V. I.   Lenin

The Zemstvo Campaign and Iskra’s Plan[3]

Written: Written in November 1904
Published: Published in pamphlet form in Geneva in November 1904. Published according to the pamphlet text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, publisher??, pubdate??, Moscow, Volume 7, pages 497-518.
Translated: Fineberg Abraham
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2002). 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.
Other Formats:   TextREADME



The editorial board of Iskra has just issued (“for Party members”) a letter addressed to the Party organisations. Russia has never been within such close distance of a constitution, say the editors; and they expound a complete plan for a “political campaign”, a complete plan for influencing our liberal Zemstvo-ist petitioners for a constitution.

Before analysing this exceedingly instructive plan of the new Iskra’s, let us recall how the Russian Social-Democrats have regarded the question of their attitude towards the liberal Zemstvo-ists since a mass working-class movement arose. Everyone knows that, practically from the inception of the mass working-class movement, a struggle went on between the “Economists” and the revolutionaries over this question too. The former went so far as directly to deny the existence of a bourgeois-democratic element in Russia and ignore the proletariat’s task of influencing the opposition strata of society; at the same time, by narrowing the scope of the political struggle of the proletariat, they consciously or unconsciously left the role of political leadership to the liberal elements of society, assigning to the workers “the economic struggle against the employers and the government”. The adherents of revolutionary Social-Democracy fought in the old Iskra against this trend. This struggle may be divided into two main periods: the period before the appearance of a liberal organ—Osvobozhdeniye—and the period after it appeared. During the first period we directed our attack mainly against the narrowness of the Economists; we tried to “wake them up” to the fact, which they failed to perceive, of the existence of a bourgeois-democratic element in Russia; we emphasised the need for political activity by the proletariat in every sphere, we stressed that the proletariat   must influence all sections of society, that it must become the vanguard in the battle for freedom. It is the more fitting and necessary to recall this period and its main features now because the adherents of the new Iskra grossly falsify it (see Trotsky’s Our Political Tasks, published under the editorship of Iskra), banking on the unfamiliarity of the younger generation with the recent history of our movement.

From the time of the appearance of Osvobozhdeniye, the second period in the old Iskra’s fight began. When the liberals came out with an organ and political programme of their own, the proletariat’s task of influencing “society” naturally underwent a modification: working-class democrats could no longer confine themselves to “shaking up” the liberal democrats and rousing their opposition spirit; they had to put the emphasis on revolutionary criticism of the half-heartedness so clearly exhibited in the political position of liberalism. The influence we brought to bear on the liberal strata now took the form of constantly pointing out the inconsistency and inadequacy of the liberals’ political protest (it is sufficient to mention Zarya, which criticised Mr. Struve’s preface to the Witte Memorandum,[1] also numerous articles in Iskra).

By the time of the Second Party Congress this new attitude of the Social-Democrats towards the now articulate liberals was already so well-defined and established that there was no question in anyone’s mind about whether a bourgeois-democratic element existed in Russia and whether the opposition movement ought to receive support (and what kind of support) from the proletariat. The only question was how to formulate the Party’s views on the subject; and I need only point out here that the views o  the old Iskra were much better expressed in Plekhanov’s resolution, which emphasised the anti-revolutionary and anti-proletarian character of the liberal Osvobozhdeniye, than in the con fused resolution tabled by Starover, which, on the one hand, aimed (quite inopportunely) at an “agreement” with the liberals, and, on the other, stipulated for it conditions that were manifestly unreal, being altogether impossible for the liberals to fulfil.


Now let us examine the new Iskra’s plan. The editors acknowledge that we must make full use of all material showing the irresolution and half-heartedness of the liberal democrats and the antagonism of interests between the liberal bourgeoisie and the proletariat, must do so “in accordance with the fundamental demands of our programme”. “But," the editors continue, “but within the framework of the struggle with absolutism, notably in its present phase, our attitude towards the liberal bourgeoisie is determined by the task of spurring it to greater boldness and inducing it to join in the demands which the proletariat, led by the Social-Democrats, will put forward [? has put forward? I." We have italicised the particularly strange words in this strange tirade. For what is it if not strange to contrast criticism of half-heartedness and analysis of antagonistic interests, on the one hand, and the task of spurring these people to greater boldness and inducing them to join, on the other? How can we spur the liberal democrats to greater boldness except by relentless analysis and devastating criticism of the half-heartedness of their democracy? Insofar as the bourgeois (liberal) democrats intend to act as democrats, and are forced to act as democrats, they necessarily seek the support of the widest possible sections of the people. This inevitably produces the following contradiction. The wider these sections of the people, the more representatives are there among them of the proletarian and semi-proletarian strata, who demand the complete democratisation of the political and social system—such complete democratisation as would threaten to undermine very important pillars of all bourgeois rule (the monarchy, the standing army, the bureaucracy). Bourgeois democrats are by their very nature incapable of satisfying these demands, and are therefore, by their very nature, doomed to irresolution and half-heartedness. By criticising this half-heartedness, the Social-Democrats keep prodding the liberals on and winning more and more proletarians and semi-proletarians, and partly petty bourgeois too, from liberal democracy to working-class democracy. How then is it possible to say: we must criticise the half-heartedness of the liberal bourgeoisie, b a t (but!) our attitude   towards it is determined by the task of spurring it to greater boldness? Why, that is plain muddle-headedness, which shows that its authors are either marching backward, reverting to the days when the liberals did not come forward openly at all, when they had still to be roused, stirred, induced to open their mouths—or else are slipping into the idea that one can “spur” the liberals to greater boldness by subtracting from the boldness of the proletarians.

