History of the Bolshevik Party
WHAT is a party? This question would appear to be very simple. Amongst those present there will be without doubt many party members, and it is even possible that this question will seem to them an idle one. But this is not so at all.
When we are dealing with scientific definitions in those fields where masses of people are involved in a living way — this is entirely applicable to social organisations — then you will nearly always see that the representatives of different classes and world outlooks define differently the essence of this or that social organisation. Let us take as the nearest example to the present case, that of the trade union in which millions of people participate. Everyone knows what such an organisation consists of. And yet, at the same time, the representatives of different classes give it different definitions. While Karl Marx used four words to express the essence of a trade union as a school of socialism the representatives of the bourgeois world of science define it quite differently. The Webbs, the well-known British writers of reformist and Menshevik persuasion, maintain that a trade union is nothing other than an organisation of mutual aid and in fact, benevolence. And if in addition you wish to know how, lets say, some German professor supporting the Catholic Centre party defines a trade union you will find that in his opinion it is virtually a religious institution or a charitable foundation.
And this is understandable, for in questions where the interests of hundreds of thousands of people are directly involved you will search in vain for any impartiality in the definition of the most ordinary things. Therefore our wish to define a party, from the very beginning, is far from idle.
The word party comes from the Latin pars, that is, a part. Today we Marxists say that a party is a part of a particular class. The representatives of the bourgeois world of course think otherwise. So for example the distinguished German conservative journalist Stahl who classified parties by the appearance of their degree of revolutionary or constitutional basis in relation to the old regime came to the conclusion that the struggle of parties is the struggle between the divine and the human order, between the precepts of divine providence and institutions created as a result of the transient needs and fancies of man, or to put it more briefly, between good and evil. And the no less distinguished Zurich political figure, Rohmer, attempts to place psychology at the basis of the definition of parties. He says approximately the following:
Human society is born, develops and dies. Consequently it can be young or old. In accordance with its age this or that political outlook holds sway. In mans childhood the passive forces of the spirit prevail; sensibility and living fantasy develop during this stage but there is no creative force or rational criticism. Radicalism above all corresponds to this state. (Hence radical parties). In youth and maturity the creative forces of the spirit and healthy criticism move to the fore, in youth a striving for creativity plays the major role while in maturity it becomes one to conserve what has been acquired. Liberalism and conservatism correspond to these states. (According to this theory the majority of those present in this hall filled with communists ought to be either liberals or conservatives.) Finally in old age the passive forces of the spirit take the upper hand; a fear of everything new and an addiction to me old; this corresponds to absolutism. Thus in any society young, mature and senile elements are simultaneously in existence and we can see corresponding to this coexistence radical, liberal, conservative and absolutist parties out of which those which most closely match the temperament and spirit of the people predominate. The existence of all these parties is inevitable; political life must proceed through equally active forces which have developed in society and the wise politician must even when fighting against them never aim to destroy any one of them completely because such an aim is unattainable, and to accomplish it would only drive tho infection inside the organism. The temperament of a given individual will primarily determine his adherence to one or another party. Thus Alcibiades was a boy all his life, Pericles remained a youth until his grave, Scipio was a man and Augustus was born an old man. And peoples also are in just the same way distinguished by different characters: the Germans are conservative by temperament but liberal by their cast of mind; the Russians are radical but inclined towards absolutism. (All this was of course written before 1917).
So you can see that in bourgeois science the definitions of the concept of party are extremely diverse. And it is a rare thing when one of its representatives decides to take the bull by the horns and says straight out that a party is the militant organisation of this or that class. This simple truth which is absolutely plain to you and me, bourgeois scientists will not and cannot admit for the same reason that they avoid calling parliamentarianism or the church by their proper names. The bourgeois system is by its very nature compelled to depict a whole number of institutions designed for the class oppression of the proletariat as organs of class harmony and reconciliation; it has to present them to public opinion and even to itself in just this form and not as organs of class struggle.
To clarify even more I will give you a definition of the word party belonging to one of the comparatively inoffensive Russian journalists, the half-Cadet, half-Narodnik and fairly talented journalist, Vodovozov. In a particular essay devoted to the definition of the word party he writes What is a party? This word refers to more or less sizeable groups of people having common political ideals
and striving for one and the same political reforms and organised for the defence of these ideals or for the struggle to realise them. This definition appears to be innocuous and close to the truth. But in fact the author consciously and carefully avoids the words class and class struggle. In his opinion a party is purely and simply an organisation of like-minded people sympathising with a specific ideal. To put it another way the very essence is tacking from this definition, it lacks flesh and blood, suffers from anaemia and has no real content.
