Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution


Osvobozhdeniyeism and New Iskra Trends

Let us now proceed to another striking confirmation of the political meaning of new-Iskra trend.

In a splendid, remarkable and most instructive article, entitled “How to Find Oneself” (Osvobozhdeniye, No. 71), Mr. Struve wages war against the “programmatic revolutionism” of our extreme parties. Mr. Struve is particularly displeased with me personally.[1] Mr. Struve could not please me more: I could not wish for a better ally in the fight against the renascent Economism of the new-Iskraists and the utter lack of principle displayed by the “Socialist-Revolutionaries.” On some other occasion we shall relate how Mr. Struve and the Osvobozhdeniye proved in practice how utterly reactionary are the “amendments” to Marxism made in the draft program of the Socialist-Revolutionaries. We have already repeatedly[2] spoken about how Mr. Struve rendered me honest, faithful and real service every time he approved of the new-Iskraists in principle and we shall say so once more now.

Mr. Struve’s article contains a number of very interesting statements, which we can note here only in passing. He intends “to create Russian democracy by relying on class collaboration and not on class struggle,” in which case “the socially privileged intelligentsia” (something in the nature of the “cultured nobility” to which Mr. Struve makes obeisance with the grace of a truly high-society . . . lackey) will bring the weight of its “social position” (the weight of its moneybags) to this “non-class” party. Mr. Struve expresses the desire to show the youth the worthlessness “of the hackneyed radical opinion that the bourgeoisie has become frightened and has sold out the proletariat and the cause of liberty.” (We welcome this desire with all our heart. Nothing will confirm the correctness of this Marxian “hackneyed” opinion better than a war waged against it by Mr. Struve. Please, Mr. Struve, don’t pigeonhole this splendid plan of yours!)

For the purposes of our subject it is important to note the practical slogans against which this politically sensitive representative of the Russian bourgeoisie, who is so responsive to the slightest change in the weather, is fighting at the present time. First, he is fighting against the slogan of republicanism. Mr. Struve is firmly convinced that this slogan is “incomprehensible and foreign to the masses of the people” (he forgets to add: comprehensible, but not of advantage to the bourgeoisie!). We should like to see what reply Mr. Struve would get from the workers in our study circles and at our mass meetings! Or are the workers not the people? And the peasants? They are given to what Mr. Struve calls “naïve republicanism” (“to kick out the tsar”)—but the liberal bourgeoisie believes that naïve republicanism will be replaced not by enlightened republicanism but by enlightened monarchism! Ça dépend, Mr. Struve; it will depend on circumstances. Neither tsarism nor the bourgeoisie can help opposing a radical improvement in the condition of the peasantry at the expense of the landed estates, whereas the working class cannot help assisting the peasantry in this respect.

Secondly, Mr. Struve assures us that “in a civil war the attacking party always proves to be in the wrong.” This idea verges closely on the above-mentioned trends of the new Iskra ideas. We will not say, of course, that in civil war it is always advantageous to attack; no, sometimes defensive tactics are obligatory for a time. But to apply a proposition like the one Mr. Struve has made to Russia in 1905 means precisely displaying a little of the “hackneyed radical opinion” (“the bourgeoisie takes fright and betrays the cause of liberty”). Whoever now refuses to attack the autocracy and reaction, whoever is not making preparations for such an attack, whoever is not advocating it, takes the name of adherent of the revolution in vain.

Mr. Struve condemns the slogans: “secrecy” and “rioting” (a riot being “an insurrection in miniature”). Mr. Struve spurns both the one and the other—and he does so from the standpoint of “approaching the masses.” We should like to ask Mr. Struve whether he can point to any passage in, for instance, What Is To Be Done?—the work of an extreme revolutionary from his standpoint—which advocates rioting. As regards “secrecy” is there really much difference between, for example, us and Mr. Struve? Are we not both working on “illegal” newspapers which are being smuggled into Russia “secretly” and which serve the “secret” groups of either the Osvobozhdeniye League or the R.S.D.L.P.? Our workers’ mass meetings are often held “secretly” —that sin does exist. But what about the meetings of the gentlemen of the Osvobozhdeniye League? Is there any reason why you should brag, Mr. Struve, and look down upon the despised partisans of despised secrecy?

