that of progressive Russian workers” (as the Editorial Board declares in the cited text). In fact, if the Editorial Board of Rabochaya Mysl wants to follow the path indicated (so far only indicated) in that publication, this means that it has falsely understood the programme elaborated by the founders of Russian Social-Democracy, a programme that has to-date had the adherence of all Russian Social-Democrats working in Russia; it means that it is taking a step backwards with respect to the level of theoretical and practical development already attained by Russian Social-Democracy.

The Rabochaya Mysl trend is expounded in the leading article of the Separate Supplement entitled “Our Reality” (signed: R. M.), which article we must now analyse in the greatest detail.

From the very beginning of the article we see that R. M. gives a false description of “our reality” in general, and of our working-class movement in particular, that he reveals an extremely narrow conception of the working-class   movement and a desire to close his eyes to the higher forms of that movement which have evolved under the leadership of the Russian Social-Democrats. “Our working-class movement,” says R. M., indeed, at the outset of the article, “contains the germs of the most diverse forms of organisation” ranging from strike associations to legal societies (permitted by law).

“And is that all?” asks the reader, in perplexity. Surely R. M. must have noticed some higher, more advanced forms of organisation in the working-class movement in Russia! Apparently he is unwilling to notice them because, on the next page, he repeats his assertion in a still more emphatic manner: “The tasks of the movement at the present moment, the real working-class cause of the Russian workers,” he says, “reduce themselves to the workers’ amelioration of their condition by all possible means,” and yet the only means enumerated are strike organisations and legal societies! Thus, the Russian working-class movement reduces itself, it would seem, to strikes and legal societies! But this is an absolute untruth! As far back as twenty years ago, the Russian working-class movement founded a much broader organisation, put forward much more extensive aims (of which in detail below). The Russian working- class movement founded such organisations as the St. Petersburg[3] and Kiev[4] Leagues of Struggle, the Jewish Workers’ League,[5] and others. R. M. does indeed say that the Jewish working-class movement has a “specific political character” and is an exception. But this, again, is an untruth; for if the Jewish Workers’ League were some thing “specific,” it would not have amalgamated with a number of Russian organisations to form the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. The foundation of this Party is the biggest step taken by the Russian working-class movement in its fusion with the Russian revolutionary movement. This step shows clearly that the Russian working-class movement does not reduce itself to strikes and legal societies. How could it have happened that the Russian socialists writing in Rabochaya Mysl are unwilling to recognise this step and to grasp its significance?

It happened because R. M. does not understand the relation of the Russian working-class movement to socialism   and to the revolutionary movement in Russia, because he does not understand the political aims of the Russian working class. “The most characteristic index of the trend of our movement,” writes R. M., “is, of course, the demands put forward by the workers.” We ask: why are the demands of the Social-Democrats and Social-Democratic organisations not included among the indices of our movement? On what grounds does R. M. separate the demands of the workers from the demands of the Russian Social-Democrats? R. M. makes this division throughout his article in the same way as the editors of Rabochaya Mysl make it, in general, in every issue of their paper. In order to explain this error of Rabochaya Mysl we must clarify the general question of the relation of socialism to the working-class movement. At first socialism and the working-class movement existed separately in all the European countries. The workers struggled against the capitalists, they organised strikes and unions, while the socialists stood aside from the working-class movement, formulated doctrines criticising the contemporary capitalist, bourgeois system of society and demanding its replacement by another system, the higher, socialist system. The separation of the working-class movement and socialism gave rise to weakness and underdevelopment in each: the theories of the socialists, unfused with the workers’ struggle, remained nothing more than utopias, good wishes that had no effect on real life; the working-class movement remained petty, fragmented, and did not acquire political significance, was not enlightened by the advanced science of its time. For this reason we see in all European countries a constantly growing urge to fuse socialism with the working-class movement in a single Social-Democratic movement. When this fusion takes place the class struggle of the workers becomes the conscious struggle of the proletariat to emancipate itself from exploitation by the propertied classes, it is evolved into a higher form of the socialist workers’ movement—the independent working-class Social-Democratic party. By directing socialism towards a fusion with the working-class movement, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels did their greatest service: they created a revolutionary theory that explained the necessity for this fusion and gave socialists   the task of organising the class struggle of the proletariat.

Precisely this is what happened in Russia. In Russia, too, socialism has been in existence for a long time, for many decades, standing aside from the struggle of the workers against the capitalists, aside from the workers’ strikes, etc. On the one hand, the socialists did not understand Marx’s theory, they thought it inapplicable to Russia; on the other, the Russian working-class movement remained in a purely embryonic form. When the South-Russian Workers’ Union was founded in 1875 and the North-Russian Workers’ Union in 1878, those workers’ organisations did not take the road chosen by the Russian socialists; they demanded political rights for the people, they wanted to wage a struggle for those rights, but at that time the Russian socialists mistakenly considered the political struggle a deviation from socialism. However, the Russian socialists did not hold to their undeveloped, fallacious theory. They went forward, accepted Marx’s teaching, and evolved a theory of workers’ socialism applicable to Russia—the theory of the Russian Social-Democrats. The foundation of Russian Social-Democracy was the great service rendered by the Emancipation of Labour group, Plekhanov, Axelrod, and their friends.[1] Since the foundation of Russian Social-Democracy (1883) the Russian working-class movement—in each of its broader manifestations—has been drawing closer to the Russian Social-Democrats in an effort to merge with them. The founding of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (in the spring of 1898) marked the biggest step forward towards this fusion. At the present time the principal task for all Russian socialists and all class-conscious Russian workers is to strengthen this fusion, consolidate and organise the Social-Democratic Labour Party. He who does not wish to recognise this fusion, he who tries to draw some sort of artificial line of demarcation between the working-class movement and Social-Democracy in Russia renders no service   but does harm to workers’ socialism and the working-class movement in Russia.

