V. I.   Lenin

The First Lessons

Written: Written at the beginning of February 1905
Published: First published In 1926 in Lenin Miscellany V. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 138-142.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Isidor Lasker
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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The first wave of the revolutionary storm is receding. We are on the eve of an inescapable, inevitable second wave. The proletarian movement is spreading wider and has now reached the remotest outlying regions of the country. Unrest and discontent have seized the most diverse sections of society, even the most backward. Commerce and industry are paralysed, schools are closed, and the Zemstvo employees, following the example of the workers, have gone on strike. In the lulls between the mass actions, individual terrorist acts are, as usual, becoming more frequent: the attempt on the life of the Odessa Chief of Police, the assassination in the Caucasus, the assassination of the Senate Procurator in Helsingfors. The government is veering from the policy of the bloody knout to a policy of promises. It tries to fool at least part of the workers with the tsar’s farcical reception of a delegation.[1] It tries to divert public attention with war news, and it orders Kuropatkin to start an offensive on the Hunho. On January 9 the massacre in St. Petersburg took place; the 12th saw the launching of the offensive, from the military point of view absolutely senseless, which ended in another serious defeat of the tsar’s generals. The Russians were repulsed with casualties, which even according to the Novoye Vremya correspondent amounted to 13,000 men, or about twice as many as the Japanese. There is the same corruption and demoralisation in the handling of military affairs in Manchuria that there is in St. Petersburg. In the foreign press, dispatches confirming and denying Kuropatkin’s quarrel with Grippenberg alternate   with dispatches confirming and denying the news that the Grand Ducal party is alive to the danger which the war is creating for the autocracy and wants peace as quickly as possible.

Small wonder that under such circumstances even the most sober bourgeois papers of Europe never stop talking of a revolution in Russia. The revolution is growing and maturing with a rapidity unknown, before January 9. Whether the next wave will surge up tomorrow, the day after, or months hence, depends on quite a number of unpredictable circumstances. All the more urgent, therefore, is the task of summing up the revolutionary events and drawing from them the lessons that may stand us in good stead much sooner than some are inclined to expect.

To evaluate correctly the revolutionary events we should have to make a general survey of the most recent history of our working-class movement. Nearly twenty years ago, in 1885, the first big workers’ strikes took place in the central manufacturing district, at the Morozov Mills and else where. At that time Katkov wrote that the labour question had emerged in Russia. With what astonishing speed the proletariat has developed, passing from economic struggles to political demonstrations, from demonstrations to the revolutionary onset! Let us recall the chief mile stones along the road traversed. 1885—widespread strikes, in which an insignificant number of socialists participated, acting entirely individually, not united in any organisations. Public sentiment over the strikes compelled Katkov, that faithful watchdog of the autocracy, to speak, in reference to the trial, about a “one-hundred-and-one gun salute in honour of the labour question which has emerged in Russia”. The government made economic concessions. 1891—participation of the St. Petersburg workers in the demonstration, at Shelgunov’s funeral[6]; political speeches at the St. Petersburg May Day rally. We had here a Social-Democratic demonstration of the advanced workers in the absence of a mass movement. 1896—the St. Petersburg strike involving scores of thousands of workers. A mass movement and the beginnings of street agitation, this time with the participation of an en tire Social-Democratic organisation. Small as this almost exclusively student organisation may have been in comparison   with our present-day party, its class-conscious, systematic, Social-Democratic intervention and leadership gave this movement tremendous scope and significance, as compared with the Morozov strike. Again the government made economic concessions. A firm basis was achieved for a strike movement throughout Russia. The revolutionary intelligentsia turned Social-Democrat en masse. The Social-Democratic Party was founded. 1901—the workers came to the aid of the students. A demonstration movement set in. The proletariat carried its rallying call, “Down with the Autocracy!”, into the streets. The radical intelligentsia definitely broke up into three parts—liberal, revolutionary-bourgeois, and Social-Democratic. The participation of revolutionary Social-Democratic organisations in the demonstrations became more and more widespread, active, and direct. 1902—the huge Rostov strike developed into an impressive demonstration. The political movement of the proletariat was no longer an adjunct of the movement of the intellectuals, of the students, but grew directly out of the strike. The participation of organised revolutionary Social-Democrats became still more active. The proletariat won for it self and for the revolutionary Social-Democrats of its committee the right to hold mass meetings in the streets. For the first time the proletariat stood as a class against all other classes and against the tsarist government. 1903—again strikes merged with political demonstrations, but now on a still broader basis. The strikes involved an entire district and more than a hundred thousand workers; in a number of cities political mass meetings were repeatedly held in the course of the strikes. There was a feeling of being on the eve of barricades (the opinion which the local Social-Democrats expressed on the movement in Kiev in 1903[7]). But the eve proved rather protracted, teaching us, as it were, that it takes powerful classes sometimes months and years to gather strength; putting, as it were, the sceptical intellectual adherents of Social-Democracy to the test. And sure enough, the intellectualist wing of our Party, the new-Iskrists or, what amounts to the same thing, the new-Rabocheye Dyelo-ists, have already begun to seek “higher types” of demonstrations, in the form of agreements between the workers and the Zemstvo people not to create panic fear.   With the lack of principle characteristic of all opportunists, the new-Iskrists have now talked themselves into the preposterous, incredibly preposterous, thesis that in the political arena there are two (!) forces: the bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie (see the Iskra editors’ second letter in connection with the Zemstvo campaign). The opportunists of the new Iskra, these believers in carpe diem, have forgotten that the proletariat constitutes an independent force! Came the year 1905, and January 9 once again showed up all such backsliding types of the intelligentsia brood. The proletarian movement at once rose to a higher plane. The general strike rallied at least a million workers all over Russia. The political demands of the Social-Democrats found their way even to the sections of the working class that still believed in the tsar. The proletariat broke down the framework of the police-sponsored Zubatov movement, and virtually the entire membership of the legal workers’ society founded for the purpose of combating the revolution took the path of revolution together with Gapon. Strikes and demonstrations began to develop into an uprising before our very eyes. The participation of organised revolutionary Social-Democracy was incomparably more in evidence than in the previous stages of the movement; yet it was still weak, weak in comparison with the overwhelming demand of the active proletarian masses for Social-Democratic leadership.