True, the supplying of arms to the workers demands strict secrecy. On this point Mr. Struve is rather more outspoken. Just listen: “As regards armed insurrection, or a revolution in the technical sense, only mass propaganda in favour of a democratic program can create the social-psychological conditions for a general armed insurrection. Thus, even from the point of view that an armed insurrection is the inevitable consummation of the present struggle for emancipation—a view I do not share—the permeation of the masses with ideas of democratic reform is a most fundamental and most necessary task.”

Mr. Struve tries to evade the issue. He speaks of the inevitability of an insurrection instead of speaking about its necessity for the victory of the revolution. The insurrection—unprepared, spontaneous, sporadic—has already begun. No one can positively vouch that it will develop into an entire and integral popular armed insurrection, for that depends on the state of the revolutionary forces (which can be fully gauged only in the course of the struggle itself), on the behaviour of the government and the bourgeoisie, and on a number of other circumstances which it is impossible to estimate exactly. There is no point in speaking about inevitability, in the sense of absolute certainty with regard to some definite event, as Mr. Struve does. What you must discuss, if you want to be a partisan of the revolution is whether insurrection is necessary for the victory of the revolution, whether it is necessary to proclaim it vigorously, to advocate and make immediate and energetic preparations for it. Mr. Struve cannot fail to understand this difference: he does not, for instance, obscure the question of the necessity of universal suffrage—which is indisputable for a democrat—by raising the question of whether its attainment is inevitable in the course of the present revolution—which is debatable and of no urgency for people engaged in political activity. By evading the issue of the necessity of an insurrection, Mr. Struve expresses the inner most essence of the political position of the liberal bourgeoisie. In the first place, the bourgeoisie would prefer to come to terms with the autocracy rather than crush it; secondly, the bourgeoisie in any case thrusts the armed struggle upon the shoulders of the workers. This is the real meaning of Mr. Struve’s evasiveness. That is why he backs out of the question of the necessity of an insurrection towards the question of the “social-psychological conditions” for it, of preliminary “propaganda.” Just as the bourgeois windbags in the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848 engaged in drawing up resolutions, declarations and decisions, in “mass propaganda” and in preparing the “social-psychological conditions” at a time when it was a matter of repelling the armed force of the government, when the movement “led to the necessity” for an armed struggle, when verbal persuasion alone (which is a hundredfold necessary during the preparatory period) became banal, bourgeois inactivity and cowardice—so also Mr. Struve evades the question of insurrection, screening himself behind phrases. Mr. Struve vividly shows us what many Social-Democrats stubbornly fail to see, namely, that a revolutionary period differs from ordinary, everyday preparatory periods in history in that the temper, excitement and convictions of the masses must and do reveal themselves in action.

Vulgar revolutionism fails to see that the word is also a deed; this proposition is indisputable when applied to history generally, or to those periods of history when no open political mass actions take place, and when they can not be replaced or artificially evoked by putsches of any sort. Khvostist revolutionaries fail to understand that—when a revolutionary period has started, when the old “superstructure” has cracked from top to bottom, when open political action on the part of the classes and masses who are creating a new superstructure for themselves has become a fact, when civil war has begun—then, to confine oneself to “words” as of old, and fail to advance the direct slogan to pass to “deeds,” still to try avoid deeds by pleading the need for “psychological conditions” and “propaganda” in general, is apathy, lifelessness, pedantry, or else betrayal of the revolution and treachery to it. The Frankfurt windbags of the democratic bourgeoisie are a memorable historical example of just such treachery, or of just such pedantic stupidity.

