Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

What Is To Be Done?



The Spontaneity of the Masses and the
Consciousness of the Social-Democrats

We have said that our movement, much more extensive and deep than the movement of the seventies, must be inspired with the same devoted determination and energy that inspired the movement at that time. Indeed, no one, we think, has until now doubted that the strength of the present-day movement lies in the awakening of the masses (principally, the industrial proletariat) and that its weakness lies in the lack of consciousness and initiative among the revolutionary leaders.

However, of late a staggering discovery has been made, which threatens to disestablish all hitherto prevailing views on this question. This discovery was made by Rabocheye Dyelo, which in its polemic with Iskra and Zarya did not confine itself to making objections on separate points, but tried to ascribe “general disagreements” to a more profound cause — to the “different appraisals of the relative importance of the spontaneous and consciously ‘methodical’ element”. Rabocheye Dyelo formulated its indictment as a “belittling of the significance of the objective or the spontaneous element of development”.[1] To this we say: Had the polemics with Iskra and Zarya resulted in nothing more than causing Rabocheye Dyelo to hit upon these “general disagreements”, that alone would give us considerable satisfaction, so significant is this thesis and so clear is the light it sheds on the quintessence of the present-day theoretical and political differences that exist among Russian Social-Democrats.

For this reason the question of the relation between consciousness and spontaneity is of such enormous general interest, and for this reason the question must be dealt with in great detail.

A. The Beginning of the Spontaneous Upsurge

In the previous chapter we pointed out how universally absorbed the educated youth of Russia was in the theories of Marxism in the middle of the nineties. In the same period the strikes that followed the famous St. Petersburg industrial war of 1896 assumed a similar general character. Their spread over the whole of Russia clearly showed the depth of the newly awakening popular movement, and if we are to speak of the “spontaneous element” then, of course, it is this strike movement which, first and foremost, must be regarded as spontaneous. But there is spontaneity and spontaneity. Strikes occurred in Russia in the seventies and sixties (and even in the first half of the nineteenth century), and they were accompanied by the “spontaneous” destruction of machinery, etc. Compared with these “revolts”, the strikes of the nineties might even be described as “conscious”, to such an extent do they mark the progress which the working-class movement made in that period. This shows that the “spontaneous element”, in essence, represents nothing more nor less than. consciousness in an embryonic form. Even the primitive revolts expressed the awakening of consciousness to a certain extent. The workers were losing their age-long faith in the permanence of the system which oppressed them and began... I shall not say to understand, but to sense the necessity for collective resistance, definitely abandoning their slavish submission to the authorities. But this was, nevertheless, more in the nature of outbursts of desperation and vengeance than of struggle. The strikes of the nineties revealed far greater flashes of consciousness; definite demands were advanced, the strike was carefully timed, known cases and instances in other places were discussed, etc. The revolts were simply the resistance of the oppressed, whereas the systematic strikes represented the class struggle in embryo, but only in embryo. Taken by themselves, these strikes were simply trade union struggles, not yet Social Democratic struggles. They marked the awakening antagonisms between workers and employers; but the workers, were not, and could not be, conscious of the irreconcilable antagonism of their interests to the whole of the modern political and social system, i.e., theirs was not yet Social-Democratic consciousness. In this sense, the strikes of the nineties, despite the enormous progress they represented as compared with the “revolts”, remained a purely spontaneous movement.

We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.[2] The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. By their social status the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia. In the very same way, in Russia, the theoretical doctrine of Social-Democracy arose altogether independently of the spontaneous growth of the working-class movement; it arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of thought among the revolutionary socialist intelligentsia. In the period under discussion, the middle nineties, this doctrine not only represented the completely formulated programme of the Emancipation of Labour group, but had already won over to its side the majority of the revolutionary youth in Russia.

Hence, we had both the spontaneous awakening of the working masses, their awakening to conscious life and conscious struggle, and a revolutionary youth, armed with Social-Democratic theory and straining towards the workers. In this connection it is particularly important to state the oft-forgotten (and comparatively little-known) fact that, although the early Social-Democrats of that period zealously carried on economic agitation (being guided in this activity by the truly useful indications contained in the pamphlet On Agitation,[27] then still in manuscript), they did not regard this as their sole task. On the contrary, from the very beginning they set for Russian Social-Democracy the most far-reaching historical tasks, in general, and the task of overthrowing the autocracy, in particular. Thus, towards the end of 1895, the St. Petersburg group of Social-Democrats, which founded the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, prepared the first issue of a newspaper called Rabocheye Dyelo. This issue was ready to go to press when it was seized by the gendarmes, on the night of December 8, 1895, in a raid on the house of one of the members of the group, Anatoly Alexeyevich Vaneyey,[3] so that the first edition of Rabocheye Dyelo was not destined to see the light of day. The leading article in this issue (which perhaps thirty years hence some Russkaya Starina[28] will unearth in the archives of the Department of Police) outlined the historical tasks of the working class in Russia and placed the achievement of political liberty at their head. The issue also contained an article entitled “What Are Our Ministers Thinking About?”[4] which dealt with the crushing of the elementary education committees by the police. In addition, there was some correspondence from St. Petersburg, and from other parts of Russia (e.g., a letter on the massacre of the workers in Yaroslavl Gubernia). This, “first effort”, if we are not mistaken, of the Russian Social-Democrats of the nineties was not a purely local, or less still, “Economic”, newspaper, but one that aimed to unite the strike movement with the revolutionary movement against the autocracy, and to win over to the side of Social-Democracy all who were oppressed by the policy of reactionary obscurantism. No one in the slightest degree acquainted with the state of the movement at that period could doubt that such a paper would have met with warm response among the workers of the capital and the revolutionary intelligentsia and would have had a wide circulation. The failure of the enterprise merely showed that the Social-Democrats of that period were unable to meet the immediate requirements of the time owing to their lack of revolutionary experience and practical training. This must be said, too, with regard to the S. Peterburgsky Rabochy Listok[29] and particularly with regard to Rabochaya Gazeta and the Manifesto of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, founded in the spring of 1898. Of course, we would not dream of blaming the Social Democrats of that time for this unpreparedness. But in order to profit from the experience of that movement, and to draw practical lessons from it, we must thoroughly understand the causes and significance of this or that shortcoming. It is therefore highly important to establish the fact that a part (perhaps even a majority) of the Social-Democrats, active in the period of 1895-98, justly considered it possible even then, at the very beginning of the “spontaneous” movement, to come forward with a most extensive programme and a militant tactical line.[5] Lack of training of the majority of the revolutionaries, an entirely natural phenomenon, could not have roused any particular fears. Once the tasks were correctly defined, once the energy existed for repeated attempts to fulfil them, temporary failures represented only part misfortune. Revolutionary experience and organisational skill are things that can be acquired, provided the desire is there to acquire them, provided the shortcomings are recognised, which in revolutionary activity is more than half-way towards their removal.

