THE heirs of Baboeuf, Blanqui, Marx, and Engels were the Russian Bolsheviks. After the Commune had perished, there was a short lull during which it seemed that the palm of revolutionary leadership had passed to the Germans. This, indeed, was the express opinion of Engels himself. However, it was not in Germany that the revolution was to break out next, but in Russia. On the Russian anvil was hammered out a social-democratic group which alone, of all the parties within the Second International, really understood and carried out the policies of the founders of communism. Russian Bolshevism was born out of the womb of the hideous conditions of Mother Russia, sired by the world revolutionary movement. With such notable parentage, it was bound to go far.

Capitalism developed in Russia notoriously late and under peculiar circumstances. In the Middle Ages, Russia had been fairly on the road to active commercial life, the fairs at Nishni Novgorod, for example, attracting the merchants of all Europe. However, the country was in the direct course of the Mongolian invasions. With no geographical obstacles to overcome, the hordes of Ghengis Khan and the Tartars swept over the steppes and set back the Slavs for over four hundred years. Gradually the Russians emerged from the Asiatic flood and turned towards Europe. Only in the seventeenth century was serfdom really instituted in that benighted land. Thus, contrary to popular conception, Russia really never had a strong feudal class. Also, there was no merchant and trading class, no capitalist elements that supported the King, as had been the case in Western countries, so as to create an absolute monarchy. The power of the Czar arose, not because of the pressure of modern and progressive forces, but rather from the decay of the old and the defeat and assimilation of the Asiatics. Instead of absolute monarchy’s springing from feudalism, there resulted a semi-oriental despotism arising from the decline of the inferior princes and their gradual subjugation by the Muscovites.

The Russian State, which arose upon primitive economic foundations, in its progressive development clashed with other national States functioning on a higher plane. (*1) In order not to succumb to the pressure of Poland, Lithuania, Sweden, and other Western countries, the Russian National State would have to adopt the methods of the West. To do this it had increasingly to absorb the living sources of the nation; thus the State constantly grew and expanded until it became the greatest force within Russia. In order to hold out against its better-armed enemies, the Russian State was forced to create its own industry and technique, to engage in its service specialists in military arts, powder-makers, public coiners, and to procure manuals of fortification, to set up naval schools and factories, to maintain secret court counselors, and so forth.

While it was possible to obtain military instructors and secret counselors from abroad, the material means, cost what they might, had to come from the country itself. The history of Russian political economy then was made up of a series of efforts to guarantee the armed forces of the State; the task of its rulers was to see that every atom of the nation’s strength furthered this purpose.

In its quest for the indispensable funds, the government imposed the most arbitrary and excessive taxes upon the peasantry, established the collective responsibility of the Mir, extorted money from merchants and monasteries. In the seventeenth century, about 85 per cent of the budget was used for the upkeep of troops; when, in the eighteenth century, Peter’s military reverses compelled him to reorganize his infantry and also to create a fleet, these expenses became still larger. With the Crimean War, the Russian State was forced to establish a system of universal military service, even though this meant the freeing of the serfs, and to introduce railroads and modern factories.

In spite of all such measures, the internal resources were not sufficient to enable the Russian State to oppose the most powerful States in Europe in armed conflict. However, with the accumulation of capital reserves in Western Europe, in Paris, London and elsewhere, Czarism was able to borrow immense supplementary sums. From this time on, international finance capital exercised a fatal influence on Russia’s political development; gradually Russia was transformed into a sort of semi-colony for the international bankers. The growth of the State went hand in hand with the increase of the public debt. In the ten years from 1898 to 1908 this debt increased by 19 per cent and, at the end of this period, it reached nine billion rubles, the interest on the debt alone absorbing about one-third of the net revenues of the treasury.

To procure these vast sums necessary to maintain the Russian State, the government had to absorb a huge portion of the surplus of the country. So severe was the taxation that it was not possible for individuals to accumulate capital, and merchant and private industrial capital remained in an infantile state. But more than that, so heavy was the burden on the peasantry that they could hardly keep body and soul together and suffered periodic famines. Totally unable to improve their lot or their technique of production, they were loaded down with unbearable debts. Thus the State, through the enormous demands of its superstructure, the political military state, destroyed even the possibilities of improving its economic foundations. At the same time there existed no class that could possibly overthrow this enormous weight. As all the challenging forces atrophied, the only progressive and creative agency able to change conditions was the State itself.

The Russian State could not live in a vacuum; it was part of Europe and as such had to connect itself and become the servant of international capitalism. By relying on this force, Czarism was able to consolidate itself, to bring in railroads and telegraphs, and to unite the country more firmly. The Russian Army was developed to a colossal size and, while unable to meet the task of the Russo-Japanese war, was quite capable of maintaining order internally. This military Juggernaut crushed even the barest signs of liberalism and loomed as an independent power over the classes then extant. In this way, the administrative, military, and financial power of absolutism which gave it the possibility of subsisting in spite of social development, far from preventing all revolution, as liberalism thought, on the contrary, made revolution the only conceivable outcome; this revolution was destined to be all the more radical as the power of Absolutism deepened the gulf between the ruling power and the masses of people involved in the new economic movement.

“Thanks to the rapacity of the state, the level of development of the productive forces was too low to permit either the accumulation of surplus, a great extension of the social division of labor, or the growth of cities. The handicrafts were not separated from agriculture, and concentrated in the cities, but remained scattered among the rural population in the hands of village artisans, throughout the whole extent of the country. On account of this very dispersion of the industries, the artisans were obliged to work not to order, as in European cities, but for gross sale. The intermediary between the isolated producers and the not less isolated consumers was the merchant. (Russian gost, the guest, the traveler.)” (*2)

Thus, while the general population, scattered and impoverished, was connected only by merchant capital of small amount and mostly in the hands of peddlers, the State felt the urgent need to create big cities and big industry. To maintain the army it was necessary to have clothing factories, arms, munitions plants, and similar works. The needs of war compelled Peter the Great to industrialize his forces. During his reign there were introduced over two hundred and thirty public or private enterprises of great scope, mines and arsenals and such. Unlike the situation in the West, where the factory system had brought order to a disintegrating feudal system and where free laborers could be obtained, the factories in Russia had to be run by serfs. Thus, in the eighteenth century, the Russian factory was free from competition from the cities; on the other hand, the country artisans did not compete with the factories which worked almost exclusively for the State or for the ruling and wealthy groups.

In the nineteenth century, the textile industry finally broke down the norms of serfdom and instituted free wage labor. Although Russia needed free trade and labor, yet the claims of the State had prevented such a development and had compelled Russia to institute closed monopolies and to take control of the tariff. There had been no force within Russia capable of ending serfdom. The capitalists were entirely too weak, the peasants had no cities to support them; the abolition of serfdom had to come from the top due to the disasters in the Crimea and the necessity to modernize the military.

