Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

What Is To Be Done?



The Primitiveness of the Economists and the Organization of the Revolutionaries

Rabocheye Dyelo’s assertions, which we have analyzed, that the economic struggle is the most widely applicable means of political agitation and that our task now is to lend the economic struggle itself a political character, etc., express a narrow view, not only of our political, but also of our organizational tasks. The “economic struggle against the employers and the government” does not at all require an all-Russia centralized organization, and hence this struggle can never give rise to such an organization as will combine, in one general assault, all the manifestations of political opposition, protest, and indignation, an organization that will consist of professional revolutionaries and be led by the real political leaders of the entire people. This stands to reason. The character of any organization is naturally and inevitably determined by the content of its activity. Consequently, Rabocheye Dyelo, by the assertions analyzed above, sanctifies and legitimizes not only narrowness of political activity, but also of organizational work. In this case, Rabocheye Dyelo, as always, proves itself an organ whose consciousness yields to spontaneity. Yet subservience to spontaneously developing forms of organisation, failure to realise the narrowness and primitiveness of our organisational work, of our “handicraft” methods in this most important sphere, failure to realise this, I say, is a veritable ailment from which our movement suffers. It is not an ailment that comes with decline, but one, of course, that comes with growth. It is however at the present time, when the wave of spontaneous indignation, as it were, is sweeping over us, leaders and organisers of the movement, that an irreconcilable struggle must be waged against all defence of backwardness, against any legitimation of narrowness in this matter. It is particularly necessary to arouse in all who participate in practical work, or are preparing to take up that work, discontent with the amateurism prevailing among us and an unshakable determination to rid ourselves of it.


We shall try to answer this question by giving a brief description of the activity of a typical Social-Democratic study circle of the period 1894-1901. We have noted that the entire student youth of the period was absorbed in Marxism. Of course, these students were not only, or even not so much, interested in Marxism as a theory; they were interested in it as an answer to the question, “What is to be done?”, as a call to take the field against the enemy. These new warriors marched to battle with astonishingly primitive equipment and training. In a vast number of cases they had almost no equipment and absolutely no training. They marched to war like peasants from the plough, armed only with clubs. A students’ circle establishes contacts with workers and sets to work, without any connection with the old members of the movement, without any connection with study circles in other districts, or even in other parts of the same city (or in other educational institutions), without any organisation of the various divisions of revolutionary work, without any systematic plan of activity covering any length of time. The circle gradually expands its propaganda and agitation; by its activities it wins the sympathies of fairly large sections of workers and of a certain section of the educated strata, which provide it with money and from among whom the “committee” recruits new groups of young people. The attractive power of the committee (or League of Struggle) grows, its sphere of activity becomes wider, and the committee expands this activity quite spontaneously; the very people who a year or a few months previously spoke at the students’ circle gatherings and discussed the question, “Whither?”, who established and maintained contacts with the workers and wrote and published leaflets, now, establish contacts with other groups of revolutionaries, procure literature, set to work to publish a local newspaper, begin to talk of organising a demonstration, and finally turn to open warfare (which may, according to circumstances, take the form of issuing the first agitational leaflet or the first issue of a newspaper, or of organising the first demonstration). Usually the initiation of such actions ends in an immediate and complete fiasco. Immediate and complete, because this open warfare was not the result of a systematic and carefully thought-out and gradually prepared plan for a prolonged and stubborn struggle, but simply the result of the spontaneous growth of traditional study circle work; because, naturally, the police, in almost every case, knew the principal leaders of the local movement, since they had already “gained a reputation” for themselves in their student days, and the police waited only for the right moment to make their raid. They deliberately allowed the study circle sufficient time to develop its work so that they might, obtain a palpable corpus delicti, and they always permitted several of the persons known to them to remain at liberty “for breeding” (which, as far as I know, is the technical term used both by our people and by the gendarmes). One cannot help comparing this kind of warfare with that conducted by a mass of peasants, armed with clubs, against modern troops. And one can only wonder at the vitality of the movement which expanded, grew, and scored victories despite the total lack of training on the part of the fighters. True, from the historical point of view, the primitiveness of equipment was not only inevitable at first, but even legitimate as one of the conditions for the wide recruiting of fighters, but as soon as serious war operations began (and they began in fact with the strikes in the summer of 1896), the defects in our fighting organisations made themselves felt to an ever-increasing degree. The government, at first thrown into confusion and committing a number of blunders (e.g., its appeal to the public describing the misdeeds of the socialists, or the banishment of workers from the capitals to provincial industrial centres), very soon adapted itself to the new conditions of the struggle and managed to deploy well its perfectly equipped detachments of agents provocateurs, spies, and gendarmes. Raids became so frequent, affected such a vast number of people, and cleared out the local study circles so thoroughly that the masses of the workers lost literally all their leaders, the movement assumed an amazingly sporadic character, and it became utterly impossible to establish continuity and coherence in the work. The terrible dispersion of the local leaders; the fortuitous character of the study circle memberships; the lack of training in, and the narrow outlook on, theoretical, political, and organisational questions were all the inevitable result of the conditions described above. Things have reached such a pass that in several places the workers, because of our lack of self-restraint and the inability to maintain secrecy, begin to lose faith in the intellectuals and to avoid them; the intellectuals, they say, are much too careless and cause police raids!

Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the movement is aware that all thinking Social-Democrats have at last begun to regard these amateurish methods as a disease. In order that the reader who is not acquainted with the movement may have no grounds for thinking that we are “inventing” a special stage or special disease of the movement, we shall refer once again to the witness we have quoted. We trust we shall be forgiven for the length of the passage:

“While the gradual transition to more extensive practical activity,” writes B-v in Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 6, “a transition that is directly dependent on the general transitional period through which the Russian working-class movement is now passing, is a characteristic feature, . . . there is, however, another, no less interesting feature in the general mechanism of the Russian workers’ revolution. We refer to the general lack of revolutionary forces fit for action, [all italics ours — Lenin] which is felt not only in St. Petersburg, but throughout Russia. With the general revival of the working-class movement, with the general development of the working masses, with the growing frequency of strikes, with the increasingly open mass struggle of the workers, and with the intensified government persecution, arrests, deportation, and exile, this lack of highly skilled revolutionary forces is becoming more and more marked and, without a doubt, cannot but affect the depth and the general character of the movement. Many strikes take place without any strong and direct influence upon them by the revolutionary organisations.... A shortage of agitational leaflets and illegal literature Is felt.... The workers’ study circles are left without agitators.... In addition, there is a constant dearth of funds. In a word, the growth of the working class movement is outstripping the growth and development of the revolutionary organisations. The numerical strength of the active revolutionaries is too small to enable them to concentrate in their own hands the influence exercised upon the whole mass of discontented workers, or to give this discontent even a shadow of coherence and organisation.... The separate study circles, the separate revolutionaries, scattered, uncombined, do not represent a single, strong, and disciplined organisation with proportionately developed parts. . . .” Admitting that the immediate organization of fresh study circles to replace those that have been broken up merely proves the vitality of the movement ... but does not prove the existence of an adequate number of adequately prepared revolutionary workers, the author concludes: “The lack of practical training among the St. Petershurg revolutionaries is seen in the results of their work. The recent trials, especially that of the Self-Emancipation Group and the Labour-against-Capital group,[19] clearly showed that the young agitator, lacking a detailed knowledge of working class conditions and, consequently, of the conditions under which agitation can be carried on in a given factory, ignorant of the principles of secrecy, and understanding only the general principles of Social-Democracy [if he does], is able to carry on his work for perhaps four, five, or six months. Then come arrests, which frequently lead to the break-up of the entire organisation, or at all events, of part of it. The question arises, therefore, can the group conduct successful activity if its existence is measured by months?... Obviously, the defects of the existing organisations cannot be wholly ascribed to the transitional period.... Obviously, the numerical, and above all the qualitative, make-up of the functioning organisations is no small factor, and the first task our Social-Democrats must undertake ... is that of effectively combining the organisations and making a strict selection of their membership.”