Let us take an even more recent example: Milyukovs definition. You will see that this too is dictated by a particular class interest. We all know that the Cadet Party which Milyukov led called itself non-class. We fought it on this ground and demonstrated that non-class parties do not exist and that the Cadet Party was a class one representing a definite class of landowners and the bourgeoisie. For if today you cast a glance in retrospect, that is, look back, then you will understand why Milyukov in the event, emerged simultaneously as a bourgeois scholar and as a militant politician. For him as a militant politician it was necessary that the class, landowner character of his party was not clear to the people: the Cadets could not openly tell the masses that they were defending the interests of the landowners and the upper bourgeoisie, that is, of the small propertied minority of the population. As a militant politician he sensed and understood that at every mass meeting it was necessary to keep his party under a veil, to bring it onto the stage as a beautiful unknown and to conceal its features carefully. And in this task Milyukov the militant politician was faithfully served by that pillar of learning, Professor Milyukov, who proved with the aid of his bourgeois erudition that it is not at all obligatory for a party to be a class one and that his party was a group of like-minded people having definite ideals irrespective of what layer of the population they might be connected with. This example clearly shows you how easy it is to throw a bridge across from the academic definition of Vodovozov to the wholly concrete active bourgeois policy of Milyukov. Vodovozovs latter formula was very useful as it could easily shield the Cadet party and thus smuggle in a class party under a non-party yoke.
Let us now take some closer neighbours of ours, the Socialist-Revolutionaries. You know that they did not call their party non-class but inter-class. This definition flowed from their programme. And in fact the classic formula of the Socialist-Revolutionaries stated that they represent m the first place the proletariat, in the second, the peasantry, and in the third, the intelligentsia: that is, three major social layers at one and the same time. For this reason the very first theoretical battles waged between the Marxists and the S.R.s revolved around the assertion that inter-class parties do not exist. Every party is connected with a definite class and must therefore defend definite interests. We have linked our fate with the proletariat, we said. This still does not mean that we will have an inimical relationship with the peasantry, particularly in this predominantly peasant country. The task of the proletariat in such a country consists in creating a certain co-operation and collaboration with a second and numerically vast class. We have come from the proletariat. We are its party. While being a party of the proletariat, we will, however, lead the peasantry in struggle too, for we have many interests in common.
After the events of the recent years the practice of the S.R. party has become sufficiently clear and only now is it transparently clear why they latched on to that definition of the concept of the party which they gave in the 1900s, for example, when their party was still only being born. It seemed to many young comrades at that time that Plekhanov — then the generally acknowledged leader of our party — paid too much attention to this controversy; it seemed that he had embarked upon a struggle without any real point. Many people then supposed that the polemic between Plekhanov and Chernov was purely academic, and others reproached them for starting a row over the concept of party and class instead of waging a joint struggle against autocracy. But now you can see that this dispute was not academic but political and highly important.
That is why it is necessary above all to specify what you and I will understand by the word party and define it clearly and exactly. We understand by this word a political organisation forming a part of any class. To put it another way parties are proletarian and bourgeois. For us, a party is not simply a group of like-minded people or a collection of people sharing a common ideology which, irrespective of their connection with this or that class, they can preach wherever they wish. For us a party is, I repeat, a part of a particular class, which has arisen from its depths and has linked its fate with it. And the circumstance of the class from which a given party arises places upon it an ineffaceable imprint, determines the whole of its future life and its role in relation to a given state.
Today we use the words working class and class which are clear, comprehensible and beyond the realm of debate for any of us. For you and I the concept of class has entered our flesh and blood and our everyday life: we have seen a class acting in two revolutions and have studied it well; for us it is an elementary basic concept. But previously it was not so. From my exposition you will see that the whole struggle between the Marxists and the Narodniks took shape, at least in its first period, over the formula of class or simply people as it was then expressed. There was a time when the entire struggle in Russian socialism turned around the questions: what is a class and should the revolutionary have in mind a particular class or is he obliged to fight for the whole people"?