Preposterous as this idea is, we find it again, even more clearly expressed, in the very next passage of the editors’ letter: “But”—again that editorial reservation—“but we should be making a fatal mistake if we tried by strong measures of intimidation to force the Zemstvos or other organs of the bourgeois opposition to give here and now, under the influence of panic, a formal promise to present our demands to the government. Such a tactic would discredit the Social- Democrats, because it would make our entire political campaign a lever for reaction.” (Editors’ italics.)

So that’s how it is, is it? Before the revolutionary proletariat has dealt the tsarist autocracy a single serious blow, at a time when that autocracy is so visibly shaken and when a serious blow is so imperative, would be so useful, and might prove decisive, there are Social-Democrats who go about mumbling about levers for reaction. This is not just muddle headedness, it is sheer inanity. This is what the editors have come to with their terrible bogey, invented specially to start this talk about becoming a lever for reaction. Just think of it: that people should talk in all seriousness, in a letter to the Social-Democratic Party organisations, of tactics of intimidating the Zemstvo-ists and forcing them to give formal promises under the influence of panic! Even among Russian officialdom, even among our Ugryum-Burcheyevs,[4] it would not be easy to find a political infant who would believe in such a bogey. We have among our revolutionists hotheaded terrorists, desperate bomb-throwers; but even the most hare-brained of the hare-brained defenders of bomb-throwing have yet, I believe, to propose intimidating the Zemstvo-ists and striking panic into ... the opposition. Cannot the editors see that the inevitable effect of their ridiculous bogeys and inane phrases is to perplex and mislead, to befog and confuse the minds of the fighting proletarians?   After all, these catchwords about levers for reaction and the discrediting tactics of intimidation do not fly into empty space; they fall upon the specific soil of police-ridden Russia, so eminently suited for the sprouting of weeds. Talk about levers for reaction is indeed to be heard at every street corner nowadays, but it comes from the Novoye Vremya gentry.[5] The story about the discrediting tactics of intimidation has indeed been repeated ad nauseam—by the cowardly leaders of the bourgeois opposition.

Take Prof. Prince E. N. Trubetskoy. A sufficiently “enlightened” and—for a legal Russian personality—a sufficiently “bold” liberal, one would think. Yet how fatuously he discourses in the liberal Pravo (No. 39) on the “internal danger”, namely, the danger from the extreme parties! There you have a live example of who really is close to panic; a graphic instance of what really does have an intimidating effect on real liberals. What they are afraid of, it need hardly be said, is not the plan conjured up by the Iskra editors, the plan of extorting from the Zemstvo-ists formal promises to the revolutionaries (Mr. Trubetskoy would only roar with laughter if told of such a plan); they are afraid of the revolutionary socialist aims of the “extreme” parties, they are afraid of leaflets, those first harbingers of independent revolutionary action by the proletariat, which will not stop, will not lay down its arms until it has over thrown the rule of the bourgeoisie. This fear is not inspired by ludicrous bogeys, but by the actual nature of the working- class movement; and it is a fear ineradicable from the hearts of the bourgeoisie (not counting a few individuals and groups, of course). And that is why the new Iskra’s talk about the discrediting tactics of intimidating the Zemstvo-ists and representatives of the bourgeois opposition rings so false. Afraid of leaflets, afraid of anything that goes beyond a qualified- franchise constitution, the liberal gentry will always stand in fear of the slogan “a democratic republic” and of the call for an armed uprising of the people. But the class- conscious proletariat will indignantly reject the very idea that we could renounce this slogan and this call, or could in general be guided in our activity by the panic and fears of the bourgeoisie.

