V. I.   Lenin

A Reply to the St. Petersburg Committee

Published: Iskra, No. 9, October 1901,. Published according to the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961, Moscow, Volume 5, pages 239-240.
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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Rabochaya Mysl, the organ of the St. Petersburg Committee (League of Struggle[1]), in its issue No. 12, published an article replying to a note in the first issue of Iskra on the split in the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad. Unfortunately, the reply assiduously evades the very essence of the controversy; such methods of discussion will never make the case clear. We have maintained and continue to maintain that a split has taken place in the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad, that the Union broke up into two sections after the withdrawal from the conference in 1900 of a substantial minority, including the Emancipation of Labour group,[2] which had established the Union and formerly edited all its publications. Now that the split has occurred, neither of the two sections can occupy the place formerly occupied by the old Union as a whole. The St. Petersburg Committee does not attempt to refute this opinion when (for some unknown reason) it speaks only of Plekhanov and not of the Sotsial-Demokrat organisation and when it lets its readers know only indirectly that the St. Petersburg League of Struggle apparently denies the fact of the split and continues to regard one of the sections of the late Union Abroad as the whole Union.

To what end engage in a polemic if there is no desire to examine the essence of the opponent’s opinion and frankly to express one’s own?

To continue. We have maintained and hold to our view that the principal cause (not pretext, but cause) of the split was a difference of opinion on principles, namely, a difference between revolutionary and opportunist Social Democracy. For this reason alone, what has happened in   the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad cannot be regarded as anything but a split in the old Union Abroad. The question arises—how does the St. Petersburg Committee regard the matter? Will it dare to deny the existence of profound differences in principle between the two sections of the late Union Abroad? We do not know, because the St. Petersburg Committee contrived to write a “reply” which does not contain a single word about the main question. We again ask the St. Petersburg comrades—and not only the St. Petersburg comrades—does not a polemic that evades the heart of the matter threaten to degenerate into an unpleasant wrangle? Is it, in fact, worth while engaging in a polemic if there is no desire to examine the essentials of the question and to express one’s opinion definitely and without reservations, or if it is regarded as premature to do so?


[1] The committee here referred to is the St. Petersburg Committee of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, which functioned in the period following the arrest of Lenin and the majority of the League leaders in December 1895; the leadership of the League fell into the hands of the “young” Social-Democrats, who supported the ’Economist” position.

The League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, founded by Lenin in the autumn of 1895, united all the Marxist workers’ study circles in St. Petersburg. It was headed by a Central Group (S. I. Radchenko, A. A. Vaneyev, A. A. Yakubova, N. K. Krupskaya, G. M. Krzhizhanovsky, V. V. Starkov, and others) under Lenin’s direction.

The League of Struggle headed by Lenin led the revolutionary working-class movement, linking the workers’ struggle in support of economic demands with the political struggle against tsarism. It was the first organisation in Russia to combine socialism with the working-class movement and to go over from the propaganda of Marxism among a restricted range of advanced workers to political agitation among the working-class masses on an extended scale. The League issued leaflets and pamphlets for the workers and directed their strike struggles. It was the embryo of the revolutionary working-class Marxist Party. The influence of the League was felt far beyond St. Petersburg, and similar Leagues of Struggle, pat terned upon it, were formed in other cities.

[2] The Emancipation of Labour group was the first Russian Marxist group. It was founded in Geneva by G. V. Plekhanov in 1883; the group included P. B. Axelrod, L. G. Deutsch, V. I. Zasulich, and V. N. Ignatov.

The group did much to spread Marxism in Russia. It translated such Marxist works as the Manifesto of the Communist Party by Marx and Engels; Wage-Labour and Capital by Marx; Socialism:   Utopian and Scientific by Engels; it published them abroad and organised their distribution in Russia. Plekhanov and his group dealt a serious blow at Narodism. In 1883 Plekhanov drafted a programme for the Russian Social-Democrats and in 1885 drew up another. The two drafts were published by the Emancipation of Labour group and marked an important step towards the establish ment of a Social-Democratic Party in Russia. Plekhanov’s Social ism and the Political Struggle (1883), Our Differences (1885), and The Development of the Monist View of History (1895) played an important role in disseminating Marxist views. The group, how ever, made some serious mistakes; it clung to remnants of Narodnik views, overestimated the role of the liberal bourgeoisie, while underestimating the revolutionary capacity of the peasantry. These errors were the first projections of the future Menshevik views held by Plekhanov and other members of the group. The group had no practical ties with the working-class movement. Lenin pointed out that the Emancipation of Labour group “only theoretically founded the Social-Democracy and took the first step in the direction of the working-class movement” (see present edition, Vol. 20, “The Ideological Struggle in the Working-Class Movement”). At the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P., in August 1903, the Emancipation of Labour group announced its dissolution.

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