Altogether, the two movements, strikes and demonstrations, combining in various forms and on various occasions, grew in breadth and in depth, became more and more revolutionary, came ever more closer in practice to the general armed uprising of the people, of which revolutionary Social-Democracy had long spoken. We drew this conclusion from the events of January 9 in Nos. 4[2] and 5 of Vperyod. The St. Petersburg workers drew this conclusion for themselves, forthwith and directly. On January 10 they forced their way into a legal printing office, set up the following leaflet sent to us by the St. Petersburg comrades, printed it in over 10,000 copies, and distributed it throughout St. Petersburg. The text of this remarkable leaflet follows.[3]

This appeal needs no comment. The initiative of the revolutionary proletariat found full expression here. The call of the St. Petersburg workers was not answered as quickly as they wished; it will have to be repeated time and again; the attempts to carry it out will more than once result in failure. But the tremendous significance of the fact that the task has been set by the workers themselves is in disputable. The gain made by the revolutionary movement, which has brought about a realisation of the practical urgency of this task and made it an essential issue of every popular movement, is a gain that nothing can now take away from the proletariat.

It is worth dwelling on the history of the idea of insurrection. The new Iskra has given us so many nebulous platitudes on this question, beginning with the famous leader in issue No. 62, it has presented us with so many muddled opportunist ideas, entirely worthy of our old acquaintance Martynov, that the precise reproduction of the old formulation of the question is of particular importance. In any case,it is impossible to keep track of all the platitudes and muddled ideas of the new Iskra. It is much wiser to have the old Iskra more often in mind and enlarge more concretely upon its old constructive slogans.

At the end of Lenin’s pamphlet What Is To Be Done?, on p. 136,[4] the slogan of a general armed uprising of the people was advanced. The following was said on this subject at the very beginning of 1902, that is, three years ago: “Picture to yourselves a popular uprising. Probably everyone will now agree that we must think of this uprising and prepare for it....”[5]


[1] See pp. 134-35 of this volume—Ed.

[2] See pp. 98-100 of this volume—Ed.

[3] See p. 154 of this volume.—Ed.

[4] See present edition, Vol. 5, p. 515.—Ed.

[5] Here the manuscript breaks off—Ed.

[6] Sheigunov, N. V. (4824-91)—democratic writer and publicist; contributed to the periodical Sovremennik (The Contemporary). His progressive activity was well known to the advanced workers of St. Petersburg. His funeral on April 15 (27), 1891, turned into an anti-government demonstration.

[7] The reference is to the mass political strike which occurred in Kiev in July 1903. A lengthy report dealing with this strike was published in Iskra, No. 47, September 1, 1903, under the headline “The General Strike in Kiev”.

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