Take Novoye Vremya. What dulcet melodies it weaves about the lever-for-reaction theme! “The youth and reaction,” we read in the “Notes” in No. 10285 (October 18). “...The words go ill together, and yet unconsidered actions, impulsive ardour, and the desire at all costs to share immediately in shaping the nation’s fortunes may bring the youth to this hopeless impasse. The demonstration a few days ago in front of the Vyborg prison; then the attempt at some sort of demonstration in the heart of the capital; in Moscow, the procession of 200 students with banners and protests against the war.... All this explains the reaction.... Student disturbances, youth demonstrations—why, they are a real god send, a trump card, an unexpected ace of trumps in the hands of the reactionaries. Truly a welcome present for them, which they will know how to make the most of. We should not make them these presents, should not go about smashing imaginary [!!!] window-bars; the very doors are open now [the doors of the Vyborg and other prisons?], wide open!”

This disquisition requires no comment. One has only to quote it to see how tactless it is to talk about a lever for reaction now—now, when not one door of the all-Russia prison has opened a hair’s breath for the struggling workers; when the tsarist autocracy has not yet made a single con cession that would affect the proletariat in the slightest; when all attention and efforts should be centred on preparing for a real and decisive battle with the Russian people’s enemy. Of course, the very thought of such a battle strikes fear and panic into the Trubetskoys and the thousands of less “enlightened” liberal gentlemen. But we should be fools if we took their panic into consideration. What we should take into consideration is the state of our forces, the growth of popular ferment and indignation, the moment when the proletariat’s direct onslaught on the autocracy will link up with one of the spontaneous and spontaneously growing movements.


In speaking above of the bogey our editors conjured up, we did not mention another characteristic little point in their argument. The editors denounce the discrediting tactics of seeking to extort from the Zemstvo-ists “a formal   promise to present our demands to the government”. Over and above the absurdities already noted, the very idea that “our” demands, the demands of working-class democrats, should be presented to the government by liberal democrats is a peculiar one. On the one hand, the liberal democrats, being bourgeois democrats, can never identify themselves with “our” demands, can never uphold them sincerely, consistently, and resolutely. Even if the liberals gave, and gave “voluntarily”, a formal promise to present our demands, it is a foregone conclusion that they would fail to keep that promise, would betray the proletariat. On the other hand, if we should be strong enough to exert-serious influence on the bourgeois democrats generally and the Zemstvo gentlemen in particular, we should be quite strong enough to present our demands to the government ourselves.

The editors’ peculiar idea is no slip of the pen, but an inevitable product of their general confused position on this issue. Listen to this: “As our focal point and guiding thread ... we must take the practical task ... of exerting powerful organised pressure upon the bourgeois opposition”; “the draft of the workers’ statement to the liberal opposition organ in question” must “explain why the workers are not approaching the government, but an assembly of representatives of that opposition”. To put the thing in this way is a fundamental mistake. We, the party of the proletariat, should, of course, “go to all classes of the population”, openly and vigorously championing our programme and our immediate demands before the people at large; we should seek to present these demands to the Zemstvo gentlemen too; but our focal point and guiding thread must be pressure on the government, not on the Zemstvo-ists. The editors of Iskra have turned this question of the focal point completely upside down. The bourgeois opposition is merely bourgeois and merely an opposition because it does not itself fight, because it has no programme of its own that it unconditionally upholds, because it stands between the two actual combatants (the government and the revolutionary proletariat with its handful of intellectual supporters) and hopes to turn the outcome of this struggle to its own advantage. Accordingly, the more heated the struggle becomes, the nearer the moment of the decisive battle, the more must we   focus our attention and bring our pressure to bear on our actual enemy, and not on a notoriously conditional, problematic, unreliable, half-hearted ally. It would be foolish to ignore this ally, and absurd to try to intimidate and fright en him—all that is so self-evident that it is strange even to talk about it. But, I repeat, the focal point and guiding thread in our agitation must not be pressure on this ally, but preparation for the decisive battle with the enemy. For while it has been flirting with the Zemstvos and has granted them some paltry concessions, the government has not, in actual fact, conceded anything whatever to the people; it may still well revert to (or rather continue) its reactionary course, as has happened in Russia tens and hundreds of times after a momentary flash of liberalism from one autocrat or another. At a moment like this, when the government is flirting with the Zemstvos and the people are being hood winked and lulled with empty words, we must particularly beware of the fox’s cunning, must be particularly insistent in pointing out that the enemy has yet to be defeated, must call with particular vigour for continuing and intensifying the fight against the enemy, and not shift the emphasis from “approaching” the government to approaching the Zemstvos. None other than the notorious cream-skimmers and betrayers of freedom are hard at work at this moment to put the Zemstvos in the focus of public and popular attention and to inspire confidence in them, when actually they do not in the least deserve the confidence of genuine democrats. Take Novoye Vremya: in the article we have already quoted you will find the following argument: “Anyone can see that once all our failings and shortcomings can be boldly and candidly discussed and there is freedom for the activity of every public personality, it should not be long before we see the last of these shortcomings and Russia is able to set foot confidently on the path of the progress and improvement she so sorely needs. We do not even have to invent the organisation to serve as the instrument of this progress: it is already to hand in the form of the Zemstvos, which only II! II need to be given the freedom to grow; therein lies the earnest of genuinely national, not borrowed, progress.” This kind of talk not only “conceals a desire for a limited monarchy and a qualified-franchise constitution” (as the   editors put it elsewhere in their letter); it directly prepares the ground for reducing the whole business to a bestowal of smiles on the Zemstvos, without even any limitation of the monarchy.

