V. I.   Lenin

Socialism and War

The Attitude of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Towards the War


Chapter IV

The History of the Split and the Present State of Social-Democracy in Russia

The above-described tactics of the R.S.D.L.P. in relation to the war are the inevitable result of the thirty years’ development of Social-Democracy in Russia. These tactics, and the present state of Social-Democracy in out country, cannot be properly understood unless one ponders over the history of our Party. That is why we must here too remind the reader about the major facts in this history.

As an ideological trend, Social-Democracy arose in 1883, when Social-Democratic views applied to Russia were for the first time systematically expounded abroad by the Emancipation of Labour Group. Until the beginning of the nineties, Social-Democracy remained an ideological trend with no connection with the mass working-class movement in Russia. At the beginning of the nineties, the upswing of the social movement, the unrest and strike movement among the workers, transformed Social-Democracy into a active political force inseparably connected with the struggle (both economic and political) of the working class. And from that very moment Social-Democracy began to split into “Economists” and “Iskra-ists”.  

The “Economists” and the old = Iskra (1894–1903)

Economism” was an opportunist trend in Russian Social-Democracy. Its political essence was summed up in the programme: “for the workers – the economic struggle; for the liberals – the political struggle.” Its chief theoretical prop was so-called “legal Marxism” or “Struveism” which “recognised” a “Marxism“ that was completely purged of every scrap of revolutionary spirit and was adapted to the requirements of the liberal bourgeoisie. On the plea that the masses of the workers in Russia were immature, and wishing to “march with the masses”, the “Economists“ restricted the tasks and scope of the working-class movement to the economic struggle and political support for liberalism, and did not set themselves independent political or any revolutionary tasks.

The old Iskra[1] (1900–1903) waged a victorious struggle against “Economism” for the principles of revolutionary Social-Democracy. The entire flower of the class-conscious proletariat took the side of Iskra. For a number of years before the revolution Social-Democracy advocated the most consistent and uncompromising programme. Both the class struggle and the action of the masses during the 1905 revolution confirmed the correctness of this programme. The “Economists” adapted themselves to the backwardness of the masses. Iskra trained the vanguard of the workers that was capable of leading the masses forward. The arguments at present advanced by the social-chauvinists (that it is necessary to reckon with the masses, that imperialism is progressive, about the “illusions” harboured by revolutionaries, etc.), had all been advanced by the Economists. The opportunist alteration of Marxism to the “Struveist” style became known to Social-Democracy in Russia twenty years ago.  

Menshevism and Bolshevism (1903–1908)

The epoch of bourgeois-democratic revolution gave rise to a new struggle between trends in Social-Democracy that was the direct continuation of the preceding struggle. “Economism” changed into “Menshevism”. The championing of the revolutionary tactics of the old Iskra gave rise to “Bolshevism”.

In the turbulent years of 1905–1907, Menshevism was an opportunist trend backed by the bourgeois liberals, and carded liberal-bourgeois trends into the working-class movement. Adaptation of the working-class struggle to liberalism – such was its substance. Bolshevism, on the contrary, set the Social-Democratic workers the task of rousing the democratic peasantry for the revolutionary struggle despite the vacillation and treachery of liberalism. And the masses of the workers, as the Mensheviks themselves admitted more than once, marched with the Bolsheviks during the revolution in all the biggest actions.

The 1905 revolution tested, strengthened, deepened and steeled the uncompromisingly revolutionary Social-Democratic tactics in Russia. The open actions of classes and parties repeatedly disclosed the connection between Social-Democratic opportunism (“Menshevism”) and liberalism.  


Marxism and Liquidationism (1908–1914)

The counter-revolutionary epoch again, it, an entirely new form, placed the question of the opportunist and revolutionary tactics of Social-Democracy on the order of the day. The chief current of Menshevism, in spite of the protests of many of its best representatives, gave rise to the trend of liquidationism, renunciation of the struggle for a new revolution in Russia, renunciation of secret organisation and activity, contempt for and ridicule of the “underground”, of the slogan of a republic, etc. The group of legal writers for the magazine Nasha Zarya (Messrs. Potresov, Cherevanin, and others) constituted a nucleus, independent of the old Social-Democratic Patty, which in, thousand ways was supported, boosted and nursed by the liberal bourgeoisie of Russia which wanted to wean the workers from the revolutionary struggle.