With the emancipation of the serfs there took place an immense development of the factory system in Russia. Owing to the extreme oppression of the people of Russia and the complete monopolies granted by the State, European capital could realize enormous profits and it poured its capital into Russia at a great rate. Thus Russia moved overnight to modem, large-scale industry owned and controlled by foreign investors and subsidized and watched over by the State. Prodigious railroad construction took place. And with this development there arose a many-headed proletariat, the number of railroad workers in 1905 alone totaling close to seven hundred thousand.

The flood of capital into Russia was stupendous. In the last decade of the nineteenth century alone, over a billion and a half rubles of industrial capital were introduced. While during the forty years preceding 1892 the funds of stock companies amounted only to 919 millions, in the ten years following they leaped to 2.1 billions. In the ten years from 1890 to 1900 the value of factory production leaped two and one-half times and the number of workers in factories and mills doubled. In that time 40 per cent of all existing enterprises made their appearance.

Together with the railroad and general industrial development there occurred a grand development of the coal and petroleum industries in the South, to which the center of gravity shifted. This part of the country took on a sort of American boom aspect. For this growth there was combined with the best technique of America the great subsidies of the Russian State. All the metallurgical mills in Russia received, upon installation, State orders for several years. Thus Russian industry did not grow like the English, slowly from small factories to large ones, but advanced overnight to tremendous size. “In Russia the ratio of large establishments (employing two hundred or more) to medium sized establishments (employing fifty to two hundred) was, in 1913, as 1 to 7.4. In Germany that ratio was, in 1907, as 1 to 50.7.” (*3) The productivity of labor, however, was exceedingly low. Nor could this be increased without raising the economic level of the masses, both peasants and workers, and this in turn could not be achieved without entailing the revolutionary overthrow of Czarism.

Together with the rise of industry there took place in 1861, following the emancipation of the serfs, a deep accentuation of the peasant problem. The land was not given to communes for collective utilization, but individual peasants were enabled to buy small pieces, too small really to support them, at exorbitant prices that threw them directly into the hands of the usurer and soon thereafter drove them out of their farms. While on the one hand a small kulak or capitalist farmer class emerged and the large estates of the big landlords flourished, for the mass of peasantry, especially in the “black earth” region of central Russia, conditions became unbearable. The peasant was forced to exist on bread made of flour mixed with shavings or ground bark.

“In places the misery of the peasants reaches such proportions that the presence of bed bugs and cockroaches in the isba is considered an eloquent symptom of comfort; and indeed, Chingarov, a Zemstvo physician, now a liberal deputy to the Third Duma, has testified that among the landless peasants, in the districts of Voroneje province, which he explored, bed bugs are never found, while as for the other categories of the rural population, the quantity of bed bugs that lodge in the isbas is in proportion to the well-being of the families. The cockroach it seems has a less aristocratic nature, but even it needs more comfort than the poor humans; among 9.3% of the peasants no cockroaches are found because of the hunger and cold that prevail in their dwellings." (*4)

Simultaneously with the rise of the peasant question to acute proportions came the problems of the cities. Because of the lack of commercial and industrial development in Russia in the eighteenth century, there were few cities, and these were almost entirely of a governmental character, constituting military and administrative points rather than centers of manufacturing and production. With the introduction of large scale industries, cities were built overnight and laid out in barrack formation. Thus what existed in Russia was the most concentrated industry in Europe on the basis of the most backward agriculture, with the most powerful governmental machine in the world hindering the progressive development of its own country. The Russian bourgeoisie was very weak. The big factories were controlled by foreigners, who, moreover, would not support the native capitalists in any struggle against the Czar, first, because there was no other government that safely could be established; second, because the Czar was their great supporter and subsidizer; and third, because these foreign financiers were the hated enemy of the arising proletariat.

In ignoring small industry, the financial bourgeoisie and Czarism had taken away the very basis of liberalism and democracy. Between the toilers and the rulers there was no large and solid middle layers of population, as in England or France or America. Just as the native bourgeoisie could play very little role by itself, neither the petty bourgeoisie of the cities nor the peasants scattered throughout the countryside could function alone.

The only class within the country that could possibly change the situation was the proletariat. Already in 1897 the figures showed that there were over nine million wage earners in the country, of whom about three and one-half million were in the principal industries, workers who were in the decisive sectors of the nation’s economy and who, although a minority in the population, could paralyze the whole system. In a country like Russia, the government had to rely for its control upon the railroads and telegraph far more than in the West.

Within the proletariat, the sections employed in the large factories and heavy industries, laboring under unspeakable conditions, had to take the lead. These heavy industry workers avidly took to socialism. Hence, Russia furnished another contrast: on the basis of the greatest illiteracy and in a country heavily agrarian and the most backward of Europe, there flourished a socialistic proletariat that could read and write, which actively followed world affairs, whether these were events in the Balkans, debates in the Reichstag, or news from America. No counter force could compare with this class of workers in numbers, in understanding, in power.

Thus, even if in Russia the only revolution possible was a bourgeois capitalist one for the abolition of absolutism and the introduction of the capitalist system of the West, yet it was not the bourgeoisie, too small and too fearful to act, nor the peasantry, benighted and isolated, but only the proletariat which could accomplish the task. This was apparent by the time of the first revolution of 1905. Russia skipped the whole period of democracy, whether liberal or social, and moved straight from Czarism to the Soviet.


The stifling nightmare of Czarist despotism was bound to drive every courageous and honest intellectual into the ranks of opposition. Every trip abroad that was made, every book produced in the West that was read in Russia, every contact with other countries, profoundly convinced him that the social and political order of Russia was doomed. Czarism could exist only by isolating the country from Europe, as the Kremlin was isolated from Russia, and by erecting an intolerable tariff wall on goods, coupled with a complete prohibition of intellectual intercourse. But such complete isolation had become impossible. The very needs of the State compelled communion with the rest of the world; in spite of the most rigid censorship, Western ideas began to penetrate and Western customs to be adopted. The walls of semi-Asiatic, semi-colonial Russia could no more enclose than the walls of colonial and Asiatic China.

The first discontented intellectuals came from the nobility; they were "repentent noblemen," whose consciences were smitten by the atrocious crimes being committed against the serfs and people of Russia. As the middle of the nineteenth century approached, these people discovered that deep in the heart of Russia the old customs of primitive communism were still existent; just as the Germans were unearthing the ancient Teutonic Mark, they discovered with joy the old Russian Mir in the primitive agrarian countryside.

Here, then, was the basis of a home-grown socialism—the Mir. The Mir was peculiarly Russian and it was flattering to the Russian intellectuals to believe that Russian genius had understood the need for collectivism and co-operation. What other interpretations could Russian “enlightened” noblemen and landlords possibly have made of socialism? They hated the Czar, there was no capitalism; the only antithetical regime known to them was the Mir, typifying the very soul of the Russian people and covered, with the religious mysticism of the immemorial past. Against the constant revolutionism of the West they posed the deep placidity and tradition of the Mir.