Making pressure on the Zemstvos instead of on the government the focal point leads naturally to the unfortunate idea that underlay Starover’s resolution—the idea of trying to find, now at once, a basis for some sort of “agreements” with the liberals. “As regards the present Zemstvos,” the editors say in their letter, “our task reduces itself [!! I to presenting to them those political demands of the revolutionary proletariat which they must support if they are to have any right to speak in the name of the people and count on the energetic support of the worker masses.” A fine definition of the tasks of the workers’ party, I must say! At a. time when an alliance of the moderate Zemstvo-ists and the government to fight the revolutionary proletariat is only too clearly possible and probable (the editors them selves admit the possibility of such an alliance), we are to “reduce” our task, not to redoubling our efforts in the struggle against the government, but to drawing up casuistic conditions for agreements with the liberals on mutual sup port. If I put before someone demands which he must undertake to support to have me support him, what I am doing is concluding an agreement. And we ask all and sundry: what has become of the “conditions” for agreements with the liberals which were prescribed in Starover’s resolution[2] (signed also by Axelrod and Martov), and which our press has already predicted could never be fulfilled? The editors’ letter does not say a word about these conditions. The editors advocated the resolution at the Congress only to throw   it into the waste-paper basket afterwards. At the very first attempt to tackle the matter in practice it became apparent that presenting Starover’s “conditions” would only provoke Homeric laughter from the Zemstvo liberals.

Let us proceed. Can it in general be acknowledged correct in principle to set the workers’ party the task of presenting to the liberal democrats or the Zemstvo-ists political demands “which they must support if they are to have any right to speak in the name of the people”? No, such an approach is wrong in principle and can only obscure the class consciousness of the proletariat and lead to the most futile casuistry. To speak in the name of the people is what speaking as a democrat means. Any democrat (the bourgeois democrat included) has a right to speak in the name of the people, but he has this right only insofar as he champions democracy consistently, resolutely, going all the way. Consequently, every bourgeois democrat “has some right to speak in the name of the people” (for every bourgeois democrat, so long as he remains a democrat, champions some democratic demand); but at the same time no bourgeois democrat has a right to speak in the name of the people all along the line (for no bourgeois democrat is capable today of championing democracy resolutely and all the way). Mr. Struve has a right to speak in the name of the people insofar as Osvobozhdeniye fights against the autocracy; but Mr. Struve has no right to speak in the name of the people insofar as Osvobozhdeniye turns and twists, stops short at a qualified- franchise constitution, equates Zemstvo opposition with struggle, and will not commit itself to a clear and consistent democratic programme. The German National-Liberals had a right to speak in the name of the people insofar as they fought for freedom of movement. The German National- Liberals had no right to speak in the name of the people insofar as they supported the reactionary policy of Bismarck.

Therefore, to set the workers’ party the task of presenting to the liberal bourgeois demands which they must support in order to have any right to speak in the name of the people is an absurd and nonsensical proceeding. There is no need for us to invent any special democratic demands over and above those contained in our programme. In the name   of that programme we must support every democrat (including the bourgeois democrat) insofar as he champions democracy, and must relentlessly expose every democrat (including the Socialist-Revolutionary) insofar as he deviates from democracy (as, for instance, in such questions as the freedom of the peasant to leave the commune or to sell his land). As for trying to establish in advance the permissible degree of turpitude, so to speak, to determine beforehand what deviations from democracy a democrat can permit himself and still have some right to speak as a democrat, that is such a clever idea that one can’t help wondering whether Comrade Martynov or Comrade Dan did not lend our editors a hand in inventing it.


After setting forth their guiding political considerations, the editors’ letter proceeds to expound the details of their great plan.