This group of opportunists was expelled from the Party by the January Conference of the R.S.D.L.P., 1912[2] , which restored the Party in spite of the furious resistance of a number of groups and coteries abroad. For more than two years (beginning of 1912 to the middle of 1914) a stubborn struggle raged between the two Social-Democratic parties: the Central Committee that was elected in January 1912 and the “Organisation Committee” which refused to recognise the January Conference and wanted to restore the Party in a different way, by maintaining unity with the Nasha Zarya group. A stubborn struggle raged between the two daily workers’ newspapers (Pravda and Luch[3] and their successors), and between the two Social-Democratic groups in the Fourth State Duma (the R.S.D.L. group of Pravdists, or Marxists, and the “Social-Democratic group” of the Liquidators headed by Chkheidze).

Championing loyalty to the Party’s revolutionary principles, fostering the incipient revival of the working-class movement (especially after the spring of 1911), combining underground with open organisation, press and agitation, the Pravdists raffled around themselves the overwhelming majority of the class-conscious working dan, whereas the Liquidators – who as a political force operated   exclusively though the Nasha Zarya group – leaned on the all-round support of the liberal-bourgeois elements.

The open financial contributions of workers’ groups to the newspapers of the two parties, which was at that time a form of Social-Democratic membership dues adapted to Russian conditions (and the only one legally possible and freely verifiable by all), strikingly confirmed the proletarian source of the strength and influence of the Pravdists (Marxists) and the bourgeois-liberal source of that of the Liquidators (and their “O.C.”). Here are brief figures of these contributions, which are given in full in the book Marxism and = Liquidationism[4] and in an abbreviated form in the German Social-Democratic newspaper The Leipzig People’s = Paper[5] of July 21, 1914.

Number and amounts of contributions to the daily St. Petersburg newspapers, Marxist (Pravdist) and liquidationist, from January 1 to May 13, 1914:

Pravdist Liquidationist
Number of
in rbls.
Number of
in rbls.
From workers’ groups 2,873 18,934 671 5,296
From non-workers’ groups    713   2,650 453 6,760

Thus, by 1914, our Party had united four-fifths of the class-conscious workers of Russia around revolutionary Social-Democratic tactics. For the whole of 1913 the Pravdists received contributions from 2,181 workers’ groups and the Liquidators from 661. The figures from January 1, 1913 to May 13, 1914 will he: 5,054 contributions from workers’ groups for the Pravdists (that is, for our Party), and ,1,332, i.e., 20.8 per cent, for the liquidators.  

Marxism and Social-Chauvinism (1914–1915)

The great European war of 1914–1915 gave all the European and also the Russian Social-Democrats the opportunity to test their tactics on a crisis of world-wide dimensions. The reactionary, predatory and slave-owner character of the war stands out in immeasurably more striking relief in the case of tsarism than it does in the   case of the other governments. Nevertheless, the major group of Liquidators (the only group besides ours which has serious influence in Russia thanks to its liberal connections) turned towards social-chauvinism! Enjoying a monopoly of legality for a fairly long period, this Nasha Zarya group conducted propaganda among the masses in favour of “non-resistance to the war”, of wishing for the victory of the triple (now quadruple) entente, accusing German imperialism of “super-diabolical sins”, etc. Plekhanov, who, since 1903, has repeatedly given examples of his extreme political spinelessness and desertion to opportunism, took up still more pronouncedly the very position that is so highly praised by the whole of the bourgeois press of Russia. Plekhanov has sunk so low as to declare that tsarism is waging a just war, and to publish an interview in the government newspapers in Italy urging her to enter the war!!

The correctness of out appraisal of liquidationism and of the expulsion of the major group of liquidators from our Party is thus fully confirmed. The real programme of the Liquidators and the real significance of their trend now constitute not only opportunism in general, but defence of the imperialist privileges and advantages of the Great-Russian landlords and bourgeoisie. It is a national-liberal labour policy trend. It is an alliance of a section of the radical petty bourgeoisie and a tiny handful of privileged workers with “their” national bourgeoisie against the mass of the proletariat.  

