V. I.   Lenin

A New Revolutionary Workers’ Association

Published: Proletary, No. 4. June 17 (4), 19O5. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 499-510.
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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We have received the following leaflets of the Central Committee of the Russian Liberation Union (R.L.U.), printed and distributed in Russia: (1) an unaddressed appeal setting forth the aims and the nature of the R.L.U.; (2) an appeal to the workers concerning the establishment of the R.L.U. Workers’ Union, and (3) the Rules of this Workers’ Union. From these documents it is evident that “the R.L.U. is not a party with a definite and specific programme, but rather an association of all who desire the transfer of power from the autocracy to the people by means of the armed uprising and through the convocation of a Constituent Assembly” based on universal suffrage with all its democratic aspects. “The urgent necessity,” we read in the first appeal, “of achieving the universal immediate objective, i.e., a Constituent Assembly, has given rise to the R.L.U., which has made it its aim to unite all who strive for the political freedom of Russia and to take practical steps to achieve the revolution. With the achievement of this objective the R.L.U. will discontinue its activities and entrust the protection of the people’s representatives and of public safety to a civil militia to be organised for the purpose.”

The Rules of the Workers’ Union consist of 43 clauses, and their aim is set forth as follows: “(1) to organise combat groups for the armed uprising; (2) to raise the necessary funds for arms and for literature of a strictly proletarian nature.” The organisation of the Workers’ Union consists of four-stage bodies: (1) groups of workers (mainly from one and the same workshop); (2) factory councils; (3) district meetings; and (4) committees of the Workers’ Union. All higher bodies consist of elected representatives of the lower bodies, with   two exceptions: first, each committee of the Workers’ Union contains a member of the C.C. of the Russian Liberation Union; second, it is not specified whether this C.C. is elected or whether it is subject to any control. All that is said on the relations between the Workers’ Union and the R.L.U. is: “Through us (the C.C. of the R.L.U.) the Workers’ Union will be connected with all the other workers’ and non-working-class associations.” Not a word is mentioned about the organisation of the R.L.U. itself and the relation of its C.C. to the R.L.U. as a whole. In its appeal to the workers the C.C. of the R.L.U. sets forth its immediate task as follows: “We shall work out a detailed plan of the uprising, tell you how to form combat squads, teach you how to arm, and supply fire-arms. Lastly, we shall unite the activities of all people scattered in all towns and places, who want to free Russia from the yoke of the autocracy, and, when that unity has been achieved, we will give the signal for the general uprising.” Finally, we would point out that the Rules of the Workers’ Union (§4) say: “The appeal to form the Workers’ Union will be distributed at all the factories of St. Petersburg and its environs.”

From all this it is apparent that we have to do here with an attempt at an “independent” non-party organisation of the armed popular uprising in general and the uprising of the St. Petersburg workers in particular. We shall not dwell here on the question to what extent this attempt is serious; that can be judged conclusively only from its results and tentatively from private and secret information about the R.L.U., but we have no such information. We wish to touch therefore on the significance of this attempt in terms of principle and the tactical and organisational tasks which it poses for Social-Democracy.

Without doubt, we are dealing here with weighty evidence pointing to the fact that the question of the armed popular uprising is now looming large. It is a question which practical workers as well as theoreticians have now raised. It is posed, not as a conclusion drawn from a definite programme (as it was, for instance, in Social-Democratic literature abroad in 1902),[1] but as a vital issue   of the practical movement today. It is not a question now of discussing the problem, or even of preparing for the uprising in general, but of actually carrying out the uprising. Manifestly, the whole course of events brings to the fore the question of the uprising; the whole struggle for freedom has made necessary such a decisive outcome. From this it is clear, by the way, how deeply mistaken those Social-Democrats are who seek to prevent the Party from putting this task on the order of the day.

