V. I.   Lenin

The Slogans of the All-Russia Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. in January 1912 and the May Day Movement

Published: Sotsial-Demokrat No. 27, June 17 (4), 1912. Published according to the text in Sotsial-Demokrat.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 110-115.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan
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

Elsewhere in this issue, the reader will find the full text of a leaflet printed and circulated by the St. Petersburg workers before the May Day action that will from now on be famous. That leaflet is very much worth dwelling on, for it is a most important document in the history of the working-class movement in Russia and in the history of our Party.

The leaflet reflects a certain state of disorganisation of the Social-Democratic Party in the capital, for the appeal is signed, not by the St. Petersburg Committee, but by individual Social-Democratic groups and even a group of worker Socialist-Revolutionaries. In most parts of Russia, the state of our Party is such that its directing committees and centres are constantly being arrested, and constantly re establish themselves thanks to the existence of all kinds of factory, trade union, sub-district and district Social-Democratic groups—the very same “nuclei” that have always roused the hatred of the liberals and liquidators. In the latest issue of the magazine published by those gentlemen (Nasha Zarya, 1912, No. 4), the reader can see again and again how Mr. V. Levitsky, writing with impotent rage and vomiting abuse, hisses against the “rebirth of the Party through an artificial revival of politically dead nuclei”.

What makes the leaflet under review all the more typical and noteworthy is the fact that, owing to the arrest of the St. Petersburg Committee, it was the nuclei that had to appear on the scene, nuclei deprived by the will of the police of the “directing centre” so hateful to the liquidators. Owing to this fact, which every revolutionary will find sad,   the independent life of the nuclei came into the open. The nuclei had in all haste to rally their forces, establish contacts, and restore the “underground” in the face of fierce persecution by the police, who positively raged before May Day. The groups, representatives, etc., whose names appear under the leaflet, all constitute that very underground that is hateful to the liberals and the liquidators. While the same liquidationist leader, Mr. Levitsky, speaking on behalf of Nasha Zarya and Zhivoye Dyelo, of course assailed, foaming at the mouth, the “cult of the underground” (see p. 33 of the above-mentioned issue), we had, in the shape of the St. Petersburg leaflet, a precise and complete document revealing to us the existence of that underground, its vitality, the content of its work, and its significance.

The St. Petersburg Committee has been wiped out through the arrests, so now we shall see just what the underground nuclei are like in themselves, what they are doing or can do, what ideas they have actually made their own or evolved in their midst, and not merely borrowed from the supreme Party body, what ideas really enjoy the workers’ sympathy.

The leaflet shows what the nuclei are doing: they are carrying on the work of the St. Petersburg Committee, which for the time being is shattered (to the delight of all the diverse enemies of the underground). They continue preparing for May Day. They hastily re-establish the contacts between different underground Social-Democratic groups. They en list worker Socialist-Revolutionaries too, for they are well aware of the importance of uniting the proletariat round a living revolutionary cause. They rally these different Social-Democratic groups, and even a “group of worker Socialist-Revolutionaries”, round specific slogans of the struggle. And this is when the real character of the movement, the real sentiment of the proletariat, the real strength of the R.S.D.L.P. and of its January All-Russia Conference, stands out.

As a result of the arrests, there happens to be no hierarchic body able to decree the advancing of particular slogans. Hence the proletarian masses, the worker Social-Democrats and even some of the Socialist-Revolutionaries can be united only by slogans that are really indisputable for the masses,   only by slogans that derive their strength not from a “decree from above” (as demagogues and liquidators put it), but from the conviction of the revolutionary workers themselves.

And what do we find?

We find that, after the St. Petersburg Committee had been shattered, at a time when its immediate restoration was impossible, and when one group of workers influenced another group solely by ideological, and not by organisational, means, the slogans adopted were those of the All-Russia Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. which was convened in January 1912 and which evokes a positively mad, savage hatred on the part of the liberals, the liquidators, Lieber, Trotsky and Co.!

Let our slogans be,” the St. Petersburg workers wrote in their leaflet, “a constituent assembly, an eight-hour working day, the confiscation of the landed estates.” And further on the leaflet launches the call: “Down with the tsarist government! Down with the autocratic Constitution of June 3! Long live the democratic republic! Long live socialism!”

We see from this instructive document that all the slogans put forward by the Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. have been adopted by the St. Petersburg proletariat and have set their seal on the first steps of the new Russian revolution. All kinds of slanderers and detractors of the January Conference may carry on their dirty business as much as they like. The revolutionary proletariat of St. Petersburg has answered them. The work started long before the last Conference by revolutionary Social-Democrats, calling on the proletariat to assume the role of leader of the peoples revolution, has borne fruit despite all police persecution, despite the reckless pre-May Day arrests and hounding of revolutionaries, despite the torrent of lies and abuse from the liberal and liquidationist press.

Hundreds of thousands of St. Petersburg proletarians, followed by workers throughout Russia, resorted to strikes and street demonstrations not as one of the separate classes of bourgeois society, not with “their own” merely economic slogans, but as the leader raising aloft the banner of the revolution for the whole people, on behalf of the whole people, and with the aim of awakening and drawing into the   struggle all the classes who need freedom and are capable of striving for it.