With the emancipation of the serfs, these intellectual elements of the nobility were forced to witness the more or less complete breaking up of the old village Mir formations and the introduction of capitalism, with all its individualism and differentiations, to the countryside. These intellectuals then turned to nihilism, or nothingism, a philosophy against the State and against all authority. To the nihilists’ negative ideas was added a faith in the goodness and value of the people and a belief in the necessity of going to the masses to enlighten them, to bring them culture and science so that they could improve their condition. Thus nihilists became narodniki or populists. The narodniki or populists of the 70’s were collectivist Anarchists limited by their Russian agrarian horizon. They were willing to admit that, in the West, with capitalism gripping both city and country, and with political democracy achieved as the heritage of past revolutions, the road to socialism lay through a revolutionary political movement of wage earners. In absolutist Russia, however, they held that socialism, avoiding the painful capitalistic period, could be evolved directly out of the Mir. And thus the narodniki appealed to the peasants and advocated loosely federated peasant communes.

These “enlighteners” had a violent hatred of the feudal regime and of all its social, economic, and judicial consequences. They had a profound attachment for the liberty and science and enlightened culture of Western Europe, and believed they were carrying forward the traditions of Voltaire, Rousseau, and the enlightened philosophers of the eighteenth century before the revolution. To this was added a genuine love for and interest in the people, particularly the peasantry.

The narodniki were ready for socialism, they were ready for revolution, and their chief enemy was Czarism. They were unable, none the less, to attain any of their aims for the simple reason that there was no class capable of responding to their ideals. Furthermore, the fact that capitalism not yet had developed to any great extent in Russia made the narodniki believe that peasants and villages, not proletarians and cities, would be the basis for socialism, that the soul and destiny of Russia would enable the country to skip the period of capitalism.

As their campaigns among the peasantry failed, in spite of the greatest nobility of character and heroism of action on their part, the more desperate element began to take to terrorist deeds, from 1878 on, culminating in the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. This act was the swan song of these narodniki. The government let loose a ferocious counter-attack that smashed their organizations to pieces. At the same time, with the rise of capitalism in the 80’s, the intelligentsia was changing its character and role. Intellectualizing was no longer monopolized by the nobility. Bourgeois students and thinkers were turning to socialism, now become a great movement throughout Europe. It was becoming clear that Russia could not skip the stage of capitalism.

Thus the terrorist and narodniki movement died, both from the arrests and execution of its leaders by the government and because of the abandonment of its cause by the new generation. Moreover, the narodniki had lost their historic progressiveness as they fought against the internationalist Marxists with their nationalist program that Russia must not follow the “barbaric” West. Because of this hostility to Marxism, although the remnants of the narodniki in the 80’s and 90’s retained some following and prestige, and it was from their ranks that the Marxists generally evolved, (*5) it had now become necessary for the Marxists to enter into the sharpest polemic with these remnants of the past so as to eradicate their influence altogether.

The rise of the typical bourgeois intellectual resulted in the spread of Marxism from various angles. Such intellectuals, products as they were of the city, factory, and commerce, could not idealize the backward village. Marxism from the very start had attracted them, since one of the cardinal points elaborated in “Capital” was that the victory of capitalism was bound to overthrow the old order of Czarism. It was no accident that Marx received the highest praise not from German and Western professors but from the professors of economy in St. Petersburg. Here, then, was a whole line of intellectuals who believed thoroughly in the economics of Marx, although they refused to become revolutionists. This was the school of “legal” Marxists best exemplified by Peter Struve.

On the other hand there was another line of intellectuals who had come from the revolutionary narodniki, who accepted not only Marxist economics but above all Marxist revolutionary theories, who were willing to go into action, and who based themselves upon the proletariat. In the struggle against the old narodnik theories, both these Marxist elements, the proletarian and the “legal,” united. This unity could be effected since the “legal” Marxist, while anxious for his own preservation, by no means intended to weep over the fall of the Czar, and was quite willing to wish others luck in their revolutionary attempts. On the other side, among the proletarian Marxists, it was realized the time had not yet come to act alone, that the whole situation was still amorphous, that it was necessary to keep in contact with all other anti-Czarist movements.

The first great step to clarify the movement was taken when George Plechanov together with Vera Zasulich left the narodniki to form the first genuine Marxist group abroad. From then on a stream of Marxist literature of a high quality began to pour forth in the Russian language, and this group gradually began to win great influence. To this nucleus Lenin soon adhered, but instead of remaining abroad, he concentrated his efforts, as long as he was able, on the building of groups within Russia itself.

Henceforth, until the 1905 revolution, the big question before the Marxists was the establishment of an adequate program, a party organization, and tactics. It was on these questions that the Marxists not only separated themselves from other groups, but within their own ranks broke sharply into three different tendencies: the legal Marxists, the Mensheviks, and the Bolsheviks. Rapidly Lenin sprang to the fore as the great leader in every phase of the struggle.

Lenin’s first step was to divorce himself as drastically as possible from the populists of whom he had been a member. He pointed out that populism was distinguished by three reactionary ideas: first, that capitalism in Russia was a symptom of decline, a “retrogression,” thereby inducing the populists to try to “restrain” capitalism and thus to play into the hands of reaction; second, that the economic system of Russia with its communes, artels and Mirs, was something peculiar to Russia and not a general phenomenon characteristic at one time of all backward people, thereby leading the narodniki into the swamp of nationalism; and third, that the intellectuals could “divert history” and change the course of material interests and social evolution, thus giving rise to a false idea of the relation of the intellectuals to society and to the masses.

From these views of the populists of the 90’s, Lenin arrived at the conclusion that such populists really had nothing to do with the heritage of the “Enlighteners” of the 70’s, that in fact it was the Marxists who carried forward the historic work and noble traditions of the democrats of the past generation. Here was a classic example of the methods of Lenin. In every possible way he tried to make Marxism fit in with Russian traditions and Russian character and to root it deeply in the nation. By no means could Marxism appear as something foreign or artificially applied to Russian conditions. Revolutionary scientist, he knew the value of traditions, customs, and morals.

Whereas the “Enlighteners” had fought reaction and favored the West, the populists were turning towards Asia and were idealizing the backward peasantry, therein hindering agrarian improvement. Furthermore, the populists, entirely unlike the heroic “Enlighteners,” were bureaucrats through and through. “But populists always think of the population generally, and the toiling population in particular, as the object of various more or less intelligent experiments, and as inanimate material which can be directed along certain paths. They never look upon the various classes of the population as independent historical factors in the given path, they never consider that the conditions of that path may cause either the development or the paralysis of the independent and conscious activities of these makers of history.” (*6)

Finally, Lenin summed up the three groups, the “Enlighteners,” the decadent populists, and the Marxists, as follows: the “Enlighteners” had favored contemporary social development in Russia but had not understood the inevitable contradictions; the populists opposed this social development because they did understand its contradictions; the Marxists advocated social development because they understood its contradictions and knew that these would usher in a new world. Both the “Enlighteners” and the Marxists were optimists and wanted to clear away barriers; their aims corresponded to classes arising and growing with capitalism. The populists were doomed to futility.