Furthermore, the attempt we have considered proves that the revolutionary-democratic movement in Russia has made a great stride forward. A long time back, in issue No. 7 of Vperyod,[2] we pointed out the emergence of this new group among the forces, parties, and organisations hostile to the autocracy. We pointed out that the very nature of the revolution taking place in Russia, namely, the bourgeois-democratic revolution, inevitably increased and multiplied, and would continue to increase and multiply, the most diverse militant elements who expressed the interests of the most diverse sections of the people, who were prepared for decisive struggle and were passionately devoted to the cause of freedom and prepared to sacrifice their all for that cause, but who did not and could not grasp either the historic significance or the class content of the revolution that was taking place. The rapid growth of these social elements is highly characteristic of an epoch in which the whole people is oppressed by the autocracy and in which the direct political struggle has not yet succeeded in clearly demarcating the classes and creating clearly defined parties understandable to the broad masses. All these undissociated and undefined elements form the cadres of the revolutionary democrats. Their militant significance for the democratic revolution is very great. Their non-party, indefinite position is, on the one hand, symptomatic of the fact that the intermediate sections of the population are rising to desperate struggle and revolt—the sections that have least of all merged with either of the two hostile classes in capitalist society, the sections of the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie, etc. On the other hand, the fact that these non-party revolutionaries   have set out upon the revolutionary path is a pledge that the utterly backward sections of the people, those farthest re moved from class definiteness, will now be more easily, quickly, and broadly aroused and drawn into the struggle. Formerly only the intelligentsia in Russia was revolutionary. Later the urban proletariat turned revolutionary. Today a considerable number of other social elements, deeply rooted in the people” and closely linked with the masses, are turning revolutionary against the autocracy. The active participation of these elements is essential to the cause of the popular uprising. Their militant significance, we repeat, is very great. But their political significance for the proletarian movement may sometimes be small, if not actually negative. These elements are simply revolutionary and simply democratic because association with the one definite class which has cut loose from the ruling bourgeoisie, viz., the proletariat, is alien to them. By fighting for freedom with out close connection with the proletarian struggle for socialism, they play a role that objectively amounts to promoting the interests of the bourgeoisie. They who serve the cause of freedom in general without serving the specific cause of proletarian utilisation of this freedom, the cause of turning the freedom to account in the proletarian struggle for socialism, are, in the final analysis, plainly and simply, fighters for the interests of the bourgeoisie. We do not in the least belittle the heroism of these people. We certainly do not belittle their tremendous role in the struggle for freedom. But we do not cease to maintain with the utmost emphasis that their activity does not yet in the least guarantee that the fruits of victory, the fruits of freedom, will be utilised in the interest of the proletariat, of socialism. They who stand outside the parties thereby serve the interests of the ruling party, albeit unwittingly and against their will. They who struggle for freedom outside the parties thereby serve the interests of the force that will inevitably rule when freedom is won, viz., the interests of the bourgeoisie. For this reason we called the non-party organisation of the uprising “independent” in inverted commas. Actually, non-partyism, with its appearance of independence, implies utter lack of independence and utter dependence on the ruling party. Actually, the just plain revolutionaries, the just   plain democrats are no more than the vanguard of the bourgeois-democratic movement, and sometimes merely its auxiliary force, even its cannon-fodder.

We pass now from these general theses to a more detailed examination of the documents in hand. “Let us abandon for a time party disputes and differences on points of principle,” exclaims the C.C. of the R.L.U. in its first call, “let us rally into a mighty whole, into the Russian Liberation Union, and give our strength, our funds, and our knowledge to the people in its great struggle with the common enemy, the autocracy. Until the Constituent Assembly is held, we must all go along together. Only the Constituent Assembly can bring political freedom, without which a proper struggle of the parties is inconceivable.” Any worker who is at all class-conscious knows full well that the people struggling against the autocracy consists of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie is very keen on freedom, it is making a great stir about it, writing in the press and addressing meetings against the autocracy. Yet is there a person so naive who does not understand that the bourgeoisie will never give up private ownership of the land and of capital, but, on the contrary, will fight to the last ditch to retain it against the encroachment of the workers? For the worker to abandon differences on questions of principle with the bourgeoisie, alongside which he is fighting the autocracy, is tantamount to abandoning socialism, to abandoning the idea of socialism, and the preparatory work for socialism. For the worker, in short, it means abandoning the idea of his economic emancipation, the emancipation of the working people from poverty and oppression. All over the world the bourgeoisie struggled for freedom, which it won largely with the hands of the workers, only thereafter to launch a furious struggle against socialism. Therefore, the appeal to sink differences is a bourgeois appeal. Under the guise of non partyism the C.C. of the R.L.U. is feeding the workers with bourgeois phrases, instilling into them bourgeois ideas, demoralising their socialist consciousness with bourgeois exhalations. Only the enemies of socialism, the liberal bourgeois, the Osvobozhdeniye gentry, can be consciously in sympathy with the idea of the workers and the bourgeois sinking their differences for a time, and only revolutionary democrats   like the Socialists-Revolutionaries, who care little about socialism, can unconsciously be in sympathy with it The workers should fight for freedom, without even for a minute abandoning the idea of socialism, without ceasing to work for its realisation, to prepare the forces and the organisation for the achievement of socialism.