As you know the theory of the class struggle was discovered by none other than Marx. This does not mean that he discovered the class struggle. This struggle is not a theory but a living fact. But formulating, generalising and providing us with a conception of the whole history of mankind as a struggle of different classes was Marxs work. And the whole struggle of the founders of our Marxist party against the first generation of revolutionaries, the Narodniks, could essentially be to explaining the class struggle by the Russian experience and to providing a conception of what the working class in Russia was. That is why this simple concept which today forms the property of each one of us, the concept that our party is a part of the working class, has been forged over decades of theoretical and practical struggle. And if we wish to understand the history of our party then we must before all else be quite clear on this first point.
In finishing the examination of this question I must say the following as well. I may be reminded that frequently one class has several parties. This is of course true. The bourgeoisie as a whole for example can count several parties: republicans, democrats, radical-socialists, simple radicals, independent liberals, conservatives etc. Doesnt this fact contradict the definition I have given? I will be asked. I dont think so. It is necessary to bear in mind that bourgeois parties often in practice form not separate self-contained parties but merely factions of a single bourgeois party. These factions fight amongst themselves like game-cocks at this or that moment (especially when it is a question of elections) and rattle pasteboard swords at each other generally. Often it is even advantageous to them to put things over to the people as if they had serious disagreements. But in actual fact on the basic questions embracing millions of people they share a complete unanimity. They quarrel only over secondary questions while on the fundamental questions over which people fight on the barricades, plan revolutions and suffer from civil war and famine on all these questions, and above all on the question of private property, all bourgeois parties are unanimous. And in the final count we have every right to say that in relation to the main questions there exists only one big bourgeois party, the party of the slave-owners and supporters of private property.
In history there are plenty of examples of this. At one time in America the northern and the southern states came to blows over disagreements on the question of slavery. But this did not prevent the young bourgeois country which was only then taking shape, from emerging a short time later before the whole world in the role of a strong bourgeois state based firmly upon the principle of private property and in no way denying modern capitalist slavery. And you can in general point to as many such collisions between different bourgeois parties as you like but they only confirm our position that a party forms a part of a definite class.
Now I shall direct your attention to yet another circumstance. It should not be thought that every class immediately puts forward as it were a ready-made party corresponding to its interests as a whole. It would be a mistake to think that things are just as simple as follows: class no. 1 with party no. 1; class no. 2 with party no. 2. In social life and conflict things develop in a much more complex way. Individual people can make mistakes. It sometimes seems to them that they belong heart and soul to one class but when put to the test and a decisive moment arrives it can turn out that in fact they are in their whole being of another class. Their road follows a zigzag path. In certain periods of their development they put forward definite policies. In the course of time and under the influence of the turmoils of the class struggle and whirlwind of great events; when hidden layers of the particular class heave up and sharply pose new questions, deep down inside these people regroupings, shifts and crystallisations take place. And it is only a long while afterwards in the critical years that the basic questions powerfully emerge and divisions are finally created which really correspond to the given class. That is why if you approach this question too schematically and too simplistically you will meet many contradictions in your way. This basic question of our life has to be approached scientifically as befits Marxists — that is by rejecting from the outset an excessively mechanical approach to social phenomena. One has to understand that a party is not born overnight, that it takes shape over years, that inside its ranks definite social regroupings occur and that individual groups and people will sometimes fall accidentally into this or that party, will then leave it and others will take their place. And only in the process of struggle when we are confronted with a more or less completed cycle of developments can it be said that a particular party fully corresponds to a given class.
All the above also gives us an answer to the question, what is the relation between the Communist, Bolshevik Party and the working class? It can be said: if a party is a part of a class, if our party is a part of the working class, its representative body, vanguard and leader then how is it that there are still other workers parties? How is it that there is the party of the Mensheviks calling itself a workers party and the party of the Socialist-Revolutionaries which also declares that it defends the working class? And speaking on an international scale how is it that there exist Social-Democracy and the Second International, both connected with the working class? Doesnt all this contradict our definition?