The Gubernia Zemstvo Assemblies are petitioning for a constitution. In the towns of X, Y, Z, our committeemen plus the enlightened workers draw up a plan of political campaign “according to Axelrod”. The focal point in their agitation is pressure on the bourgeois opposition. An organising group is elected. The organising group elects an executive committee. The executive committee elects a special spokesman. Efforts are made “to bring the masses into direct contact with the Zemstvo Assembly, to concentrate the demonstration before the actual premises where the Zemstvo assemblymen are in session. Some of the demonstrators penetrate into the session hail, and at a suitable moment, through the spokesman specially authorised for the purpose, they ask the permission of the Assembly F? of the Marshal of the Nobility, who presides at the Assembly?] to read out a statement on behalf of the workers. If this is not granted, the spokesman enters a loud protest against the refusal of an Assembly which speaks in the name of the people to hear the voice of the people’s genuine representatives”.

Such is the new Iskra’s new plan. We shall see in a moment how modest is the editors’ opinion of it; but first let us   quote their highly profound explanations as to the functions of the executive committee:

“... The executive committee must take measures in advance to ensure that the appearance of several thousand workers outside the building where the Zemstvo assemblymen are in session, and of several score or hundred in the building itself, shall not plunge the Zemstvo-ists into panic fear U!], under the impact of which they might throw themselves 1!] under the shameful protection of the police and Cossacks, thus transforming a peaceful demonstration into an ugly fight and brutal battering, distorting its whole meaning....” (The editors themselves seem to have been taken in by the bogey of their own making. Taking the sentence in its literal, grammatical sense, they even seem to be saying that it is the Zemstvo-ists who would be transforming the demonstration into a brutal battering and distorting its meaning. We have a very low opinion of the Zemstvo liberals, but even so the editors’ panic fear that the liberals in a Zemstvo Assembly might call in the police and Cossacks seems to us quite nonsensical. Anyone who has ever attend ed a Zemstvo Assembly will know that, in the event of so-called disorder, the police would be sent for either by the presiding Marshal of the Nobility or by the police officer unofficially present in an adjoining room. Or perhaps the members of the executive committee are to explain to this police officer that it is no part of the new Iskra’s “plan” to have a peaceful demonstration transformed into a brutal battering?)

“To obviate such a surprise, the executive committee must inform the liberal assemblymen beforehand [so that they may give a “formal promise” not to send for the Cossacks?] of the forthcoming demonstration and its true purpose Ii.e., inform them that our true purpose does not consist in being brutally battered and so having the meaning of Axelrod’s plan distorted]. Furthermore, it must try to reach some agreement [mark this!] with the representatives of the Left wing of the bourgeois opposition and secure, if not their active support, at any rate their sympathy with our political action. Its negotiations with them must, it need hardly be said, be conducted in the name of the Party and on the instructions of the workers’ circles and meetings,   which should not only discuss the general plan of the political campaign but hear reports of its progress—the rules of secrecy being, of course, strictly observed.”

Yes, yes, we can well see that Starover’s great idea of an agreement with the liberals on the basis of exactly prescribed conditions is gaining strength and substance daily and hourly. To be sure, all these exactly prescribed conditions have been shelved “for the time being” (we are no formalists!); but, on the other hand, an agreement is being reached in practice, now, at once, viz., an agreement not to cause panic fear.

Whichever way one reads the editors’ letter, no other meaning of its famous “agreement” with the liberals can be found than that we have indicated: either it is an agreement about the conditions on which the liberals would have a right to speak in the name of the people (and in that case the very idea of it very seriously discredits the Social- Democrats who advance it); or else it is an agreement about not causing panic fear, an agreement about sympathising with a peaceful demonstration—in which case it is just non sense that can hardly be discussed seriously. Nor could the absurd idea of the paramount importance of pressure on the bourgeois opposition, instead of on the government, have resulted in anything but an absurdity. If we are in a position to organise an imposing mass demonstration of workers in the hall of a Zemstvo Assembly, we shall, of course, do so (though if we have forces enough for a mass demonstration it would be much better to “concentrate” them “before the premises” not of the Zemstvo, but of the police, the gendarmerie, or the censorship). But to be swayed when doing so by considerations like the Zemstvo-ists’ panic fears, and to engage in negotiations on that score, would be the height of ineptitude, the height of absurdity. Among a good proportion, most likely the majority, of Russia’s Zemstvo-ists, the very content of a speech by a consistent Social-Democrat will always and inevitably arouse panic fear. To parley with the Zemstvo-ists beforehand about the undesirability of that sort of panic fear would place one in the falsest and most undignified kind of position. A brutal battering, or the prospect of one, will just as inevitably arouse panic fear of another sort. To engage   in negotiations with the Zemstvo-ists concerning this panic fear would be very foolish, because not even the most moderate liberal will ever bring about such a battering or sympathise with it—but the thing does not depend upon him. What is needed here is not “negotiations”, but the actual mustering of force; not pressure on the Zemstvo-ists, but pressure on the government and its agents. If we have no force behind us, better not to hold forth about great plans; and if we do have it, then it is force we must oppose to the Cossacks and police, we must try to gather a crowd of such size and in such a spot that it should be able to repel, or at least to check, the onslaught of the Cossacks and police. And if we are indeed capable of exerting “powerful organised pressure upon the bourgeois opposition”, it is assuredly not by silly “negotiations” about not causing panic fear, but by force and force alone, the force of mass resistance to the Cossacks and the tsarist police, the force of a mass onslaught capable of growing into a popular uprising.