B. Primitiveness and Economism

We must now deal with a question that has undoubtedly come to the mind of every reader. Can a connection be established between primitiveness as growing pains that affect the whole movement, and Economism, which is one of the currents in Russian Social-Democracy? We think that it can. Lack of practical training, of ability to carry on organisational work is certainly common to us all, including those who have from the very outset unswervingly stood for revolutionary Marxism. Of course, were it only lack of practical training, no one could blame the practical workers. But the term “primitiveness” embraces something more than lack of training; it denotes a narrow scope of revolutionary work generally, failure to understand that a good organisation of revolutionaries cannot be built on the basis of such narrow activity, and lastly — and this is the main thing — attempts to justify this narrowness and to elevate it to a special “theory”, i.e., subservience to spontaneity on this question too. Once such attempts were revealed, it became clear that primitiveness is connected with Economism and that we shall never rid ourselves of this narrowness of our organisational activity until we rid ourselves of Economism generally (i.e., the narrow conception of Marxist theory, as well as of the role of Social-Democracy and of its political tasks). These attempts manifested themselves in a twofold direction. Some began to say that the working masses themselves have not yet advanced the broad and militant political tasks which the revolutionaries are attempting to “impose” on them; that they must continue to struggle for immediate political demands, to conduct “the economic struggle against the employers and the government”[1] (and, naturally, corresponding to this struggle which is “accessible” to the mass movement there must be an organisation that will be “accessible” to the most untrained youth). Others, far removed from any theory of “gradualness”, said that it is possible and necessary to “bring about a political revolution”, but that this does not require building a strong organisation of revolutionaries to train the proletariat in steadfast and stubborn struggle. All we need do is to snatch up our old friend, the “accessible” cudgel. To drop metaphor, it means that we must organise a general strike,[2] or that we must stimulate the “spiritless” progress of the working-class movement by means of “excitative terror”.[3] Both these trends, the opportunists and the “revolutionists”, bow to the prevailing amateurism; neither believes that it can be eliminated, neither understands our primary and imperative practical task to establish an organisation of revolutionaries capable of lending energy, stability, and continuity to the political struggle.

We have quoted the words of B-v: “The growth of the working-class movement is outstripping the growth and development of the revolutionary organisations.” This “valuable remark of a close observer” (Rabocheye Dyelo’s comment on B-v’s article) has a twofold value for us. It shows that we were right in our opinion that the principal cause of the present crisis in Russian Social-Democracy is the lag of the leaders (“ideologists”, revolutionaries, Social-Democrats) behind the spontaneous upsurge of the masses. It shows that all the arguments advanced by the authors of the Economist letter (in Iskra, No. 12), by Krichevsky and by Martynov, as to the danger of belittling the significance of the spontaneous element, of the drab everyday struggle, as to tactics-as-process, etc., are nothing more than a glorification and a defence of primitiveness. These people who cannot pronounce the word “theoretician” without a sneer, who describe their genuflections to common lack of training and backwardness as a “sense for the realities of life”, reveal in practice a failure to understand our most imperative practical tasks. To laggards they shout: Keep in step! Don’t run ahead! To people suffering from a lack of energy and initiative in organisational work, from a lack of “plans” for wide and bold activity, they prate about “tactics-as-process”! The worst sin we commit is that we degrade our political and organisational tasks to the level of the immediate, “palpable”, “concrete” interests of the everyday economic struggle; yet they keep singing to us the same refrain: Lend the economic struggle itself a political character! We repeat: this kind of thing displays as much “sense for the realities of life” as was displayed by the hero in the popular fable who cried out to a passing funeral procession, “Many happy returns of the day!”

Recall the matchless, truly “Narcissus-like” superciliousness with which these wiseacres lectured Plekhanov on the “workers’ circles generally” (sic!) being “unable to cope with political tasks in the real and practical sense of the word, i.e., in the sense of the expedient and successful practical struggle for political demands” (Rabocheye Dyelo’s Reply, p. 24). There are circles and circles, gentlemen! Circles of “amateurs” are not, of course, capable of coping with political tasks so long as they have not become aware of their amateurism and do not abandon it. If, besides this, these amateurs are enamoured of their primitive methods, and insist on writing the word “practical” in italics, and imagine that being practical demands that one’s tasks be reduced to the level of understanding of the most backward strata of the masses, then they are hopeless amateurs and, of course, certainly cannot in general cope with any political tasks. But a circle of leaders, of the type of Alexeyev and Myshkin, of Khalturin and Zhelyabov, is capable of coping with political tasks in the genuine and most practical sense of the term, for the reason and to the extent that their impassioned propaganda meets with response among the spontaneously awakening masses, and their sparkling energy is answered and supported by the energy of the revolutionary class. Plekhanov was profoundly right, not only in pointing to this revolutionary class and proving that its spontaneous awakening was inevitable, but in setting even the “workers’ circles” a great and lofty political task. But you refer to the mass movement that has sprung up since that time in order to degrade this task, to curtail the energy and scope of activity of the “workers’ circles”. If you are not amateurs enamoured of your primitive methods, what are you then? You boast that you are practical, but you fail to see what every Russian practical worker knows, namely, the miracles that the energy, not only of a circle, but even of an individual person is able to perform in the revolutionary cause. Or do you think that our movement cannot produce leaders like those of the seventies? If so, why do you think so? Because we lack training? But we are training ourselves, we will go on training ourselves, and we will be trained! Unfortunately it is true that the surface of the stagnant waters of the “economic struggle against the employers and the government” is overgrown with fungus; people have appeared among us who kneel in prayer to spontaneity, gazing with awe (to take an expression from Plekhanov) upon the “posterior” of the Russian proletariat. But we will get rid of this fungus. The time has come when Russian revolutionaries, guided by a genuinely revolutionary theory, relying upon the genuinely revolutionary and spontaneously awakening class, can at last — at long last! — rise to full stature in all their giant strength. All that is required is for the masses of our practical workers, and the still larger masses of those who dreamed of practical work when they were still at school, to pour scorn and ridicule upon any suggestion that may be made to degrade our political tasks and to restrict the scope of our organisational work. And we will achieve that, rest assured, gentlemen!

In the article “Where To Begin”, I wrote in opposition to Rabocheye Dyelo: “The tactics of agitation in relation to some special question, or the tactics with regard to some detail of party organisation may be changed in twenty-four hours; but only people devoid of all principle are capable of changing, in twenty-four hours, or, for that matter, in twenty-four months, their view on the necessity — in general, constantly, and absolutely — of an organisation of struggle and of political agitation among the masses.”[4] To this Rabocheye Dyelo replied: “This, the only one of Iskra’s charges that makes a pretence of being based on facts, is totally without foundation. Readers of Rabocheye Dyelo know very well that from the outset we not only called for political agitation, without waiting for the appearance of Iskra ... [saying at the same time that not only the workers’ study circles, “but also the mass working-class movement could not regard as its first political task the overthrow of absolutism”, but only the struggle for immediate political demands, and that “the masses begin to understand immediate political demands after one, or at all events, after several strikes”], . . . but that with our publications which we furnished from abroad for the comrades working in Russia, we provided the only Social-Democratic political and agitational material ... [and in this sole material you not only based the widest political agitation exclusively on the economic struggle, but you even went to the extent of claiming that this restricted agitation was the “most widely applicable”. And do you not observe, gentlemen, that your own argument — that this was the only material provided — proves the necessity for Iskra’s appearance, and its struggle against Rabocheye Dyelo?].... On the other hand, our publishing activity actually prepared the ground for the tactical unity of the Party... [unity in the conviction that tactics is a process of growth of Party tasks that grow together with the Party? A precious unity indeed!]... and by that rendered possible the creation of a ’militant organisation’ for which the Union Abroad did all that an organisation abroad could do” (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, p. 15). A vain attempt at evasion! I would never dream of denying that you did all you possibly could. I have asserted and assert now that the limits of what is “possible” for you to do are restricted by the narrowness of your outlook. It is ridiculous to talk of a “militant organisation” to fight for “immediate political demands”, or to conduct the economic struggle against the employers and the government”.

But if the reader wishes to see the pearls of “Economist” infatuation with amateurism, he must, of course, turn from the eclectic and vacillating Rabocheye Dyelo to the consistent and determined Rabochaya Mysl. In its Separate Supplement, p. 13, R. M. wrote: “Now two words about the so-called revolutionary intelligentsia proper. True, on more than one occasion it has proved itself prepared ’to enter into determined battle with tsarism’. The unfortunate thing, however, is that our revolutionary intelligentsia, ruthlessly persecuted by the political police, imagined the struggle against the political police to be the political struggle against the autocracy. That is why, to this day, it cannot understand ’where the forces for the struggle against the autocracy are to be obtained’.”