But what was only part misfortune became full misfortune when this consciousness began to grow dim (it was very much alive among the members of the groups mentioned), when there appeared people—and even Social -Democratic organs—that were prepared to regard shortcomings as virtues, that even tried to invent a theoretical basis for their slavish cringing before spontaneity. It is time to draw conclusions from this trend, the content of which is incorrectly and too narrowly characterised as Economism.

B. Bowing to Spontaneity. Rabochaya Mysl

Before dealing with the literary manifestation of this subservience to spontaneity, we should like to note the following characteristic fact (communicated to us from the above-mentioned source), which throws light on the conditions in which the two future conflicting trends in Russian Social-Democracy arose and grew among the comrades working in St. Petersburg. In the beginning of 1897, just prior to their banishment, A. A. Vaneyev and several of his comrades attended a private meeting[30] at which “old” and “young” members of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class gathered. The conversation centred chiefly about the question of organisation, particularly about the “rules for the workers’ mutual benefit fund”, which, in their final form, were published in “Listok” Rabotnika,[31] No. 9-10, p. 46. Sharp differences immediately showed themselves between the “old” members (“Decembrists”, as the St. Petersburg Social Democrats jestingly called them) and several the “young” members (who subsequently took an active part in the work of Rabochaya Mysl), with a heated discussion ensuing. The “young” members defended the main principles of the rules in the form in which they were published. The “old” members contended that the prime necessity was not this, but the consolidation of the League of Struggle into an organisation of revolutionaries to which all the various workers’ mutual benefit funds, students’ propaganda circles, etc., should be subordinated. It goes without saying that the disputing sides far from realised at the time that these disagreements were the beginning of a cleavage; on the contrary, they regarded them as something isolated and casual. But this fact shows that in Russia, too, Economism did not arise and spread without a struggle against the “old” Social-Democrats (which the Economists of today are apt to forget). And if, in the main, this struggle has not left “documentary” traces behind it, it is solely because the membership of the circles then functioning underwent such constant change that no continuity was established and, consequently, differences in point of view were not recorded in any documents.

The founding of Rabochaya Mysl brought Economism to the light of day, but not at one stroke. We must picture to ourselves concretely the conditions for activity and the short-lived character of the majority of the Russian study circles (a thing that is possible only for those who have themselves experienced it) in order to understand how much there was of the fortuitous in the successes and failures of the new trend in various towns, and the length of time during which neither the advocates nor the opponents of the “new” could make up their minds — and literally had no opportunity of so doing — as to whether this really expressed a distinct trend or merely the lack of training of certain individuals. For example, the first mimeographed copies of Rabochaya Mysl never reached the great majority of Social-Democrats, and if we are able to refer to the leading article in the first number, it is only because it was reproduced in an article by V. I.[32] (“Listok” Rabotnika, No. 9-10, p. 47, et seq.), who, of course, did not fail to extol with more zeal than reason the new paper, which was so different from the papers and projects for papers mentioned above.[6] It is well worth dwelling on this leading article because it brings out in bold relief the entire spirit of Rabochaya Mysl and Economism generally.

After stating that the arm of the “blue-coats”[7] could never halt the progress of the working-class movement, the leading article goes on to say: “. . . The virility of the working-class movement is due to the fact that the workers themselves are at last taking their fate into their own hands, and out of the hands of the leaders”; this fundamental thesis is then developed in greater detail. Actually, the leaders (i.e., the Social-Democrats, the organisers of the League of Struggle) were, one might say, torn out of the hands of the workers[8] by the police; yet it is made to appear that the workers were fighting against the leaders and liberated themselves from their yoke! Instead of sounding the call to go forward towards the consolidation of the revolutionary organisation and the expansion of political activity, the call was issued for a retreat to the purely trade union struggle. It was announced that “the economic basis of the movement is eclipsed by the effort never to forget the political ideal”, and that the watchword for the working-class movement was “Struggle for economic conditions” (!) or, better still, “The workers for the workers”. It was declared that strike funds “are more valuable to the movement than a hundred other Organisations” (compare this statement made in October 1897, with the polemic between the “Decembrists” and the young members in the beginning of 1897), etc. Catchwords like “We must concentrate, not on the ’cream’ of the workers, but on the ’average’, mass worker”; “Politics always obediently follows economics”,[9] etc., etc., became the fashion, exercising an irresistible influence upon the masses of the youth who were attracted to the movement but who, in the majority of cases, were acquainted only with such fragments of Marxism as were expounded in legally appearing publications.