To continue. “As far as extensive demands, political demands, are concerned,” writes R. M., “it is only in those of the St. Petersburg weavers ... in 1897 that we see the first and still weakly conscious case of our workers putting forward such broad political demands.” We must again say that this is beyond all doubt untrue. In publishing such utterances, Editorial Board of Rabochaya Mysl displays, first, a forgetfulness of the history of the Russian revolutionary and working-class movement that is unpardonable in a Social-Democrat, and, secondly, an unpardonably narrow conception of the workers’ cause. The Russian workers put forward extensive political demands in the May, 1898, leaflet of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle and in the newspapers S. Peterburgsky Rabochy Listok and Rabochaya Gazeta, the latter having been recognised, in 1898, by leading Russian Social-Democratic organisations as the official organ of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. Rabochaya Mysl, by ignoring these facts, is moving backwards and fully justifies the opinion that it is not representative of advanced workers, but of the lower, undeveloped strata of the proletariat (R. M. himself says in his article that this has already been pointed out to Rabochaya Mysl). The lower strata of the proletariat do not know the history of the Russian revolutionary movement, nor does R. M. know it. The lower strata of the proletariat do not understand the relationship between the working-class movement and Social-Democracy, nor does R. M. understand that relationship. Why was it that in the nineties the Russian workers did not form their special organisations separate and apart from the socialists as they had done in the seventies? Why did they not put forward their own political demands separate and apart from the socialists? R. M. apparently understands this to mean that “the Russian workers are still little prepared for this” (p. 5 of his article), but this explanation is only further proof that he has the right to speak only on behalf of the lower strata of the proletariat. The lower strata of the workers, during the movement of the nineties, were not conscious of its political character. Nevertheless,   everyone knows (and R. M. himself speaks of it) that the working-class movement of the nineties acquired an extensive political significance. This was due to the fact that the advanced workers, as always and everywhere, determined the character of the movement, and they were followed by the working masses because they showed their readiness and their ability to serve the cause of the working class, because they proved able to win the full confidence of the masses. Those advanced workers were Social-Democrats; many of them even took a personal part in the disputes between the Narodnaya Volya adherents and the Social-Democrats that typified the transition of the Russian revolutionary movement from peasant and conspiratorial socialism to working-class socialism. It can, therefore, be understood why these advanced workers have not alienated themselves from the socialists and revolutionaries in a separate organisation. Such an alienation had a meaning and was necessary at the time when socialism alienated itself from the working-class movement. Such alienation would have been impossible and meaningless once the advanced workers had seen before them working-class socialism and the Social-Democratic organisations. The fusion of the advanced workers and the Social-Democratic organisations was altogether natural and inevitable. It was the result of the great historical fact that in the nineties two profound social movements converged in Russia: one, a spontaneous movement, a popular movement within the working class, the other, the movement of social thought in the direction of the theory of Marx and Engels, towards the theory of Social-Democracy.

From the following it can be seen how extremely narrow is Rabochaya Mysl’s conception of the political struggle. Speaking of the breadth of political demands, R. M. states: “For the workers to conduct such a political struggle consciously and independently, it is essential that it be waged by the working-class organisations themselves, that the workers’ political demands should find support in the workers consciousness of their common political requirements and the interests of the moment [note well!], that they should be the demands of the workers’ [craft] organisations themselves, that they should really be drawn up by them   jointly and also put forward jointly by those working-class organisations on their own initiative....” It is further explained that the immediate common political demands of the workers are, for the time being (!!), still the ten-hour working day and the restoration of holidays abolished by the law of June 2, 1897.

And after this the editors of Rabochaya Mysl are still surprised that they are accused of renouncing politics! Indeed, is not this reduction of politics to the struggle of craft unions for individual reforms the renunciation of politics? Is this not the rejection of the basic tenet of world Social-Democracy that the Social-Democrats must strive to organise the class struggle of the proletariat into independent political working-class parties that fight for democracy as a means for the proletariat to win political power and organise a socialist society? With a strangely unbounded thoughtlessness our latest distorters of Social-Democracy cast overboard everything dear to the Social-Democrats, everything that gives us the right to regard the working-class movement as a world-historical movement. It matters little to them that the long experience of European socialism and European democracy teaches the lesson that it is essential to strive for the formation of independent working-class political parties. It matters little to them that in the course of a long and arduous historical path the Russian revolutionary movement has evolved the union of socialism and the working-class movement, the union of the great social and political ideals and the class struggle of the proletariat. It matters little to them that the advanced Russian workers have laid the foundation of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. Down with all that! Let us liberate ourselves from a too extensive ideological equipment and from a too difficult and exacting historical experience—and let “there remain for the time being” only craft unions (the possibility of organising which in Russia has not yet been proved at all, if we leave legal societies out of the reckoning), let these craft unions, “on their own initiative,” elaborate demands, the demands of the “moment,” demands for tiny, petty reforms!! What is this, if not the preachment of a retrograde trend? What, indeed, if not propaganda for the destruction of socialism!

And please note that Rabochaya Mysl does not merely outline the idea that local organisations should elaborate their own local forms of struggle and specific motives for agitation, methods of agitation, etc.—nobody would object to this idea. Russian Social-Democrats have never laid claim to anything hampering the independence of the workers in this respect. But Rabochaya Mysl wants to push aside the great political aims of the Russian proletariat altogether and “for the time being” confine itself “exclusively” to “the interests of the moment.” Until now the Russian Social-Democrats have always wanted to make use of every demand of the moment and, by agitating for that demand, to organise the proletariat for the struggle against the autocracy as the immediate objective. Now Rabochaya Mysl wants to limit the struggle of the proletariat to a petty struggle for petty demands. R. M., knowing very well that he is retreating from the views of the entire Russian Social-Democracy, makes the following reply to those who accuse Rabochaya Mysl: It is said that the overthrow of tsarism is the immediate objective of the Russian working-dais movement. But of which working-class movement, asks R. M., “the strike movement? the mutual benefit societies? the workers’ circles?" (page 5 of the article). To this we reply: Speak for yourself alone, for your group, for the lower strata of the proletariat of a given locality which it represents, but do not presume to speak on behalf of the advanced Russian workers! The representatives of the lower strata of the proletariat often do not realise that the struggle for the overthrow of the autocracy can only be conducted by a revolutionary party. Nor does R. M. know this.The advanced workers, however, do. The less advanced representatives of the proletariat often do not know that the Russian working-class movement is not limited to the strike struggle, to mutual benefit societies and workers’ circles; that the Russian working-class movement has long been striving to organise itself into a revolutionary party and has demonstrated this striving by action. R. M. does not know this, either. But the advanced Russian workers know it.

R. M. tries to represent his complete misunderstanding of Social-Democracy as a sort of specific understanding   of “our reality.” Let us look more closely at his ideas on this subject.

“As far as the concept of the autocracy itself is concerned,” writes R. M., "...we shall not deal with that at length, assuming that all to whom we speak have the most precise and clear conception of such things.” We shall soon see that R. M. himself has an extremely imprecise and unclear conception of such things; but first let us mention one other circumstance. Are there workers among those to whom R. M. is speaking? Of course, there are. And if so, where are they to get a precise and clear conception of the autocracy? Obviously this requires the broadest and most systematic propaganda of the ideas of political liberty in general; agitation is required to connect every individual manifestation of police violence and of oppression by officialdom with a “precise conception” (in the minds of the workers) of the autocracy. This, it would seem, is elementary. But if it is, then can purely local propaganda and agitation against the autocracy be successful? Is it not absolutely essential to organise such propaganda and agitation throughout Russia into a single planned activity, i.e., into the activity of a single party? Why then does R. M. not indicate that the task of organising systematic propaganda and agitation against the autocracy is one of the immediate objectives of the Russian working-class movement? Only because he has the most imprecise and unclear conception of the tasks of the Russian working-class movement and of Russian Social-Democracy.

R. M. proceeds to explain that the autocracy is a tremendous “personal power” (a bureaucracy drilled like soldiers) and a tremendous “economic power” (financial resources). We shall not dwell on the “imprecise” aspects of his explanation (and there is much that is “imprecise” here), but shall pass over directly to the main point:

“And so,” R. M. asks of Russian Social-Democracy, “is it not the overthrow of this personal power and the seizure of this economic power that the Russian workers are at this very moment advised to project as the first and immediate task of their present (embryonic) organisations? (we shall not even mention the revolutionaries, who say that   this task must be undertaken by the circles of advanced workers).”

In amazement we rub our eyes and read this monstrous passage over two or three times. Surely we must be mistaken! But no, we are not. R M. actually does not know what is meant by the overthrow of the autocracy. Hard to believe as this is, it is a fact. But after the confusion of ideas that R. M. has displayed, is it hard to believe after all?

