First Great Working Class Leader

Vladimir Ilyich specially loved and was proud of the figure of the first great working-class leader, the carpenter Stephan Khalturin. Lenin did not know him personally, he knew him by hearsay and books, as we all do. You know the biography of this proletarian of genus, who not only blew up the Winter Palace, but achieved something greater-he was the first to unfurl the banner of political struggle against Czarism in the name of the working class. Comrade Lenin used to say: When we have hundreds of such proletarians as Khalturin, when they are no longer solitary figures, going with bomb or revolver against this or that individual Minister, when they take their place at the head of the many-millioned working class—then we shall be invincible; then will come an end to Czarism, and subsequently an end also to the rule of the bourgeoisie. Comrade Lenin's affection for proletarians who in any way show capacity is especially striking. A fighter whom Lenin most valued and loved was the worker Ivan Vassilyevich Babushkin, with whom Comrade Lenin here, in Petrograd began his work in the ‘nineties, together starting the first worker circles, together leading the first workers’ strikes, together taking their part in the organization of the Iskra. This comrade played a prominent part in the revolution of 1905, and it was only by accident that in 1907 Vladimir Ilyich led from friends among the Siberian exiles that Babushkin had been shot by General Rennenkampf in Siberia.

I. V. Babushkin and Shelgunov, who is still living, and who is known to the Petrograd proletarians (he has now grown blind)— these renowned fighters, coming out of the working class, Comrade Lenin loved like brothers, placed before us as models, saw in them the real forerunners, the true leaders of the dawning workers’revolution.


The first period of activity of Comrade Lenin, as of many revolutionists who came from the ranks of the intelligentsia, was passed in student circles. When Comrade Lenin was expelled from the Kazan University, he went to Petrograd. And he used to tell us how, having already been slightly infected with Marxist ideas in Samara, he walked about Petrograd searching for a Marxist. Vivo voco! But the ‘breed’ of Marxists was at that time extremely rare. There was no Marxist in Petrograd; one had to go looking for him lamp in hand in day time. The Populists monopolized the minds of the intellectuals, and the working class was just awakening to political life.

And now there comes this young Comrade Lenin, builds up, after a year or two, in Petrograd the first working-class circle and rallies around himself the first Marxist intellectuals. Very soon Lenin is already crossing swords in the literary arena with the old leader of the Populists, N. K. Mikhailovsky.

Lenin (under the pseudonym of Ilyin) comes forward with a series of brilliant economic articles which at once win for him a name. And immediately in the ranks of the Populist intelligentsia here could be observed a certain alarm. Somebody powerful and strong has disturbed the petty-bourgeois swamp. The movement of the water begins. On the horizon a new figure has appeared. Someone is stifling up the stagnant air, and there is a breath of newness, freshness. In Petrograd, Comrade Lenin together with other Marxist activists and together with the first workers of whom I have spoken, founds the‘Union of the Struggle for the Emancipation of Labour'. He was entrusted by this organization with the conduct of the first strikes, and wrote the first simple, unassuming, hectographed leaflets, in which were formulated the economic demands of the Petrograd workers. It was at this time that Lenin published his first illegal pamphlet ‘On Fines’ —a pamphlet today forgotten, but which for lucid and popular exposition is a classic example of the popularisation of Marxism.

At that time this was precisely the nub of the whole situation: to agitate against the system of fines, to excite economic conflicts, TO RAISE EVERY ECONOMIC STRIKE TO THE LEVEL OF A POLITICAL EVENT. And Vladimir Ilyich, with all his passionate nature, gave himself up to this work. He spends days and nights in the working-class quarters. He is hunted by the police. He has only a tiny circle of friends. Nearly all so-called revlolutionary intellecuals of that time meet him with hostility. Not so many years had elapsed since the Populists burned the first Marxist writings of Plekhanov, on which Lenin himself was brought up.

Next: Lenin Opened a New Path