Truly matchless is the lofty contempt for the struggle against the police displayed by this worshipper (in the worst sense of the word) of the spontaneous movement! He is prepared to justify our inability to organise secret activity by the argument that with the spontaneous mass movement it is not at all important for us to struggle against the political police! Very few people indeed would subscribe to this appalling conclusion; to such an extent have our deficiencies in revolutionary organisations become a matter of acute importance. But if Martynov, for example, refuses to subscribe to this, it will only be because he is unable, or lacks the courage, to think out his ideas to their logical conclusion. Indeed, does the “task” of advancing concrete demands by the masses, demands that promise palpable results, call for special efforts to create a stable, centralised, militant organisation of revolutionaries? Cannot such a “task” be carried out even by masses that do not “struggle against the political police” at all? Could this task, moreover, be fulfilled if, in addition to the few leaders, it were not undertaken by such workers (the overwhelming majority) as are quite incapable of “struggling against the political police”? Such workers, average people of the masses, are capable of displaying enormous energy and selfsacrifice in strikes and in street, battles with the police and the troops, and are capable (in fact, are alone capable) of determining the outcome of our entire movement — but the struggle against the political police requires special qualities; it requires professional revolutionaries. And we must see to it, not only that the masses “advance” concrete demands, but that the masses of the workers “advance” an increasing number of such professional revolutionaries. Thus, we have reached the question of the relation between an organisation of professional revolutionaries and the labour movement pure and simple. Although this question has found little reflection in literature, it has greatly engaged us “politicians” in conversations and polemics with comrades who gravitate more or less towards Economism. It is a question meriting special treatment. But before taking it up, let us offer one further quotation by way of illustrating our thesis on the connection between primitiveness and Economism.

In his Reply, Mr. N. N.[20] wrote: “The Emancipation of Labour group demands direct struggle against the government without first considering where the material forces for this struggle are to be obtained, and without indicating the path of the struggle.” Emphasising the last words, the author adds the following footnote to the word “Path”: “This cannot be explained by purposes of secrecy, because the programme does not refer to a plot but to a mass movement. And the masses cannot proceed by secret paths. Can we conceive of a secret strike? Can we conceive of secret demonstrations and petitions?” (Vademecum, p. 59.) Thus, the author comes quite close to the question of the “material forces” (organisers of strikes and demonstrations) and to the “paths” of the struggle, but, nevertheless, is still in a state of consternation, because he “worships” the mass movement, i.e., he regards it as something that relieves us of the necessity of conducting revolutionary activity and not as something that should encourage us and stimulate our revolutionary activity. It is impossible for a strike to remain a secret to those participating in it and to those immediately associated with it, but it may (and in the majority of cases does) remain a “secret” to the masses of the Russian workers, because the government takes care to cut all communication with the strikers, to prevent all news of strikes from spreading. Here indeed is where a special “struggle against the political police” is required, a struggle that can never be conducted actively by such large masses as take part in strikes. This struggle must be organised, according to “all the rules of the art”, by people who are professionally engaged in revolutionary activity. The fact that the masses are spontaneously being drawn into the movement does not make the organisation of this struggle less necessary. On the contrary, it makes it more necessary; for we socialists would be failing in our direct duty to the masses if we did not prevent the police from making a secret of every strike and every demonstration (and if we did not ourselves from time to time secretly prepare strikes and demonstrations). And we will succeed in doing this, because the spontaneously awakening masses will also produce increasing, numbers of “professional revolutionaries” from their own ranks (that is, if we do not take it into our heads to advise the workers to keep on marking time).

C. Organisation of Workers and Organisation of Revolutionaries

It is only natural to expect that for a Social-Democrat whose conception of the political struggle coincides with the conception of the “economic struggle against the employers and the government”, the “organisation of revolutionaries” will more or less coincide with the “organisation of workers”. This, in fact, is what actually happens; so that when we speak of organisation, we literally speak in different tongues. I vividly recall, for example, a conversation I once had with a fairly consistent Economist, with whom I had not been previously acquainted. We were discussing the pamphlet, Who Will Bring About the Political Revolution? and were soon of a mind that its principal defect was its ignoring of the question of organisation. We had begun to assume full agreement between us; but, as the conversation proceeded, it became evident that we were talking of different things. My interlocutor accused the author of ignoring strike funds, mutual benefit societies, etc., whereas I had in mind an organisation of revolutionaries as an essential factor in “bringing about” the political revolution. As soon as the disagreement became clear, there was hardly, as I remember, a single question of principle upon which I was in agreement with the Economist!

What was the source of our disagreement? It was the fact that on questions both of organisation and of politics the Economists are forever lapsing from Social-Democracy into trade-unionism. The political struggle of Social-Democracy is far more extensive and complex than the economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government. Similarly (indeed for that reason), the organisation of the revolutionary Social-Democratic Party must inevitably be of a kind different from the organisation of the workers designed for this struggle. The workers’ organisation must in the first place be a trade union organisation; secondly, it must be as broad as possible; and thirdly, it must be as public as conditions will allow (here, and further on, of course, I refer only to absolutist Russia). On the other hand, the organisation of the revolutionaries must consist first and foremost of people who make revolutionary activity their profession (for which reason I speak of the organisation of revolutionaries, meaning revolutionary Social-Democrats). In view of this common characteristic of the members of such an organisation, all distinctions as between workers and intellectuals, not to speak of distinctions of trade and profession, in both categories, must be effaced. Such an organisation must perforce not be very extensive and must be as secret as possible. Let us examine this threefold distinction.

In countries where political liberty exists the distinction between a trade union and a political organisation is clear enough, as is the distinction between trade unions and Social-Democracy. The relations between the latter and the former will naturally vary in each country according to historical, legal, and other conditions; they may be more or less close, complex, etc. (in our opinion they should be as close and as little complicated as possible); but there can be no question in free countries of the organisation of trade unions coinciding with the organisation of the Social-Democratic Party. In Russia, however, the yoke of the autocracy appears at first glance to obliterate all distinctions between the Social-Democratic organisation and the workers’ associations, since all workers’ associations and all study circles are prohibited, and since the principal manifestation and weapon of the workers’ economic struggle — the strike — is regarded as a criminal (and sometimes even as a political!) offence. Conditions in our country, therefore, on the one hand, strongly “impel” the workers engaged in economic struggle to concern themselves with political questions, and, on the other, they “impel” Social-Democrats to confound trade-unionism with Social-Democracy (and our Krichevskys, Martynoys, and Co., while diligently discussing the first kind of “impulsion”, fail to notice the second). Indeed, picture to yourselves people who are immersed ninety-nine per cent in “the economic struggle against the employers and the government”. Some of them will never, during the entire course of their activity (from four to six months), be impelled to think of the need for a more complex organisation of revolutionaries. Others, perhaps, will come across the fairly widely distributed Bernsteinian literature, from which they will become convinced of the profound importance of the forward movement of “the drab everyday struggle”. Still others will be carried away, perhaps, by the seductive idea of showing the world a new example of “close and organic contact with the proletarian struggle” — contact between the trade union and the Social Democratic movements. Such people may argue that the later a country enters the arena of capitalism and, consequently, of the working-class movement, the more the socialists in that country may take part in, and support, the trade union movement, and the less the reason for the existence of non-Social-Democratic trade unions. So far the argument is fully correct; unfortunately, however, some go beyond that and dream of a complete fusion of Social-Democracy with trade-unionism. We shall soon see, from the example of the Rules of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle, what a harmful effect such dreams have upon our plans of organisation.

The workers’ organisations for the economic struggle should be trade union organisations. Every Social-Democratic worker should as far as possible assist and actively work in these organisations. But, while this is true, it is certainly not in our interest to demand that only Social-Democrats should be eligible for membership in the “trade” unions, since that would only narrow the scope of our influence upon the masses. Let every worker who understands the need to unite for the struggle against the employers and the government join the trade unions. The very aim of the trade unions would be impossible of achievement, if they did not unite all who have attained at least this elementary degree of understanding, if they were not very broad organisations. The broader these organisations, the broader will be our influence over them — an influence due, not only to the “spontaneous” development of the economic struggle, but to the direct and conscious effort of the socialist trade union members to influence their comrades. But a broad organisation cannot apply methods of strict secrecy (since this demands far greater training than is required for the economic struggle). How is the contradiction between the need for a large membership and the need for strictly secret methods to be reconciled? How are we to make the trade unions as public as possible? Generally speaking, there can be only two ways to this end: either the trade unions become legalised (in some countries this preceded the legalisation of the socialist and political unions), or the organisation is kept secret, but so “free” and amorphous, lose[5] as the Germans say, that the need for secret methods becomes almost negligible as far as the bulk of the members is concerned.

