J. V. Stalin

Marx and Engels on Insurrection

July 13, 1906

Source : Works, Vol. 1, November 1901 - April 1907
Publisher : Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954
Transcription/Markup : Salil Sen for MIA, 2008
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

The Menshevik N. H. 1 knows that audacity wins the day and . . . has the audacity to accuse the Bolsheviks once again of being Blanquists (see Simartleh, 2 No. 7).

There is nothing surprising in this, of course. Bernstein and Vollmar, the German opportunists, have for a long time been saying that Kautsky and Bebel are Blanquists. Jaures and Millerand, the French opportunists, have been for a long time accusing Guesde and Lafargue of being Blanquists and Jacobins. Nevertheless, everyone knows that Bernstein, Millerand, Jaures and the others, are opportunists, that they are betraying Marxism, whereas Kautsky, Bebel, Guesde, Lafargue and the others are revolutionary Marxists. What is there surprising in the fact that the Russian opportunists, and their follower N. H., copy the European opportunists and call us Blanquists? It shows only that the Bolsheviks, like Kautsky and Guesde, are revolutionary Marxists. 3

We could here conclude our talk with N. H., but he makes the question "more profound" and tries to prove his point. Very well, let us not offend him and hear what he has to say.

N. H. disagrees with the following opinion expressed by the Bolsheviks :

"Let us suppose that4 the people in the towns are imbued with hatred for the government 5 ; they can always rise up for the struggle if the opportunity offers. That means that quantitatively we are ready. But this is not enough. If an uprising is to be successful, it is necessary to draw up in advance a plan of the struggle, to draw up in advance the tactics of the battle; it is necessary to have organised detachments, and so forth" (see Akhali Tskhovreba, No. 6)

N. H. disagrees with this. Why? Because, he says, it is Blanquism! And so, N. H. wants neither "tactics of the battle," nor "organised detachments," nor organised action—all that, it appears, is unimportant and unnecessary. The Bolsheviks say that by itself "hatred for the government is not enough," consciousness by itself "is not enough"; it is necessary to have, in addition, "detachments and tactics of the battle." N. H. rejects all that and calls it Blanquism.

Let us note this and proceed.

N. H. dislikes the following idea expressed by Lenin: We must collect the experience of the uprisings in Moscow, the Donets Basin, Rostov-on-Don and other places, disseminate this experience, perseveringly and painstakingly prepare new fighting forces and train and steel them in a series of militant guerilla actions. The new upheaval may not yet break out in the spring, but it is approaching; in all probability it is not very far off. We must meet it armed, organised in military fashion, and be capable of taking determined offensive action" (see Partiiniye Izvestia).6

N. H. disagrees with this idea of Lenin's. Why? Because, he says, it is Blanquism!

And so, in N. H.'s opinion, we must not "collect the experience of the December uprising" and must not "disseminate it." True, an upheaval is approaching, but in N. H.'s opinion we must not "meet it armed," we must not prepare "for determined offensive action." Why? Probably because we are more likely to be victorious if we are unarmed and unprepared! The Bolsheviks say that we can expect an upheaval and, therefore, our duty is to prepare for it both in respect to consciousness and in respect to arms. N. H. knows that an upheaval is to be expected, but he refuses to recognise anything more than verbal agitation and therefore doubts whether it is necessary to arm, and thinks it superfluous. The Bolsheviks say that consciousness and organisation must be introduced into the sporadic insurrection which has broken out spontaneously. But N. H. refuses to recognise this—it is Blanquism, he says. The Bolsheviks say that at a definite moment "determined offensive action" must be taken. But N. H. dislikes both determination and offensive action—all this is Blanquism, he says.

Let us note the foregoing and see what attitude Marx and Engels took towards armed insurrection.

Here is what Marx wrote in the fifties:

". . . The insurrectionary career once entered upon, act with the greatest determination, and on the offensive.

The defensive is the death of every armed rising. . . . Surprise your antagonists while their forces are scattering, prepare new successes, however small, but daily keep up the moral ascendant which the first successful rising has given to you; rally thus those vacillating elements to your side which always follow the strongest impulse and which always look out for the safer side; force your enemies to a retreat before they can collect their strength against you; in the words of Danton, the greatest master of revolutionary policy yet known : de l'audace, de l'audace, encore de l'audace!" (See Karl Marx, Historical Sketches, p. 95.) 7

This is what Karl Marx, the greatest of Marxists, says.