Under such an attack, the old populists indeed could not for long maintain their position and, in 1900, they formed a new organization, the social-revolutionaries, with a platform calling for a democracy in Russia and a capitalist liberalism. Now basing themselves on the city and not on the country, the social-revolutionaries, however, continued to emphasize the agrarian program. Later, in 1917, a Left-Socialists-Revolutionists Party split off and for a while co-operated with the Bolsheviks on the question of immediate socialization of the land and the establishment of a Soviet Republic. But the alliance broke down in 1918, and the social-revolutionaries were erased from the scene.


The next battle was to be within the ranks of the Marxists themselves. First, the conflict would have to take place with the Legal Marxists in an effort to drive them out of the movement and to liquidate their influence among the workers. At that time the movement was extremely inchoate, with scattered circles operating independently in various cities of the country. These local circles established no traditions and maintained no continuity. Lenin set to work to remedy these conditions and, while Plechanov was building his League of Social Democrats abroad, Lenin was forming his League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in St. Petersburg. At that time the intellectuals had no idea of remaining separate and apart from the masses, but tried in every possible way to penetrate the ranks of the workers and to meet them on every occasion. On their part, the advanced workers welcomed this intervention of the intellectuals and took advantage of their help in strike struggles and organization problems. The dangerous character of the work under Czarist conditions prevented any snobbish and bureaucratic tendencies from becoming strong among the sincere intellectuals. Thus it was part of Lenin’s tasks to help in the strike agitation and organizational activity of the workers; while thus engaged he was arrested in 1897 and sent to Siberia.

In the meantime, in 1898 the social-democrats decided to hold a convention to work out a definitive program. In this convention, Lenin and many other characters in exile could not participate. The convention itself was broken up by the police before a program could be worked out and a national organization established. Meanwhile there had been little effort on the part of anyone to prevent the bourgeois Marxists from calling themselves social-democrats.

Upon his release from Siberia in 1900, Lenin was commissioned to go abroad and found a paper that would present these very points before the revolutionary Marxists. This was done, and in collaboration with Martov, Plechanov, Potressov and others, Lenin founded the paper Iskra (the Spark). From its inauguration, it was the policy to keep Legal Marxists like Peter Struve out of the editorial board, although they might be used as collaborators. Thus, for the first time there was drawn a very sharp line between those who based themselves on the workers and favored revolution, and those who were only liberals using Marxist phrases.

As the movement began to grow throughout Russia, it was necessary to call another Congress in 1903. In preparation for this, Lenin opened up a sharp polemic against the so-called “Economists” or trade union communists. All through the years 1900 and 1901 this battle was fought, until, by the time of the Conference in 1903, the issue had been clarified in favor of the position of Lenin. Knowing well that the movement was not homogeneous, Lenin was not in favor of rushing into a new congress or elections until all matters had been clarified; he believed that it was the duty of a revolutionary paper to bring openly before the workers all the disputed questions. This was the function of the Iskra.

The paper was designed to give space to theoretical questions, to furnish information on the Parties in the West, and to respond to questions that arose in all spheres of daily life at home or abroad. The paper was to prepare for the drafting of a real Party program, especially on organization questions, and to study carefully the conditions of the working class and the methods for arousing it. Above all it was necessary to fuse the growing Russian labor movement with the Marxian socialists. “Only when this contact has been established will a Social-Democratic Labour Party be established in Russia; for Social-Democracy does not exist merely to serve the spontaneous labour movement … but to combine Socialism with the labour movement.” (*7) While firmly upholding the Marxist tendency, the paper would be open for discussion to enable all fighters against autocracy to use it.

From the very beginning, Lenin took the position: “Consequently, while appealing primarily to the Russian socialists and class-conscious workers, we do not appeal exclusively to them. We also call upon all those who are oppressed by the present political system in Russia, to all those who are striving for the emancipation of the Russian people from their slavery to support the publications which will be devoted to a work of organizing the labour movement into a revolutionary political party. We place our columns at their disposal in order that they may expose the despicability and criminality of the Russian autocracy. We make this appeal in the conviction that the banner of the political struggle raised by Russian Social-Democracy can and will become the banner of the whole people.” (*8)

Thus, before the Party really was created, Lenin had formed his own paper to obtain that unity of ideas which was essential. To present this ideological agreement, the paper Iskra entered, not merely into questions of wages and working conditions for the workers, but above all into the political questions of the day centered around the question of overthrowing Czarism. The Iskra became filled with important articles of such a nature as those on May Day, on the war against China, on a program for the peasantry, on police brutality, on the revolt of the students in the universities, on the liberal movements, and on the famine. As this whole orientation was opposed by the “Economists,” it was necessary to drive them to the wall before the Party Congress of 1903.

While the Iskraists were concentrating on connecting all the isolated circles and directing their struggle against Czarism, the “Economists” had done some valuable work in the factories, leading strikes, winning demands for the workers, organizing them secretly, etc. As they became successful they declared that only the trade union work was important; that political circles did not have to be connected; that politics belonged to the intellectuals and not to the workers who could get all they wanted by strike action against the employers. The “Economists” sneered at the various conspiratorial groups created by Lenin and called for broad mass organizations. Besides, they affirmed, this was not yet the time for the political struggle against the Czar. First, the workers were not yet ready. They had to be educated to politics gradually. This education was to be given in stages. In the beginning there were to be strikes for economic aims, then strikes with political aims; only then could there be direct political movements, only after the confidence of the workers had been won in the economic struggle. Second, said the “Economists,” the moment was not a revolutionary one. If it should become revolutionary, then it would be all right to change tactics and insist on the political struggle against the Czar. The Iskra was run by a bunch of sectarian intransigents who overestimated the influence of social science and intellectualism among the workers and were too idealistic, not taking into sufficient consideration the material environment. Furthermore, the "Economists" claimed the Iskraists, while very sharp to the real workers’ champions themselves, made alliances with the Liberals and others, to induce them to write for their paper.

There was no question but that much of the “Economists"’ criticism was correct as it concerned many individuals then connected with Lenin, but before Lenin could deal with his allies he had to deal first of all with the “Economists"; some of their supporters, moreover, on certain points agreed with Lenin. It is important to note that Lenin attacked his semi-supporters far more bitterly than he did the open enemy. This was one of Lenin’s cardinal polemical tactics and helped to account for the extreme bitterness of all debates within the ranks of the Marxists of Russia. Repeatedly Lenin insisted that the near-friend was far more dangerous than the open enemy; he turned his heaviest fire not upon the opportunist but upon the conciliators to the opportunists who were to be found nearest him.

In answer to the “Economists,” Lenin pointed out that they were underestimating the political struggle and were divorcing the workers from politics, thus driving the social-democratic movement into the old sectarian ruts and keeping the workers benighted. Isolated from social-democracy, the labor movement would become petty and would function only as the tail to the capitalist parties. The real task was to imbue the masses of the proletariat with the ideas of Socialism and political consciousness and to organize a revolutionary party closely connected with the spontaneous labor movement.