This question is not academic either because it brings us right to the crux of the matter. What I said about bourgeois parties relates to a considerable degree to workers parties too. Neither the working class nor a workers party is born all at once. The working class takes shape gradually over decades: the rural population overflows into the cities, in part returning home and in part settling there; it simmers over and over again in the cauldrons of the industrial cities creating the working class with its characteristic psychology. In a similar way a party of the working class also takes shape over years and decades. Certain groups considered subjectively that they were defending the workers, as for example the Mensheviks did in the first revolution. And only gradually when history raises all those questions which I have attempted to outline to you, those basic questions which separate people into different sides, make enemies of friends and place them on opposing sides of the barricades and produce civil war — only then does stratification, crystallisation, splitting and re-unification begin and only then does a definite party finally take shape. And this process which is closely tied up with peoples lives will terminate in a complete form only with the era of the complete victory of socialism, that is when classes and parties disappear. It is not a chemical process which can be observed through to the end in a flask. In social phenomena one has to learn how to generalise and to probe more deeply into events and facts which embrace in their radius of action millions and tens of millions of people.
At the present moment the Second International still has considerable links with working class groups while being, as it is clear to all of us, in essence nothing but a faction of the bourgeoisie, its left wing. Many honest workers are members of the Second International. We have several workers parties while there exists only one working class. At the same time it is necessary to note that although there are several workers parties there is only one proletarian party. A party can be a workers one m its composition and yet not be proletarian in its orientation, programme and policy. This is clear from the exam-pies of the capitalist countries of Europe and America where there are several workers parties but only a single proletarian one, the Communist Party. There you have not only Social-Democratic parties but Catholic, i.e. church, trade unions and all sorts of other unions. All of them are parts of the working class but in their policies they are merely a faction of the bourgeoisie.
All we have said above is necessary for a conscious attitude towards the history of our party. Its creation, its process of formation; or to use philosophical terms, all its prehistory and its first chapters which occupied many many years is nothing but a gradual crystallisation of a workers party in the depths of the working class. And therefore when we speak of the twenty-fifth anniversary of our party this must be taken with certain qualifications. You will see this from a number of examples.
The North Russian Workers League founded with the assistance of Plekhanov and set up under the leadership of Khalturin, a joiner and Obnorsky a fitter must be regarded as the first cell of a workers party. It was born at the end of 1877 (you could even say 1878) in St. Petersburg and was first to advocate the idea of the political struggle of the working class. This organisation was of course not yet Marxist. Exactly 45 years have passed since 1878 and it would not of course be stretching matters too far to count the chronology of our party from the formation of the North Russian Workers League.
The Emancipation of Labour Group was founded in 1883. It was formed at a time when a generation of revolutionaries, headed by Plekhanov and Axelrod, which had survived the Narodnik affliction, broke from populism and recognised the necessity of building a party on the basis of the working class. This group first put forward, in 1885, a draft programme of the Social. Democratic Party and forming therefore the first Marxist organisation in the history of our revolutionary movement has therefore every right to be the chronological point of departure of our party. In this instance we would say that we are celebrating its 40th anniversary.
We could consider as a third date our First Party Congress which was held at Minsk on 14th March 1898 and if we take this as our starting point then we can celebrate our 25th anniversary. But it must be noted that this date is accidental. This congress passed leaving relatively no traces. The organisations formed in Minsk were broken up almost 24 hours after the congress, its participants were nearly all arrested while the Central Committee of our party fell almost wholly into the clutches of the gendarmes and could not carry out even a hundredth of the partys programme of work.
Later followed our Second Congress which was held in 1903 and began in Brussels and ended in London. In essence it was this congress which was the first and we could say with just as much right in this case that we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of our party. Then in 1905 in London the third and genuine congress of our party was held, a congress of a party of Bolsheviks as there were no Mensheviks there. (This was at the point of the split with them). This congress can also be considered as the first one for it drew up the basis for the tactics of the Bolsheviks on the eve of the first, 1905, revolution. So, in this case, we could celebrate the 18th anniversary of our partys foundation. And finally we could say that we should count the history of our party from the moment of the complete rupture from the Mensheviks which occurred in 1912 when we began to resurrect our party after the lengthy period of the counter-revolution upon the basis of the upsurge precipitated by the Lena strike and the events following it.
This was at the AU-Russian conference at Prague where there were no Mensheviks present either and at which we said: the old Central Committee no longer exists, we are building the party afresh. Strictly speaking it was then that the foundations of our party were laid after the defeat of 1905 and after the phase of counter-revolution which it had passed through.
Following this road further we could say that a complete break from the Mensheviks came not in 1912 but in 1917. And this is correct because after the February revolution and after the overthrow of Tsarism, in this very hall, an attempt was made to convene a united congress of social-democracy where everyone was invited and to which Lenin addressed his celebrated theses which have entered the history of international socialism, the theses on Soviet power. Up till that minute everyone thought that after the fall of Tsarism social-democracy would manage to unite itself, and that the Bolsheviks would merge with the Mensheviks.
