Comrade Lenin opened up here a new path. Throughout the whole activity of Comrade Lenin one can notice that he is always an innovator, that he goes against the stream, that he ploughs a new furrow in the political and social life. In the ‘nineties, too, at Petrograd, it fell to his share to trace out a new path, to form, to rally the first detachments of workers, the first detachments of a genuine working-class intelligentsia, from which more than one leader of the present workers’ revolution has come.
It happens very often at the present time that from somewhere out of far Siberia or the Urals here come to the Council of People’s Commissars, to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, workers who are today presidents of local Soviets, the leaders of the local movements. They go up to Comrade Lenin and begin to call up old memories: ‘Do you remember in the early‘nineties, at such and such a place, how we stirred up an agitation for the supply of hot water for tea with a certain illegal leaflet, or organised such and such a strike?’ Comrade Lenin does not always remember them; too many people have crossed his path. But they all remember him. They know that he was their teacher, that he first let fall within them the spark of Communism. They know hat he was their real friend and leader.
Towards the end of the ‘nineties Comrade Lenin, after a long confinement in prison, was sent into Siberian exile. There he developed an immense scientific and literary activity. The he wrote several works, out of which I will dwell upon two only. The first work was a little pamphlet ‘Problems of the Russian Social Democrats.’ This pamphlet is now hardly read. But it remains a masterpiece of Marxist treatment of the question as to the destinies of the Socialist movement in an economically backward country. At that time no one had finally settled the question: what should be the connection between the political struggle of the workers against Czarism and the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie for economic demands and Socialism?
At the present time, comrades, all this seems as simple as ABC. But in those days this question was far from being so clear. The celebrated ‘Economists’, the predecessors of our Mensheviks, contended that the political struggle must be left to the Liberal bourgeoisie, and the only concern of the working class must be the struggle for an extra kopek in the trouble. Comrade Lenin, following the late Plekhanov (here it is necessary to say that he took a great deal from Plekhanov) gave a magnificent analysis of the contending social forces in Russia. We must not defer, Lenin argued, the formation of the working class Party in Russia until we have won political freedom. No, we have not lagged behind Europe, a hundred years in order to hang back with the organisation of the workers’ party until our bourgeoisie has risen to power. No, now is the time, under the leaden lid and yoke of Czardom, to build up in spite of these desparately difficult conditions, an independent Socialist class party of the workers, fighting from the outset both against Czardom and against the bourgeoisie.
The manuscript of this pamphlet was transmitted abroad to the ‘Emancipation of Labour Group.’ In Switzerland there worked at this time a little circle consisting of Plekhanov, Axelrod, and Zassulich, the first founders of Social Democracy in Russia. They had lived abroad already 15 years. When this manuscript of Lenin’s came to them it was the first tidings of the coming spring. And it was none other than Paul Axelrod, who was at that time a Socialist, and was able to discern the true leaders of the working class, who, on the receipt of this manuscript, went into raptures. He said then to his circle of friends that a prodigious force had appeared in the ranks of our Social Democracy, that there had arisen a new star of the first magnitude. Axelrod wrote a preface to Lenin’s pamphlet, in which he could not find enough laudatory words with which to overwhelm Comrade Lenin. He said that for the first time since Plekhanov there had appeared a leader, a practical expert of the working-class movement, that Lenin was a force to which a great future was assured.
And Axelrod, in the present case—one must give him his due—was not mistaken.
Next: A Truly Scientific Work