Furthermore, the revolutionists were not to be mere coolies catering to the prejudices of the workers and their day-to-day fights. “Social-Democracy is a combination of the labour movement with Socialism. Its task is not passively to serve the labour movement at each of its separate stages, but to represent the interests of the movement as a whole, to point out to this movement its ultimate aims and its political task, and to protect its political and ideological independence.” (*9)

According to Lenin, it was absolutely necessary at this stage of the struggle in Russia not to draw an artificial distinction between the intellectual and the worker, but to unite the two as closely as possible. People were to be trained who would devote to the revolution not only their spare evenings, as the workers could do, but the whole of their lives, in an effort to build up an organization with a vast division of labor.

Constantly must it be borne in mind that the chief enemy was the State. Only if there was a strong political party could the local strike or local rebellion flare into a revolution. The concessions to be won on the economic field were but slight skirmishes with the enemy, mainly valuable for training good troops. To fail to attack the State was to play into the hands of the Czar, who was pursuing a subtle policy. Unlike Bismarck, who had made an alliance with the employers against the workers, the Czar was trying to play off one against the other, since he despised or feared both. For example, the Czar was taking a hand in passing legislation to force employers to improve conditions of work; thus, he was posing as a friend of the workmen against the employer. The Czarist police agent, Zubatoff, actually began building police trade unions. Everywhere the Czar presented himself as the “Little Father” of his people. Under such conditions it was dangerous for the revolutionists to isolate the struggle for economic demands from the struggle for the end of Czarism. And the workers increasingly were beginning to see this. Repeatedly, large strikes broke out in support of the political demonstrations of the peasants and the students, and for political aims. Life itself was refuting the “Economists” and showing that they who claimed to be close to the workers were really shirking the revolutionary struggle and isolating themselves.

According to Lenin, the “Economists,” in ridiculing theory and the discussion of the principles of the class struggle, were relying entirely too much upon the spontaneity of the masses to produce the revolution. They were overlooking the fact that, without a professional revolutionist organization, the victory of the workers would be impossible; thus, they were falling into the errors of the opportunists generally. What was needed in Russia was not the stimulation of spontaneity—Czarism would see amply to that—but the raising of that spontaneous revolt to the level of conscious, connected, systematic, class struggle. Encouraged by the mass organizations they had created, the “Economists” tended to lose themselves in the mass; they failed to understand that the mass character of the movement only rendered it more obligatory than ever that they should build up a centralized, disciplined organization of revolutionists.

The catering to spontaneity on the part of the “Economists” had led them to move hysterically now from one extreme position to another and, in periods of retreat, they tended to give up the battle. Lenin warned them that “It would be a grievous error indeed to build up the party organization in the expectation only of outbreaks and street fighting, or only upon the ‘forward march of the drab, every-day struggle.’ We must always carry on our every-day work and always be prepared for everything, because very frequently, it is almost impossible to foresee beforehand when periods of outbreaks will give way to periods of calm.” (*10)

As for working with the liberals, this was necessary in the political struggle against Czarism, although it might not be possible in the economic struggle against the employer or in the fight for socialism directly. “The party of the proletariat must learn to catch every liberal just at the moment when he is prepared to move forward an inch, and compel him to move forward a yard. If he is obstinate and won’t—we shall go forward without him, and over his body.” (*11)

The “Economists” should not imagine, Lenin thundered, that those who were with Iskra had failed to go to the workers or to enter into the work of strikes and economic organization. Quite the contrary. They had been noted for this very ability and had been arrested on this account. They were no ivory-tower intellectuals far removed from the masses, telling the workers what to do. But they did not limit themselves merely to trade union agitation in an absolutist country like Russia. It must not be believed that the socialist movement was made up only of workers. The history of all countries showed that the workers by themselves were capable only of trade union action and alone could not reach the level of political revolutionism. To attain this level there must be added the theory and science of socialism which workers at the bench toiling their lives away could not evolve.

It had been assumed that socialism necessarily and absolutely arose from the class struggle. But already Kautsky had shown this to be untrue. “Of course, Socialism, as a theory, has its roots in modern economic relationships in the same way as the class struggle of the proletariat has, and in the same way as the latter emerges from the struggle against the capitalist-created poverty and misery of the masses. But Socialism and the class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other; each arises out of different premises. Modern Socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. Indeed, modern economic science is as much a condition for Socialist production, as, say, modern technology, and the proletariat can create neither the one nor the other, no matter how much it may desire to do so; both arise out of the modern social process. The vehicles of science are not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia: It was out of the heads of members of this stratum that modern Socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduce it into the proletarian class struggle where conditions allow that to be done. Thus Socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without and not something that arose within it spontaneously.” (*12)

The socialist movement was to be a fusion of both groups, and the workers were to take an active part in it, not as workers, however, but as scientific socialists. It was vital to develop leadership, and the social-democratic movement had to pay the greatest attention to theory and science so as to lead the workers rather than to trail after the events.

The “Economists” were concentrating entirely upon trade union action, as though this were the sole or best method to produce the revolution. Such a position was absolutely false, especially in Russia. There were many ways by which the revolution could break out other than through strikes."All and sundry manifestations of police tyranny and autocratic outrage, in addition to the evils connected with the economic struggle, are equally ‘widely applicable’ as a means of ‘drawing in’ the masses. The tyranny of the Zemztvo chiefs, the flogging of the peasantry, the corruption of the officials, the conduct of the police towards the ‘common people’ in the cities, the fight against the famine-stricken and the suppression of the popular striving towards enlightenment and knowledge, the extortion of taxes, the persecution of the religious sects, the severe discipline in the army, the militarist conduct towards the students and the liberal intelligentsia—all these and a thousand other similar manifestations of tyranny, though not directly connected with the ‘economic’ struggle, do they, in general, represent a less ‘widely applicable’ method and subject for political agitation and for drawing the masses into the political struggle?” (*13)

The workers could not win by looking only to themselves. They had to know the workings of all classes of society. Without a knowledge of the whole they could not know even their own part. The workers could acquire political consciousness not solely from within their ranks but also from without, outside the bounds of the economic struggle of workers and employers. “The Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be a trade-union secretary but a tribune of the people, able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it takes place, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; he must be able to group all these manifestations into a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; he must be able to take advantage of every petty event in order to explain his Socialistic convictions and his Social-Democratic demands to all in order to explain to all and every one the world historical significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.” (*14)

The problems of mobilizing workers were entirely different from those of organizing revolutionists. The workers’ organizations must be broad, open, and of a mass character. They must function legally in the main. The revolutionary organization, on the contrary, must know how to go underground and to operate secretly, and must be of a trained conspiratorial character whereby every member is tested and can be relied upon, where the discipline is of the strictest. The proletariat needed both types of organizations.