R. M. confuses the seizure of power by revolutionaries with the overthrow of the autocracy by revolutionaries.

Old Russian revolutionaries (of the Narodnaya Volya) strove for the seizure of power by a revolutionary party. They thought that by the seizure of power the “party would overthrow the personal power” of the autocracy, i.e., appoint its agents in place of the government officials, “seize economic power,” i.e., all the financial means of the state and carry out the social revolution. The Narodnaya Volya members (the old ones) actually did strive to “overthrow the personal power and seize the economic power” of the autocracy, to employ R. M.’s clumsy expression. The Russian Social-Democrats have decidedly set themselves against this revolutionary theory. Plekhanov subjected it to trenchant criticism in his essays, Socialism and the Political Struggle (1883) and Our Differences (1885), pointing out the task of the Russian revolutionaries—the foundation of a revolutionary working-class party whose immediate aim should be the overthrow of the autocracy. What is meant by the overthrow of the autocracy? To explain this to R. M. we must answer the question: what is the autocracy? The autocracy (absolutism, unlimited monarchy) is a form of rule under which all supreme power is wielded wholly and indivisibly by an absolute monarch, the tsar. The tsar issues laws, appoints officials, collects and disburses the national revenues without any participation by the people in legislation or in control over the administration. The autocracy, therefore, means the absolute power of government officials and the police and the absence of rights for the people. The entire people suffers from this absence of rights, but the propertied classes (especially the rich landed proprietors and capitalists) exercise a powerful   influence over the bureaucracy. The working class suffers doubly: both from the lack of rights to which the entire Russian people is subjected and from the oppression of the workers by the capitalists, who compel the government to serve their interests.

What is meant by the overthrow of the autocracy? It implies the tsar’s renunciation of absolute power; the granting to the people of the right to elect their own representatives for legislation, for supervision over the actions of the government officials, for supervision over the collection and disbursement of state revenues. This type of government in which the people participate in legislation and administration is called the constitutional form of government (constitution law on the participation of people’s representatives in legislation and the administration of the state). Thus, the overthrow of the autocracy means the replacement of the autocratic form of government by the constitutional form of government. For the overthrow of the autocracy, therefore, no “overthrow of personal power or seizure of economic power” is necessary, but it is necessary to compel the tsarist government to renounce its unlimited power and convene a Zemsky Sobor[2] of representatives of the people for the elaboration of a constitution (“to win a democratic constitution” [people’s constitution, drawn up in the interests of the people], as it is put in the draft programme of the Russian Social-Democrats published in 1885 by the Emancipation of Labour group).

Why must the overthrow of the autocracy be the first task of the Russian working class? Because under the autocracy the working class is not able to develop its struggle extensively, to gain for itself any stable positions in either the economic or political fields, to establish sound mass organisations and unfurl the banner of the social revolution before the masses of the working people and teach them to struggle for it. The decisive struggle of the entire working class against the bourgeois class is possible only under conditions of political liberty, and the final aim of that struggle is for the proletariat to win political power and organise a socialist society. The conquest of   political power by an organised proletariat that has gone through a lengthy schooling in struggle will really be “the overthrow of the personal power and the seizure of the economic power” of the bourgeois government; but the Russian Social-Democrats have never put forward this seizure of power as the immediate task of the Russian workers. Russian Social-Democrats have always maintained that only under conditions of political liberty, when there is an extensive mass struggle, can the Russian working class develop organisations for the final victory of socialism.

But how can the Russian working class overthrow the autocracy? The editors of Rabochaya Mysl make mock even of the Emancipation of Labour group which founded Russian Social-Democracy and stated in its programme that “the struggle against the autocracy is obligatory even for those workers’ circles that now constitute the germs of the future Russian working-class party.” It seems ridiculous to Rabochaya Mysl (see No. 7 and the article under review): the overthrow of the autocracy—by workers’ circles! In reply, we say to the editors of Rabochaya Mysl: Whom are you mocking? It is yourselves you are mocking! The editors of Rabochaya Mysl complain that the Russian Social-Democrats are not comradely in their polemic with them. Let the readers judge on whose side the polemic is uncomradely: on the side of the old Russian Social-Democrats who have set forth their views clearly and who say out right which views of the “young” they consider mistaken and why; or on the side of the “young” who do not name their opponents but jab from behind cover, first at “the author of a German book on Chernyshevsky” (Plekhanov, whom, moreover, they groundlessly confuse with certain legal writers), then at the Emancipation of Labour group, citing with distortions passages from its programme without putting forward anything like a definite programme of their own. Yes, we recognise the duty of comradeship, the duty to support all comrades, the duty to tolerate the opinions of comrades but as far as we are concerned, the duty of comradeship derives from our duty to Russian and international Social-Democracy, and not vice versa. We recognise our comradely obligations to Rabochaya Mysl, not because its editors are our comrades; we consider the editors of Rabochaya   Mysl our comrades only because and to the extent that they work in the ranks of Russian (and, consequently, of international) Social-Democracy. Therefore, if we are certain that the “comrades” are moving backwards, away from the Social-Democratic programme, that the “comrades” are hemming in and distorting the aims of the working-class movement, we consider it our duty to give expression to our convictions with a complete certainty that leaves nothing unsaid!

We have just stated that the editors of Rabochaya Mysl distort the views of the Emancipation of Labour group. Let the reader judge for himself. “We are prepared not to understand those of our comrades,” writes R. M., “who consider their programme for ’the emancipation of labour’ a simple answer to the question: ’Where are we to get the forces for the struggle against the autocracy?"’ (elsewhere: “Our revolutionaries regard the workers’ movement as the best means of overthrowing the autocracy”). Open the draft programme of the Russian Social-Democrats published by the Emancipation of Labour group in 1885 and reprinted by P. B. Axelrod in his booklet, Present Tasks and Tactics of Russian Social-Democracy (Geneva, 1898), and you will see that the programme is based on the emancipation of labour from the oppression of capital, the transfer of all means of production to social ownership, the seizure of political power by the working class, and the founding of a revolutionary working-class party. It is clear that R. M. distorts that programme and is unwilling to understand it. He has seized upon P. B. Axelrod’s words at the beginning of his booklet wherein it is stated that the programme of the Emancipation of Labour group “was an answer” to the question: Where are we to get the forces for the struggle against absolutism? It is, however, an historical fact that the programme of the Emancipation of Labour group was the answer to the question posed by the Russian revolutionaries and by the Russian revolutionary movement as a whole. However, because the programme answered that question, does it mean that the working-class movement was only the means to an end for the Emancipation of Labour group? Such a “misunderstanding” on the part of R. M. merely shows that he is unacquainted with the   generally-known facts of the activities of the Emancipation of Labour group.