The C.C. of the R.L.U. says: “As far as our attitude to wards the existing parties and organisations is concerned, we, the Central Committee of the R.L.U., declare that we foresee no possibility of the appearance of fundamental differences with the Social-Democratic parties, since the principle of the Union does not contradict their programmes” .... These words show the extent to which the C.C. of the R.L.U. misunderstands socialism. The C.C. does not even foresee the possibility of the appearance of differences with Social-Democracy, whereas we have shown that a fundamental difference exists! The C.C. sees no contradiction between the principle of the Union and the programme of Social-Democracy, whereas we have shown that this contradiction is as profound as the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Our radical disagreement with the R.L.U. arises precisely from the fact that it passes socialism over in silence. Any political trend that passes socialism over in silence is radically opposed to the Social-Democratic programme.

The quoted passage shows that the R.L.U. is in sympathy with Social-Democracy. Knowing nothing about the R.L.U. beyond the leaflet it has issued, we are not yet in a position to judge the sincerity of that sympathy. At any rate, mere Platonic sympathy cannot satisfy us, mere Platonic love is not enough. We want more than sympathy, we want to be understood and we want our programme to be shared by those who would not like their ideas to contradict this programme. The Russian Liberation Union speaks of its task of “widely distributing among the workers literature advocating a strictly proletarian ideology” (our italics). These are very good words, but words are not enough. And if these fine words contradict the deeds, no amount of sincerity will save their authors in actual deeds from becoming carriers of bourgeois ideas into the working class. Let us consider the matter: what does this “strictly proletarian ideology” actually mean? Who is going to judge whether it   is strictly proletarian? Can the problem conceivably be solved by “abandoning for a time party disputes and differences on points of principle”? Would it not then first be necessary to “abandon for a time” the distribution of literature among the workers?

The C.C. of the R.L.U. once more launches the slogan of the “independent activity” of the workers. Our Party has often witnessed attempts to call into life a special trend in Social-Democracy under the banner of this notorious slogan. Thus it was with the “Economists” in the past, thus it is now with the Mensheviks or the new-Iskrists. Ever and always it turned out that this slogan (whether those who released it were conscious of it or not) only suited the purpose of elements who least appreciated the consistency of principle and the idea-content of the movement. We need only see the new use to which this old slogan has been put: we see before our eyes a fusion of the appeal to “independent activity” in assessing a “strictly proletarian ideology” with the “independently active” repetition of anti-proletarian, bourgeois phrases, with the advocacy of the bourgeois idea of non-partyism. We would answer the C.C. of the R.L.U.: there is only one strictly proletarian ideology, and that is Marxism. A strictly proletarian programme and strictly proletarian tactics are the programme and the tactics of international revolutionary Social-Democracy. This is borne out, among other things, by proletarian experience, by the experience of the proletarian movement throughout the world, from Germany to America, from England to Italy. It is over half a century since this movement first emerged upon the broad political scene in 1848; the parties of the proletariat formed and grew into vast armies; they experienced a number of revolutions, underwent all kinds of trials, passed through deviations to both the Right and the Left, and waged a struggle with opportunism and with anarchism. This entire gigantic experience serves to confirm the Marxist ideology and the Social-Democratic programme. It is a pledge that even those workers who are now following the lead of the R.L.U. will, in the mass, inevitably and unavoidably come to Social-DemOcracy!