Under Czarism, the method of approach was with the strong revolutionary organization, that is, from the top and not from the bottom, with tested members and leaders engaged in mass work of an all-rounded character without the ‘dozen’ of tried and talented leaders (and talented men are not born by hundreds), professionally trained, schooled by long experience and working in perfect harmony, no class in modern society is capable of conducting a determined struggle.” (*15) The student should supply the workers with his crumbs of knowledge, but above all it is the talented workers who should be trained for leadership. It was a “duty to assist every capable worker to become a professional agitator, organizer, propagandist, literature distributor, etc., etc.” (*16) “A workingman who is at all talented and ‘promising’ must not be left to work eleven hours a day in a factory. We must arrange that he be maintained by the Party, that he may in due time go underground, that he change the place of his activity, otherwise he will not enlarge his experience, he will not widen his outlook, and will not be able to stay in the fight against the gendarmes for several years.” (*17)

The bitter fights within the Marxist ranks had led to a split in 1900. The minority adherents of Plechanov and Lenin, formerly of the Emancipation of Labor Group later reorganized as the League of Social-Democrats Abroad, now formed a new body called “Social-Democrat” while the majority made up of the “Economists” and conciliators retained the old name. In the course of the sharp debates, however, the majority steadily lost ground. They argued, therefore, that in the Party there was room for both, implying then that the Party was not to be a unified centralized whole, but a loose body of various factions. In effect, this was connected with their theories which played down the role of the Party and relied solely upon the spontaneity of the masses. Lenin’s whole theory, however, was one of tremendous emphasis on the role of the Party, the vanguard of the workers. Although this question of what sort of Party should be built was to be threshed out later in the fight with the Mensheviks, it first became raised in the struggle with the “Economists.” Against the “Economists"’ position, Lenin called for the formation of a Party that would expel the opportunists and the revisionists from its ranks. The idea of a Party containing elements far apart and constantly attacking each other was abhorrent to him, as such factions would paralyze the organization and turn it into a debating society rather than a revolutionary organ of action.

Lenin was attacked on the ground that he was dictatorial and did not believe in democracy within the Party. The “Economists” and conciliators pointed out that the kind of centralized leadership Lenin advocated, with the Party built from the top, would give rise to a tendency to adventurism in politics. Also, it was anti-democratic; the Party should be built from below, not from above.

Lenin replied that, under Czarist conditions of illegality, it was absolutely impossible to maintain full publicity for elections and the exposure of candidates, without which democracy would be a farce. The secret acts of revolutionists could not be controlled by all the membership; thus elections were impossible on the basis of acts. After all, democracy was only a vicarious mechanism for confidence. Confidence could be attained only in the course of the struggle wherein leaders and workers fought together and showed their respective worth. “The only serious organizational principle the active workers of our movement can accept is: strict secrecy, strict selection of members, and the training of professional revolutionists. If we possessed these qualities, ‘democracy’ and something even more would be guaranteed to us, namely: complete comradely, mutual confidence among revolutionists.” (*18)

Even without democracy, the membership of a genuinely revolutionary organization actually would control, since genuine communists would stop at nothing to rid themselves of an undesirable member. Such revolutionists had a lively sense of their responsibility and had no time to think about toy forms of democracy. “Myshkin, Rogachev, Zhelyabov, Mikhailov, Perovskaya, Figner, and others never regarded themselves as leaders, and no one ever elected or appointed them as such, although as a matter of fact, they were leaders because both in the propaganda period, as well as in the period of the fight against the government, they took the brunt of the work upon themselves, they went into the most dangerous places, and their activities were the most fruitful. Priority came to them not because they wished it, but because the comrades surrounding them had confidence in their wisdom, their energy, and loyalty. To be afraid of some kind of Areopagus … that would arbitrarily govern the movement is far too naive. Who would obey it?” (*19)

Before the 1903 Congress was held, the “Economist” wing capitulated and yielded their arguments on trade unionism. But the truce was but temporary. The same elements were to fuse with the Mensheviks and re-phrase their opportunism at the Second Congress. This in turn led to the famous split between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks.

To sum up, we can say that the history of social-democracy in Russia can be divided into three periods. The first lasted from 1884 to 1894. Here theory and program took root, but the numbers were small and social-democracy was isolated from the labor movement. This was the period of gestation. The second period was from 1894 to 1898, a period of infancy and adolescence. Here there was a social movement and a political party. Big strides were made by the intelligentsia who circulated among the workers. The third period was from 1898 to the Convention of 1903, and was marked by confusion and vacillation, Legal Marxism, “Economism,” etc. This period was to culminate in the Congress of 1903.


Having settled the important questions of political program, the struggle against Czarism, and the relation of the Party to the class, it had become time for Russian social-democracy to end the chaotic situation of isolated circles and to build a centralized, disciplined national organization. The Second Congress witnessed the struggle between the opportunists and the revolutionary elements over questions of organization.

In Russia the situation at the time was as follows: social-democratic “committees,” composed of a small selected number of revolutionaries, existed in various cities. These committees were at the head of the local labor movements. Behind these committees were numerous circles of sympathizers and militant elements that carried out special work but were not part of the organization itself. The question was: What should be the relation of these sympathetic circles and detached individuals to the organization?

On questions of organization the old Iskra group itself split up. On the one side was Lenin, to whom Plechanov was attached, and on the other side were Martov and Axelrod. Close to these was Trotsky. Later Plechanov was to leave Lenin and go over to the opposite camp. The Right Wing wanted to permit all of the circles mentioned above to call themselves part of the Party, provided they paid dues and put themselves under the directions of the Party, regularly participating in its activities. Lenin’s formula was somewhat different. Members not only would have to pay dues, but they would have to join one of the Party organizations. On the surface it seemed the differences between the two formulas were slight indeed. (*20) But, as the debate progressed it became apparent that the issue was based not merely on organization but also on the relation of the Party to the class in general, on the role of the Party in the class struggle, on the relations within the Party, and on an estimate of the particular situation in which the revolutionists lived. Questions of organization became intimately linked up with those of tactics, strategy, and program, absolutely vital to the movement.

This is very often the case. It is a great mistake to believe that organization questions are secondary matters. Certainly organization is a means to an end, an instrument in the struggle; but one builds an instrument in accordance with one’s use and need. If the instrument desired is one which could not possibly become a weapon in the class struggle, it is clear that the fight for such an organization to prevail is a fight for a non-struggle program and is intimately linked up with other questions of program. Indeed, very often differences on questions of organization are profound indicators of differences in programs of struggle reflecting antagonistic classes of society.

At that time in Russia all sections of the revolutionary movement were compelled by the ruthless terror of Czarism to adhere to a program calling for the violent overthrow of the Czar. It was only through questions of organization that the existing differences within the Marxist camp could arise in acute form before the Czar was overthrown. It was the genius of Lenin that, in the discussion of relatively picayune questions, such as who should be considered a member of the Party, he could discern differences which later were to compel the different factions to shoot each other from opposite sides of the barricades.