To continue. How can the “overthrow of the autocracy” be a task for workers’ circles? R. M. does not understand. Open the programme of the Emancipation of Labour group: “Russian Social-Democrats consider that for the workers’ circles the chief means of political struggle against the autocracy,” we read, “is agitation amongst the working class and the further spreading of socialist ideas and revolutionary organisations amongst the workers. These organisations, closely bound together in an integral whole and not content with individual clashes with the government, will lose no time in going over, at a suitable moment, to a general, decisive offensive against the government.” These were precisely the tactics followed by the Russian organisations that established the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in the spring of 1898. And they proved that such organisations are a powerful political force in Russia. If these organisations form one single party and carry on wide spread agitation against the autocratic government, using for this purpose all elements of the liberal opposition, the objective of winning political liberty will undoubtedly be one that can be attained by such a party. If the editors of Rabochaya Mysl are “prepared not to understand” this, we are “prepared” to advise them: learn, gentlemen, for these things are not in themselves very difficult to understand.

Let us, however, get back to R. M., whom we left arguing about the struggle against the autocracy. R. M.’s own views on this subject illustrate still more clearly the new, retrograde, trend of Rabochaya Mysl.

“The end of the autocracy is clear,” writes R. M. "... The struggle against the autocracy is one of the conditions for the sound development of all vital social elements.” From this the reader will probably think that the struggle against the autocracy is essential to the working class. But wait. R. M. has his own logic and his own terminology. By the word “struggle,” through the addition of the word “social” (struggle), he understands something very specific. R. M. describes the legal opposition of many sections of the Russian population to the government, and he draws the conclusion: “Indeed, the struggles for Zemstvo and urban   public self-government, for public schools, and for public aid to the starving population, etc., constitute a struggle against the autocracy.” “The necessity to wage a social struggle against the bureaucratic autocracy is obvious to all class-conscious, progressive sections and groups of the population. More than this. This social struggle, which through some strange misunderstanding has not attracted the favourable attention of many Russian revolutionary writers, is, as we have seen, being conducted by Russian society; nor did it begin yesterday.” “The real question is how these separate social strata ... are to conduct this [note this!] struggle against the autocracy with the maximum success.... The main question for us is to know how our workers should conduct this social [!] struggle against the autocracy.”...

These arguments of R. M. are again cluttered with an unbelievable amount of confusion and errors.

First, R. M. confuses legal opposition with the struggle against the autocracy, with the struggle to overthrow the autocracy. This confusion, unpardonable in a socialist, results from his employing the expression “struggle against the autocracy” without an explanation: this expression may mean (with a reservation) struggle against the autocracy, but also struggle against individual measures of the autocracy within the framework of that same autocratic system.

Secondly, by regarding legal opposition as the social struggle against the autocracy and affirming that our workers should wage “this social struggle,” R. M. virtually says that our workers should carry on legal opposition, not a revolutionary struggle, against the autocracy; in other words, he sinks into a hideous debasement of Social-Democracy, which he confuses with the most commonplace and beggarly Russian liberalism.

Thirdly, R. M. declares a flagrant untruth regarding Russian Social-Democratic writers (true, he prefers making his reproaches in “all comradeship,” without naming names; but if it is not Social-Democrats whom he has in mind, his words have no sense), when he states that they do not pay attention to legal opposition. On the contrary, the Emancipation of Labour group, and P. B. Axelrod in particular, as well as the Manifesto of the Russian Social-Democratic   Labour Party and the pamphlet, The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats (published by the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party and designated by Axelrod as a commentary to the Manifesto)—all, not only paid attention to legal opposition, but even elucidated with precision its relation to Social-Democracy.

Let us clarify the issue. What sort of “struggle against the autocracy” is being conducted by our Zemstvos, by our liberal societies in general, and by the liberal press? Are they carrying on a struggle against the autocracy, for the overthrow of the autocracy? No, they never have engaged and still do not engage in such a struggle. This is a struggle that is waged only by the revolutionaries, who frequently come from the liberal society and rely on its sympathy. But waging a revolutionary struggle is in no sense the same thing as sympathising with the revolutionaries and supporting them; the struggle against the autocracy is in no sense the same thing as legal opposition to the autocracy. The Russian liberals express their dissatisfaction with the autocracy only in the form sanctioned by the autocracy itself, i.e., the form that the autocracy does not consider dangerous to the autocracy. The grandest showing of liberal opposition has been nothing more than the petitions of the liberals to the tsarist government to draw the people into the administration. And each time the liberals patiently accepted the brutal police rejections of their petitions; they put up with the lawless and savage repressions with which the government of gendarmes repaid even legal attempts to make known their opinion. Simply to present the liberal opposition as a social struggle against the autocracy is a pure distortion of the issue, because the Russian liberals have never organised a revolutionary party to struggle for the overthrow of the autocracy, although they could have found and can still find for this purpose both the material means and representatives of Russian liberalism abroad. R. M. not only distorts the issue, but he drags in the name of the great Russian socialist N.G. Chernyshevsky."The workers’ allies in this struggle," says R. M., “are all the advanced strata of Russian society, who are defending their social interests and institutions, who have a clear conception of the common good, who ’never forget’ [R. M. quotes   Chernyshevsky] that there is ’a great difference as to whether changes are brought about by an independent decision of the government or by the formal demand of society."’ If this comment is applied to all representatives of the “social struggle” in the way R. M. understands it, i.e., to all Russian liberals, then it is a falsification pure and simple. The Russian liberals have never presented any formal demands to the government, and precisely for this reason the Russian liberals have never played and now certainly cannot play an independent revolutionary role. Not “all the advanced strata of society” can be allies of the working class and Social-Democracy, but only revolutionary parties founded by members of that society. In general, the liberals can and should serve merely as one of the sources of additional forces and means for the revolutionary working-class party (as P. B. Axelrod so clearly stated in the above-mentioned pamphlet). N. G. Chernyshevsky ridiculed “the progressive strata of Russian society” for the very fact that they did not understand the necessity for formal demands to the government and indifferently watched revolutionaries from their own midst perish under the blows of the autocratic government. In this case R. M.’s quotations from Chernyshevsky are as senseless as his quotations from the same author, torn piecemeal out of context, in the second article of the Separate Supplement, which are meant to show that Chernyshevsky was not a utopian and that Russian Social-Democrats do not appreciate the full significance of the “great Russian socialist." In his book on Chernyshevsky (articles in the collection Sotsial-Demokrat,"[6] issued as a separate volume in German) Plekhanov fully appreciated the significance of Chernyshevsky and explained his attitude to the theory of Marx and Engels. The editors of Rabochaya Mysl have merely revealed their own inability to give anything like a connected and comprehensive assessment of Chernyshevsky, of his strong and weak sides.

“The real question” for Russian Social-Democracy is by no means that of determining how the liberals are to conduct the “social struggle” (by “social struggle” R. M., as we have seen, means legal opposition), but how to organise a revolutionary working-class party devoted to the struggle for the   overthrow of the autocracy, a party that could gain the backing of all opposition elements in Russia, a party that could utilise all manifestations of opposition in its revolutionary struggle. It is precisely a revolutionary working-class party that is needed for this purpose, because in Russia only the working class can be a determined and consistent fighter for democracy, because without the vigorous influence of such a party the liberal elements “could remain a sluggish, inactive, dormant force” (P. B. Axelrod, op. cit., p. 23). In saying that our “more advanced strata” are conducting “a real [!!] social struggle against the autocracy” (p. 12 of R. M.’s article), that “the main question for us is how our workers should conduct this social struggle against the autocracy"—in saying such things, R. M. is, in fact, retreating completely from Social-Democracy. We can only offer serious advice to the editors of Rabochaya Mysl to ponder well the question of where they want to go and where their real place is: among the revolutionaries, who carry the banner of the social revolution to the working classes and want to organise them into a political revolutionary party, or among the liberals, who are conducting their ’own “social struggle” (i.e., the legal opposition)? There is nothing at all socialist in the theory of the “independent social activity” of the workers; in the theory of “social mutual aid” and of the craft unions that “so far” confine themselves to the 10-hour working day; in the theory of the “social struggle” of the Zemstvos, liberal societies, and others against the autocracy—there is nothing in this theory that the liberals would not accept! Indeed, the entire programme of Rabochaya Mysl (to the extent that one can call it a programme) tends, in essence, to leave the Russian workers undeveloped and split, and to make them the tail-end of the liberals!