Political consciousness was completely overwhelmed by spontaneity — the spontaneity of the “Social-Democrats” who repeated Mr. V. V.’s “ideas”, the spontaneity of those workers who were carried away by the arguments that a kopek added to a ruble was worth more than any socialism or politics, and that they must “fight, knowing that they are fighting, not for the sake of some future generation, but for themselves and their children” (leader in Rabochaya Mysl, No. 1). Phrases like these have always been a favourite weapon of the West-European bourgeois, who, in their hatred for socialism, strove (like the German “Sozial-Politiker” Hirsch) to transplant English trade-unionism to their native soil and to preach to the workers that by engaging in the purely trade union struggle[10] they would be fighting for themselves and for their children, and not for some future generations with some future socialism. And now the “V. V.s of Russian Social-Democracy” have set about repeating these bourgeois phrases. It is important at this point to note three circumstances that will be useful to our further analysis of contemporary differences.[11] [11] We emphasise the word contemporary for the benefit of those who may pharisaically shrug their shoulders and say: It is easy enough to attack Rabochaya Mysl now, but is not all this ancient history? Mutato nomine de te fabula narratur (change the name and the tale is about you—Ed.) is our answer to such contemporary Pharisees, whose complete subjection to the ideas of Rabochaya Mysl will be proved further on. —Lenin

In the first place, the overwhelming of political consciousness by spontaneity, to which we referred above, also took place spontaneously. This may sound like a pun, but, alas, it is the bitter truth. It did not take place as a result of an open struggle between two diametrically opposed points of view, in which one triumphed over the other; it occurred because of the fact that an increasing number of “old” revolutionaries were “torn away” by the gendarmes and increasing numbers of “young” “V. V.s of Russian Social Democracy” appeared on the scene. Everyone, who has, I shall not say participated in, but at least breathed the atmosphere of, the present-day Russian movement, knows perfectly well that this is precisely the case. And if, nevertheless, we insist strongly that the reader be fully clear on this generally known fact, if we cite, for explicitness, as it were, the facts of the first edition of Rabocheye Dyelo and of the polemic between the “old” and the “young” at the beginning of 1897, we do this because the people who vaunt their “democracy” speculate on the ignorance of these facts on the part of the broad public (or of the very young generation). We shall return to this point further on.

Secondly, in the very first literary expression of Economism we observe the exceedingly curious phenomenon — highly characteristic for an understanding of all the differences prevailing among presentday Social Democrats — that the adherents of the “labour movement pure and simple”, worshippers of the closest “organic” contacts (Rabocheye Dyelo’s term) with the proletarian struggle, opponents of any non-worker intelligentsia (even a socialist intelligentsia), are compelled, in order to defend their positions, to resort to the arguments of the bourgeois “pure trade-unionists”. This shows that from the very outset Rabochaya Mysl began — unconsciously — to implement the programme of the Credo. This shows (something Rabocheye Dyelo cannot grasp) that all worship of the spontaneity of the working class movement, all belittling of the role of “the conscious element”, of the role of Social-Democracy, means, quite independently of whether he who belittles that role desires it or not, a strengthening of the influence of bourgeois ideology upon the workers. All those who talk about “overrating the importance of ideology”,[12] about exaggerating the role of the conscious element,[13] etc., imagine that the labour movement pure and simple can elaborate, and will elaborate, an independent ideology for itself, if only the workers “wrest their fate from the hands of the leaders”. But this is a profound mistake. To supplement what has been said above, we shall quote the following profoundly true and important words of Karl. Kautsky on the new draft programme of the Austrian Social-Democratic Party:[14]

“Many of our revisionist critics believe that Marx asserted that economic development and the class struggle create, not only the conditions for socialist production, but also, and directly, the consciousness [K. K.’s italics] of its necessity. And these critics assert that England, the country most highly developed capitalistically, is more remote than any other from this consciousness Judging by the draft, one might assume that this allegedly orthodox Marxist view, which is thus refuted, was shared by the committee that drafted the Austrian programme. In the draft programme it is stated: ‘The more capitalist development increases the numbers of the proletariat, the more the proletariat is compelled and becomes fit to fight against capitalism. The proletariat becomes conscious of the possibility and of the necessity for socialism.’ In this connection socialist consciousness appears to be a necessary and direct result of the proletarian class struggle. But this is absolutely untrue. Of course, socialism, as a doctrine, has its roots in modern economic relationships just as the class struggle of the proletariat has, and, like the latter, emerges from the struggle against the capitalist-created poverty and misery of the masses. But socialism and the class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other; each arises under different conditions. Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. Indeed, modern economic science is as much a condition for socialist production as, say, modern technology, and the proletariat can create neither the one nor the other, no matter how much it may desire to do so; both arise out of the modern social process. The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia [K. K.’s italics]: it was in the minds of individual members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduce it into the proletarian class struggle where conditions allow that to be done. Thus, socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without [von Aussen Hineingetragenes] and not something that arose within it spontaneously [urwüchsig]. Accordingly, the old Hainfeld programme quite rightly stated that the task of Social-Democracy is to imbue the proletariat (literally: saturate the proletariat) with the consciousness of its position and the consciousness of its task. There would be no need for this if consciousness arose of itself from the class struggle. The new draft copied this proposition from the old programme, and attached it to the proposition mentioned above. But this completely broke the line of thought...”

Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement,[15] [15] This does not mean, of course, that the workers have no part in creating such an ideology. They take part, however, not as workers, but as socialist theoreticians, as Proudhons and Weitlings; in other words, they take part only when they are able, and to the extent that they are able, more or less, to acquire the knowledge of their age and develop that knowledge. But in order that working men may succeed in this more often, every effort must be made to raise the level of the consciousness of the workers in general; it is necessary that the workers do not confine themselves to the artificially restricted limits of “literature for workers” but that they learn to an increasing degree to master general literature. It would be even truer to say “are not confined”, instead of “do not confine themselves”, because the workers themselves wish to read and do read all that is written for the intelligentsia, and only a few (bad) intellectuals believe that it is enough “for workers” to be told a few things about factory conditions and to have repeated to them over and over again what has long been known. —Lenin the only choice is — either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a “third” ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or an above-class ideology). Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology, to its development along the lines of the Credo programme; for the spontaneous working-class movement is trade-unionism, is Nur-Gewerkschaftlerei, and trade unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social Democracy. The sentence employed by the authors of the Economist letter published in Iskra, No. 12, that the efforts of the most inspired ideologists fail to divert the working-class movement from the path that is determined by the interaction of the material elements and the material environment is therefore tantamount to renouncing socialism. If these authors were capable of fearlessly, consistently, and thoroughly considering what they say, as everyone who enters the arena of literary and public activity should be, there would be nothing left for them but to “fold their useless arms over their empty breasts” and surrender the field of action to the Struves and Prokopoviches, who are dragging the working-class movement “along the line of least resistance”, i.e., along the line of bourgeois trade-unionism, or to the Zubatovs, who are dragging it along the line of clerical and gendarme “ideology”.

