V. I.   Lenin

The Black Hundreds and the Organisation of an Uprising

Published: Proletary, No. 14, August 29 (16), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 200-204.
Translated: The Late Abraham Fineberg and Julius Katzer
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). 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.README

The events in Nizhni-Novgorod and Balashov have attracted general attention. In the previous issue we published a detailed account of the Nizhni-Novgorod massacre; in this issue we are giving an account of the massacre in Balashov. The misdeeds of the Black Hundreds are on the increase, and Social-Democrats would do well to turn their attention to this phenomenon and its significance in the general course of revolutionary development. As a supplement to the correspondence from Samara, the following leaflet, issued by the Borisoglebsk group of the R.S.D.L.P., is of interest:

"Workers and inhabitants of the town of Borisoglebsk! The Balashov and Nizhni-Novgorod events, in which the police have proved their ability to organise a massacre of all who hold dissenting views, have shown you the gravity of the situation the revolution is confronting us with. The time for words and platonic criticism has passed. By force of circumstances, the government drives us from words to deeds. It sees that the revolutionary movement has advanced beyond the point where it could be fought against, as has been the case hitherto, by the police and the gendarmerie alone. It realises that in the struggle against the ’internal foe’ the regular armed forces of the Ministry of the Interior will not be sufficient. The entire population of the Russian Empire has become an ’internal foe’ and ’rebellious’, and the government is obliged to enlist volunteers for the regular army. But in this wholesale enlistment into ’government service of tramps, rowdies, hawkers, and similar disreputable characters, who recognise no bureaucratic restrictions whatever, our government has at the same time been forced to change its time-honoured methods of influencing the masses and the time-honoured secret methods of the immediate struggle against the revolution. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Hitherto our government confined itself to waging a struggle against the printed word. It now itself publishes proclamations in the Moskovskiye Vedomosti, Russkoye Dyelo, Orezhdanin, Dyen, and other official organs. Hitherto our government only   hunted down agitators. It now itself sends out prelates, generals, Sharapovs, Gringmuts, and other agitators of its own to conduct agitation among the people. Hitherto our government only throttled all organisation. It now itself organises unions of the Russian people, leagues of patriots, and unions of monarchists. Hitherto our government trembled at the mere thought of an uprising. It now itself organises uprisings of the Black Hundreds, and hopes to provoke a civil war. Terrified at the prospect of the impending revolution the government has seized on such of the latter’s weapons as organisation, propaganda, and agitation. With the aid of these double-edged weapons and with the help of the Black Hundreds, the government is beginning to stage scenes of popular indignation, of counter-revolution. After a ’try-out’ in the marginal provinces it is now beginning a tour of the heart of Russia. We have recently witnessed such scenes in Nizhni-Novgorod and in Balashov, and it cannot be said that the autocracy met with no success there. ’Revolutionary’ methods of struggle proved efficacious; many enemies of the autocracy were murdered or manhandled and the population was terrorised by this legalised terrorism on the part of our government.

“There can be no doubt that the experiment will be further extended. The laurels won by some of the Black Hundreds will give the others no rest until they too will have put their strength to the test. Where there is revolution there is counter-revolution too, and, therefore, Borisoglebsk must also be prepared to experience the organising skill of the eminent representatives of the Black-Hundred trend. We have reason to expect also in Borisoglebsk pogroms against the Jews, against the workers, and against the intellectuals; therefore, in preparation for proper resistance to the ’illegal measures’ which the government has adopted to suppress the revolutionary movement, the Borisoglebsk group is starting a subscription for the organisation of armed self-defence, and invites all those whose sympathies do not lie with the government and the Black Hundreds to help in the organisation of self-defence groups with money and arms.”

In fact, civil war is being forced on the population by the government itself. It is a fact that “tramps, rowdies, and hawkers” are being taken into government service. Under these circumstances bourgeois talk by the Osvobozhdeniye League about the crime and folly of advocating insurrection, about the harmfulness of organising self-defence (Osvobozhdeniye, No. 74) is now not merely inordinate political platitudinarianism, or justification of the autocracy and (in actual fact) servility to Moskovskiye Vedomosti. But, in addition to this, it is impotent peevishness on the part of the Osvobozhdeniye dodderers whom the revolutionary movement has relentlessly consigned to the scrap heap or some old curiosity shop— the place most suitable for them. Theoretical discussions on   the necessity of an uprising may and should be held, and the tactical resolutions on this question should be the outcome of careful thought and deliberation; meanwhile it should not be forgotten that spontaneous events take their own authoritative course regardless of all philosophising. It should not be forgotten that all the tremendous contradictions that have been piling up in Russian life for centuries are now developing with irresistible force bringing the masses to the fore and relegating outworn and dead teachings about, peaceful progress to the rubbish heap. Opportunists of all sorts like to tell us: learn from life. Unfortunately, what they mean by life is only the standing water of peaceful periods, of times of stagnation, when life makes scarcely any progress whatever. These blind people always lag behind the lessons of revolutionary life. Their dead doctrines always fall behind the stormy torrent of revolution, which expresses the most far-reaching demands of life, those involving the most vital interests of the masses.