Some of R. M. ’s phrases are particularly strange. “The whole trouble is merely that our revolutionary intelligentsia,” he proclaims, “mercilessly persecuted by the political police, mistake the struggle against the political police for the political struggle against the autocracy.” What sense can there be in such a statement? The political police are called political because they persecute enemies of the autocracy and those who struggle against the autocracy. For   this reason, Rabochaya Mysl, so long as its metamorphosis into a liberal is not completed, fights against the political police as do all Russian revolutionaries and socialists and all class-conscious workers. From the fact that the political police mercilessly persecute socialists and workers, that the autocracy maintains a “well-ordered organisation,” “competent and resourceful statesmen” (p. 7 of R. M.’s article), only two conclusions are to be drawn: the cowardly and wretched liberal will pass judgement that our people in general and our workers in particular are still ill-prepared for the struggle and that all hopes must be placed in the “struggle” of the Zemstvos, the liberal press, etc., since this is the “real struggle against the autocracy” and not only a struggle against the political police. The socialist and every class-conscious worker will conclude that the working-class party must bend all its efforts to the formation of a “well-ordered organisation,” to the training of “competent and resourceful revolutionaries” from among the advanced workers and socialists, people who will raise the working-class party to the high level of the leading fighter for democracy and who will be able to win over to its side all opposition elements.

The editors of Rabochaya Mysl do not realise that they are standing on an inclined plane down which they will roll to the first of these two conclusions!

Or, again: “What amazes us further in these programmes [i.e., in the programmes of the Social-Democrats],” writes R. M., “is that they incessantly give first place to the advantages of workers’ activities in a parliament [non-existent in Russia], while completely ignoring ... the importance of workers’ participation” in the employers’ legislative assemblies, on factory boards, and in municipal self-government (p. 15). If the advantages of parliament are not brought into the forefront, how will the workers learn about political rights and political liberty? If we keep silent on these questions—as does Rabochaya Mysl—does this not mean perpetuating the political ignorance of the lower strata of the workers? As to workers’ participation in municipal self-government, no Social-Democrat has ever denied anywhere the advantages and the importance of the activities of socialist workers in municipal self-government;   but it is ridiculous to speak of this in Russia, where no open manifestation of socialism is possible and where firing the workers with enthusiasm for municipal self-government (even were this possible) would actually mean distracting advanced workers from the socialist working-class cause towards liberalism.

“The attitude of the advanced strata of the workers towards this [autocratic] government,” says R. M., “is as understandable as their attitude towards the factory owners.” The common-sense view of this, therefore, is that the advanced strata of the workers are no less class-conscious Social-Democrats than the socialists from among the intelligentsia, so that Rabochaya Mysl’s attempt to separate the one from the other is absurd and harmful. The Russian working class, accordingly, has produced the elements necessary for the formation of an independent working-class political party. But the editors of Rabochaya Mysl draw from the fact of the political consciousness of the advanced strata of the workers the conclusion ... that it is necessary to hold these advanced elements back, so as to keep them marking time! “Which struggle is it most desirable for the workers to wage?” asks R. M., and he answers: Desirable is the struggle that is possible, and possible is the struggle which the workers are “waging at the given moment”!!! It would be difficult to express more glaringly the senseless and unprincipled opportunism with which the editors of Rabochaya Mysl, allured by fashionable “Bernsteinism,” have become infected! What is possible is desirable, and what we have at the given moment is possible! It is as though a man setting out on a long and difficult road on which numerous obstacles and numerous enemies await him were told in answer to his question “Where shall I go?”: “It is desirable to go where it is possible to go, and it is possible to go where you are going at the given moment”! This is the sheerest nihilism, not revolutionary, however, but opportunist nihilism, manifested either by anarchists or bourgeois liberals! By “calling upon” the Russian workers to engage in a “partial” and “political” struggle (with political struggle understood, not as the struggle against the autocracy, but only as “the struggle to improve the condition of all workers”), R. M. is actually calling upon the Russian   working-class movement and Russian Social-Democracy to take a step backward, he is actually calling upon the workers to separate from the Social-Democrats and thus throw over board everything that has been acquired by European and Russian experience! The workers have no need for socialists in their struggle to improve their condition, if that is their only struggle. In all countries there are workers who wage the struggle for the improvement of their condition, but know nothing of socialism or are even hostile to it.

“In conclusion,” writes R. M., “a few words on our conception of working-class socialism.” After what has been said above the reader will have no difficulty in imagining the sort of “conception” it is. It is simply a copy of Bernstein’s “fashionable” book. Our “young” Social-Democrats substitute the “independent social and political activity of the workers” for the class struggle of the proletariat. If we recall how R. M. understands social “struggle” and “politics,” it will be clear that this is a direct return to the “formula” of certain Russian legal writers. Instead of indicating precisely the aim (and essence) of socialism—the transfer of the land, factories, etc., in general, of all the means of production, to the ownership of the whole of society and the replacement of the capitalist mode of production by production according to a common plan in the interests of all members of society—instead of all this, R. M. indicates first of all the development of craft unions and consumers’ co-operatives, and says only in passing that socialism leads to the complete socialisation of all the means of production. On the other hand, he prints in the heaviest type: “Socialism is merely a further and higher development of the modern community”—a phrase borrowed from Bernstein, which not only does not explain but even obscures the significance and substance of socialism. All the liberals and the entire bourgeoisie undoubtedly favour the “development of the modern community,” so that they will all rejoice at R. M.’s declaration. Nevertheless, the bourgeois are the enemies of socialism. The point is that “the modern community” has many varied aspects, and of those who employ this general expression, some have one aspect in view, others another. And so, instead of   explaining the concept of the class struggle and socialism to the workers, R. M. offers them only nebulous and misleading phrases. Lastly, instead of indicating the means modern socialism advances for the achievement of socialism—the winning of political power by the organised proletariat—instead of this, R. M. speaks only of placing production under their (the workers’) social management or under the management of democratised social power, democratised “by their (the workers’) active participation on boards examining all kinds of factory affairs, in courts of arbitration, in all possible assemblies, commissions, and conferences for the elaboration of labour laws; by the workers’ participation in public self-government, and, lastly, in the country’s general representative institution." In this way the editors of Rabochaya Mysl include in working-class socialism only that which is to be obtained along the peaceful path and exclude the revolutionary path. This narrowing-down of socialism and its reduction to common bourgeois liberalism represents again a tremendous step backwards as compared with the views of all Russian Social-Democrats and of the overwhelming majority of European Social-Democrats. The working class would, of course, prefer to take power peacefully (we have already stated that this seizure of power can be carried out only by the organised working class which has passed through the school of the class struggle), but to renounce the revolutionary seizure of power would be madness on the part of the proletariat, both from the theoretical and the practical-political points of view; it would mean nothing but a disgraceful retreat in face of the bourgeoisie and all other propertied classes. It is very probable—even most probable—that the bourgeoisie will not make peaceful concessions to the proletariat and at the decisive moment will resort to violence for the defence of its privileges. In that case, no other way will be left to the proletariat for the achievement of its aim but that of revolution. This is the reason the programme of “working-class socialism” speaks of the winning of political power in general without defining the method, for the choice of method depends on a future which we can not precisely determine. But, we repeat, to limit the activities of the proletariat under any circumstances to peaceful   "democratisation” alone is arbitrarily to narrow and vulgarise the concept of working-class socialism.