Let us recall the example of Germany. What was the historic service Lassalle rendered to the German working-class movement? It was that he diverted that movement from the path of progressionist trade-unionism and co-operativism towards which it had been spontaneously moving (with the benign assistance of Schulze-Delitzsch and his like). To fulfil such a task it was necessary to do something quite different from talking of underrating the spontaneous element, of tactics-as-process, of the interaction between elements and environment, etc. A fierce struggle against spontaneity was necessary, and only after such a struggle, extending over many years, was it possible, for instance, to convert the working population of Berlin from a bulwark of the progressionist party into one of the finest strongholds of Social-Democracy. This struggle is by no means over even today (as might seem to those who learn the history of the German movement from Prokopovich, and its philosophy from Struve). Even now the German working class is, so to speak, split up among a number of ideologies. A section of the workers is organised in Catholic and monarchist trade unions; another section is organised in the Hirsch-Duncker[33] unions, founded by the bourgeois worshippers of English trade-unionism; the third is organised in Social-Democratic trade unions. The last-named group is immeasurably more numerous than the rest, but the Social-Democratic ideology was able to achieve this superiority, and will be able to maintain it, only in an unswerving struggle against all other ideologies.

But why, the reader will ask, does the spontaneous movement, the movement along the line of least resistance, lead to the domination of bourgeois ideology? For the simple reason that bourgeois ideology is far older in origin than socialist ideology, that it is more fully developed, and that it has at its disposal immeasurably more means of dissemination.[16] [16] It is often said that the working class spontaneously gravitates towards socialism. This is perfectly true in the sense that socialist theory reveals the causes of the misery of the working class more profoundly and more correctly than any other theory, and for that reason the workers are able to assimilate it so easily, provided, however, this theory does not itself yield to spontaneity, provided it subordinates spontaneity to itself. Usually this is taken for granted, but it is precisely this which Rabocheye Dyelo forgets or distorts. The working class spontaneously gravitates towards socialism; nevertheless, most widespread (and continuously and diversely revived) bourgeois ideology spontaneously imposes itself upon the working class to a still greater degree. —Lenin And the younger the socialist movement in any given country, the more vigorously it must struggle against all attempts to entrench non-socialist ideology, and the more resolutely the workers must be warned against the bad counsellors who shout against “overrating the conscious element”, etc. The authors of the Economist letter, in unison with Rabocheye Dyelo, inveigh against the intolerance that is characteristic of the infancy of the movement. To this we reply: Yes, our movement is indeed in its infancy, and in order that it may grow up faster, it must become imbued with intolerance against those who retard its growth by their subservience to spontaneity. Nothing is so ridiculous and harmful as pretending that we are “old hands” who have long ago experienced all the decisive stages of the struggle.

Thirdly, the first issue of Rabochaya Mysl shows that the term “Economism” (which, of course, we do not propose to abandon, since, in one way or another, this designation has already established itself) does not adequately convey the real character of the new trend. Rabochaya Mysl does not altogether repudiate the political struggle; the rules for a workers’ mutual benefit fund published in its first issue contain a reference to combating the government. Rabochaya Mysl believes, however, that “politics always obediently follows economics” (Rabocheye Dyelo varies this thesis when it asserts in its programme that “in Russia more than in any other country, the economic struggle is inseparable from the political struggle”). If by politics is meant Social-Democratic politics, then the theses of Rabochaya Mysl and Rabocheye Dyelo are utterly incorrect. The economic struggle of the workers is very often connected (although not inseparably) with bourgeois politics, clerical politics, etc., as we have seen. Rabocheye Dyelo’s theses are correct, if by politics is meant trade union politics, viz., the common striving of all workers to secure from the government measures for alleviating the distress to which their condition gives rise, but which do not abolish that condition, i.e., which do not remove the subjection of labour to capital. That striving indeed is common to the English trade-unionists, who are hostile to socialism, to the Catholic workers, to the “Zubatov” workers, etc. There is politics and politics. Thus, we see that Rabochaya Mysl does not so much deny the political struggle, as it bows to its spontaneity, to its unconsciousness. While fully recognising the political struggle (better: the political desires and demands of the workers), which arises spontaneously from the working-class movement itself, it absolutely refuses independently to work out a specifically Social-Democratic politics corresponding to the general tasks of socialism and to present-day conditions in Russia. Further on we shall show that Rabocheye Dyelo commits the same error.

C. The Self-Emancipation Group[34] and Rabocheye Dyelo

We have dealt at such length with the little-known and now almost forgotten leading article in the first issue of Rabochaya Mysl because it was the first and most striking expression of that general stream of thought which afterwards emerged into the light of day in innumerable streamlets. V. I. was perfectly right when, in praising the first issue and the leading article of Rabochaya Mysl, he said that the article had been written in a “sharp and fervent” manner (“Listok” Rabotnika, No. 9-10, p. 49). Every man with convictions who thinks he has something new to say writes “fervently” and in such a way as to make his views stand out in bold relief. Only those who are accustomed to sitting between two stools lack “fervour”; only such people are able to praise the fervour of Rabochaya Mysl one day and attack the “fervent polemics” of its opponents the next.

We shall not dwell on the “Separate Supplement” to Rabochaya Mysl (below we shall have occasion, on various points, to refer to this work, which expresses the ideas of the Economists more consistently than any other) but shall briefly mention the “Appeal of the Self-Emancipation of the Workers Group” (March 1899, reprinted in the London Nakanune,[35] No. 7, July 1899). The authors of the “Appeal” rightly say that “the workers of Russia are only just awakening, are just beginning to look about them, and are instinctively clutching at the first available means of struggle”. Yet they draw from this the same false conclusion as that drawn by Rabochaya Mysl, forgetting that the instinctive is the unconscious (the spontaneous) to the aid of which socialists must come; that the “first available means of struggle” will always be, in modern society, the trade union means of struggle, and the “first available” ideology the bourgeois (trade union) ideology. Similarly, these authors do not “repudiate” politics, they merely (merely!) echo Mr. V. V. that politics is the superstructure, and therefore, “political agitation must be the superstructure to the agitation carried on in favour of the economic struggle; it must arise on the basis of this struggle and follow in its wake”.