The legalisation of non-socialist and non-political labour unions in Russia has begun, and there is no doubt that every advance made by our rapidly growing Social-Democratic working-class movement will multiply and encourage attempts at legalisation — attempts proceeding for the most part from supporters of the existing order, but partly also from the workers themselves and from liberal intellectuals. The banner of legality has already been hoisted by the Vasilyevs and the Zubatovs. Support has been promised and rendered by the Ozerovs and the Wormses,[21] and followers of the new tendency are now to be found among the workers. Henceforth, we cannot but reckon with this tendency. How we are to reckon with it, on this there can be no two opinions among Social-Democrats. We must steadfastly expose any part played in this movement by the Zubatovs and the Vasilyeys, the gendarmes and the priests, and explain their real intentions to the workers. We must also expose all the conciliatory, “harmonious” notes that will be heard in the speeches of liberal politicians at legal meetings of the workers, irrespective of whether the speeches are motivated by an earnest conviction of the desirability of peaceful class collaboration, by a desire to curry favour with the powers that be, or whether they are simply the result of clumsiness. Lastly, we must warn the workers against the traps often set by the police, who at such open meetings and permitted societies spy out the “fiery ones” and try to make use of legal organisations to plant their agents provocateurs in the illegal organisations.

Doing all this does not at all mean forgetting that in the long run the legalisation of the working-class movement will be, to our advantage, and not to that of the Zubatovs. On the contrary, it is precisely our campaign of exposure that will help us to separate the tares from the wheat. What the tares are, we have already indicated. By the wheat we mean attracting the attention of ever larger numbers, including the most backward sections, of the workers to social and political questions, and freeing ourselves, the revolutionaries, from functions that are essentially legal (the distribution of legal books, mutual aid, etc.), the development of which will inevitably provide us with an increasing quantity of material for agitation. In this sense, we may, and should, say to the Zubatovs and the Ozerovs: Keep at it, gentlemen, do your best! Whenever you place a trap in the path of the workers (either by way of direct provocation, or by the “honest” demoralisation of the workers with the aid of “Struvism”) we will see to it that you are exposed. But whenever you take a real step forward, though it be the most “timid zigzag”, we will say: Please continue! And the only step that can be a real step forward is a real, if small, extension of the workers’ field of action. Every such extension will be to our advantage and will help to hasten the advent of legal societies of the kind in which it will not be agents provocateurs who are detecting socialists, but socialists who are gaining adherents. in a word, our task is to fight the tares. It is not our business to grow wheat in flower-pots. By pulling up the tares, we clear the soil for the wheat. And while the Afanasy Ivanoviches and Pulkheria Ivanovnas[22] are tending their flower-pot crops, we must prepare the reapers, not only to cut down the tares of today, but to reap the wheat of tomorrow.[6]

Thus, we cannot by means of legalisation solve the problem of creating a trade union organisation that will be as little secret and as extensive as possible (but we should be extremely glad if the Zubatovs and the Ozerovs disclosed to us even a partial opportunity for such a solution — to this end, however, we must strenuously combat them). There remain secret trade union organisations, and we must give all possible assistance to the workers who (as we definitely know) are adopting this course. Trade union organisations, not only can be of tremendous value in developing and consolidating the economic struggle, but can also become a very important auxiliary to political agitation and revolutionary organisation. In order to achieve this purpose, and in order to guide the nascent trade union movement in the channels desired by Social-Democracy, we must first understand clearly the absurdity of the plan of organisation the St. Petersburg Economists have been nursing for nearly five years. That plan is set forth in the “Rules for a Workers’ Mutual Benefit Fund” of July 1897 (“ListokRabotnika, No. 9-10, p. 46, taken from Rabochaya Mysl, No. 1), as well as in the “Rules for a Trade Union Workers’ Organisation” of October 1900 (special leaflet printed in St. Petersburg and referred to in Iskra, No. 1). Both these sets of rules have one main shortcoming: they set up the broad workers’ organisation in a rigidly specified structure and confound it with the organisation of revolutionaries. Let us take the last-mentioned set of rules, since it is drawn up in greater detail. The body consists of fifty-two paragraphs. Twenty-three deal with the structure, the method of functioning, and the competence of the “workers’ circles”, which are to be organised in every factory (“a maximum of ten persons”) and which elect “central (factory) groups”. “The central group,” says paragraph 2, “observes all that goes on in its factory or workshop and keeps a record of events.” “The central group presents to subscribers a monthly financial account” (par. 17), etc. Ten paragraphs are devoted to the “district organisation”, and nineteen to the highly complex interconnection between the Committee of the Workers’ Organisation and the Committee of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle (elected representatives of each district and of the “executive groups” — “groups of propagandists, groups for maintaining contact with the provinces, and with the organisation abroad, groups for managing stores; publications, and funds”).

Social-Democracy = “executive groups” in relation to the economic struggle of the workers! It would be difficult to show more glaringly how the Economists’ ideas deviate from Social-Democracy to trade-unionism, and how alien to them is any idea that a Social-Democrat must concern himself first and foremost with an organisation of revolutionaries capable of guiding the entire proletarian struggle for emancipation. To talk of “the political emancipation of the working class” and of the struggle against “tsarist despotism”, and at the same time to draft rules like these, means to have no idea whatsoever of the real political tasks of Social-Democracy. Not one of the fifty or so paragraphs reveals even a glimmer of understanding that it is necessary to conduct the widest possible political agitation among the masses, an agitation highlighting every aspect of Russian absolutism and the specific features of the various social classes in Russia. Rules like these are of no use even for the achievement of trade union, let alone political, aims, since trade unions are organised by trades, of which no mention is made.

But most characteristic, perhaps, is the amazing top-heaviness of the whole “system”, which attempts to bind each single factory and its “committee” by a permanent string of uniform and ludicrously petty rules and a three-stage system of election. Hemmed in by the narrow outlook of Economism, the mind is lost in details that positively reek of red tape and bureaucracy. In practice, of course, three-fourths of the clauses are never applied; on the other hand, a “secret” organisation of this kind, with its central group in each factory, makes it very easy for the gendarmes to carry out raids on a vast scale. The Polish cornrades have passed through a similar phase in their movement, with everybody enthusiastic about the extensive organisation of workers’ benefit funds; but they very quickly abandoned this idea when they saw that such organisations only provided rich harvests for the gendarmes. If we have in mind broad workers’ organisations, and not widespread arrests, if we do not want to provide satisfaction to the gendarmes, we must see to it that these organisations remain without any rigid formal structure. But will they be able to function in that case?

Let us see what the functions are: “. . . To observe all that goes on in the factory and keep a record of events” (par. 2 of the Rules). Do we really require a formally established group for this purpose? Could not the purpose be better served by correspondence conducted in the illegal papers without the setting up of special groups? “. . . To lead the struggles of the workers for the improvement of their workshop conditions” (par. 3). This, too, requires no set organisational form. Any sensible agitator can in the course of ordinary conversation gather what the demands of the workers are and transmit them to a narrow — not a broad — organisation of revolutionaries for expression in a leaflet. “ ... To organise a fund ... to which subscriptions of two kopeks per ruble[7] should be made” (par. 9) — and then to present to subscribers a monthly financial account (par. 17), to expel members who fail to pay their contributions (par. 10), and so forth. Why, this is a very paradise for the police; for nothing would be easier for them than to penetrate into such a secrecy of a “central factory fund”, confiscate the money, and arrest the best people. Would it not be simpler to issue one-kopek or two-kopek coupons bearing the official stamp of a well-known (very narrow and very secret) organisation, or to make collections without coupons of any kind and to print reports in a certain agreed code in an illegal paper? The object would thereby be attained, but it would be a hundred times more difficult for the gendarmes to pick up clues.