And as a final point it might be said that not until our Seventh Congress in 1918 after the Brest peace, when we decided to rename the party the Russian Communist Party, was it finally formed.
I have deliberately included a whole series of dates as I wish to show that the formal and secondary question of whether it should be 20 or 25 years is not important, but rather the fact that a party takes shape in living reality. This does not at all occur so that on one fine day, as Vodovozov expressed it, the supporters of definite ideals get together and say to each other: Well then, come on, lets form a party! No, a party is not formed quite so simply! It is a living organism connected by millions of threads with the class from which it emerges. A party takes shape over years and even decades. If you calculate for example from the moment when Khalturin formed the North Russian Workers League then the result is 45 years; if you start your calculation from the moment when our party was called Communist then you have 5 years; if you count from the first congress of our party then you have 25 years and finally if you calculate from the moment of the birth of the Emancipation of Labour Group then you have 40 years. Hence it is clear that the living dialectical formation of a party is a very complex, lengthy and difficult process. It is born amid sharp pangs and it is subject to perpetual crystallisations, regroupings, splits and trials in the heat of the struggle before it finally takes shape as a party of the proletariat, as the party of a given class and then only with the reservation which I have already made, namely that the process is still not finally completed since the departure of some groups and the adherence of others continues for a long time to follow. All this we can observe in the fate of our party as well. If you make a close examination of our partys social composition then you will see that even in its current shape when it has managed over 45 years to have finally formed itself there still occur definite shifts and a relentless renewal of its elements; you will see how after the revolution the number of peasants in it increased with enormous speed and how afterwards their specific gravity became less; you will see how once again the number of the urban proletariat grew and how the intelligentsia at first entered it in whole groups and then began to leave in dense crowds. That is why only by pondering the peculiarities of this movement, only by examining the party as a dialectical concept, only by juxtaposing it with the living struggle of the masses which stretches over years and decades, can you understand the party as you should.
I have already said that the first phase of the history of the Russian revolutionary movement was occupied by the struggle between Marxism and populism: a movement which in one of its wings was undoubtedly revolutionary and which reached its particular high point in the 1870s.
Populism has inscribed many glorious pages in the history of our struggle and has provided a number of unforgettable examples of personal courage. The heroism of individual Narodniks who left their families, their class and their class privileges and went off, as was then said to the people, was amazing and we have an admiration for it. But at the same time populism as a whole was not a proletarian movement. If it was said at that time: we must go to the people then this expression was not used Accidentally. The concept of class did not exist for the Russia of those days and the revolutionaries of that era only knew the concept people. All of us of course stand for the people and it is self-evident that there is nothing but good in this concept. But if we take a look at it from the point of view of scientific definitions then we will see that in those days a confused ides was purposely incorporated in the word. In those days the people meant in most cases the peasantry, for the working class as such did not then exist: it was only being born. By dint of this the Narodnik movement, though revolutionary, was still petty-bourgeois. From this, however, it does not follow that we renounce this heritage and reject the models of heroism and remarkable courage displayed by the revolutionaries of the Narodnik period.
Let us recall how we communists approach, let us say, the great bourgeois revolutionaries of the French Revolution of 1789, when the working class also was still only in embryo. We approach them with the greatest respect and especially those of them who proved their unusual dedication to their people. We study the history of the French Revolution and we urge our youth to learn from the example of the materialists of that time. And as a matter of fact anyone who is interested in philosophy can learn far more from any prominent materialist of the era of the bourgeois revolution than from certain newly-fledged revisionist Marxists. For this very reason our party regards it as absolutely necessary to re-issue especially the classics of materialism as every one of us will extract far more benefit from them than from the hastily worked out theories served up to us which, though at times outwardly well-intentioned, have nothing in common with Marxism. Let me repeat: we are bringing our youth up in the spirit of the deepest respect for the outstanding representatives of the French bourgeois revolution. We understand its class nature. We know that it sent the monarch to the guillotine but we remember also that it promulgated a law against workers associations. And at the same time the pleiad of the great bourgeois revolutionaries was the strike force of humanity; it was the first to breach the front of feudalism and thereby to give a clear passage to the floodwaters of the then swelling proletarian revolution. This did not stop the epigones of the French revolutionaries from being despicable, petty little men and the agents of capital in the fullest sense of the word. And we know very well the difference between Marat and even Robespierre and their epigones, the present-day Poincaré, Briand and Viviani. It is well-known to us that the then representatives of the bourgeoisie, acting under the conditions of feudal oppression, drove a breach through feudalism while todays representatives of the bourgeoisie who, readily attiring themselves, like Poincaré and his associates, in the robes of the heirs of the French Revolution form in actual fact only the contemptible tools of bourgeois reaction. We know the difference between them. And such is our attitude towards the Narodniks too.
