V. I.   Lenin

A Letter to Y. D. Stasova and to the Other Comrades in Prison in Moscow

Published: First published in 1924 in the magazine Proletarskaya Revolutsia, No. 7 (30). Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 66-70.
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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January 19, 1905

Dear Friends,

I have received your inquiry concerning the tactics to be pursued in court (in Absolute’s[2] letter and the note “report ed verbatim” through an unknown person). Absolute writes of two points of view. The note speaks of three groups; perhaps it has in mind three shades of opinion, which I shall attempt to reconstruct as follows: (1) To refuse to recognise the court and to boycott it outright. (2) To refuse to recognise the court and not to participate in the court proceedings; to employ a lawyer only with the understanding that he speak exclusively about the court’s lack of jurisdiction from the point of view of abstract law; in the concluding speech for the defence to make a profession de foi[1] and to demand a trial by jury. (3) The same applies to the defendant’s last statement. To use the trial as a means of agitation and, for this purpose, to take part in the court proceedings with the aid of legal counsel; to show up the unlawfulness of the trial and even to call witnesses (to prove alibis, etc.).

There is this further question: should you say only that you are a Social-Democrat ·by conviction, or should you admit that you are a member of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party?

You write that a pamphlet is needed on this question. I do not think it is advisable to issue a pamphlet straight away   without any experience to go by. Perhaps we shall mention it somehow in the newspaper when the opportunity occurs. Perhaps one of the people in prison will write a short article for the paper (from 5,000 to 8,000 letters)? I think this would be the best way to start the discussion.

I personally have not yet formed a definite opinion and should prefer, before committing myself, to talk it over in detail with comrades who are in prison or have stood trial. To get such a talk started I shall state my own ideas on the subject. Much depends, I think, on the kind of trial it will be, viz., whether or not there will be a possibility to utilise it for purposes of agitation. In the first instance, policy No. 1 will not do; in the second, it is appropriate, but only after an open, definite, and energetic protest and statement. How ever, if there is a chance of taking advantage of the trial for agitational purposes, policy No. 3 is desirable. A speech with a profession de foi is generally most desirable, and, I think, very useful, and it could in most cases have an agitational effect. Particularly when the government has begun to utilise the courts, the Social-Democrats should speak out about the Social-Democratic programme and tactics. Some hold that it is not advisable to declare oneself a member of the Party, particularly of any definite organisation; that one should rather declare oneself a Social-Democrat by conviction and limit the statement to that. I think that one’s affiliations should be omitted entirely from the speech, i.e., that one should say: For obvious reasons I shall not speak about my affiliations, but I am a Social-Democrat and I shall speak of   o u r Party. Such a formulation has two advantages: it states directly and specifically that one is not to speak of one’s affiliations (viz., whether one belongs to an organisation, and if so, to which, etc.), while at the same time one speaks of our Party. This is necessary in order that Social-Democratic speeches in court may become Party speeches and statements, in order that the Party may benefit by this propaganda. In other words, I waive my formal affiliations; I pass them over in silence, I do not speak formally in the name of any organisation whatever, but as a Social-Democrat I speak to the court of our Party and ask it to accept my statements as an endeavour to expound precisely the Social-Democratic views that have been set forth in all our Social-Democratic   literature, in such-and-such pamphlets, leaflets, and newspapers.

As to lawyers. Lawyers should be kept well in hand and made to toe the line, for there is no telling what dirty tricks this intellectualist scum will be up to. They should be warned in advance: Look here, you confounded rascal, if you permit yourself the slightest impropriety or political opportunism (if you speak of socialism as something immature or wrong-headed, or as an infatuation, or if you say that the Social-Democrats reject the use of force, speak of their teachings and their movement as peaceful, etc., or anything of the sort), then I, the defendant, will pull you up publicly, right then and there, call you a scoundrel, declare that I reject such a defence, etc. And these threats must be carried out. Only clever lawyers should be engaged; we do not need others. They should be told beforehand: Confine yourselves to criticising and “laying traps” for witnesses and the public prosecutor on the facts of the case, and to nailing trumped-up charges; confine yourselves exclusively to discrediting the Shemyakin-trial[3] features of the proceedings. Even a smart liberal lawyer is extremely prone to mention or hint at the peaceful nature of the Social-Democratic movement, at the recognition of its cultural influence even by people like Adolf Wagner, etc. All such attempts should be nipped in the bud. The lawyers, as Bebel, I believe, said, are the most reactionary of people. The cobbler should stick to his last. Be a lawyer only, ridicule the witnesses for the State and the Public Prosecutor; at most, draw a comparison between such a trial and a trial by jury in a free country; but leave the defendant’s convictions alone, do not even dare to mention what you think of his convictions and actions. For you, a measly liberal, have so little understanding of these convictions that even in praising them you will not be able to avoid saying something banal. Of course, all this need not be explained to the lawyer d la Sobakevich[4]; it can be done mildly, tactfully, discreetly. Still, it is better to be wary of lawyers and not to trust them, especially if they say that they are Social-Democrats and Party members (as defined by our Clause 1!).

The question of taking part in the court proceedings, it seems to me, depends on the question of the lawyer. Retaining counsel means participating in the court proceedings.   And why not participate in order to show up witnesses and agitate against the court? Of course, one must be very careful not to slip into a tone of unbecoming self-vindication— that goes without saying. It is best to declare immediately, before the taking of testimony, in answering the presiding judge’s first questions: I am a Social-Democrat, and in my speech to the court I shall explain what that means. In each case, the question whether or not to take part in the court proceedings depends entirely upon the circumstances. Let us assume that you have been proved guilty, that the witnesses are telling the truth, that the entire accusation rests on unassailable documentary evidence. In that case it may be of no use to take part in the court proceedings, and all attention should be centred on the declaration of principles. If, however, the facts are dubious, if the police witnesses are confused and lie, then it is hardly worth while to miss an opportunity of making propaganda by exposing the case as a frame-up. Much depends also on the defendants; if they are very tired, ill, or worn-out, and if there is no one among them with experience in “pleading” and word-tilting, then, perhaps, it would be more expedient to refuse to participate in the court proceedings, to make a statement to that effect, and to concentrate on the declaration of principles, which it is desirable to prepare in advance. At any rate, the speech on the principles, the programme, and the tactics of the Social-Democratic Party, on the working-class movement, on the socialist aims, and on uprising is the most important thing.

In conclusion, I repeat once more: These are my first reflections, which should not be regarded in the least as an attempt to solve the problem. We must wait until experience gives us certain hints. And while accumulating this experience the comrades, in the majority of cases, will have to be guided by a consideration of the concrete circumstances and by their revolutionary instinct.

My very best regards to Kurz, Ruben, Bauman, and all the other friends. Cheer up! Things are going well with us now. We are through with the trouble-makers at last. We have done with the tactics of retreat. We are attacking   now. The committees in Russia are also beginning to break with the disorganisers. We have founded a newspaper of our own. We have our own practical centre (the Bureau). Two is sues of the paper have appeared and shortly (January 23, 1905, new style) the third will be coming out. We hope to publish it as a weekly. Best of health and good cheer! We shall meet again, I am sure, and carry on the fight under better conditions than amid the squabbling and wrangling we have here, after the manner of the League congresses.


[1] Declaration of faith, a programme, the exposition of a world outlook. —Ed.

[2] Absolute—the Bolshevik Y. D. Stasova.

[3] Shemyakin trial—an unjust trial, from the title of an old Russian story about the Judge Shemyak.

[4] Sobakevich—a character in Gogol’s Dead Souls typifying a bullying, tight-fisted landlord.

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