I could go on analysing the Rules, but I think that what has been said will suffice. A small, compact core of the most reliable, experienced, and hardened workers, with responsible representatives in the principal districts and connected by all the rules of strict secrecy with the organisation of revolutionaries, can, with the widest support of the masses and without any formal organisation, perform all the functions of a trade union organisation, in a manner, moreover, desirable to Social-Democracy. Only in this way can we secure the consolidation and development of a Social-Democratic trade union movement, despite all the gendarmes.

It may be objected that an organisation which is so lose that it is not even definitely formed, and which has not even an enrolled and registered membership, cannot be called an organisation at all. Perhaps so. Not the name is important. What is important is that this “organisation without members” shall do everything that is required, and from the very outset ensure a solid connection between our future trade unions and socialism. Only an incorrigible utopian would have a broad organisation of workers, with elections, reports, universal suffrage, etc., under the autocracy.

The moral to be drawn from this is simple. If we begin with the solid foundation of a strong organisation of revolutionaries, we can ensure the stability of the movement as a whole and carry out the aims both of Social-Democracy and of trade unions proper. If, however, we begin with a broad workers’ organisation, which is supposedly most “accessible” to the masses (but which is actually most accessible to the gendarmes and makes revolutionaries most accessible to the police), we shall achieve neither the one aim nor the other; we shall not eliminate our rule-of-thumb methods, and, because we remain scattered and our forces are constantly broken up by the police, we shall only make trade unions of the Zubatov and Ozerov type the more accessible to the masses.

What, properly speaking, should be the functions of the organisation of revolutionaries? We shall deal with this question in detail. First, however, let us examine a very typical argument advanced by our terrorist, who (sad fate!) in this matter also is a next-door neighbour to the Economist. Svoboda, a journal published for workers, contains in its first issue an article entitled “Organisation”, the author of which tries to defend his friends, the Economist workers of Ivanovo-Voznesensk. He writes:

“It is bad when the masses are mute and unenlightened, when the movement does not come from the rank and file. For instance, the students of a university town leave for their homes during the summer and other holidays, and immediately the workers’ movement comes to a standstill. Can a workers’ movement which has to be pushed on from outside be a real force? No, indeed.... It has not yet learned to walk, it is still in leading-strings. So it is in all matters. The students go off, and everything comes to a standstill. The most capable are seized; the cream is skimmed and the milk turns sour. If the ’committee’ is arrested, everything comes to a standstill until a new one can he formed. And one never knows what sort of committee will be set up next — it may be nothing like the former. The first said one thing, the second may say the very opposite. Continuity between yesterday and tomorrow is broken, the experience of the past does not serve as a guide for the future. And all because no roots have been struck in depth, in the masses; the work is carried on not by a hundred fools, but by a dozen wise men. A dozen wise men can be wiped out at a snap, but when the organisation embraces masses, everything proceeds from them, and nobody, however he tries, can wreck the cause” (p. 63).

The facts are described correctly. The picture of our amateurism is well drawn. But the conclusions are worthy of Rabochaya Mysl, both as regards their stupidity and their lack of political tact. They represent the height of stupidity, because the author confuses the philosophical and social-historical question of the “depth” of the “roots” of the movement with the technical and organisational question of the best method in combating the gendarmes. They represent the height of political tactlessness, because, instead of appealing from bad leaders to good leaders, the author appeals from the leaders in general to the “masses” . This is as much an attempt to drag us back organisationally as the idea of substituting excitative terrorism for political agitation drags us back politically. Indeed, I am experiencing a veritable embarras de richesses, and hardly know where to begin to disentangle the jumble offered up by Svoboda. For clarity, let me begin by citing an example. Take the Germans. It will not be denied, I hope, that theirs is a mass organisation, that in Germany everything proceeds from the masses, that the working-class movement there has learned to walk. Yet observe how these millions value their “dozen” tried political leaders, how firmly they cling to them. Members of the hostile parties in parliament have often taunted the socialists by exclaiming: “Fine democrats you are indeed! Yours is a working-class movement only in name; in actual fact the same clique of leaders is always in evidence, the same Bebel and the same Liebknecht, year in and year out, and that goes on for decades. Your supposedly elected workers’ deputies are more permanent than the officials appointed by the Emperor!” But the Germans only smile with contempt at these demagogic attempts to set the “masses” against the “leaders”, to arouse bad and ambitious instincts in the former, and to rob the movement of its solidity and stability by undermining the confidence of the masses in their “dozen wise men”. Political thinking is sufficiently developed among the Germans, and they have accumulated sufficient political experience to understand that without the “dozen” tried and talented leaders (and talented men are not born by the hundreds), professionally trained, schooled by long experience, and working in perfect harmony, no class in modern society can wage a determined struggle. The Germans too have had demagogues in their ranks who have flattered the “hundred fools”, exalted them above the “dozen wise men”, extolled the “horny hand” of the masses, and (like Most and Hasselmann) have spurred them on to reckless “revolutionary” action and sown distrust towards the firm and steadfast leaders. It was only by stubbornly and relentlessly combating all demagogic elements within the socialist movement that German socialism has managed to grow and become as strong as it is. Our wiseacres, however, at a time when Russian Social-Democracy is passing through a crisis entirely due to the lack of sufficiently trained, developed, and experienced leaders to guide the spontaneously awakening masses, cry out ,with the profundity of fools: “It is a bad business when the movement does not proceed from the rank and file.”

“A committee of students is of no use; it is not stable.” Quite true. But the conclusion to be drawn from this is that we must have a committee of professional revolutionaries, and it is immaterial whether a student or a worker is capable of becoming a professional revolutionary. The conclusion you draw, how. ever, is that the working-class movement must not be pushed on from outside! In your political innocence you fail to notice that you are playing into the hands of our Economists and fostering our amateurism. Wherein, may I ask, did our students “push on” our workers? In the sense that the student brought to the worker the fragments of political knowledge he himself possesses, the crumbs of socialist ideas he has managed to acquire (for the principal intellectual diet of the present-day student, legal Marxism, could furnish only the rudiments, only scraps of knowledge). There has never been too much of such “pushing on from outside”; on the contrary, there has so far been all too little of it in our movement, for we have been stewing too assiduously in our own juice; we have bowed far too slavishly to the elementary “economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government”. We professional revolutionaries must and will make it our business to engage in this kind of “pushing on” a hundred times more forcibly than we have done hitherto. But the very fact that you select so hideous a phrase as “pushing on from outside” — a phrase which cannot but rouse in the workers (at least in the workers who are as unenlightened as you yourselves) a sense of distrust towards all who bring them political knowledge and revolutionary experience from outside, which cannot but rouse in them an instinctive desire to resist all such people — proves you to be demagogues, and demagogues are the worst enemies of the working class.

And, please — don’t hasten howling about my “uncomradely methods” of debating. I have not the least desire to doubt the purity of your intentions. As I have said, one may become a demagogue out of sheer political innocence. But I have shown that you have descended to demagogy, and I will never tire of repeating that demagogues are the worst enemies of the working class. The worst enemies, because they arouse base instincts in the masses, because the unenlightened worker is unable to recognise his enemies in men who represent themselves, and sometimes sincerely so, as his friends. The worst enemies, because in the period of disunity and vacillation, when our movement is just beginning to take shape, nothing is easier than to employ demagogic methods to mislead the masses, who can realise their error only later by bitter experience. That is why the slogan of the day for the Russian Social-Democrat must be — resolute struggle against Svoboda and Rabocheye Dyelo, both of which have sunk to the level of demagogy. We shall deal with this further in greater detail.[8]

“A dozen wise men can be more easily wiped out than a hundred fools.” This wonderful truth (for which the hundred fools will always applaud you) appears obvious only because in the very midst of the argument you have skipped from one question to another. You began by talking and continued to talk of the unearthing of a “committee”, of the unearthing of an “organisation”, and now you skip to the question of unearthing the movement’s “roots” in their “depths”. The fact is, of course, that our movement cannot be unearthed, for the very reason that it has countless thousands of roots deep down among the masses; but that is not the point at issue. As far as “deep roots” are concerned, we cannot be “unearthed” even now, despite all our amateurism, and yet we all complain, and cannot but complain, that the “organisations” are being unearthed and as a result it is impossible to maintain continuity in the movement. But since you raise the question of organisations being unearthed and persist in your opinion, I assert that it is far more difficult to unearth a dozen wise men than a hundred fools. This position I will defend, no matter how much you instigate the masses against me for my “anti-democratic” views, etc. As I have stated repeatedly, by “wise men”, in connection with organisation, I mean professional revolutionaries, irrespective of whether they have developed from among students or working men. I assert: (1) that no revolutionary movement can endure without a stable organisation of leaders maintaining continuity; (2) that the broader the popular mass drawn spontaneously into the struggle, which forms the basis of the movement and participates in it, the more urgent the need for such an organisation, and the more solid this organisation must be (for it is much easier for all sorts of demagogues to side-track the more backward sections of the masses); (3) that such an organisation must consist chiefly of people professionally engaged in revolutionary activity; (4) that in an autocratic state, the more we confine the membership of such an organisation to people who are professionally engaged in revolutionary activity and who have been professionally trained in the art of combating the political police, the more difficult will it be to unearth the organisation; and (5) the greater will be the number of people from the working class and from the other social classes who will be able to join the movement and perform active work in it.