The editors of the new Iskra see things differently. They are so pleased with their plan for an agreement and negotiations that they cannot admire it enough, cannot find praise enough to lavish on it.

...The active demonstrators must be “imbued with an understanding of the fundamental difference between an ordinary demonstration against the police or the government in general, and a demonstration immediately designed to further the struggle against absolutism, through direct pressure by the revolutionary proletariat on the political tactics [indeed! I of the liberal elements at the present [italicised by the editors] moment.... To organise demonstrations of the ordinary, so to speak, general-democratic [!! I type, not aiming directly at a concrete counterposing of the revolutionary proletariat and the liberal bourgeois opposition as two independent political forces, the mere existence of strong political ferment among the masses is sufficient.... Our Party must utilise this mood of the masses even for such, so to say, a lower type [note that!] of their mobilisation against absolutism.... We are taking our first I!] steps on a new [!I path of political activity, the path of organising planned intervention by the worker masses   [N. B.] in public life with the direct aim of counterposing them to the bourgeois opposition as an independent force, which has opposite class interests, but which at the same time offers it conditions [what conditions? I for waging a vigorous joint struggle against the common enemy.”

It is not given to everyone to appreciate all the profundity of this remarkable disquisition. The Rostov demonstration,[6] where thousands and thousands of workers were made familiar with the aims of socialism and the demands of working-class democracy, is a “lower type of mobilisation”, the ordinary, general-democratic type; here there is no concrete counterposing of the revolutionary proletariat and the bourgeois opposition. But when a specially authorised spokesman appointed by an executive committee, which has been elected by an organising group, which has been set up by the committeemen and active workers—when that spokesman, after first negotiating with the Zemstvo ists, enters a loud protest in the Zemstvo Assembly because it declines to hear him—that will be a “concrete” and “direct” counterposing of two independent forces, that will be “direct” pressure on the tactics of the liberals, that will be “a first step on a new path”. For heaven’s sake, gentlemen! Why, even Martynov in the worst days of Rabochege Dyelo hardly sank quite so low as this!

The mass meetings of workers in the streets of the southern towns, dozens of worker speakers, direct clashes with the real, tangible force of the tsarist autocracy—all that is a “lower type of mobilisation”. Agreements with the Zemstvo-ists about a peaceful statement by our spokesman who will undertake not to cause panic among Messrs. the liberals—that is a “new path”. There you have the new tactical tasks, the new tactical views of the new Iskra, of which the world was informed with such pomp by the editorial Balalaikin.[7] On one point, though, this Balalaikin happened to speak the truth: between the old Iskra and the new there is indeed a yawning gulf. The old Iskra had only contempt and derision for people who could admire, as a “new path”, a theatrically staged agreement between classes. This new path is one we have long known, from the record of those French and German Socialist “statesmen” who similarly regard the old revolutionary tactics as a “lower   type” and never weary of praising “planned and direct intervention in public life” in the form of agreements to allow the workers’ spokesmen to make peaceful and modest statements after negotiations with the Left wing of the bourgeois opposition.

The editors are in such panic fear of the panic fear of the Zemstvo liberals that they insistently enjoin “particular caution” on those who take part in their “new” plan. “As an extreme case of external caution in the way the action is actually carried out,” says the letter, “we can envisage mailing the workers’ statement to the assemblymen’s homes and scattering a considerable number of copies in the Zemstvo Assembly hall. Only people affected with bourgeois revolutionism [sic!], for which the external effect is everything and the process of the systematic development of the class-consciousness and initiative of the proletariat Is nothing, could have any objection to this.”