We shall not analyse the other articles in the Separate Supplement in such great detail. We have spoken of the article on the tenth anniversary of Chernyshevsky’s death. As to the pro-Bernsteinian propaganda of the Rabochaya Mysl Editorial Board, which the enemies of socialism throughout the world, especially the bourgeois liberals, have seized on, and against which the vast majority of the German Social-Democrats and class-conscious German workers spoke out so decisively (at their Hannover Congress)—as to Bernsteinism, this is not the place to speak of it in detail. We are interested in our Russian Bernsteinism, and we have shown the limitless confusion of ideas, the absence of anything like independent views, the tremendous step backwards as compared with the views of Russian Social-Democracy which “our” Bernsteinism represents. As far as German Bernsteinism is concerned, we would rather leave it to the Germans themselves to handle. We would remark only that Russian Bernsteinism is infinitely lower than the German. Bernstein, despite his errors, despite his obvious striving to retrogress both theoretically and politically, still has sufficient intelligence and sufficient conscientiousness not to propose changes in the programme of German Social-Democracy without himself having arrived at any new theory or programme; in the final and decisive moment, he declared his acceptance of Bebel’s resolution, a resolution that announced solemnly to the world that German Social-Democracy would stand by its old programme and its old tactics. And our Russian Bernsteinians? Without having done a hundredth of what Bernstein has done, they even go so far as to refuse to recognise the fact that all Russian Social-Democratic organisations laid the foundations of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in 1898, published its Manifesto, and announced Rabochaya Gazeta to be its official organ, and that these publications stand by the “old” programme of the Russian Social-Democrats in its entirety. Our Bernsteinians do not seem to be aware of the fact that, if they have rejected the old views and adopted new ones, it is their moral duty—to Russian Social-Democracy and   to the Russian socialists and workers who devoted all their efforts to the preparations for, and the founding of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party and who in their majority now fill Russian prisons—that it is the duty of those who profess the new views, not to confine themselves to jabbing from holes and corners at “our revolutionaries” in general, but to announce directly and publicly with whom and with what they are in disagreement, what new views and what new programme they advance in place of the old.

There is still one other question left for us to examine, probably the most important one, namely, how such a retrograde trend in Russian Social-Democracy is to be explained. In our opinion it is not to be explained solely by the personal qualities of the Rabochaya Mysl editors or by the influence of the fashionable Bernsteinism alone. We hold that it is to be explained mainly by the peculiarities in the historical development of Russian Social-Democracy, which gave rise to—and had temporarily to give rise to—a narrow understanding of working-class socialism.

In the eighties and at the beginning of the nineties, when Social-Democrats initiated their practical work in Russia, they were confronted firstly with the Narodnaya Volya, which charged them with departing from the political struggle that had been inherited from the Russian revolutionary movement, and with which the Social-Democrats carried on a persistent polemic. Secondly, they were confronted with the Russian liberal circles, which were also dissatisfied with the turn taken by the revolutionary movement—from the Narodnaya Volya trend to Social-Democracy. The two fold polemic centred round the question of politics. In their struggle against the narrow conceptions of the Narodnaya Volya adherents, who reduced politics to conspiracy-making, the Social-Democrats could be led to, and did at times, declare themselves against politics in general (in view of the then prevailing narrow conception of politics). On the other hand, the Social-Democrats often heard, in the liberal and radical salons of bourgeois “society,” regrets that the revolutionaries had abandoned terror; people who were mortally afraid for their own skins and at a decisive moment failed to give support to the heroes who struck blows at the autocracy, these people hypocritically accused   the Social-Democrats of political indifferentism and yearned for the rebirth of a party that would pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them. Naturally, the Social-Democrats conceived a hatred for such people and their phrases, and they turned to the more mundane but more serious work of propaganda among the factory proletariat. At first it was inevitable that this work should have a narrow character and should be embodied in the narrow declarations of some Social-Democrats. This narrowness, however, did not frighten those Social-Democrats who had not in the least forgotten the broad historical aims of the Russian working-class movement. What matters it if the words of the Social-Democrats sometimes have a narrow meaning when their deeds cover a broad field. They do not give themselves up to use less conspiracies, they do not hob-nob with the Balalaikins[7] of bourgeois liberalism, but they go to that class which alone is the real revolutionary class and assist in the development of its forces! They believed that this narrowness would disappear of its own accord with each step that broadened Social-Democratic propaganda. And this, to a considerable degree, is what has happened. From propaganda they began to go over to widespread agitation. Widespread agitation, naturally, brought to the forefront a growing number of class-conscious advanced workers; revolutionary organisations began to take form (the St. Petersburg, Kiev, and other Leagues of Struggle, the Jewish Workers’ Union). These organisations naturally tended to merge and, eventually, they succeeded: they united and laid the foundations of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. It would seem that the old narrowness would then have been left without any basis and that it would be completely cast aside. But things turned out differently: the spread of their agitation brought the Social-Democrats into contact with the lower, less developed strata of the proletariat; to attract these strata it was necessary for the agitator to be able to adapt himself to the lowest level of understanding, he was taught to put the “demands and interests of the given moment” in the foreground and to push back the broad ideals of socialism and the political struggle. The fragmentary, amateur nature of Social-Democratic work, the extremely weak connections between the study circles in   the different cities, between the Russian Social-Democrats and their comrades abroad who possessed a profounder knowledge and a richer revolutionary experience, as well as a wider political horizon, naturally led to a gross exaggeration of this (absolutely essential) aspect of Social-Democratic activity, which could bring some individuals to lose sight of the other aspects, especially since with every reverse the most developed workers and intellectuals were wrenched from the ranks of the struggling army, so that sound revolutionary traditions and continuity could not as yet be evolved. It is in this extreme exaggeration of one aspect of Social-Democratic work that we see the chief cause of the sad retreat from the ideals of Russian Social-Democracy. Add to this enthusiasm over a fashionable book, ignorance of the history of the Russian revolutionary movement, and a childish claim to originality, and you have all the elements that go to make up “the retrograde trend in Russian Social-Democracy.”

We shall, therefore, have to deal in greater detail with the question of the relation of the advanced strata of the proletariat to the less advanced, and the significance of Social-Democratic work among these two sections.