I invite our Economists, terrorists, and “Economists-terrorists”[9] to confute these propositions. At the moment, I shall deal only with the last two points. The question as to whether it is easier to wipe out “a dozen wisemen” or “a hundred fools” reduces itself to the question, above considered, whether it is possible to have a mass organisation when the maintenance of strict secrecy is essential. We can never give a mass organisation that degree of secrecy without which there can be no question of persistent and continuous struggle against the government. To concentrate all secret functions in the hands of as small a number of professional revolutionaries as possible does not mean that the latter will “do the thinking for all” and that the rank and file will not take an active part in the movement. On the contrary, the membership will promote increasing numbers of the professional revolutionaries from its ranks; for it will know that it is not enough for a few students and for a few working men waging the economic struggle to gather in order to form a “committee”, but that it takes years to train oneself to be a professional revolutionary; and the rank and file will “think”, not only of amateurish methods, but of such training. Centralisation of the secret functions of the organisation by no means implies centralisation of all the functions of the movement. Active participation of the widest masses in the illegal press will not diminish because a “dozen” professional revolutionaries centralise the secret functions connected with this work; on the contrary, it will increase tenfold. In this way, and in this way alone, shall we ensure that reading the illegal press, writing for it, and to some extent even distributing it, will almost cease to be secret work, for the police will soon come to realise the folly and impossibility of judicial and administrative red-tape procedure over every copy of a publication that is being distributed in the thousands. This holds not only for the press, but for every function of the movement, even for demonstrations. The active and widespread participation of the masses will not suffer; on the contrary, it will benefit by the fact that a “dozen” experienced revolutionaries, trained professionally no less than the police, will centralise all the secret aspects of the work — the drawing up of leaflets, the working out of approximate plans; and the appointing of bodies of leaders for each urban district, for each institution, etc. (I know that exception will be taken to my “undemocratic” views, but I shall reply below fully to this anything but intelligent objection.) Centralisation of the most secret functions in an organisation of revolutionaries will not diminish, but rather increase the extent and enhance the quality of the activity of a large number of other organisations that are intended for a broad public and are therefore as loose and as non-secret as possible, such as workers’ trade unions; workers’ self-education circles and circles for reading illegal literature; and socialist, as well as democratic, circles among all other sections of the population; etc., etc. We must have such circles, trade unions, and organisations everywhere in as large a number as possible and with the widest variety of functions; but it would be absurd and harmful to confound them with the organisation of revolutionaries, to efface the border-line between them, to make still more hazy the all too faint recognition of the fact that in order to “serve” the mass movement we must have people who will devote themselves exclusively to Social-Democratic activities, and that such people must train themselves patiently and steadfastly to be professional revolutionaries.

Yes, this recognition is incredibly dim. Our worst sin with regard to organisation consists in the fact that by our primitiveness we have lowered the prestige of revolutionaries in Russia. A person who is flabby and shaky on questions of theory, who has a narrow outlook, who pleads the spontaneity of the masses as an excuse for his own sluggishness, who resembles a trade union secretary more than a spokesman of the people, who is unable to conceive of a broad and bold plan that would command the respect even of opponents, and who is inexperienced and clumsy in his own professional art — the art of combating the political police — such a man is not a revolutionary, but a wretched amateur!

Let no active worker take offence at these frank remarks, for as far as insufficient training is concerned, I apply them first and foremost to myself. I used to work in a study circle[23] that set itself very broad, all-embracing tasks; and all of us, members of that circle, suffered painfully and acutely from the realisation that we were acting as amateurs at a moment in history when we might have been able to say, varying a well-known statement: “Give us an organisation of revolutionaries, and we will overturn Russia” The more I recall the burning sense of shame I then experienced, the bitterer become my feelings towards those pseudo-Social-Democrats whose preachings “bring disgrace on the calling of a revolutionary”, who fail to understand that our task is not to champion the degrading of the revolutionary to the level of an amateur, but to raise the amateurs to the level of revolutionaries.

D. The Scope of Organisational Work

We have heard B-v tell us about “the lack of revolutionary forces fit for action which is felt not only in St. Petersburg, but throughout Russia”. Hardly anyone will dispute this fact. But the question is, how is it to be explained? B-v writes:

“We shall not go into an explanation of the historical causes of this phenomenon; we shall merely state that a society, demoralised by prolonged political reaction and split by past and present economic changes, promotes from its own ranks an extremely small number of persons fit for revolutionary work; that the working class does produce revolutionary workers who to some extent reinforce the ranks of the illegal organisations, but that the number of such revolutionaries is inadequate to meet the requirements of the times. This is all the more so because the worker who spends eleven and a half hours a day in the factory is in such a position that he can, in the main, perform only the functions of an agitator; but propaganda and organisation, the delivery and reproduction of illegal literature, the issuance of leaflets, etc., are duties which must necessarily fall mainly upon the shoulders of an extremely small force of intellectuals” (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 6, pp. 38-39).

On many points we disagree with B-v, particularly with those we have emphasised, which most saliently reveal that, although weary of our amateurism (as is every thinking practical worker), B-v cannot find the way out of this intolerable situation because he is weighted down by Economism. The fact is that society produces very many persons fit for “the cause”, but we are unable to make use of them all. The critical, transitional state of our movement in this respect may be formulated as follows: There are no people — yet there is a mass of people. There is a mass of people, because the working class and increasingly varied social strata, year after year, produce from their ranks an increasing number of discontented people who desire to protest, who are ready to render all the assistance they can in the struggle against absolutism, the intolerableness of which, though not yet recognised by all, is more and more acutely sensed by increasing masses of the people. At the same time, we have no people, because we have no leaders, no political leaders, no talented organisers capable of arranging. extensive and at the same time uniform and harmonious work that would employ all forces, even the most inconsiderable. “The growth and development of the revolutionary organisations” lag, not only behind the growth of the working-class movement, which even B-v admits, but behind that of the general democratic movement among all strata of the people. (In passing, probably B-V would now regard this as supplementing his conclusion.) The scope of revolutionary work is too narrow, as compared with the breadth of the spontaneous basis of the movement. It is too hemmed in by the wretched theory of “economic struggle against the employers and the government”. Yet, at the present time, not only Social-Democratic political agitators, but Social-Democratic organisers must “go among all classes of the population”.[10] [10] Thus, an undoubted revival of the democratic spirit has recently been observed among persons in military service, partly as a consequence of the more frequent street battles with “enemies” like workers and students. As soon as our available forces permit, we must without fail devote the most serious attention to propaganda and agitation among soldiers and officers, and to the creation of “military organisations” affiliated to our Party.—Lenin There is hardly a single practical worker who will doubt that the Social-Democrats could distribute the thousand and one minute functions of their organisational work among individual representatives of the most varied classes. Lack of specialisation is one of the most serious defects of our technique, about which B-v justly and bitterly complains. The smaller each separate “operation” in our common cause the more people we can find capable of carrying out such operations (people who, in the majority of cases, are completely incapable of becoming professional revolutionaries); more difficult will it be for the police to “net” all these “detail workers”, and the more difficult will it be for them to frame up, out of an arrest for some petty affair, a “case” that would justify the government’s expenditure on “security”. As for the number of people ready to help us, we referred in the preceding chapter to the gigantic change that has taken place in this respect in the last five years or so. On the other hand, in order to unite all these tiny fractions into one whole, in order not to break up the movement while breaking up its functions, and in order to imbue the people who carry out the minute functions with the conviction that their work is necessary and important, without which conviction they will never do the work,[11] [11] I recall that once a comrade told me of a factory inspector who wanted to help the Social-Democrats, and actually did, but complained bitterly that he did not know whether his “information” reached the proper revolutionary centre, how much his help was really required, and what possibilities there were for utilising his small and petty services. Every practical worker can, of course, cite many similar instances in which our primitiveness deprived us of allies. These services, each “small” in itself, but invaluable when taken in the mass, could and would be rendered to us by office employees and officials, not only in factories, but in the postal service, on the railways, in the Customs, among the nobility, among the clergy, and in every other walk of life, including even the police and the Court! Had we a real party, a real militant organisation of revolutionaries, we would not make undue demands on every one of these “aides”, we would not hasten always and invariably to bring them right into the very heart of our “illegality”, but, on the contrary, we would husband them most carefully and would even train people especially for such functions, bearing in mind that many students could be of much greater service to the Party as “aides” holding some official post than as “short-term” revolutionaries. But, I repeat, only an organisation that is firmly established and has no lack of active forces would have the right to apply such tactics.—Lenin it is necessary to have a strong organisation of tried revolutionaries. The more secret such an organisation is, the stronger and more widespread will be the confidence in the Party. As we know, in time of war, it is not only of the utmost importance to imbue one’s own army with confidence in its strength, but it is important also to convince the enemy and all neutral elements of this strength; friendly neutrality may sometimes decide the issue. If such an organisation existed, one built up on a firm theoretical foundation and possessing a Social-Democratic organ, we should have no reason to fear that the movement might be diverted from its path by the numerous “outside” elements that are attracted to it. (On the contrary, it is precisely at the present time, with amateurism prevalent, that we see many Social-Democrats leaning towards the Credo and only imagining that they are Social Democrats.) In a word, specialisation necessarily presupposes centralisation, and in turn imperatively calls for it.