We know the worth of Zhelyabov, Sofia Perovskaya and all those who, in the days of the Tsarism which hung upon the feet of Russia like a ball and chain, in the days when an unprecedentedly barbaric oppression raged through the country, knew how to level their weapons up against autocracy, how to lead the first groups of revolutionaries into battle and how to walk firmly towards the gallows. Granted that this going out to the people was not a proletarian movement, granted that this was a revolutionary movement painted only in a misty socialist hue; granted all this, yet it was a great movement just as the start of the French Revolution was. These Narodniks made a breach in the Tsarist wall and in the autocratic stronghold. They were heroes, they broke from prejudices, they burst the chains shackling them to the privileged class, they renounced everything and went into the struggle for political freedom. While they sometimes embellished their struggle with socialist phrases without having a definite socialist programme, they could not have one, as they marched into battle with a slogan which did not transcend the bounds of bourgeois democracy. It is not accidental that the executive committee of Narodnaya Volya, the leading Narodnik organisation, addressed in its day an open letter to Lincoln.
We are even ready to take our hats off to the Decembrists as well, that earlier generation of bourgeois revolutionaries which also entered the struggle against Tsarism. These men who formed, in the literal sense of the word, the cream of the aristocracy, nobility and the officer caste, detached themselves from their class, broke from their families, abandoned their privileges and joined battle with autocracy. Although they did not have a socialist programme and although they were only bourgeois revolutionaries our generation does not renounce this heritage. On the contrary, we say that this is a glorious past and we bow low before the first representatives of revolutionary populism, who knew how to die for the people in the days when the working class was still only being born, when there was no proletariat and there could not be a proletarian class party. But at the same time we know that between Zhelyabov and Perovskaya on the one hand and Gotz and Chernov on the other, there exists just as great a difference as between Robespierre and Marat on the one hand and Poincaré and Briand on the other. Gotz and Chernov said that they were pursuing the casse of populism. But we said to them: You are pursuing it in the same way as Briand and Poincaré are pursuing the cause of Marat and Robespierre.
Let me repeat, if we are speaking about individual people then among the Narodniks of the first period who were stars of the first magnitude, people who will for ever remain for us ineffaceable examples of self-sacrifice, heroism and enormous dedication to their people. But if we put this movement under a magnifying glass and examine it in the proper way we will find that, while remaining in general a great step forward, it was not a proletarian movement.
Our proletariat was born in the course of long decades: one could even say over the course of a century. In Martovs book The History of Russian Social-Democracy which despite its Menshevik standpoint I recommend you to read, you can find side by side with erroneous Menshevik views many interesting facts. The Russian working class began to be born in the eighteenth century. The first large-scale factories and the first substantial workshops arose in Russia in precisely this era. At the same time the first bondsmen, semi-bondsmen and afterwards the so-called free workers separated themselves out from the class of peasant, handicraft and artisan serfs.
If you take a look at a work such as Tugan-Baranovskys well-known study, which does not stand up to a Marxist critique but does provide a multitude of facts, and, if you study Comrade Lenins book The Development of Capitalism in Russia and become familiar with Struves works, you will see that the first workers movements can be attested in the eighteenth century and the subsequent years.
In 1796 disturbances of factory workers occurred in Kazan, in Moscow Province in 1797, in Kazan again in 1798 and 1800 and in Moscow Province and in Yaroslavl in 1806, in Tambov Province in 1811, in Kaluga Province in 1814, in Yaroslavl in 1815, in St. Petersburg Province in 1816, again in Yaroslavl and Kazan in 1817, in Yaroslavl in 1818, in Kazan in 1819, in Voronezh and Kaluga provinces in 1821, in Vladimir and Moscow provinces and in Yaroslavl in 1823, in Kazan in 1829, in Kazan and Moscow Province in 1834, in Kazan in 1836, in Tula Province in 1837, in Moscow Province in 1844 and in Voronezh Province in 1851.