In the course of the discussions it became plain that the Right Wing wanted a loose grouping called the Social-Democratic Party which would be made up of all sorts of elements in the various circles. In this way the Party would be practically indistinguishable from the class; it no longer would be a highly selected group of revolutionists who had dedicated their lives to their cause. Within this vague and loose Party, in view of the prevailing conditions of persecution, there would have to exist another tighter, more conspiratorial group. Hence there would be two categories of citizens within the Socialist Party, one made up of ordinary members who would not be disciplined strictly nor necessarily active, the other composed of the active functionaries who would work conspiratorially.

The Lenin wing was opposed to this whole conception. It was in agreement with the theory that a political party must embrace more than professional revolutionists. This wing defined professional revolutionist as one who considers it his life work to help to bring about the revolution; a professional revolutionist was not necessarily one paid by the organization to devote full time to it, but rather one who gave all his time to the revolutionary movement, whether paid or not, one who considered his private employment, if he was forced to work for others in order to live, as merely an interlude or a side line. The Party had to admit masses of militant workers who were not ready to renounce their jobs and their families in order to travel anywhere the Party needed them. While these could not be professional revolutionists and lead the Party, they could be good soldiers in the ranks. Thus Lenin also agreed to the need of extension of the membership. The disagreement consisted in how loose the Party organization should be, which elements should be excluded and which included and what should be the minimum activity and discipline to be exacted.

Far from fusing the Party with the class and taking in every striker or every intellectual who called himself a socialist, Lenin believed in distinguishing the Party from the class on the ground that the Party was to be solely the vanguard, the selected best elements. Every member must be active, must be ready to do his duty, must be disciplined, accountable, and loyal, while, at the same time, the Party was to be responsible for the actions of every member. If all sorts of elements were admitted, it would be impossible to trust the rank and file; the result would be bureaucracy, the separation of the officials from the members, an undemocratic and unreliable organization. There were to be no first and second degree citizens within the Party, the mass of members to perform the hard work, while the functionaries and the professional revolutionists enjoyed the only real democracy within the Party.

It had been argued by the Mensheviks that, since the Social-Democratic Party was to be a class organ, it should take in every member of the class. Every striker, when arrested, should be allowed to say in a court room that he was a socialist; the more widespread the title of Party member, the better, and the greater the prestige of the Party. To this Lenin answered that the better organized the vanguard of the workers was, the less easily could the police break up its ranks, the better could it control mass organizations, unions, strikes, demonstrations, etc. The higher the quality of the vanguard, the easier to organize the mass of workmen and to win their respect. “… the stronger our Party organizations, consisting of real Social Democrats, will be, the less will the vacillation and instability within the Party be and the wider, the more many-sided, the richer and the more fruitful will the influence of the Party be over the elements of the surrounding working class masses which it leads.” (*21)

According to Lenin, whether the Party became a mass organization or a sect, was measured not necessarily by whether it admitted the masses into its ranks, but rather was tested by the criterion whether it expressed the needs and interests of the masses and fought for them, whether it was followed and respected by the masses. In the latter case, it would be a mass Party, regardless of the actual numbers in its ranks although, naturally, should there exist such an organization fighting correctly and bravely for the mass of people, it would soon grow in size accordingly.

.The Right Wing would have lowered the Russian Party to the same level as the Second International, with its British Labor Parties which were hardly better than the reformist trade unions. In Russia the movement was faced with a similar identification of Party with union and mass organization, but for the opposite reason; that is to say, in Russia, both the Party and unions were illegal, both had to be constructed along secret conspiratorial lines, both were severely punished by the dreaded Ochrana, or secret police of the Czar. In both cases, whether in England or in Russia, Right Wingers believed that the Socialist Party and the trade unions were two arms of the same body, the working class. Opportunists, they refused to see that the relation between them was not one of limb to another, but rather of brain to body. Mass organizations such as the unions and similar groups were part of the body of the working class; the party was to be the brain, the central ganglion coordinating all phases of action, made up of the best, most sensitive elements only.

While the Party must thus be distinguished from the class, in the sense of containing only the most advanced elements, and not lowering its bars to include all, within the Party there must be no distinction between functionary or “professional” and the ordinary member. All were to be tested. There was to be strict centralization of leadership and just as strict decentralization of tasks and responsibility. Every member was to be given responsible and dangerous work which must lead to his arrest. The best and most capable and tested were to rise to the leadership. The leadership itself was to have experienced all the phases of the struggle, to be master of all the political weapons and schools of arms extant, and should be constantly refreshed in the struggle. In this way the old amateurishness of the discrete circles would disappear, and the Party would become the professional revolutionary factor within the less conscious mass of workers.

Every member had the duty to report at least once a month. There must be a strict division of labor and an end to the continual chattering and waste of time within the Party. Those who refused to perform the dangerous, concrete tasks of the movement, to immerse themselves in the struggles of the workers, were to have no place within the organization. Thus the intellectual butterfly was to be driven out of the Socialist Party. Around the Party, of course, there must be concentric circles of sympathizers, from groups relatively narrow and close to the Party to broad groups, such as the trade unions, which might be very far from the Party itself, although controlled by it. But in every case the sympathizer was far removed from the member, the Party remembering that “The whole art of conspiratorial organization consists in making use of everything and everybody and in finding work for everybody, at the same time retaining the leadership of the whole movement, not by force, but by virtue of authority, energy, greater experience, greater versatility, and greater talent.” (*22)

As the polemic on organization questions heightened, it became apparent that the struggle involved also the question whether the Party should be based upon the workers or upon petty bourgeois intellectuals who would learn that, within the Party, rules of discipline and activity were not indispensable. The intellectual characterized by individualism, careerism, and instability hated discipline, but liked to work out theses and programs ad infinitum. But, as Lenin put it, “It would be far better that ten men who worked (men who really worked and were not striving for office) should not call themselves members of the Party, than that one chatterbox should have the right and the opportunity to become a member.” (*23) In plain language, the formula of Lenin as elaborated meant that if one wanted to be a member of the Party one could not regard organizational relations purely platonically. The difference between Lenin and Martov was expressed by Lenin in another manner: “The fundamental idea of Comrade Martov—self inscription in the Party—is the false ‘democratic’ idea of constructing the Party from the bottom upwards. On the other hand, my idea is ‘bureaucratic’ in the sense that the Party should be constructed from the top downwards, from the Party Congress to the individual Party organization.” (*24)

Lenin insisted that the composition of the Party be thoroughly proletarian, and that such rules of organization be laid down as would insure that proletarian elements predominated. “Discipline and organization, lessons which a bourgeois intellectual learns with such difficulty, are learned with facility by the proletarian precisely because he received his training in the ‘school’ of the factory. Mortal fear of this school and a complete failure to understand its organizing significance are characteristic of the methods of reasoning which reflect petty bourgeois conditions of existence, which give rise to the form of anarchism which the German social- democrats have described as ‘Edelanarchismus,’ the anarchism of the nobleman… .” (*25)