But B-v himself, who has so excellently described the necessity for specialisation, underestimates its importance, in our opinion, in the second part of the argument we have quoted. The number of working-class revolutionaries is inadequate, he says. This is perfectly true, and once again we stress that the “valuable communication of a close observer” fully confirms our view of the causes of the present crisis in Social-Democracy, and, consequently, of the means required to overcome it. Not only are revolutionaries in general lagging behind the spontaneous awakening of the masses, but even worker-revolutionaries are lagging behind the spontaneous awakening of the working-class masses. This fact confirms with clear evidence, from the “practical” point of view, too, not only the absurdity but even the politically reactionary nature of the “pedagogics” to which we are so often treated in the discussion of our duties to the workers. This fact proves that our very first and most pressing duty is to help to train working-class revolutionaries who will he on the same level in regard to Party activity as the revolutionaries from amongst the intellectuals (we emphasise the words “in regard to Party activity”, for, although necessary, it is neither so easy nor so pressingly necessary to bring the workers up to the level of intellectuals in other respects). Attention, therefore, must be devoted principally to raising the workers to the level of revolutionaries; it is not at all our task to descend to the level of the “working masses” as the Economists wish to do, or to the level of the “average worker” as Svoboda desires to do (and by this ascends to the second grade of Economist “pedagogics”). I am far from denying the necessity for popular literature for the workers, and especially popular (of course, not vulgar) literature for the especially backward workers. But what annoys me is this constant confusion of pedagogics with questions of politics and organisation. You, gentlemen, who are so much concerned about the “average worker”, as a matter of fact, rather insult the workers by your desire to talk down to them when discussing working-class politics and working-class organisation. Talk about serious things in a serious manner; leave pedagogics to the pedagogues, and not to politicians and organisers! Are there not advanced people, “average people”, and “masses” among the intelligentsia too? Does not everyone recognise that popular literature is also required for the intelligentsia, and is not such literature written? Imagine someone, in an article on organising college or high-school students, repeating over and over again, as if he had made a new discovery, that first of all we must have an organisation of “average students”. The author of such an article would be ridiculed, and rightly so. Give us your ideas on organisation, if you have any, he would be told, and we ourselves will decide who is “average”, who above average, and who below. But if you have no organisational ideas of your own, then all your exertions in behalf of the “masses” and “average people” will be simply boring. You must realise that these questions of “politics” and “organisation” are so serious in themselves that they cannot be dealt with in any other but a serious way. We can and must educate workers (and university and Gymnasium students) so that we may be able to discuss these questions with them. But once you do bring up these questions, you must give real replies to them; do not fall back on the “average”, or on the “masses”; do not try to dispose of the matter with facetious remarks and mere phrases.[12]

To be fully prepared for his task, the worker-revolutionary must likewise become a professional revolutionary. Hence B-v is wrong in saying that since the worker spends eleven and a half hours in the factory, the brunt of all other revolutionary functions (apart from agitation) “must necessarily fall mainly upon the shoulders of an extremely small force of intellectuals”. But this condition does not obtain out of sheer “necessity”. It obtains because we are backward, because we do not recognise our duty to assist every capable worker to become a professional agitator, organiser, propagandist, literature distributor, etc., etc. In this respect, we waste our strength in a positively shameful manner; we lack the ability to husband that which should be tended and reared with special care. Look at the Germans: their forces are a hundredfold greater than ours. But they understand perfectly well that really capable agitators, etc., are not often promoted from the ranks of the “average”. For this reason they immediately try to place every capable working man in conditions that will enable him to develop and apply his abilities to the fullest: he is made a professional agitator, he is encouraged to widen the field of his activity, to spread it from one factory to the whole of the industry, from a single locality to the whole country. He acquires experience and dexterity in his profession; he broadens his outlook and increases his knowledge; he observes at close quarters the prominent political leaders from other localities and of other parties; he strives to rise to their level and combine in himself the knowledge of the working-class environment and the freshness of socialist convictions with professional skill, without which. the proletariat cannot wage a stubborn struggle against its excellently trained enemies. In this way alone do the working masses produce men of the stamp of Bebel and Auer. But what is to a great extent automatic in a politically free country must in Russia be done deliberately and systematically by our organisations. A worker-agitator who is at all gifted 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 go underground in good time; that he change the place of his activity, if he is to enlarge his experience, widen his outlook, and be able to hold out for at least a few years in the struggle against the gendarmes. As the spontaneous rise of their movement becomes broader and deeper, the working-class masses promote from their ranks not only an increasing number of talented agitators, but also talented organisers, propagandists, and “practical workers” in the best sense of the term (of whom there are so few among our intellectuals who, for the most part, in the Russian manner, are somewhat careless and sluggish in their habits). When we have forces of specially trained worker-revolutionaries who have gone through extensive preparation (and, of course, revolutionaries “of all arms of the service”), no political police in the world will then be able to contend with them, for these forces, boundlessly devoted to the revolution, will enjoy the boundless confidence of the widest masses of the workers. We are directly to blame for doing too little to “stimulate” the workers to take this path, common to them and to the “intellectuals”, of professional revolutionary training, and for all too often dragging them back by our silly speeches about what is “accessible” to the masses of the workers, to the “average workers”, etc.

In this, as in other respects, the narrow scope of our organisational work is without a doubt due directly to the fact (although the overwhelming majority of the “Economists” and the novices in practical work do not perceive it) that we restrict our theories and our political tasks to a narrow field. Subservience to spontaneity seems to inspire a fear of taking even one step away from what is “accessible” to the masses, a fear of rising too high above mere attendance on the immediate and direct requirements of the masses. Have no fear, gentlemen! Remember that we stand so low on the plane of organisation that the very idea that we could rise too high is absurd!

E. “Conspiratorial” Organisation and “Democratism”

Yet there are many people among us who are so sensitive to the “voice of life” that they fear it more than anything in the world and charge the adherents of the views here expounded with following a Narodnaya Volya line, with failing to understand “democratism”, etc. These accusations, which, of course, have been echoed by Rabocheye Dyelo, need to be dealt with.

The writer of these lines knows very well that the St. Petersburg Economists levelled the charge of Narodnaya Volya tendencies also against Rabochaya Gazeta (which is quite understandable when one compares it with Rabochaya Mysl). We were not in the least surprised, therefore, when, soon after the appearance of Iskra, a comrade informed us that the Soclal-Democrats in the town of X describe Iskra as a Narodnaya Volya organ. We, of course, were flattered by this accusation; for what decent Social-Democrat has not been accused by the Economists of being a Narodnaya Volya sympathiser?