As for Rabocheye Dyelo, it began its activity with the “defence” of the Economists. It stated a downright untruth in its opening issue (No. 1, pp. 141-42) in claiming that it “does not know to which young comrades Axelrod referred” when he warned the Economists in his well-known pamphlet.[17] In the polemic that flared up with Axelrod and Plekhanov over this untruth, Rabocheye Dyelo had to admit that “in form of perplexity, it sought to defend all the younger Social-Democrats abroad from this unjust accusation” (the charge of narrowness levelled by Axelrod at the Economists). In reality this accusation was completely justified, and Rabocheye Dyelo knew perfectly well that, among others, it applied also to V. I., a member of its Editorial Board. Let me note in passing that in this polemic Axelrod was entirely right and Rabocheye Dyelo entirely wrong in their respective interpretations of my pamphlet The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats.[18] The pamphlet was written in 1897, before the appearance of Rabochaya Mysl, when I thought, rightly, that the original tendency of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle, which I characterised above, was dominant. And this tendency was dominant at least until the middle of 1898. Consequently, Rabocheye Dyelo had no right whatever, in its attempt to deny the existence and danger of Economism, to refer to a pamphlet that expressed views forced out by Economist views in St. Petersburg in 1897-98.[19]

But Rabocheye Dyelo not only “defended” the Economists, it itself constantly fell into their fundamental errors. The source of this confusion is to be found in the ambiguity of the interpretation given to the following thesis of the Rabocheye Dyelo programme: “We consider that the most important phenomenon of Russian life, the one that will mainly determine the tasks [our italics] and the character of the publication activity of the Union, is the mass working-class movement [Rabocheye Dyelo’s italics] which has arisen in recent years.” That the mass movement is a most important phenomenon is a fact not to be disputed. But the crux of the matter is, how is one to understand the statement that the mass working class movement will “determine the tasks”? It may be interpreted in one of two ways. Either it means bowing to the spontaneity of this movement, i.e., reducing the role of Social-Democracy to mere subservience to the working-class movement as such (the interpretation of Rabochaya Mysl, the Self-Emancipation Group, and other Economists), or it means that the mass movement places before us new theoretical, political, and organisational tasks, far more complicated than those that might have satisfied us in the period before the rise of the mass movement. Rabocheye Dyelo inclined and still inclines towards the first interpretation, for it has said nothing definite about any new tasks, but has argued constantly as though the “mass movement” relieves us of the necessity of clearly understanding and fulfilling the tasks it sets before us. We need only point out that Rabocheye Dyelo considered that it was impossible to set the overthrow of the autocracy as the first task of the mass working-class movement, and that it degraded this task (in the name of the mass movement) to that of a struggle for immediate political demands (Reply, p. 25).

We shall pass over the article by B. Krichevsky, editor of Rabocheye Dyelo, entitled “The Economic and the Political Struggle in the Russian Movement”, published in No. 7 of that paper, in which these very mistakes[20] are repeated, and proceed directly to Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10. We shall not, of course, enter in detail into the various objections raised by Krichevsky and Martynov against Zarya and Iskra. We are here interested solely in the basis of principles on which Rabocheye Dyelo, in its tenth issue, took its stand. Thus, we shall not examine the strange fact that Rabocheye Dyelo saw a “diametrical contradiction” between the proposition:

“Social-Democracy does not, tie its hands, it does not restrict its activities to some one preconceived plan or method of political struggle; it recognises all means of struggle as long as they correspond to the forces at-the disposal of the Party,” etc. (Iskra, No. 1)[21].

and the proposition:

“Without a strong organisation skilled in waging political struggle under all circumstances and at all times, there can be no question of that systematic plan of action, illumined by firm principles and steadfastly carried out, which alone is worthy of the name of tactics” (Iskra, No. 4).[22]

To confound recognition, in principle, of all means of struggle, of all plans and methods, provided they are expedient, with the demand at a given political moment to be guided by a strictly observed plan is tantamount, if we are to talk of tactics, to confounding the recognition by medical science of various methods of treating diseases with the necessity for adopting a certain definite method of treatment for a given disease. The point is, however, that Rabocheye Dyelo, itself the victim of a disease which we have called bowing to spontaneity, refuses to recognise any “method of treatment” for that disease. Hence, it has made the remarkable discovery that “tactics-as-plan contradicts the fundamental spirit of Marxism” (No. 10, p. 18), that tactics are “a process of growth of Party tasks, which grow together with the Party” (p. 11, Rabocheye Dyelo’s italics). This remark has every chance of becoming a celebrated maxim, a permanent monument to the Rabocheye Dyelo “trend”. To the question, whither? the leading organ replies: Movement is a process of changing the distance between the starting-point and subsequent points of the movement. This matchless example of profundity is not merely a curiosity (were it that, it would not be worth dealing with at length), but the programme of a whole trend, the very programme which R. M. (in the “Separate Supplement” to Rabochaya Mysl) expressed in the words: That struggle is desirable which is possible, and the struggle which is possible is that which is going on at the given moment. This is precisely the trend of unbounded opportunism, which passively adapts itself to spontaneity.