To quote further from the Appeal: “Being largely a practical organisation, the R.L.U. is at one in its activity   also with the Party of the Socialists-Revolutionaries, inasmuch as we are united with it by a common method—armed struggle against the autocracy, and a common aim—the con vocation of a Constituent Assembly on democratic lines....” After what has been said we are not surprised, of course, at this rapprochement of the revolutionary democrats with the Socialists-Revolutionaries. While stressing the practical nature of its organisation in the cited passage of the Appeal and limiting its solidarity with the Socialists-Revolutionaries (“inasmuch as”) to common grounds of method and immediate aim, the R.L.U. obviously abstains for the present from determining the relationship between the “principles” of the Socialists-Revolutionaries and those of a “strictly proletarian ideology”. Such an abstention would be a very bad recommendation for a Social-Democrat, but a very good one for a revolutionary democrat. Unfortunately, however, the ensuing sentence in the Appeal shows what a non-party” stand may lead to.... “We have nothing against even the Osvobozhdeniye League,” says the C.C. of the R.L.U., “notwithstanding the radical difference in our political convictions, provided, of course, that it brings itself to realise the inevitability of the armed uprising if a Constituent Assembly is to be convened.”

In the first place, we would remark in this connection that if the R.L.U. differs radically only with the political views of the Osvobozhdeniye League, we can infer that it does not differ with its economic programme, in which case it explicitly renounces socialism and fully subscribes to the views of the revolutionary bourgeois democrats! This deduction, of course, is at variance with the R.L.U.’s sympathies for a “strictly proletarian ideology”, but the essence of a “non-party” stand consists precisely in the fact that it engenders endless and hopeless contradictions.

Secondly, what exactly is the radical difference between the political views of the R.L.U. and the Osvobozhdeniye League? The R.L.U. has just rapped its own knuckles; it has spoken of “going along together to a Constituent Assembly” and “abandoning for a time party disputes and differences on points of principle"(obviously, until the Constituent Assembly is convened), and now, before the Constituent Assembly, it precipitates a dispute and expresses its disagreement   with the Osvobozhdeniye League, which adopted in its programme the convocation of a popular Constituent Assembly on democratic lines! How does it happen that the R.L.U., while expressing a desire to “propagandise its political convictions”, manages to say nothing on the content of those convictions? Is the R.L.U. a republican organisation, as distinct from the Osvobozhdeniye League, which is monarchist? Do the political convictions of the R.L.U. include, say, the abolition of the standing army and its replacement by the arming of the people? the demand for the complete disestablishment of the Church? the complete abolition of indirect taxes, etc.? In its desire to simplify and ease things by abandoning party disputes and fundamental differences, the R.L.U. has actually complicated and made things more difficult by the utter vagueness of its position.

Thirdly, how are we to know whether the Osvobozhdeniye League will fulfil the condition which the R.L.U. has set it, whether it will “bring itself to realise the inevitability of the armed uprising”? Are we to wait for its official announcement on that score? But the Osvobozhdeniye League refuses to say anything about the methods by which its programme is to be carried out. It gives its members full scope both in the choice of those methods and in the matter of modifying the programme itself. It considers itself to be a part of the “Constitutional-Democratic” (read constitutional-monarchist) party, whose other part forms the Zemstvo grouping which refuses to commit itself to any programme or to any tactics whatever. This being the case, what does the condition set to the Osvobozhdeniye League by the R.L.U. amount to? Further, who does not know that the Osvobozhdeniye adherents do not commit themselves to any definite programme or tactical line, in order to be completely free in certain cases to declare themselves (especially unofficially) both for terrorism and for the up rising? Hence, we arrive at the indubitable conclusion that influential members and even influential groups of the League will experience no difficulty in joining, should they wish to do so, the R.L.U. and in occupying key positions therein. Given the R.L.U.’s non-party position, quite a number of circumstances beyond its control (large financial resources, social connections, etc.) will favour such an   outcome. This outcome would mean the conversion of the armed fighting squads of the people into an instrument of the liberal bourgeoisie, the subjection of the workers’ up rising to its interests. It would mean the political exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie in the Russian democratic revolution. In the event of such an outcome the bourgeoisie would furnish the money to arm the proletariat, taking care to divert the proletariat from socialism by preaching common-party interests, to weaken its ties with Social-Democracy, and thus to render its own chances most favour able for using the workers as its tool and for depriving them of the possibilities to advance their own, “party”, proletarian interests in the revolution.