Well, we are not wont to object to the mailing or scattering of leaflets, but we shall certainly always object to pompous and hollow phrase-mongering. To make the mailing and scattering of leaflets the occasion for talking with serious mien about the process of the systematic development of the class-consciousness and initiative of the proletariat, one must be a veritable paragon of complacent banality. To clamour from the housetops about new tactical tasks and then reduce the whole thing to the mailing and scattering of leaflets is really priceless; and nothing could be more characteristic of the exponents of the intellectualist trend in our Party, who, now that their new words in organisation have proved a fiasco, rush about frantically in search of a new word in tactics. And then they talk, with their usual modesty, about the vanity of external effect! Can’t you see, my good sirs, that at best, even supposing your so-called new plan were entirely successful, having a workingman address the Zemstvo gentry would only achieve an external effect, and that to talk of its really exerting “powerful” pressure on “the tactics of the liberal elements” is nothing but a joke? Is it not rather the other way round—that what has really exerted powerful pressure on the tactics of the liberal elements is those mass workers’ demonstrations which to you are of the “ordinary, general-democratic, lower type”?   And if the Russian proletariat is destined again to exert effective pressure on the tactics of the liberals, it will, I assure you, be by a mass onslaught against the government, not by an agreement with the Zemstvo-ists.


The Zemstvo campaign, launched with the gracious permission of the police; the blandishments of Svyatopolk Mirsky[8] and the government press; the rising tone of the liberal press; the animation in what is known as educated society—all this faces the workers’ party with very serious tasks indeed. But these tasks are quite wrongly formulated in the letter of the Iskra editors. At this of all times, the political activity of the proletariat must be focused on organising powerful pressure on the government, not on the liberal opposition. Particularly now, agreements between the workers and the Zemstvo-ists about peaceful demonstrations—agreements which would inevitably boil down to the staging of musical-comedy effects—are utterly out of place; what is needed is to rally the advanced, revolutionary elements of the proletariat in preparation for a decisive struggle for freedom. Particularly now,when our constitutional movement is beginning conspicuously to display the original sins of all bourgeois liberalism, and notably the Russian variety—phrase-mongering, inconsistency of word and action, a sheerly philistine disposition to trust the government and every adroit politician—talk about the undesirability of frightening and panicking the Zemstvo gentry, about levers for reaction, etc., etc., is especially out of place. Particularly now, it is vital to build up in the revolutionary proletariat the firm conviction that the present “emancipation movement in society” will necessarily and inevitably prove a bubble like all the others before it unless the force of the worker masses, capable of and ready for an uprising, intervenes.

The political unrest among all sections of the people— that essential condition for an uprising and earnest of its success, an earnest that the initiative of the proletariat will meet with support—is spreading, growing, becoming more intense all the time. It would therefore be very poor   judgement if at this moment- anyone were to start shouting again for immediate launching of the assault, for forming at once into assault battalions,[9] etc. The whole course of events goes to show that the tsarist government, will very soon find itself in a still worse tangle and faced with an even more formidable resentment. The game it has started with the Zemstvo constitutionalists is bound to get it into a tangle: whether it makes some paltry concessions or whether it makes no concessions at all, discontent and exasperation will inevitably spread still wider. And it is likewise bound to get into a tangle with its shameful and criminal Manchurian adventure, which spells a political crisis in either event: decisive military defeat, or the pro traction of a war so hopeless for Russia.

What the working class must do is to broaden and strengthen its organisation and redouble its agitation among the masses, making the most of every vacillation of the government, propagating the idea of an uprising, demonstrating the necessity for it from the example of all those half hearted and foredoomed “steps” about which so much fuss is now being made. It need hardly be said that the workers’ response to the Zemstvo petitions must be to call meetings, scatter leaflets, and—where there are forces enough—organise demonstrations to present all the Social-Democratic demands, regardless of the “panic” of Mr. Trubetskoy and his like or of the philistines’ cries about levers for reaction. And if one is really to risk talking in advance, and from abroad at that, about a possible and desirable higher type of mass demonstration (because demonstrations not of a mass nature are altogether without significance); if one is really to discuss before what particular premises the demonstrators’ forces should be concentrated—we would point to the premises where the business of police persecution of the working-class movement is carried on, to the police, gendarmerie, censorship headquarters, to the places where political “offenders” are confined. The way for the workers to give serious support to the Zemstvo petitions is not by concluding agreements about the conditions on which the Zemstvo-ists would have a right to speak in the name of the people, but by striking a blow at the people’s enemies. And there need be little doubt that the idea of such a demonstration will   meet with the sympathy of the proletariat. The workers nowadays hear magniloquent phrases and lofty promises on every hand, they see a real—infinitesimal but nonetheless real— extension of freedom for “society” (a slackening of the curb on the Zemstvos, the return of banished Zemstvo-ists, an abatement of the ferocity against the liberal press); but they see nothing whatever that gives their political struggle more freedom. Under pressure of the revolutionary onslaught of the proletariat the government has allowed the liberals t-o talk a little about freedom! The condition of the slaves of capital, downtrodden and deprived of rights, now comes home to the proletarians more clearly than ever. The workers do not have any regular widespread organisations for the relatively free (by Russian standards) discussion of political matters; nor halls to hold meetings in; nor newspapers of their own; and their exiled and imprisoned comrades are not coming back. The workers see now that the liberal bourgeois gentry are setting about dividing the bearskin, the skin of the bear which the workers have not yet killed, but which they, and they alone, -have seriously wounded. They see that, at the very start of dividing the skin in anticipation, these liberal bourgeois gentry already snap and snarl at the “extreme parties”, at the “enemies at home”— the relentless enemies of bourgeois rule and bourgeois law and order. And the workers will rise still more fearlessly, in still greater numbers, to finish off the bear, to win by force for themselves what is promised as charity to the liberal bourgeois gentry—freedom of assembly, freedom of the workers’ press, full political freedom for a broad and open struggle for the complete victory of socialism.