Would you like an explanation of this difference between vulgar revolutionism and the khvostism of revolutionaries by an example taken from the history of the Social Democratic movement in Russia? We shall give you such an explanation. Call to mind the years 1901 and 1902, which are so recent but which already seem ancient history to us today. Demonstrations had begun. The protagonists of vulgar revolutionism raised a cry about “storming” (Rabocheye Dyelo[4]) “bloodthirsty leaflets” were issued (of Berlin origin, if my memory does not fail me), attacks were made on the “literature writing” and armchair nature of the idea of conducting agitation on a national scale through a newspaper (Nadezhdin).[5] On the other hand, the khvostism of revolutionaries was revealed in preaching that “the economic struggle is the best means of political agitation.” What was the attitude of the revolutionary Social-Democrats? They attacked both these trends. They condemned flash in-the-pan methods and the cries about storming, for it was or should have been obvious to all that open mass action was a matter of the days to come. They condemned khvostism and bluntly issued the slogan even of a popular armed insurrection, not in the sense of a direct appeal (Mr. Struve would not discover any appeals to “riots” in our utterances of that period), but in the sense of a necessary deduction, in the sense of “propaganda” (about which Mr. Struve has bethought himself only now—our honourable Mr. Struve is always several years behind the times), in the sense of preparing those very “social-psychological conditions” about which the representatives of the bewildered, huckstering bourgeoisie are now holding forth “sadly and inappropriately.” At that time propaganda and agitation, agitation and propaganda, were really pushed to the fore by the objective state of affairs. At that time the work of publishing an all-Russian political newspaper, the weekly issuance of which was regarded as an ideal, could be proposed (and was proposed in What Is To Be Done?) as the touchstone of the work of preparing for an insurrection. At that time the slogans advocating mass agitation instead of direct armed action, preparation of the social-psychological conditions for insurrection instead of flash-in-the-pan methods, were the only correct slogans for the revolutionary Social-Democratic movement. At the present time the slogans have been superseded by events, the movement has left them behind, they have become tatters, rags fit only to cloth the hypocrisy of the Osvobozhdeniye and of the new Iskra tailism!

Or perhaps I am mistaken? Perhaps the revolution has not yet begun? Perhaps the time for open political action of classes has not yet arrived? Perhaps there is still no civil war, and the criticism of weapons should not as yet be the necessary and obligatory successor, heir, trustee and wielder of the weapon of criticism?

Look around, poke your head out of your study and look into the street for an answer. Has not the government itself started civil war by shooting down hosts of peaceful and unarmed citizens everywhere? Are not the armed Black Hundreds acting as “arguments” of the autocracy? Has not the bourgeoisie—even the bourgeoisie—recognised the need for a citizens’ militia? Does not Mr. Struve himself, the ideally moderate and punctilious Mr. Struve, say (alas, he says so only to evade the issue!) that “the open nature of revolutionary action” (that’s the sort of fellows we are today!) “is now one of the most important conditions for exerting an educational influence upon the masses of the people”?

Those who have eyes to see can have no doubt as to how the question of armed insurrection must be presented by the partisans of revolution at the present time. Just take a look at the three ways in which this question has been presented in the organs of the free press which are at all capable of influencing the masses.

Presentation one. The resolution of the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.[3] It is publicly acknowledged and declared that the general democratic revolutionary movement has already brought about the necessity of an armed insurrection. The organisation of the proletariat for an insurrection has been placed on the order of the day as one of the essential, principal and indispensable tasks of the Party. Instructions are issued to adopt the most energetic measures to arm the proletariat and to ensure the possibility of directly leading the insurrection.

The second presentation. An article in the Osvobozhdeniye, containing a statement of principles, by the “leader of the Russian constitutionalists” (as Mr. Struve was recently described by such an influential organ of the European bourgeoisie as the Frankfurter Zeitung[6]), or the leader of the Russian progressive bourgeoisie. He does not share the opinion that an insurrection is inevitable. Secret activity and riots are the specific methods of irrational revolutionism. Republicanism is a method of stunning. The question of armed insurrection is really a mere technical question, whereas “the fundamental and most necessary task” is to carry on mass propaganda and to prepare the social-psychological conditions.

The third presentation. The resolution of the new Iskra-ist Conference. Our task is to prepare an insurrection. A planned insurrection is out of the question. Favourable conditions for an insurrection are created by the disorganisation of the government, by our agitation, and by our organisation. Only then “can technical military preparations acquire more or less serious significance.”

And is that all? Yes, that is all. The new Iskra-ist leaders of the proletariat still do not know whether insurrection has become a necessity. It is still not clear to them whether the task of organising the proletariat for direct battle has become an urgent one. It is not necessary to urge the adoption of the most energetic measures; it is far more important (in 1905, and not in 1902) to explain in general outlines under what conditions these measures “may” acquire “more or less serious” significance....

Do you see now, comrades of the new Iskra, where your turn to Martynovism has led you? Do you realise that your political philosophy has proved to be a rehash of the Osvobozhdeniye philosophy?—that (against your will and with out your being aware of it) you are following at the tail of the monarchist bourgeoisie? Is it clear to you now that, while repeating what you have learned by rote and attaining perfection in sophistry, you have lost sight of the fact that—in the memorable words of Peter Struve’s memorable article—“the open nature of revolutionary action is now one of the most important conditions for exerting an educational influence upon the masses of the people”?