“Tactics-as-plan contradicts the essence of Marxism!” But this is a slander of Marxism; it means turning Marxism into the caricature held up by the Narodniks in their struggle against us. It means belittling the initiative and energy of class-conscious fighters, whereas Marxism, on the contrary, gives a gigantic impetus to the initiative and energy of the Social-Democrat, opens up for him the widest perspectives, and (if one may so express it) places at his disposal the mighty force of many millions of workers “spontaneously” rising for the struggle. The entire history of international Social-Democracy teems with plans advanced now by one, now by another political leader, some confirming the far-sightedness and the correct political and organisational views of their authors and others revealing their short-sightedness and their political errors. At the time when Germany was at one of the crucial turning-points in its history — the formation of the Empire, the opening of the Reichstag, and the granting of universal suffrage — Liebknecht had one plan for Social-Democratic politics and work in general, and Schweitzer had another. When the anti-socialist law came down on the heads of the German socialists, Most and Hasselmann had one plan — they were prepared then and there to call for violence and terror; Hochbert, Schramm, and (partly) Bernstein had another — they began to preach to the Social-Democrats that they themselves had provoked the enactment of the law by being unreasonably bitter and revolutionary, and must now earn forgiveness by their exemplary conduct. There was yet a third plan, proposed by those who prepared and carried out the publication of an illegal organ. It is easy, of course, with hindsight, many years after the struggle over the selection of the path to be followed, and after history has pronounced its verdict as to the expediency of the path selected, to utter profound maxims about the growth of Party tasks, which grow together with the Party. But at a time of confusion,[23] when the Russian “Critics” and Economists are degrading Social-Democracy to the level of trade-unionism, and when the terrorists are strongly advocating the adoption of “tactics-as-plan” that repeats the old mistakes, at such a time, to confine oneself to profundities of this kind, means simply to issue to oneself a “certificate of poverty”. At a time when many Russian Social-Democrats suffer from a lack of initiative and energy, from an inadequate “scope of political propaganda, agitation, and organisation,”[24] from a lack of “plans” for a broader organisation of revolutionary work, at such a time, to declare that “tactics-as-plan” contradicts the essence of Marxism means not only to vulgarise Marxism in the realm of theory, but to drag the Party backward in practice.

Rabocheye Dyelo goes on to sermonise:

“The task of the revolutionary Social-Democrat is only to accelerate objective development by his conscious work, not to obviate it or substitute his own subjective plans for this development. Iskra knows all this in theory; but the enormous importance which Marxism justly attaches to conscious revolutionary work causes it in practice, owing to its doctrinaire view of tactics, to belittle the significance of the objective or the spontaneous element of development” (p. 18).

Another example of the extraordinary theoretical confusion worthy of Mr. V. V. and his fraternity. We would ask our philosopher: how may a designer of subjective plans “belittle” objective development? Obviously by losing sight of the fact that this objective development creates or strengthens, destroys or weakens certain classes, strata, or groups, certain nations or groups of nations, etc., and in this way serves to determine a given international political alignment of forces, or the position adopted by revolutionary parties, etc. If the designer of plans did that, his guilt would not be that he belittled the spontaneous element, but, on the contrary, that he belittled the conscious element, for he would then show that he lacked the “consciousness” properly to understand objective development. Hence, the very talk of “estimating the relative significance” (Rabocheye Dyelo’s italics) of spontaneity and consciousness itself reveals a complete lack of “consciousness”. If certain “spontaneous elements of development” can be grasped at all by human understanding, then an incorrect estimation of them will be tantamount to “belittling the conscious element”. But if they cannot be grasped, then we do not know them, and therefore cannot speak of them. What then is Krichevsky discussing? If he thinks that Iskra’s “subjective plans” are erroneous (as he in fact declares them to be), he should have shown what objective facts they ignore, and only then charged Iskra with lacking political consciousness for ignoring them, with “belittling the conscious element”, to use his own words. If, however, displeased with subjective plans, he can bring forward no argument other than that of “belittling the spontaneous element” (!), he merely shows: (1) that, theoretically, he understands Marxism a la Kareyev and Mikhailovsky, who have been sufficiently ridiculed by Beltov;[36] and (2) that, practically, he is quite satisfied with the “spontaneous elements of development” that have drawn our legal Marxists towards Bernsteinism and our Social-Democrats towards Economism, and that he is “full of wrath” against those who have determined at all costs to divert Russian Social-Democracy from the path of “spontaneous” development.

Further, there follow things that are positively droll. “Just as human beings will reproduce in the old-fashioned way despite all the discoveries of natural science, so the birth of a new social order will come about, in the future too, mainly as a result of elemental outbursts, despite all the discoveries of social science and the increase in the number of conscious fighters” (p. 19). Just as our grandfathers in their old-fashioned wisdom used to say, Anyone can bring children into the world, so today the “modern socialists” (a la Nartsis Tuporylov)[37] say in their wisdom, Anyone can participate in the spontaneous birth of a new social order. We too hold that anyone can. All that is required for participation of that kind is to yield to Economism when Economism reigns and to terrorism when terrorism arises. Thus, in the spring of this year, when it was so important to utter a note of warning against infatuation with terrorism, Rabocheye Dyelo stood in amazement, confronted by a problem that was “new” to it. And now, six months after, when the problem has become less topical, it presents us at one and the same time with the declaration: “We think that it is not and should not be the task of Social-Democracy to counteract the rise of terroristic sentiments” (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, p. 23), and with the Conference resolution: “The Conference regards systematic and aggressive terror as being inopportune” (Two Conferences, p. 18). How beautifully clear and coherent this is! Not to counteract, but to declare inopportune, and to declare it in such a way that unsystematic and defensive terror does not come within the scope of the “resolution”. It must be admitted that such a resolution is extremely safe and is fully insured against error, just as a man who talks, but says nothing, insures himself against error. All that is needed to frame such a resolution is an ability to keep at the tail end of the movement. When Iskra ridiculed Rabocheye Dyelo for declaring the question of terror to be new,[25] the latter angrily accused Iskra of “having the incredible effrontery to impose upon the Party organisation solutions of tactical questions proposed by a group of emigrant writers more than fifteen years ago” (p. 24). Effrontery. indeed, and what an overestimation of the conscious element — first to resolve questions theoretically beforehand, and then to try to convince the organisation, the Party, and the masses of the correctness of this solution![26] How much better it would be to repeat the elements and, without “imposing” anything upon anybody, swing with every “turn” — whether in the direction of Economism or in the direction of terrorism. Rabocheye Dyelo even generalises this great precept of worldly wisdom and accuses Iskra and Zarya of “setting up their programme against the movement, like a spirit hovering over the formless chaos” (p. 29). But what else is the function of Social-Democracy if not to be a “spirit” that not only hovers over the spontaneous movement, but also raises this movement to the level of “its programme”? Surely, it is not its function to drag at the tail of the movement. At best, this would be of no service to the movement; at worst, it would be exceedingly harmful. Rabocheye Dyelo, however, not only follows this “tactics-as-process”, but elevates it to a principle, so that it would be more correct to describe its tendency not as opportunism, but as tail-ism (from the word tail). And it must be admitted that those who are determined always to follow behind the movement and be its tail are absolutely and forever guaranteed against “belittling the spontaneous element of development”.