Besides, scholars who have researched into the Decembrist rising can prove by pointing to authentic documents that, at the moment of the emergence of the movement of 1825 (a hundred years ago), standing in the crowds on the Senate Square were St. Petersburg factory operatives who in small numbers then worked in St. Petersburg and who openly expressed their sympathy with the insurgents when the troops turned out against Nikolai I.
In 1845 Nikolais government was compelled to issue the first law instituting criminal penalties for striking. In 1848 the storm of the bourgeois revolution rolled across the whole of Europe. This movement did not directly affect Russia except inasmuch as the Tsarist government sent feudal forces to quell the Hungarian revolution; nevertheless it was of course obliquely reflected in our country too. So a fresh breeze blew through Russia as well.
Another basic date is 1861, the year of the emancipation of the serfs — and the incipient movement of the liberal bourgeoisie. Gradually a fairly considerable working class began to appear in Russia which acquired the character of a mass phenomenon as early as the 1870s. Yet despite this the first circles of revolutionaries which arose after the Decembrists were not composed of workers.
Formed in 1869, Chaikovskys circle can be considered the first revolutionary group. Perovskaya, Natanson, Volkhovsky, Shishko, Kropotkin and Kravchinsky became members of it. These names are in themselves distinguished to the highest degree. Chaikovsky has lived on until our day although politically he has been long since dead. He took part in the bourgeois revolution of 1917, was a member of the first Executive Committee (of the Congress of Soviets) and then occupied a place on the extreme right (even further to the right than the Mensheviks and the S.R.s). During the unprecedented campaign of slander against Comrade Lenin when the latter was declared to be a spy, Chaikovsky was half the instigator of that affair. After this he was appointed governor by the British in Archangel, kept company with Kolchak and today finds himself in Paris, tossed into the dustbin of history.
Perovskaya as you know perished in 1881. She took part in preparing the assassination of Alexander II and entered the history of the revolutionary movement as one of its most brilliant names. M. Natanson died very recently as a Left S.R. who came very close to us, especially after the famous and absurd uprising that the Left S.R.s mounted against us. He had split away from the Right S.R.s at the start of the revolution, was together with us at Zimmerwald and represents to a certain measure a founder of the Third International. The remaining members of Chaikovskys organisation have died either physically — or politically, as they stayed in the S.R. party.
This little circle shows distinctly how populism developed and how it provided ideologists for various groups. Kropotkin ended up an anarchist while Natanson was an internationalist and very close to the communists. Chaikovsky revealed himself to be a definite representative of the bourgeoisie and nobody will nowadays dispute the fact that he was merely a bourgeois revolutionary and at that a mediocre and poor democrat, not being even able to defend genuine bourgeois democracy; he did not achieve a hundredth part of what the real bourgeois revolutionaries accomplished when they made their bourgeois revolution.
The first workers circle was formed approximately in the middle of the 1870s, in about 1875. Its most notable participants were Petr Alexeev, the weaver, Malinovsky, Agapov, Alexandrov, Krylov and Gerasimov. Those are the principal names. Petr Alexeevs celebrated speech is well-known and also some of his contemporaries are still alive — if I am not mistaken we recently met Moiseenko.
In 1875 Zaslavsky founded the South Russian Workers League in Odessa. But its programme was not as clear as the programme of the North Russian Workers League founded some three years later. Expressed from the very start in this situation was perhaps that enormous difference which existed between the north and south and which you can trace through the subsequent course of the whole of our revolution as well. Today it cannot be doubted that the north will enter the history of our revolution as a revolutionary section of the Russian proletariat, while all of the counter-revolution was fledged chiefly in the south where it continually bred and accumulated its forces.
This disparity of social stratification evidently left a certain imprint on the first workers organisations: the South Russian and the North Russian. If we compare the programmes of the former and the latter then we will see that the North Russian Workers League was without doubt far closer to us and revolutionary truth, and it will become clear to us that it was more advanced in its estimation of the importance of political struggle and its approach to the mass revolutionary workers movement.