We are issuing this pamphlet with the superscription “For Party Members Only” inasmuch as the Iskra editors’ “letter” was issued with that superscription. Actually, to stage “secrecy precautions” in regard to a plan that is to be circulated to dozens of towns, discussed in hundreds of workers’ circles, and explained in agitation leaflets and appeals is nothing short of ridiculous. It is an instance of the bureaucratic mystification which Comrade Galyorka, in “On the New Road”, has already noted to be a practice   of the editors and the Council. There is just one angle from which one might justify concealing the editorial letter from the public in general and the liberals in particular: a letter like that is altogether too discreditable to our Party....

We are cancelling the superscription restricting the readership of this pamphlet, since our so-called Party editonal board has issued a reply to it that is supposedly for the Party membership but is in fact circulated only to gatherings of the minority and withheld from Party members known to belong to the majority.

If Iskra has decided not to consider us Party members (while at the same time fearing to say so openly), we can only resign ourselves to our sad fate and draw the appropriate conclusions from that decision.

December 22, 1904


[1] See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 31-80.—Ed.

[2] The reader will recall that Starover’s resolution, which was passed by the Congress (in spite of Plekhanov’s opinion and mine), lays down three conditions for temporary agreements with the liberals: 1) the liberals “shall clearly and unambiguously declare that in their struggle against the autocratic government they will resolutely side with the Social-Democrats”; 2) “they shall not include in their programmes any demands running counter to the interests of the working class or the democracy generally, or obscuring their political consciousness”; 3) “they shall make universal, equal, secret, and direct suffrage the slogan of their struggle”. —Lenin

[3] The Zemstvo Campaign and “Iskra’s” Plan is a criticism of a letter to the Party organisations issued by the editors of the Menshevik Iskra in November 1904. It evoked a reply from the editors, in the form of a second letter; both letters bore the superscription “For Party Members Only”. The second letter was, however, circulated exclusively among Mensheviks, and this caused Lenin to add a postscript to his pamphlet (last two paragraphs on p. 518). As the pamphlet had already been printed and circulated to the committees, the postscript was printed separately and pasted into the copies still on hand. The date “December 22, 1904” relates to the post script only.

The Zemstvo Campaign and “Iskra’s” Plan had a wide circulation among the local Party organisations: during house-searches and arrests copies were discovered in Smolensk, Batum, Riga, Saratov, Suvalki, and elsewhere.

[4] Ugryum-Burcheyev—the type of the stolid, narrow-minded dignitary, depicted by Saltykov-Shchedrin in his History of a Town. By “our Ugryum-Burcheyevs” Lenin meant the palace clique of Nicholas II.

[5] Nova ye Vremya (New Times)—a paper published in St. Petersburg from 1868 to October 1917. Originally moderately liberal, after 1876 it became the organ of the reactionary nobility and bureauc racy, fighting not only the revolutionary, but also the liberal-bourgeois movement. Starting with 1905 it was one of the mouthpieces of the Black Hundred arch-reactionaries.

[6] The Rostov demonstration—the great political demonstration, with 30,000 workers taking part, which grew out of the strike in Rostov in November 1902. The strike, which began on November 2 (15) as an economic one, was led by the Iskra-ist Don Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. Lenin discussed the Rostov strike in his article “New Events and Old Questions” (present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 278-83).

[7] Balalaikin—a character in Saltykov-Shchedrin’s “Modern Idyll”, a liberal windbag, adventurer, and liar. By the “editorial Balalai kin” of the Menshevik Iskra Lenin meant Trotsky.

[8] Svyatopolk-Mirsky—Minister of the Interior in the latter half of 1904, whose tenure of the post was marked by a brief “liberal   season” of minor concessions by the autocracy to the liberal bourgeoisie.

[9] Lenin is referring to the adventurist calls of the Economists (Rabocheye Dyelo-ists) in the spring of 1901 for an immediate assault on “the fortress of despotism”.

Works Index   |   Volume 7 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index
< backward   forward >