*     *

And so, we have become convinced that the fundamental error committed by the “new trend” in Russian Social-Democracy is its bowing to spontaneity and its failure to understand that the spontaneity of the masses demands a high degree of consciousness from us Social-Democrats. The greater the spontaneous upsurge of the masses and the more widespread the movement, the more rapid, incomparably so, the demand for greater consciousness in the theoretical, political and organisational work of Social-Democracy.

The spontaneous upsurge of the masses in Russia proceeded (and continues) with such rapidity that the young Social Democrats proved unprepared to meet these gigantic tasks. This unpreparedness is our common misfortune, the misfortune of all Russian Social-Democrats. The upsurge of the masses proceeded and spread with uninterrupted continuity; it not only continued in the places where it began, but spread to new localities and to new strata of the population (under the influence of the working class movement, there was a renewed ferment among the student youth, among the intellectuals generally, and even among the peasantry). Revolutionaries, however, lagged behind this upsurge, both in their “theories” and in their activity; they failed to establish a constant and continuous organisation capable of leading the whole movement.

In Chapter I, we established that Rabocheye Dyelo belittled our theoretical tasks and that it “spontaneously” repeated the fashionable catchword “freedom of criticism”; those who repeated this catchword lacked the “consciousness” to understand that the positions of the opportunist “Critics” and those of the revolutionaries in Germany and in Russia are diametrically opposed.

In the following chapters, we shall show how this bowing to spontaneity found expression in the sphere of the political tasks and in the organisational work of Social-Democracy.



[1] Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, September 1901, pp. 17-18. Rabocheye Dyelo’s italics.—Lenin

[2] Trade-unionism does not exclude “politics” altogether, as some imagine. Trade unions have always conducted some political (but not Social-Democratic) agitation and struggle. We shall deal with the difference between trade union politics and Social-Democratic politics in the next chapter.—Lenin

[3] A. A. Vaneyev died in Eastern Siberia in 1899 from consumption, which he contracted during solitary confinement in prison prior to his banishment. That is why we considered it possible to publish the above information, the authenticity of which we guarantee, for it comes from persons who were closely and directly acquainted with A. A. Vaneyev.—Lenin

[4] See present edition, Vol. 2, pp. 87-92.—Ed.

[5] “In adopting a hostile attitude towards the activities of the Social-Democrats of the late nineties, Iskra ignores the absence at that time of conditions for any work other than the struggle for petty demands,” declare the Economists in their “Letter to Russian Social-Democratic Organs” (Iskra No. 12). The facts given above show that the assertion about “absence of conditions” is diametrically opposed to the truth. Not only at the end, but even in the mid-nineties, all the conditions existed for other work, besides the struggle for petty demands — all the conditions except adequate training of leaders. Instead of frankly admitting that we, the ideologists, the leaders, lacked sufficient training — the Economists seek to shift the blame entirely upon the “absence of conditions”, upon the effect of material environment that determines the road from which no ideologist will be able to divert the movement. What is this but slavish cringing before spontaneity, what but the infatuation of the “ideologists” with their own shortcomings?—Lenin

[6] It should be stated in passing that the praise of Rabochaya Mysl in November 1898, when Economism had become fully defined, especially abroad, emanated from the selfsame V. I, who very soon after became one of the editors of Rabocheye Dyelo. And yet Rabocheye Dyelo denied that there were two trends in Russian Social-Democracy, and continues to deny It to this day!—Lenin

[7] The tsarist gendarmes wore blue uniforms.—Tr.

[8] That this simile is a correct one is shown by the following characteristic fact. When, after the arrest of the “Decembrists”, the news spread among the workers of the Schlüsselburg Highway that the discovery and arrest were facilitated by an agent provocateur, N. N. Mikhailov, a dentist, who had been in contact with a group associated with the “Decembrists”, the workers were so enraged that they decided to kill him.—Lenin

[9] These quotations are taken from the same leading article in the first number of Rabochaya Mysl. One can judge from this the degree of theoretical training possessed by these “V. V.s of Russian Social-Democracy”,[38] who kept repeating the crude vulgarisation of “economic materialism” at a time when the Marxists were carrying on a literary war against the real Mr. V. V., who had long ago been dubbed “a past master of reactionary deeds” for holding similar views on the relations between politics and economics!—Lenin

[10] The Germans even have a special expression, Nur-Gewerkschaftler, which means an advocate of the “pure trade union” struggle.—Lenin

[11] Note: This footnote has been moved into the body of the document.

[12] Letter of the Economists, in Iskra, No. 12.—Lenin

[13] Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10.—Lenin

[14] Neue Zeit, 1901-02, XX, I, No. 3, p. 79. The committee’s draft to which Kautsky refers was adopted by the Vienna Congress (at the end of last year) in a slightly amended form.—Lenin

[15] Note: This footnote has been moved into the body of the document.

[16] Note: This footnote has been moved into the body of the document.

[17] Present Tasks and Tactics of the Russian Social-Democracy, Geneva, 1898. Two letters to Rabochaya Gazeta, written in 1897.—Lenin

[18] See present edition, Vol. 2, pp. 323—51.—Ed.