As you see, in Marx's opinion, whoever wants insurrection to triumph must take the path of the offensive. But we know that whoever takes the path of the offensive must have arms, military knowledge and trained detachments. Without these an offensive is impossible. Bold offensive action, in Marx's opinion, is the flesh and blood of every uprising. N. H., however, ridicules everything: bold offensive action, the policy of offensive, organised detachments and the dissemination of military knowledge. All that is Blanquism, he says! It appears, then, that N. H. is a Marxist, but Marx is a Blanquist! Poor Marx! If only he could rise from his grave and hear N. H.'s prattle.

And what does Engels say about insurrection? In a passage in one of his pamphlets he refers to the Spanish uprising, and answering the Anarchists, he goes on to say :

"Nevertheless, the uprising, even if begun in a brainless way, would have had a good chance to succeed, if it had only been conducted with some intelligence, say in the manner of Spanish military revolts, in which the garrison of one town rises, marches on to the next, sweeps along with it that town's garrison that had been influenced beforehand and, growing into an avalanche, presses on to the capital, until a fortunate engagement or the coming over to their side of the troops sent against them decides the victory. This method was particularly practicable on that occasion. The insurgents had long before been organised everywhere into volunteer battalions (do you hear, comrade, Engels talks about battalions!) whose discipline, while wretched, was surely not more wretched than that of the remnants of the old, and in the main disintegrated, Spanish army. The only dependable government troops were the gendarmes (guardias civiles), and these were scattered all over the country. It was primarily a question of preventing a concentration of the gendarme detachments, and this could be brought about only by assuming the offensive and the hazard of open battle . . . (attention, comrades, attention!). For any one who sought victory, there was no other means. . . ."

Engels then goes on to take to task the Bakuninists, who proclaimed as their principle that which could have been avoided: "the splitting up and isolation of the revolutionary forces, which permitted the same government troops to quell one uprising after another" (see Engels's The Bakuninists at Work). 8

This is what the celebrated Marxist, Frederick Engels, says. . . .

Organised battalions, the policy of offensive, organs-ing insurrection, uniting the separate insurrection — that, in Engels's opinion, is needed to ensure the victory of an insurrection.

It appears then that N. H. is a Marxist, but Engels is a Blanquist! Poor Engels!

As you see, N. H. is not familiar with the views of Marx and Engels on insurrection.

That would not be so bad. We declare that the tactics advocated by N. H. belittle and actually deny the importance of arming, of Red detachments, and of military knowledge. His are the tactics of unarmed insurrection. His tactics push us towards the "December defeat." Why did we have no arms, no detachments, no military knowledge and so forth in December? Because the tactics advocated by comrades like N. H. were widely accepted in the Party. . . .

But both Marxism and real life reject such unarmed tactics.

That is what the facts say.


1. N. H.—Noah Homeriki, a Menshevik.

2. Simartleh (Truth)—a daily political and literary newspaper published by the Georgian Mensheviks in Tiflis in 1906.

3.. K. Kautsky and J. Guesde at that time had not yet gone over to the camp of the opportunists. The Russian revolution of 1905-07, which greatly influenced the international revolutionary movement and the working class of Germany in particular, caused K. Kautsky to take the stand of revolutionary Social-Democracy on a number of questions.

4.Here N. H. substituted the word "when" for the words "let us suppose that," which slightly alters the meaning.

5. Here N. H. omitted the words "for the government" (see Akhali Tskhovreba,5A No. 6).

5A. Akhali Tskhovreba (New Life) —a daily Bolshevik newspaper published in Tiflis from June 20 to July 14, 1906, under the direction of J. V. Stalin. M. Davitashvili, G. Telia, G. Kikodze and others were permanent members of the staff. In all, twenty numbers were issued.

6. This passage is quoted from an article by V. I. Lenin entitled "The Present Situation in Russia and the Tactics of the Workers' Party" (see Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol. 10, pp. 98-99), published in Partiiniye Izvestia (Party News), the organ of the united Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. Partiiniye Izvestia was published illegally in St. Petersburg just prior to the Fourth ("Unity") Congress of the Party. Two numbers were issued: No. 1 on February 7 and No. 2 on March 20, 1906.

7. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany (see Karl Marx, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow 1936, p. 135).

8. See Frederick Engels, Die Bakunisten an der Arbeit, Moskau 1941, S. 16-17.