The Present State of Affairs in Russian Social-Democracy

As we have already said, neither the Liquidators, nor a number of groups abroad (those of Plekhanov, Alexinsky. Trotsky and others), nor the so-called “national” (i.e., non-Great Russian) Social-Democrats have recognised our Conference of January 1911. Among the innumerable epithets hurled against us, those most often repeated were “usurpers” and “splitters”. We answered by quoting exact and objectively verifiable figures showing that our Party united four-fifths of the class-conscious workers in Russia. This is no small figure considering the   difficulties of underground activities ins counter-revolutionary epoch.

If “unity” were possible in Russia on the basis of Social-Democratic tactics without expelling the Nasha Zarya group, why have not our numerous opponents brought it about even among themselves? No less than three and a half years have passed since January 1912, and during the whole of this time our opponents, much as they have desired to do so, have failed to form a Social-Democratic party in opposition to us. This fact is our Party’s best defence.

The entire history of the Social-Democratic groups that are fighting our Party is a history of collapse and disintegration. In March 1912, all of them without exception “united” in abusing us. But already in August 1912, when the so-called “August bloc” was formed against in, disintegration began among them. Some of the groups fell away from them. They could not form a party and a Central Committee. They set up only an Organisation Committee “for the purpose of restoring unity”. Actually, this O.C. turned out to be a feeble cover for the liquidationist group in Russia. During the whole period of the tremendous upswing of the working- class movement in Russia and of the mass strikes of 1912–1914, the only group in the entire August bloc that conducted activities among the masses was the Nasha Zarya group, whose strength lay in its liberal connections. And at the beginning of 1914, the Lettish Social-Democrats officially withdrew from the “August bloc” (the Polish Social-Democrats did not join it), while Trotsky, one of the leaders of the bloc, left it unofficially, having again formed his own separate group. In July 1914, at the conference in Brussels, with the participation of the Executive Committee of the I.S.B., Kautsky and Vandervelde, the so-called “Brussels bloc” was formed against us, which the Letts did not join, and from which the Polish opposition Social-Democrats forthwith withdrew. When the War broke out this bloc collapsed. Nasha Zarya, Plekhanov, Alexinsky and An[6] , the leader of the Caucasian Social-Democrats, became open social-chauvinists, preaching the desirability of Germany’s defeat. The   O.C. and the Bund defended the social-chauvinists and the principles of social-chauvinism. The Chkheidze Duma group, although it voted against the war credits (in Russia, even the bourgeois democrats, the Trudoviki, voted against them), remained Nasha Zarya’s faithful ally. Our extreme social-chauvinists, Plekhanov, Alexinsky and Co., were quite pleased with the Chkheidze group. In Paris, the newspaper Nashe Slovo (formerly Golos) was started, with the participation mainly of Martov and Trotsky, who wanted to combine platonic defence of internationalism with the absolute demand for unity with Nasha Zarya, the O.C. or the Chkheidze group. After 150 issues of this newspaper, it was itself forced to admit its disintegration: one section of the editorial board gravitated towards out Party, Martov remained faithful to the O.C. which publicly censured Nashe Slovo for its “anarchism” (just as the opportunists in Germany, David and Co., Internationale Konespondenz[7] , Legien and Co. charge Comrade Liebknecht with anarchism); Trotsky announced his rupture with the O.C., but wanted to go with the Chkheidze group. Here are the programme and tactics of the Chkheidze group, enunciated by one of its leaders. In No.5, 1915 of Sovremenny Mir[8] , magazine of the Plekhanov and Alexinsky trend, Chkhenkeli writes: “To say that German Social-Democracy was in a position to prevent its country front going to war but failed to do so would mean either secretly wishing that it should not only have breathed its last breath on the barricades but also have had its fatherland breathe it, last, or looking at nearby things through an anarchist telescope.”[9]

These few lines express the sum and substance of social-chauvinism: both the justification on principle of the “defence of the fatherland” idea and mockery – with the permission of the military censors – at the preaching and preparation of revolution. It is not at all a question as to whether German Social-Democracy   was or was not in a position to prevent war, nor whether, in general, revolutionaries can guarantee the success of a revolution. The question is: should we behave like Socialists or really “breathe our last” in the embrace of the imperialist bourgeoisie?  