[19] In defending its first untruth (“we do not know to which young comrades Axelrod referred”), Rabocheye Dyelo added a second, when it wrote in its Reply: “Since the review of The Tasks was published, tendencies have arisen, or become more or less clearly defined, among certain Russian Social-Democrats, towards economic one-sidedness, which represent a step backwards from the state of our movement as described in The Tasks” (p. 9). This, in the Reply, published in 1900. But the first issue of Rabocheye Dyelo (containing the review) appeared in April 1899. Did Economism really arise only in 1899? No. The year 1899 saw the first protest of the Russian Social-Democrats against Economism (the protest against the Credo). Economism arose in 1897, as Rabocheye Dyelo very well knows, for already in November 1898, V. I. was praising Rabochaya Mysl (see “Listok” Rabotnika, No. 9-10).—Lenin

[20] The “stages theory”, or the theory of “timid zigzags”, in the political struggle is expressed, for example, in this article, in the following way: “Political demands, which in their character are common to the whole of Russia, should, however, at first (this was written in August 1900!) correspond to the experience gained by the given stratum (sic!) of workers in the economic struggle. Only [!] on the basis of this experience can and should political agitation be taken up,” etc. (p. 11). On page 4, the author, protesting against what he regards as the absolutely unfounded charge of Economist heresy, pathetically exclaims: “What Social-Democrat does not know that according to the theories of Marx and Engels the economic interests of certain classes play a decisive role in history, and, consequently, that particularly the proletariat’s struggle for its economic interests must be of paramount importance in its class development and struggle for emancipation?” (Our italics.) The word “consequently” is completely irrelevant. The fact that economic interests play a decisive role does not in the least imply that the economic (i.e., trade union) struggle is of prime importance; for the most essential, the “decisive” interests of classes can be satisfied only by radical political changes in general. In particular the fundamental economic interests of the proletariat can be satisfied only by a political revolution that will replace the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie by the dictatorship of the proletariat. Krichevsky repeats the arguments of the “V. V.’s of Russian Social-Democracy” (viz., that politics follows economics, etc.) and of the Bernsteinians of German Social-Democracy (e.g., by similar arguments Woltmann sought to prove that the workers must first of all acquire “economic power” before they can think about political revolution).—Lenin

[21] See present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 370—71.—Ed.

[22] See present edition, Vol. 5, p. 18.—Ed.

[23]Ein Jahr der Verwirrung” (“A Year of Confusion”) is the title Mehring gave to the chapter of his History of German Social-Democracy in which he describes the hesitancy and lack of determination displayed at first by the socialists in selecting the “tactics-as-plan” for the new situation.—Lenin

[24] Leading article in Iskra, No. 1. (See Collected Works, Vol. 4, p. 369 —Ed.)—Lenin

[25] See Collected Works, Vol. 5, pp. 18-20.—Ed.

[26] Nor must it be forgotten that in solving “theoretically” the problem of terror, the Emancipation of Labour group generalised the experience of the antecedent revolutionary movement.—Lenin

[27] The pamphlet On Agitation was written by A. Kremer (later an organiser of the Bund) and edited by Y. 0. Tsederbaum (Martov) in Vilno in 1894; it was at first circulated in handwritten and hectographed copies, but at the end of 1897 it was printed in Geneva and supplied with a preface and a concluding piece by P. B. Axelrod. The pamphlet summarised the experiences gained in Social-Democratic work in Vilno and exerted a great influence on Russian Social-Democrats, since it called on them to reject narrow study-circle propaganda and to go over to mass agitation among the workers on issues of their everyday needs and demands. It exaggerated the role of the purely economic struggle, however, to the detriment of political agitation on issues of general democratic demands, and was the embryo of the future “Economism”. P. B. Axelrod not ed the one-sidedness of the “Vilno Economism” in his concluding piece to the Geneva edition; G. V. Plekhanov made a critical analysis of the pamphlet On Agitation in his Once More on Socialism and the Political Struggle.

[28] Russkaya Starina (The Russian Antiquary)—a monthly magazine dealing with historical problems published in St. Petersburg from 1870 to 1918.

[29] S. Peterburgsky Rabochy Listok (St.Petersburg Workers’ Paper)—an illegal newspaper, organ of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. Two issues appeared: No. 1 in February 1897 (dated January and mimeographed in Russia in an edition of 300—400 copies) and No. 2 in September 1897 in Geneva.

[30] A private meeting referred to here was held in St. Petersburg between February 14 and 17 (February 26 and March 1), 1897. It was attended by V. I. Lenin, A. A. Vaneyev, G. M. Krzhizhanovsky, and other members of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, that is, by the “veterans” who had been released from prison for three days before being sent into exile to Siberia, as well as by the “young” leaders of the League of Struggle who had taken over the leadership of the League after Lenin’s arrest in December 1895.

[31]ListokRabotnika (The Workingman’s Paper)—published in Geneva by the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad from 1896 to 1899; altogether there appeared 10 issues. Issues 1—8 were edited by the Emancipation of Labour group. But after the majority of the Union Abroad went over to “Economism”, the Emancipation of Labour group refused to continue editing the paper. Nos. 9 and 10 were issued by a new editorial board set up by the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad.

[32] The “article by V. I.”—an article by V. P. Ivanshin.

[38] V. V.—pseudonym of V. P. Vorontsov, an ideologist of liberal Narodism in the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century. By the “V. V.’s of Russian Social-Democracy” Lenin understands the “Economists” who represented the opportunist trend in the Russian Social-Democratic movement.

[33] The Hirsch-Duncker Unions were established in Germany in 1868 by Hirsch and Duncker, two bourgeois liberals. They preached the “harmony of class interests”, drew the workers away from the revolutionary class struggle against the bourgeoisie, and restricted the role of the trade unions to that of mutual benefit societies and educational bodies.

[34] The Self-Emancipation of the Workers Group—a small group of “Economists” formed in St. Petersburg in the autumn of 1898; it existed for only a few months and published a manifesto setting forth its aims [published in Nakanune (On the Eve) in London], a set of rules and several leaflets addressed to the workers.

[35] Nakanune (On the Eve)—a journal expressing Narodnik views. It was published in Russian in London from January 1899 to February 1902—altogether 37 issues. The journal was a rallying point for representatives of various petty-bourgeois parties.

[36] G. V. Plekhanov published his well-known work The Development of the Monist View of History legally in St. Petersburg in 1895 under the pseudonym of N. Beltov.

[37] Nartsis Tuporylov (Narcissus Blunt-Snout) was the pseudonym under which Y. O. Martov published his satirical poem “Hymn of the Contemporary Russian Socialist” in Zarya, No. 1, April 1901. The “Hymn” ridiculed the “Economists” and their adaptations to spontaneous events.


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