The history of the working-class movement in all countries shows that the better-situated strata of the working class respond to the ideas of socialism, more rapidly and more easily. From among these come, in the main, the advanced workers that every working-class movement brings to the fore, those who can win the confidence of the labouring masses, who devote themselves entirely to the education and organisation of the proletariat, who accept socialism consciously, and who even elaborate independent socialist theories. Every viable working-class movement has brought to the fore such working-class leaders, its own Proudhons, Vaillants, Weitlings, and Bebels. And our Russian working-class movement promises not to lag behind the European movement in this respect. At a time when educated society is losing interest in honest, illegal literature, an impassioned desire for knowledge and for socialism is growing among the workers, real heroes are coming to the fore from amongst the workers, who, despite their wretched living conditions, despite the stultifying penal   servitude of factory labour, possess so much character and will-power that they study, study, study, and turn them selves into conscious Social-Democrats—“the working-class intelligentsia.” This “working-class intelligentsia” already exists in Russia, and we must make every effort to ensure that its ranks are regularly reinforced, that its lofty mental requirements are met and that leaders of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party come from its ranks. The newspaper that wants to become the organ of all Russian Social-Democrats must, therefore, be at the level of the advanced workers; not only must it not lower its level artificially, but, on the contrary, it must raise it constantly, it must follow up all the tactical, political, and theoretical problems of world Social-Democracy. Only then will the demands of the working-class intelligentsia be met, and it itself will take the cause of the Russian workers and, consequently, the cause of the Russian revolution, into its own hands.

After the numerically small stratum of advanced workers comes the broad stratum of average workers. These workers, too, strive ardently for socialism, participate in workers’ study circles, read socialist newspapers and books, participate in agitation, and differ from the preceding stratum only in that they cannot become fully independent leaders of the Social-Democratic working-class movement. The average worker will not understand some of the articles in a newspaper that aims to be the organ of the Party, he will not be able to get a full grasp of an intricate theoretical or practical problem. This does not at all mean that the newspaper must lower itself to the level of the mass of its readers. The newspaper, on the contrary, must raise their level and help promote advanced workers from the middle stratum of workers. Such workers, absorbed by local practical work and interested mainly in the events of the working-class movement and the immediate problems of agitation, should connect their every act with thoughts of the entire Russian working-class movement, its historical task, and the ultimate goal of socialism, so that the newspaper, the mass of whose readers are average workers, must connect socialism and the political struggle with every local and narrow question.

Lastly, behind the stratum of average workers comes the mass that constitutes the lower strata of the proletariat. It is quite possible that a socialist newspaper will be completely or well-nigh incomprehensible to them (even in Western Europe the number of Social-Democratic voters is much larger than the number of readers of Social-Democratic newspapers), but it would be absurd to conclude from this that the newspaper of the Social-Democrats should adapt itself to the lowest possible level of the workers. The only thing that follows from this is that different forms of agitation and propaganda must be brought to bear on these strata—pamphlets written in more popular language, oral agitation, and chiefly—leaflets on local events. The Social-Democrats should not confine themselves even to this; it is quite possible that the first steps towards arousing the consciousness of the lower strata of the workers will have to take the form of legal educational activities. It is very important for the Party to make use of this activity, guide it in the direction in which it is most needed, send out legal workers to plough up virgin fields that can later be planted by Social-Democratic agitators. Agitation among the lower strata of the workers should, of course, provide the widest field for the personal qualities of the agitator and the peculiarities of the locality, the trade concerned, etc. “Tactics and agitation must not be confused,” says Kautsky in his book against Bernstein. “Agitational methods must be adapted to individual and local conditions. Every agitator must be allowed to select those methods of agitation that he has at his disposal. One agitator may create the greatest impression by his enthusiasm, another by his biting sarcasm, a third by his ability to adduce a large number of instances, etc. While being adapted to the agitator, agitation must also be adapted to the public. The agitator must speak so that he will be understood; he must take as a starting-point something well known to his listeners. All this is self-evident and is not merely applicable to agitation conducted among the peasantry. One has to talk to cabmen differently than to sailors, and to sailors differently than to printers. Agitation must be individualised, but our tactics, our political activity must be uniform” (S. 2-3). These words from a leading representative of   Social-Democratic theory contain a superb assessment of agitation as part of the general activity of the party. These words show how unfounded are the fears of those who think that the formation of a revolutionary party conducting a political struggle will interfere with agitation, will push it into the background and curtail the freedom of the agitators. On the contrary, only an organised party can carry out widespread agitation, provide the necessary guidance (and material) for agitators on all economic and political questions, make use of every local agitational success for the instruction of all Russian workers, and send agitators to those places and into that milieu where they can work with the greatest success. It is only in an organised party that people possessing the capacities for work as agitators will be able to dedicate themselves wholly to this task—to the advantage both of agitation and of the other aspects of Social-Democratic work. From this it can be seen that whoever forgets political agitation and propaganda on account of the economic struggle, whoever forgets the necessity of organising the working-class movement into the struggle of a political party, will, aside from everything else, deprive himself of even an opportunity of successfully and steadily attracting the lower strata of the proletariat to the working-class cause.

However, such an exaggeration of one side of our activities to the detriment of the others, even the urge to throw overboard the other aspects, is fraught with still graver consequences for the Russian working-class movement. The lower strata of the proletariat may even become demoralised by such calumnies as that the founders of Russian Social-Democracy only want to use the workers to overthrow the autocracy, by invitations to confine themselves to the restoration of holidays and to craft unions, with no concern for the final aims of socialism and the immediate tasks of the political struggle. Such workers may (and will) always be ensnared by the bait of any sops offered by the government or the bourgeoisie. The lower strata of the proletariat, the very undeveloped workers, might, under the influence of the preaching of Rabochaya Mysl, fall victim to the bourgeois and profoundly reactionary idea that the worker cannot and should not interest himself in anything but increased   wages and the restoration of holidays (“the interests of the moment”); that the working people can and should conduct the workers’ struggle by their own efforts alone, by their own “private initiative,” and not attempt to combine it with socialism; that they should not strive to turn the working-class movement into the essential, advanced cause of all mankind. We repeat, the most undeveloped workers might be demoralised by such an idea, but we are confident that the advanced Russian workers, those who guide the workers’ study circles and all Social-Democratic activity, those who today fill our prisons and places of exile—from Archangel Gubernia to Eastern Siberia—that those workers will reject such a theory with indignation. To reduce the entire movement to the interests of the moment means to speculate on the backward condition of the workers, means to cater to their worst inclinations. It means artificially to break the link between the working-class movement and socialism, between the fully defined political strivings of the advanced workers and the spontaneous manifestations of protest on the part of the masses. Hence, the attempt of Rabochaya Mysl to introduce a special trend merits particular attention and calls for a vigorous protest. As long as Rabochaya Mysl, adapting itself, apparently, to the lower strata of the proletariat, assiduously avoided the question of the ultimate goal of socialism and the political struggle, with no declaration of its special trend, many Social-Democrats only shook their heads, hoping that with the development and extension of their work the members of the Rabochaya Mysl group would come to rid themselves of their narrowness. However, when people who, until now, have performed the useful work of a preparatory class clutch at fashionable opportunist theories and begin to deafen the ears of Europe with announcements about intending to put the whole of Russian Social-Democracy into the preparatory class for many years (if not for ever), when, in other words, people who have, until now, been labouring usefully over a barrel of honey begin “in full view of the public” to pour ladles of tar into it, then it is time for us to set ourselves decisively against this retrograde trend!