[1] “In comparison with the revolutionism of Messrs. Lenin and associates, the revolutionism of the West-European Social-Democracy of Bebel, and even of Kautsky, is opportunism; but the foundations of even this already toned down revolutionism have been undermined and washed away by history.” A most irate thrust. Only Mr. Struve is mistaken in thinking that it is possible to pile everything on to me, as if I were dead. It is sufficient for me to issue a challenge to Mr. Struve, which he will never be able to accept. When and where did I call the “revolutionism of Bebel and Kautsky” opportunism? When and where did I ever claim to have created any sort of special trend in International Social-Democracy not identical with the trend of Bebel and Kautsky? When and where have there been brought to light differences between me, on the one hand, and Bebel and Kautsky, on the other—differences even slightly approximating in seriousness the differences between Bebel and Kautsky, for instance, on the agrarian question in Breslau?[7] Let Mr Struve try to answer these three questions.—Lenin

To our readers we say: The liberal bourgeoisie everywhere and always has recourse to the method of assuring its adherents in a given country that the Social-Democrats of that country are the most unreasonable, whereas their comrades in a neighbouring country are “good boys.” The German bourgeoisie has held up those “good boys” of French Socialists as models for the Bebels and the Kautskys hundreds of times. The French bourgeoisie quite recently pointed to the “good boy” Bebel as a model for the French Socialists. It is an old trick Mr. Struve! You will find only children and ignoramuses swallowing that bait. The complete unanimity of international revolutionary Social-Democracy on all major questions of program and tactics is a most incontrovertible fact.—Lenin

[2] Let us remind the reader that the article “What Should Not Be Done?” (Iskra, No. 52) was hailed with noise and clamour by the Osvobozhdeniye as a “noteworthy turn” towards concessions to the opportunists. The trends of the principles behind the new Iskra ideas were especially lauded by the Osvobozbdeniye in an item on the split among the Russian Social-Democrats. Commenting on Trotsky’s pamphlet, “Our Political Tasks,” the Osvobozhdeniye printed out the similarity between the ideas of this author and what was once written and said by the Rabocheye Dyelo-ists Krichevsky, Martynov, Akimov (see the leaflet entitled “An Obliging Liberal” published by the Vperyod). The Osvobozhdeniye welcomed Martynov’s pamphlet on the two dictatorships (see the item in the Vperyod, No. 9). Finally Starover’s belated complaints about the old slogan of the old Iskra, “first draw a line of demarcation and then unite,” met with special sympathy on the part of the Osvobozbdeniye.—Lenin

[3] The following is the text in full:


“1. the proletariat, being, by virtue of its very position, the most advanced and the only consistently revolutionary class, is for that very reason called upon to play the leading part in the general democratic revolutionary movement in Russia;

“2. this movement has already brought about the necessity of an armed insurrection;

“3. the proletariat will inevitably take a most energetic part in this insurrection, this participation determining the fate of the revolution in Russia;

“4. the proletariat can play the leading part in this revolution only if it is welded into a united and independent political force under the banner of the Social-Democratic Labour Party, which is to guide its struggle not only ideologically but practically as well;

“5. it is only by fulfilling this part that the proletariat can be assured of the most favourable conditions for the struggle for Socialism against the propertied classes of a bourgeois-democratic Russia;

“Therefore the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. recognises that the task of organising the proletariat for direct struggle against the autocracy through armed insurrection is one of the most important and pressing tasks of the Party in the present revolutionary period.

“The Congress therefore resolves to instruct all the Party organisations:

“a) to explain to the proletariat by means of propaganda and agitation not only the political importance, but also the practical organisational aspect of the impending armed insurrection;

“b) in this propaganda and agitation to explain the part played by mass political strikes, which may be of great importance at the beginning and in the very process of the insurrection;

“c) to adopt the most energetic measures to arm the proletariat and also to draw up a plan for the armed insurrection and for direct leadership of the latter, establishing for this purpose, to the extent that it is necessary, special groups of Party functionaries.”

[Author’s note to the 1907 edition.–Ed.]Lenin

[7] Differences of opinion were revealed during the discussion of the draft agrarian programme at the Breslau Congress of the German Social-Democratic Party, 1895.


[5] The reference is to Nadezhdin’s press attack on the plan of the Leninist Iskra (Nadezhdin was the pseudonym of Y. 0. Zelensky). Lenin criticised this attack as far back as 1902, in his What Is To Be Done?.


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