To gain a clearer understanding of the inter-relation between populism and Marxism it is necessary to bear in mind the canvas upon which it appeared: in the first place, the absence of a substantial working class which then consisted of only tiny streams, whose sources, it is true, rose before the end of the eighteenth century, but which thereafter lay under the heavy oppressive weight of autocracy at a time when all cats were grey, so to speak. The ultimate threads of this canvas consisted of the journey out to the people — which meant a journey out to the peasantry with a very confused programme, the courage of the revolutionaries of that time coupled with a lack of a proletarian viewpoint, the formation of the first circles made up of intellectuals, and only in 1875 the appearance of the first workers circles which were in all their ideology still closely connected with populism.
I have already spoken about Chaikovsky. This man, as it were, personifies the finger and thumb of populism. The Chaikovsky of the end of the 1860s and beginning of the 1870s was the standard-bearer of the best part of the revolutionary intelligentsia, a political leader who laid the basis of the revolutionary movement. But the Chaikovsky of the 1920s represents quite definitely a tool, and a miserable little one at that, in the hands of Kolchak and the British bourgeoisie. Thus you can see in the figure of one man both sides of populism. And in reality right from its beginning to its end two trends, two currents and two tendencies clearly revealed themselves in this movement. One of them brought forward Zhelyabov and Perovskaya and created heroes: the Sazonovs and the Balmashevs. The second current especially observable in the 1880s formed the right wing of populism, i.e. those Narodniks who both in their practical activity and in their writings were little distinguishable from the liberals.
The populism of the 1 870s taken as a whole represents a tendency of bourgeois revolutionaries which had however important merits. The victorious proletariat will always pay homage to these revolutionaries. But it will say at the same time: Dont imitate their weaknesses, dont repeat their nebulous phrases about the people but speak about a class, go to the proletariat and know that the industrial proletariat is the fundamental class which will liberate all humanity. The Narodniks could not help being weak, unclear and vague for they lived at a time when the working class was only just being born and still lay in diapers. From them we must take not the fog which enshrouded them but what was their strength: be dedicated to ones people, serve it as selflessly as they did; be courageous and self-sacrificing; break as they did from class prejudices and privileges; know how to go against the current at a difficult moment, as they knew how to. The darker the night the brighter the stars. The darker the Tsarist night was, the brighter shone the stars that were Zhelyabov and Perovskaya. And the Russian working class which has been victorious in struggle and workers of all the world respect them for this.
We know moreover that within populism, which began in the 1870s and continued into the 1880s, there was a liberal, functionary-class current which animated a number of literary tendencies which were close to the ideas of liberalism and which subsequently drew the S.R. party towards the evolution which we have observed. Into precisely this framework were born the first groups of proletarian revolutionaries who laid the foundation of our party. You must bear in mind and you must clearly remember that there are both bourgeois revolutionaries and proletarian ones. Only when we are clear on this fact can we understand the Ovid-like metamorphosis of the S.R. party. For it was just when it was a question of a victory over Tsarism and the bourgeois revolution that these revolutionaries had sweep, energy, enthusiasm and gusto; they knew what they were fighting for and what they made sacrifices for and produced great men like Gershuni. But when the bourgeois revolution had been finished in the rough, and the job of the proletarian revolution started, everything which the day before had been their strength became the next day their weakness. They had become more dangerous to us than the usual bourgeois counter-revolutionaries because they immediately turned their energy, dexterity, conspiratorial talent and their certain rapport with the masses through 90 degrees to oppose the revolutionary class. And here lies the solution to the whole riddle.
In all the evolution of the S.R.s and in all the metamorphoses of populism we must distinguish two factors. For a certain period they were bourgeois revolutionaries. They were a progressive force and we had to support them and to proceed in a united front together with them over many years against autocracy. But they were a progressive force only until the moment that the working class, having toppled the privileged property-based class, the class of landowners and bourgeois, reached for power. From this moment as soon as we passed on to the urgent questions regardless of the landowners and the bourgeoisie, the S.R.s immediately swung their whole front against the workers and against the proletarian revolution.
All the first phase of the history of our party is nothing other than at first a semi-conscious and then a fully-conscious struggle of proletarian revolutionaries against bourgeois revolutionaries. In so far as it was a case of a struggle against Tsarism we had, I repeat, a united front. But as soon as the struggle to win the masses and the soul of the working class was unleashed, our paths diverged. From this moment the proletarian revolutionaries grappled with the bourgeois revolutionaries, and this struggle filled a number of years which proved to be decisive for the future of Russia.