See, for instance, how ridiculous, in face of these lessons given by life, are the plaints being made by a certain section of Social-Democracy about the danger of a conspiratorial view of the uprising, about a narrow “Jacobin” approach to the question of its necessity, about exaggerating the importance and role of material forces in the impending political events. These plaints started on the eve of an insurrection becoming a most real and vital necessity to the people, just when the masses, who stand farthest from all “conspiracies”, began to be drawn into an insurrection be cause of the misdeeds of the Black Hundreds. A bad doctrine is splendidly rectified by a good revolution. In the new Iskra one can read feeble witticisms (or are they sneers?) of a purely Burenin type[1] about the publication of a special military pamphlet discussing the military questions of the revolution and even going into the question of day and night attacks, about thought having to be given to the matter of headquarters for the uprising, and of about having members of the organisation “on duty” to get timely information of any pogrom, of any “enemy” action, and to give proper and timely orders to our fighting forces, to the organised revolutionary proletariat. And at the same time, as if in derision of the lifeless doctrine of the Mensheviks abroad, we see the actions of the   Mensheviks in Russia. We read that in Ekaterinoslav (see Proletary, No. 13) an agreement was concluded between the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks, and the Bund,[2] in anticipation of violence (a pogrom by the Black Hundreds was expected! Is there a city or village in Russia today that is not expecting something of that kind?). “Joint collection of money for the purchase of arms, a joint plan of action, etc.” What kind of plan this was is evidenced by the fact that at the Bryansk Works, for instance, the Social-Democrats, at a meeting of five hundred workers, called for the organisation of resistance. “Then in the evening the organised workers of the Bryansk Works were quartered in various houses; patrols were stationed, a headquarters was appointed, etc. — in short, we were in complete fighting trim” (incidentally, they let each other know the “location of the headquarters of each organisation” of the three mentioned above).

It is at their own comrades, who are engaged in practical work, that the new-Iskra journalists are sneering.

However much you may turn up your noses, gentlemen, at the question of night attacks and similar purely tactical military questions, however much you may pull wry faces about the “plan” of assigning secretaries of organisations, or their members in general, to stand on duty to provide for any military exigency—life goes its own way, revolution teaches, taking in hand and shaking up the most inveterate pedants. During civil war military questions must of necessity be studied down to the last detail, and the interest the workers show in these questions is a most legitimate and healthy phenomenon. Headquarters (or members of the organisations on duty) must of necessity be organised. The stationing of patrols and the billeting of squads are all purely military functions; they are all initial operations of a revolutionary army and constitute the organisation of an insurrection, the organisation of revolutionary rule, which matures and becomes stronger through these small preparations, through these minor clashes, testing its own strength, learning to fight, training itself for victory—a victory that will come the sooner and the more probably, the more pro found the general political crisis becomes, the stronger the discontent, disaffection, and vacillation within the ranks of the tsarist army.

Social-Democratic comrades all over Russia must and will follow on an ever wider scale the example set by the comrades of Ekaterinoslav and Borisoglebsk. The appeal for aid in money and arms is most timely. There are ever increasing numbers of people to whom all “plans”. and even revolutionary ideas of any sort are quite alien, but who nevertheless see and feel the necessity for an armed struggle when they witness the atrocities perpetrated by the police, the Cossacks, and the Black Hundreds against unarmed citizens. There is no choice, all other ways are blocked. One cannot help being agitated by what is taking place in Russia at the present time; one cannot help thinking of war and of revolution, and whoever is agitated, whoever thinks, who ever takes an interest, is obliged to join one armed camp or the other. You may be beaten up, maimed, or murdered no matter in what supremely peaceful and scrupulously lawful way you behave. Revolution does not recognise neutrals. The struggle has already flared up. It is a life-and-death struggle between the old Russia, the Russia of slavery, serfdom, and autocracy, and the new, young, people’s Russia, the Russia of the toiling masses, who are reaching out to wards light and freedom, in order afterwards to start once again a struggle for the complete emancipation of mankind from all oppression and all exploitation.

May the day of the insurrection of the people come soon!


[1] Burenin, V. P., worked on the staff of the reactionary news paper Novoye Vremya, engaged in libelling and besmearing representatives of all progressive public and political trends. Lenin uses his name as a synonym for dishonest methods of conducting polemics.

[2] The Bund (The General Jewish Workers’ Union of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia) came into being in 1897 at the founding Congress of Jewish Social-Democratic groups in Vilna. In the main, it comprised semi-proletarian Jewish artisans in the west of Russia. At the First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. in 1898, the Bund joined the latter “as an autonomous organisation, independent only in respect of questions affecting the Jewish proletariat specifically”. (The C.P.S.U. in Resolutions and Decisions of Its Congresses, Conferences and Plenary Meetings of the Central Committee, Russ. ed., Moscow 1954, Part 1, p. 14.)

The Bund was an expression of nationalism and separatism in the Russian working-class movement. In April 1901 the Bund’s Fourth Congress decided to alter the organisational ties with the R.S.D.L.P., as established by the latter’s First Congress. In its resolution, the Bund Congress declared that It regarded the R.S.D.L.P. as a federation of national, organisations, and that the Bund should enter the R.S.D.L.P. as a federal section. After the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. turned down the. Bund’s demand that it should be recognised the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat, the Bund left the Party, but rejoined it in 1906 on the basis of a decision of the Fourth (Unity) Congress.

Within the R.S.D.L.P. the Bund constantly supported the Party’s opportunist wing (the Economists, Mensheviks, and Liquidators), and waged a struggle against Bolshevism and the Bolsheviks. To the latter’s programmatic demand for the right of nations to self-determination the Bund contraposed the demand for autonomy of national culture. While the Stolypin reaction was raging, the Bund took a liquidationist stand, and was active in the formation of the August anti-Party bloc. During the First World War the Bundists held a social-chauvinist stand, and in 1917 they supported the counter-revolutionary Provisional Government and sided with the enemies of the Great October Socialist Revolution. During the foreign military intervention and the Civil War the Bund’s leaders made common cause with the forces of counter-revolution. Meanwhile there was a turn among the Bund’s rank and file for collaboration with the Soviets. In March 1921 the Bund decided to dissolve itself, part of the membership joined the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) on the basis of the general rules of admission,

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