Russian Social-Democracy, both through its founders, the members of the Emancipation of Labour group, and   through the Russian Social-Democratic organisations that founded the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, has always recognised the following two principles: 1) The essence of Social-Democracy is the organisation of the class struggle of the proletariat for the purpose of winning political power, of transferring all means of production to society as a whole, and of replacing capitalist by socialist economy; 2) the task of Russian Social-Democracy is to organise the Russian revolutionary working-class party which has as its immediate aim the overthrow of the autocracy and the winning of political liberty. Whoever departs from these basic principles (formulated precisely in the programme of the Emancipation of Labour group and expressed in the Manifesto of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party) departs from Social-Democracy.


[1] The fusion of Russian socialism with the Russian working-class movement has been analysed historically in a pamphlet by one of our comrades, The Red Flag in Russia. A Brief History of the Russian Working-Class Movement. The pamphlet will shortly be off the press.[8]Lenin

[2] A central representative assembly.—Ed.

[3] The League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, organised by Lenin in the autumn of 1895, united about twenty Marxist workers’ circles in St. Petersburg. The work of the League was based on the principles of centralism and strict discipline. The League was headed by a central group consisting of V. I. Lenin, A. A. Vaneyev, P. K. Zaporozhets, 0. M. Krzhizhanovsky, N. K. Krupskaya, L. Martov (Y. 0. Zederbaum), M. A. Silvin, V. V. Starkov, and others. The entire work of the League, however, was under the direct leadership of five members of the group headed by Lenin. The League was divided into several district organisations. Such leading class-conscious workers as I. V. Babushkin and V. A. Shelgunov connected the groups with the factories where there were organisers in charge of gathering information and distributing literature. Workers’ circles were established in the big factories.

For the first time in Russia the League set about introducing socialism into the working-class movement, effecting a transition from the propagation of Marxism among small numbers of advanced workers attending circles to political agitation among broad masses of the proletariat. It directed the working-class movement and connected the workers’ struggle for economic demands with the political struggle against tsarism. It organised a strike in November 1895 at the Thornton Woollen Mill. In the summer of 1896 the famous St. Petersburg textile workers’ strike, involving over 30,000 workers, took place under the leadership of the League. The League issued leaflets and pamphlets for the workers and prepared the ground for the issuance of the newspaper Rabocheye Dyelo. Its publications were edited by Lenin.

The League’s influence spread far beyond St. Petersburg, and workers’ circles in Moscow, Kiev, Ekaterinoslav, and other cities, and other parts of Russia followed its example and united to form Leagues of Struggle.

Late in the night of December 8 (20), 1895, the tsarist government dealt the League a severe blow by arresting a large number of its leading members, including Lenin. An issue of Rabocheye Dyelo ready for the press was seized. The League replied to the arrest of Lenin and the other members by issuing a leaflet containing political demands in which reference was made, for the first time, to the existence of the League of Struggle.

While in prison, Lenin continued to guide the League, helped it with his advice, smuggled coded letters and leaflets out of prison, and wrote the pamphlet, On Strikes (the original of which has   not yet been found), and the “Draft and Explanation of a Programme of the Social-Democratic Party.”

The League was significant, as Lenin put it, because it was the first real beginning of a revolutionary party based on the working-class movement to guide the class struggle of the proletariat.

[4] The Kiev League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class was formed in March 1897, under the influence of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle, by a resolution adopted at the Kiev conference which proposed that all Russian Social-Democratic organisations call themselves Leagues of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, following the example of the St. Petersburg Social-Democratic organisation. The League united Russian and Polish Social-Democratic groups and a group of the Polish Socialist Party, altogether more than 30 members. The Kiev League of Struggle maintained connections with the St. Petersburg League (through personal contacts and through acquaintance with the St. Petersburg proclamations and Lenin’s writings on programmatic questions; Lenin’s “Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats” was sent to Kiev in manuscript and was known to the leaders of Kiev Social-Democratic organisations).

The activities of the Kiev League of Struggle began with the May Day proclamation of 1897 which was widely distributed in the southern cities of Russia. ’In that year the Kiev League distributed 6,500 copies of proclamations at more than 25 Kiev factories. That same year a special group of the League published two issues of Rabochaya Gazeta as an all-Russian Social-Democratic newspaper. The First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P., in March 1898, adopted Rabochaya Gazeta as the Party’s official organ. The League’s illegal literature was distributed mainly in the South-Russian towns. In addition to its agitational work the League carried on propaganda in workers’ circles and at factory meetings.

The Kiev League of Struggle carried on active preparations for the convening of the First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. Shortly after the Congress the League was suppressed by the police (the Rabochaya Gazeta printing-press that had been transferred from Kiev to Ekaterinoslav and a large quantity of illegal literature was seized). Arrests were carried out in Kiev and in many big Russian cities.

The Kiev League of Struggle played an important role in the development and organisation of the working class in Russia for the formation of a Marxist revolutionary party. The members of the Social-Democratic groups that remained at liberty soon re established the underground organisation which took the name of the Kiev Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.

[5] The General Jewish Workers’ Union of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia (The Bund) was formed by a founding congress of Jewish Social-Democratic groups held in Vilno in 1897; it was an association mainly of semi-proletarian Jewish artisans in the Western   regions of Russia. The Bund joined the R.S.D.L.P. at the First Congress (1898) “as an autonomous organisation, independent only as far as questions affecting the Jewish proletariat are concerned ."

The Bund brought nationalism and separatism into the working-class movement of Russia. After the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. rejected its demand that it be recognised as the only representative of the Jewish proletariat, the Bund left the Party. In 1906 the Bund again entered the R.S.D.L.P. on the basis of a resolution of the Fourth (Unity) Congress.

Within the R.S.D.L.P. the Bundists persistently supported the opportunist wing of the Party (the “economists,” the Mensheviks, the liquidators) and struggled against the Bolsheviks and Bolshevism. The Bund countered the Bolsheviks’ programmatic demand for the right of nations to self-determination by a demand for cultural-national autonomy. During the period of the Stolypin reaction, it adopted a liquidationist position and was active in forming the August anti-Party bloc. During the First World War (1914-18) it adopted the position of the social-chauvinists. In 1917 it supported the counter-revolutionary Provisional Government and fought on the side of the enemies of the Great October Socialist Revolution. In the years of foreign military intervention and civil war the Bund leadership joined forces with the counter revolution. At the same time, a change was taking place among the rank and file of the Bund in favour of collaboration with Soviet power. In 1921 the Bund decided to dissolve itself and part of its membership entered the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) on the basis of the rules of admission.

[8] The pamphlet referred to is L. Martov’s Red Flag in Russia, published abroad in October 1900.

[6] Sotsial-Demokrat (The Social-Democrat)—a literary and political review, published by the Emancipation of Labour group in London and Geneva between 1890 and 1892. Four issues appeared. Sotsial-Demokrat played an important part in spreading Marxist ideas in Russia. G. V. Plekhanov, P. B. Axelrod, and V. I. Zasulich were the chief figures associated with its publication.

[7] Balalaikin—a character from M. Y. Saltykov-Shchedrin’s Modern Idyll; a liberal windbag, adventurer, and liar.

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