Our Party’s Tasks

Social-Democracy in Russia arose before the bourgeois-democratic revolution (1905) in our country and gained strength during the revolution and counter-revolution. The backwardness of Russia explained the extraordinary multiplicity of trends and shades of petty-bourgeois opportunism in our country; and the influence of Marxism in Europe and the stability of the legally existing Social-Democratic parties before the war converted our exemplary liberals into near-admirers of the “reasonable, “European” (non-revolutionary), “legal” “Marxist” theory and Social-Democracy. The working class of Russia could not build up its party otherwise than in a resolute, thirty-year struggle against all the varieties of opportunism. The experience of the world war, which has brought about the shameful collapse of European opportunism and has strengthened the alliance of our national-liberals with social-chauvinist liquidationism, still further strengthens our conviction that our Party must continue further along the same consistently revolutionary road.


[1] Iskra (The Spark), founded by Lenin in 1900, was the first all-Russian, Marxist newspaper published underground. After the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. it became the central organ of the Party. In speaking of the old Iskra, Lenin is referring to Iskra from No.1 to No.51. With No.52, the Mensheviks converted the paper into their factional organ.—Ed.

[2] The January Conference of the R.S.D.L.P., 1912 – this refers to the Sixth All-Russian Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. which took place in Prague on January 5–17, 1912. By decision of the conference the Mensheviks were expelled from the Party, and the formal unity of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks within one party was ended forever. The Prague Conference inaugurated the Bolshevik Party.—Ed.

[3] Luch (The Ray) – the daily newspaper of the liquidator-Mensheviks, published legally in St. Petersburg from September 1912 to July 1913. It was maintained “by funds provided by rich friends among the bourgeoisie” (Lenin).—Ed.

[4] Marxism and Liquidationism – subtitled A Collection of Articles on the Fundamental Problems of the Present-Day Working-Class Movement. Part II, it was published by the Party Publishing House Priboy in July 1914. It contained articles by Lenin against the Liquidators. In referring to this book, Lenin has in mind his articles: The Working Class and the Workers’ Press and The Workers’ Response to the Formation of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Group in the State Duma (see V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol.XX, pp.338-45, 503-09).—Ed.

[5] The Leipzig People’s Paper (Leipziger Volkszeitung), organ of the Left wing of the German Social-Democratic Party. Published daily from 1894 to 1933. For a long time Franz Mehring and Rosa Luxemburg were members of its editorial board. From 1917 to 1922 the Leipziger Volkszeitung was the organ of the German “independents”. In 1922 it became the organ of the Right-wing Social-Democrats.—Ed.

[6] An – N.N. Jordania, leader of the Caucasian Mensheviks.—Ed.

[7] Internationale Korrespondenz – a weekly run by German social-chauvinists which dealt with problems of international politics and the working-class movement. Published in Berlin from 1914 to 1917.—Ed.

[8] Sovremenny Mir (The Contemporary World) – a literary, scientific and political monthly published in St. Petersburg from 1906 to 1918. The Mensheviks, including G.V. Plekhanov, were frequent contributors. Bolsheviks also contributed to the magazine during the period of the bloc with Plekhanov’s group of pro-Party Mensheviks, and at the beginning of 1914.

In March 1914, the magazine published Lenin’s article Socialism Annihilated Once Again (see V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol.XX, pp.167-88). During the imperialist world war (1914–18), it became the organ of the social-chauvinists.—Ed.

[9] S.M. No.5, 1915. Trotsky annourned recently that he deemed it his task to raise the prestige of the Chkheidze group in the Interoational. No doubt Chkhenkeli will with equal energy raise Trotsky’s prestige in the International ...—Ed.

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Updated:   March 30, 2005