The revolutionary movement of the proletariat in Russia has risen to a higher level. Whereas in 1905 it began with mass strikes and Gaponiads,[1] in 1912, despite the fact that the police has smashed our Party organisations, the movement is beginning with mass strikes and the raising of the republican banner! The separate “nuclei” and disconnected “groups” of workers did their duty under the most difficult and trying conditions. The proletariat set up its own “May Day committees” and went into action with a revolutionary platform worthy of the class which is destined to free man kind from wage slavery.

The May Day movement also shows what meaning some words about “unity” have and how the workers unite in reality. Rubanovich, a spokesman for the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, writes in Budushcheye,[2] Burtsev’s Paris newspaper, that “we must point out the following note worthy feature of this May Day action: at the preparatory meetings, St. Petersburg workers refused to recognise the division existing among the various socialist groups; ... the prevailing tendency was towards agreement”. The leaflet we have reprinted clearly shows what fact prompted such an inference. The fact is that the Social-Democratic nuclei, which had lost their guiding centre, re-established contact with all the various groups by winning over workers regardless of the views they held and advocating to them all their Party slogans. And precisely because these Party slogans are correct, because they are in keeping with the proletariat’s revolutionary tasks and comprise the tasks of a revolution of the whole people, they were accepted by all workers.

Unity materialised because the January Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. gave up the idle game of bringing about agreement among small groups abroad, gave up the idle wooing of the liquidators of the revolutionary party, and put forward clear and precise fighting slogans at the right time. The proletariat’s unity for revolutionary action was achieved not by compromising between the proletarian (Social-Democratic) and the non-proletarian (Socialist Revolutionary) parties, not by seeking agreement with the liquidators who have broken away from the Social-   Democratic Party, but by rallying the workers of Russian Social-Democratic organisations and by these workers making a correct appraisal of the tasks of the moment.

A good lesson for those who, succumbing to the idle chatter of the liberals of the Bund and the Trotskys from Vienna, are still capable of believing in “unity”—with the liquidators. The vaunted “Organising Commission” of Lieber, Trotsky and the liquidators cried out from the house-tops about “unity”, but in fact it could not, and did not, supply a single slogan actually uniting the revolutionary struggle of the workers. The liquidators supplied their own, non-revolutionary slogans, slogans of a liberal labour policy, but the movement disregarded them. That is what lies at the bottom of the Trotskyist fables about “unity”!

Swearing and vowing that he was “unifying”, and cursing the Conference as hard as he could, Trotsky assured good souls in Vienna on April 23 (May 6) that “the struggle for freedom of association is the basis” (!!) of the Lena events and of their repercussions, that “this demand is, and will be, the central [!!] issue of the revolutionary mobilisation of the proletariat”. Scarcely a week had passed when these pitiful phrases of the yes-man of the liquidators were swept away like so much dust—by the “representatives of all the organised workers of St. Petersburg”, “the Social-Democratic Obyedineniye group”, “the central Social-Democratic city group”, “the group of worker Socialist-Revolutionaries”, “the group of worker Social-Democrats” and “the representatives of May Day committees”.

The Social-Democratic proletariat of St. Petersburg has realised that a new revolutionary struggle must be started, not for the sake of one right, even though it should be the most essential, the most important for the working class, but for the sake of the freedom of the whole people.

The Social-Democratic proletariat of St. Petersburg has realised that it must generalise its demands, and not break them up into parts, that the republic includes freedom of association, and not vice versa, that it is necessary to strike at the centre, to attack the source of evil, to destroy the whole system, the whole regime, of the Russia of the tsar and the Black Hundreds.

The Social-Democratic proletariat of St. Petersburg has realised that it is ridiculous and absurd to claim freedom of association from Nicholas Romanov, from the Black-Hundred Duma, that it is ridiculous and absurd to presume that Russia’s present political system, our “autocratic Constitution of June 3”, is compatible with freedom of association, that in a country where there is a general and indiscriminate lack of rights, where arbitrary rule and provocation by the authorities reign supreme, and where there is no “freedom” even for simply helping tens of millions of starving people—it is only liberal chatterers and liberal labour politicians that can put freedom of association as “the central issue of revolutionary mobilisation”.

The Social-Democratic proletariat of St. Petersburg has realised that and unfurled the republican banner, demanding an eight-hour day and confiscation of the landed estates as the only guarantee of the truly democratic character of the revolution.


[1] On January 9, 1905, the tsar ordered his troops to fire on a peaceful demonstration of St. Petersburg workers who were marching to the Winter Palace with the priest Gapon at their head to submit   a petition to the tsar. The atrocious shooting of the defenceless workers gave rise to mass political strikes and demonstrations all over Russia under the slogan of “Down with the autocracy!” The events of January 9 were the starting-point of the revolution of 1905–07.

[2] Budushcheye (L’Avenir)—a liberal bourgeois weekly published in Paris from October 1911 to January 1914 in Russian (some items were published in French). It was edited by V. L. Burtsev and Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries contributed to it.

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