*     *

The tactical tasks, which the appearance of this new union sets before the Social-Democrats, follow naturally from what has been said above. Whether this particular union, the R.L.U., especially its C.C., subject to no control and answerable to no one, merits confidence, we cannot say. We shall not dwell on the C.C. of the R.L.U., but on the R.L.U. Workers’ Union, and not so much on this particular workers’ union as on workers’ unions of this type in general. Similar unions”, organisations, groups, and circles in varying forms, under varying names, and of varying sizes, are today springing up all over Russia. The whole policy of the autocracy, which compels the people to resort to arms and prepare for the uprising, inevitably stimulates the organisation of such groups. The motley, often accidental, nature of their social composition, with its indeterminate class character, in con junction with an extremely limited scope of effective Social-Democratic work, inevitably lends these groups the character of common-party revolutionary-democratic groups. The practical attitude of the Social-Democrats towards them is one of our Party’s most pressing problems.

We must, in the first place, decidedly use all means to make the Social-Democratic standpoint clear to the members of these groups, especially to the workers, without vagueness or reservation in the slightest, that the proletariat must organise definitely on a party basis and definitely in the Social-Democratic Party, if it does not wish to be politically exploited by the bourgeoisie. It would he sheer pedantry for us simply to dismiss these groups, or to “over look” their formation and their tremendous importance for the struggle for freedom. It would be unpardonable doctrinairism for the Social-Democrats to adopt a snobbish or contemptuous attitude towards the “common-party” workers belonging to such groups. We should like in particular to warn all members of the Party against such mistakes, which are possible as a result of the revival of Economism of rueful memory and a narrow, tail-ist interpretation of our tasks in the ranks of Social-Democracy. Every effort should be made to effect a mutual exchange of assistance between these groups and the organisations of our Party for the purpose of arming the greatest possible number of workers. There should be an extremely discreet, tactful, and comradely attitude towards the workers, who are ready to die for freedom, who are organising and arming for the fight, who are in complete sympathy with the proletarian struggle, and who are yet divided from us by the lack of a Social-Democratic world outlook, by anti-Marxist prejudices, and by survivals of superannuated revolutionary views. Nothing is easier than the method of immediately breaking with such otherwise-minded workers or of simply keeping aloof from them; nor is there anything more stupid than such a method. We should remember that Social-Democracy’s strength lies in the unity of the broad masses of the proletariat, and that such unity, owing to the splitting, disuniting, and dulling conditions of capitalism, is not achieved with immediacy, but only at the cost of persistent effort and tremendous patience. We should remember the experiences of our European comrades, who consider it their duty to show an attitude of comradely concern even towards the workers who are members of the Catholic unions and try not to antagonise them by treating their religious and political prejudices with contempt, but persistently, tactfully, and patiently make use of every act of the political and economic struggle in order to enlighten them and bring them closer to the class conscious proletariat on the ground of common struggle. How much more careful should our attitude be towards the worker-revolutionaries, who are prepared to fight for freedom   but are still strangers to Social-Democracy! We repeat: no concealment of Social-Democratic views, but no slighting of the revolutionary groups that do not share these views. So long as these groups have not officially joined any non Social-Democratic party, we are entitled, nay, obligated to regard them as associated with the R.S.D.L.P. Thus, too, we should regard the Workers’ Union of the Russian Liberation Union. We should make every effort to introduce the members of this union to socialist literature and conduct propaganda of our views by word of mouth at all meetings of all the branches of this union. Even in the free countries of Europe the idea that all proletarians can be made class-conscious Social-Democrats under capitalism is considered utopian. But neither in Europe nor in Russia is the idea of the Social-Democrats’ leading influence upon the mass of the proletariat considered utopian. The thing is to learn how to exercise this influence, to remember that our best ally in educating the unenlightened workers will be our enemies, the government and the bourgeoisie; then we shall be sure that, at the decisive moment, the whole working-class mass will respond to the call of Social-Democracy!


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

[2] See pp. 164-65 of this volume.—Ed.

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