“This is where the proletarian who has passed through the school of the factory can and must give a lesson to anarchist individualism. The class conscious worker has long ago abandoned his swaddling clothes; he no longer flees from the intellectual as such. The class conscious worker fully appreciates the rich store of knowledge and the wider political outlook of the social-democratic intellectual. But to the extent that a real party is growing up among us, the class conscious worker must learn to distinguish between the mentality of the soldier of the proletarian army and that of the bourgeois intellectual flaunting anarchist phrases; he must learn to demand the fulfillment of the duties of membership of the Party, not only from the rank and file, but also from the comrades in high places; …” (*26)

The rigid insistence by Lenin on the need to build the organization from highly selected elements, starting at the top rather than at the bottom, or, as he put it, “bureaucratically” rather than “democratically,” made his group appear in a false light, even to those who were part of the Left Wing of the Second International. Rosa Luxemburg, for example, was much opposed to Lenin’s theories of organization, describing them as belonging to Jacobins attached to the proletariat rather than to a truly working class party. But time has shown that, in Lenin’s hands, the revolutionary group developed a centralism balanced by democracy, while in the hands of his opponents, the Socialist Parties, although apparently managed from below, were corrupted through and through with bureaucracy. The methods of Lenin were the only ones appropriate to meet Czarist conditions and to insure that the Party would lead, not follow, the course of events.

Even though a number of brilliant intellectuals were eliminated thereby from the Party, the gains would be far greater than the loss, since the workers would gain organizational stability and discipline. “The proletariat has no other weapon in the fight for power except organization. Disorganized by the domination of anarchic competition in the capitalist world, oppressed by forced labor for the capitalists, constantly forced ‘to the depths’ of utter poverty, ignorance and degeneracy, the proletariat can become and inevitably will become an indomitable force only because its intellectual unity created by the principles of Marxism is fortified by the material unity of organization which welds millions of toilers into an army of the working class… . This army will close up its ranks more and more closely in spite of zig-zags and retreats, in spite of the opportunistic phrases of the Girondists of contemporary Social-Democracy, in spite of the smug self-satisfaction of obsolete study circleism, and in spite of the brilliance and bustle of intellectual anarchism.” (*27)

The function of the Party being to act as the leader of the class, it was imperative that the Party train workers from its ranks into leaders; to do this, it was necessary to make the whole activity of every candidate for every post well known to the members. To place each person in his proper place, full publicity was necessary. Sometimes, under Czarism, such publicity was impossible. For that reason, while centralism could not be dispensed with, democracy could be subordinated to the conditions of the struggle since, as has been remarked above, democracy was only a substitute for confidence as a method of sifting out the inefficient and poor material from the more capable and tested.

If we sum up the quarrel between the two factions at the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, it can be seen that the Mensheviks wanted to build, along the lines of Bernstein or of Kautsky, some loose organization that would be incapable of actual insurrection and wherein not the workers but the petty bourgeois intellectuals would predominate. The Bolsheviks were of sterner stuff. They realized that the revolution against Czarism was actually at hand and they meant to take advantage of every opportunity. Anticipating the growing spontaneous revolts that would break out, the Leninists wanted to inject the factors of consciousness, of theory, of science, of organization, of leadership, of steel-like firmness into the pattern of politics.

It was no accident that those who were opportunist on questions of organization also believed that the Czar could not be overthrown, or that, should he be overthrown, the new social order would have to be of a capitalist nature whereby the workers and peasants would not take power directly. If the proletarian revolution was far away and the day of insurrection was not at hand, it was not necessary to build a disciplined and tested Party. On the other hand, if one appreciated the basic fact that the present was the period of action for the workers, it was absolutely imperative to construct a Party capable of leading the insurrection. At bottom, therefore, the questions of organization had to do with the question whether the workers should take power in Russia or whether it was the turn of the petty bourgeois and bourgeois elements to do so, the workers simply fighting the battles of capitalism rather than their own. Those who thought the workers could take power directly refused to allow the agents of other classes to dominate the organization of the workers, the Revolutionary Party.

At the Second Congress, a split occurred on these questions. At first Lenin was in the minority and, because he felt the question not acute enough to warrant an immediate split, remained within the Party. But in the course of the Congress, the Jewish Bund withdrew because they were not permitted the autonomy they had demanded. This changed the situation, and the followers of Lenin now became the majority (those of the majority being called Bolsheviki in Russian). Now it was the turn of the opportunist wing of Martov to become the minority (Mensheviki). But instead of abiding by majority rule, these lovers of democracy decided to split and form their own faction, meeting separately within the organization. Thus two groups crystallized themselves, the Bolsheviks under Lenin and the Mensheviks under Martov. Plechanov, after the Congress, left the Leninists to side with Martov in order to give control of the Iskra to the Mensheviks. The two groups worked together during the days of 1905 but broke again in the latter part of that year. Attempts were made as late as 1910 to bring them together, but the efforts failed and, with the World War and the Russian Revolution, the two came into deadly hostility.

Under Lenin’s guidance, the Bolsheviks as far back as 1903 were able to foretell that the Mensheviks would be the Party to oppose the proletarian revolution; thus the Russian communists were the first to train themselves for struggle against the revisionists and opportunists of the Second International. They became demoralized the least in periods of defeat or stress and storm. Only because they had organized as far back as 1903 were they able to keep themselves intact in 1914 and 1917, and to take the leadership in the revolutionary movement throughout the world.


1. In this section we follow closely L. D. Trotsky’s analysis of Russian conditions to be found in his “1905.” (English translation non-existent.)

2. L. D. Trotsky: 1905 (French translation by Parajanine), p. 22.

3. S. Perlman: A Theory of The Labor Movement, p. 23, footnote.

4. L. D. Trotsky: work cited, p. 37.

5. Plechanov, Lenin and Trotsky all started out as narodniki.

6. Selections from Lenin, I, 24.

7. V. I. Lenin: The Iskra Period, I, 18.

8. The same, p. 21.

9. The same, II, 54.

10. The same, pp. 244-245.

11. The same, II, p. 87.

12. K. Kautsky: quoted by Lenin in “What Is to Be Done” in Collected Works, Vol. IV, Book II, p. 122.

13. The same, p. 140.

14. The same, pp. 159-160.

15. The same, p. 196.

16. The same, p. 205.

17. The same, p. 206.

18. The same, p. 213.

19. The same, pp. 212-213.

20. Lenin’s formula was “A member of the Party is a person who accepts the Party programme, pays Party dues and personally joins one of the Party organizations.” Martov’s formula was: “A member of the Social-Democratic Labour Party of Russia is a person who adopts its programme, pays Party dues and regularly participates in its activity under the direction of one of its organizations.” See Selections from Lenin, I, 154.

21. From “One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward” in Lenin on Organization, p. 135.

22. Lenin on Organization, pp. 124-125.

23. Selections from Lenin, I, 161.

24. Lenin on Organization, p. 188.

25. Selections from Lenin, I, 188-189.

26. The same, pp. 103-104.

27. Lenin on Organization, p. 193.