These accusations are the result of a twofold misunderstanding. First, the history of the revolutionary movement is so little known among us that the name “Narodnaya Volya” is used to denote any idea of a militant centralised organisation which declares determined war upon tsarism. But the magnificent organisation that the revolutionaries had in the seventies, and that should serve us as a model, was not established by the Narodnaya Volya, but by the Zemlya i Volya, which split up into the Chorny Peredel and the Narodnaya Volya. Consequently, to regard a militant revolutionary organisation as something specifically Narodnaya Volya in character is absurd both historically and logically; for no revolutionary trend, if it seriously thinks of struggle, can dispense with such an organisation. The mistake the Narodnaya Volya committed was not in striving to enlist all the discontented in the organisation and to direct this organisation to resolute struggle against the autocracy; on the contrary, that was its great historical merit. The mistake was in relying on a theory which in substance was not a revolutionary theory at all, and the Narodnaya Volya members either did not know how, or were unable, to link their movement inseparably with the class struggle in the developing capitalist society. Only a gross failure to understand Marxism (or an “understanding” of it in the spirit of “Struveism”) could prompt the opinion that the rise of a mass, spontaneous working-class movement relieves us of the duty of creating as good an organisation of revolutionaries as the Zemlya i Volya had, or, indeed, an incomparably better one. On the contrary, this movement imposes the duty upon us; for the spontaneous struggle of the proletariat will not become its genuine “class struggle” until this struggle is led by a strong organisation of revolutionaries.

Secondly, many people, including apparently B. Krichevsky (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, p. 18), misunderstand the polemics that Social-Democrats have always waged against the “conspiratorial” view of the political struggle. We have always protested, and will, of course, continue to protest against confining the political struggle to conspiracy.[13] But this does not, of course, mean that we deny the need for a strong revolutionary organisation. Thus, in the pamphlet mentioned in the preceding footnote, after the polemics against reducing the political struggle to a conspiracy, a description is given (as a Social-Democratic ideal) of an organisation so strong as to be able to “resort to. . .rebellion” and to every other form of attack, in order to “deliver a smashing blow against absolutism”.[14] In form such a strong revolutionary organisation in an autocratic country may also be described as a “conspiratorial” organisation, because the French word “conspiration” is the equivalent of the Russian word “zagovar” (“conspiracy”), and such an organisation must have the utmost secrecy. Secrecy is such a necessary condition for this kind of organisation that all the other conditions (number and selection of members, functions, etc.) must be made to conform to it. It would be extremely naive indeed, therefore, to fear the charge that we Social-Democrats desire to create a conspiratorial organisation. Such a charge should be as flattering to every opponent of Economism as the charge of following a Narodnaya Volya line.

The objection may be raised that such a powerful and strictly secret organisation, which concentrates in its hands all the threads of secret activities, an organisation which of necessity is centralised, may too easily rush into a premature attack, may thoughtlessly intensify the movement before the growth of political discontent, the intensity of the ferment and anger of the working class, etc., have made such an attack possible and necessary. Our reply to this is: Speaking abstractly, it cannot be denied, of course, that a militant organisation may thoughtlessly engage in battle, which may end in a defeat entirely avoidable under other conditions. But we cannot confine ourselves to abstract reasoning on such a question, because every battle bears within itself the abstract possibility of defeat, and there is no way of reducing this possibility except by organised preparation for battle. If, however, we proceed from the concrete conditions at present obtaining in Russia, we must come to the positive conclusion that a strong revolutionary organisation is absolutely necessary precisely for the purpose of giving stability to the movement and of safeguarding it against the possibility of making thoughtless attacks. Precisely at the present time, when no such organisation yet exists, and when the revolutionary movement is rapidly and spontaneously growing, we already observe two opposite extremes (which, as is to be expected, “meet”). These are: the utterly unsound Economism and the preaching of moderation, and the equally unsound “excitative terror”, which strives “artificially to call forth symptoms of the end of the movement, which is developing and strengthening itself, when this movement is as yet nearer to the start than to the end” (V. Zasulich, in Zarya, No. 2-3, p. 353). And the instance of Rabocheye Dyelo shows that there exist Social-Democrats who give way to both these extremes. This is not surprising, for, apart from other reasons, the “economic struggle against the employers and the government” can never satisfy revolutionaries, and opposite extremes will therefore always appear here and there. Only a centralised, militant organisation that consistently carries out a Social-Democratic policy, that satisfies, so to speak, all revolutionary instincts and strivings, can safeguard the movement against making thoughtless attacks and prepare attacks that hold out the promise of success.

A further objection may be raised, that the views on organisation here expounded contradict the “democratic principle”. Now, while the earlier accusation was specifically Russian in origin, this one is specifically foreign in character. And only an organisation abroad (the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad) was capable of giving its Editorial Board instructions like the following:

Organisational Principle. In order to secure the successful development and unification of Social-Democracy, the broad democratic principle of Party organisation must be emphasised, developed, and fought for; this is particularly necessary in view of the anti-democratic tendencies that have revealed themselves in the ranks of our Party” (Two Conferences, p. 18).

We shall see in the next chapter how Rabocheye Dyelo combats Iskra’s “anti-democratic tendencies”. For the present, we shall examine more closely the “principle” that the Economists advance. Everyone will probably agree that “the broad democratic principle” presupposes the two following conditions: first, full publicity, and secondly, election to all offices. It would be absurd to speak of democracy without publicity, moreover, without a publicity that is not limited to the membership of the organisation. We call the German Socialist Party a democratic organisation because all its activities are carried out publicly; even its party congresses are held in public. But no one would call an organisation democratic that is hidden from every one but its members by a veil of secrecy. What is the use, then, of advancing “the broad democratic principle” when the fundamental condition for this principle cannot be fulfilled by a secret organisation? “The broad principle” proves itself simply to be a resounding but hollow phrase. Moreover, it reveals a total lack of understanding of the urgent tasks of the moment in regard to organisation. Everyone knows how great the lack of secrecy is among the “broad” masses of our revolutionaries. We have heard the bitter complaints of B-v on this score and his absolutely just demand for a “strict selection of members” (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 6, p. 42). Yet, persons who boast a keen “sense of realities” urge, in a situation like this, not the strictest secrecy and the strictest (consequently, more restricted) selection, of members, but “the broad democratic principle”! This is what you call being wide of the mark.

Nor is the situation any better with regard to the second attribute of democracy, the principle of election. In politically free countries, this condition is taken for granted. “They are members of the Party who accept the principles of the Party programme and render the Party all possible support,” reads Clause 1 of the Rules of the German Social-Democratic Party. Since the entire political arena is as open to the public view as is a theatre stage to the audience, this acceptance or non-acceptance, support or opposition, is known to all from the press and from public meetings. Everyone knows that a certain political figure began in such and such a way, passed through such and such an evolution, behaved in a trying moment in such and such a manner, and possesses such and such qualities; consequently, all party members, knowing all the facts, can elect or refuse to elect this person to a particular party office. The general control (in the literal sense of the term) exercised over every act of a party man in the political field brings into existence an automatically operating mechanism which produces what in biology is called the “survival of the fittest”. “Natural selection” by full publicity, election, and general control provides the assurance that, in the last analysis, every political figure will be “in his proper place”, do the work for which lie is best fitted by his powers and abilities, feel the effects of his mistakes on himself, and prove before all the world his ability to recognise mistakes and to avoid them.

Try to fit this picture into the frame of our autocracy! Is it conceivable in Russia for all who accept the principles of the Party programme and render the Party all possible support to control every action of the revolutionary working in secret? Is it possible for all to elect one of these revolutionaries to any particular office, when, in the very interests of the work, the revolutionary must conceal his identity from nine out of ten of these “all”? Reflect somewhat over the real meaning of the high-sounding phrases to whichRabocheye Dyelo gives utterance, and you will realise that “broad democracy” in Party organisation, amidst the gloom of the autocracy and the domination of gendarmerie, is nothing more than a useless and harmful toy. It is a useless toy because, in point of fact, no revolutionary organisation has ever practiced, or could practice, broad democracy, however much it may have desired to do so. It is a harmful toy because any attempt to practise “the broad democratic principle” will simply facilitate the work of the police in carrying out large-scale raids, will perpetuate the prevailing primitiveness, and will divert the thoughts of the practical workers from the serious and pressing task of training themselves to become professional revolutionaries to that of drawing up detailed “paper” rules for election systems. Only abroad, where very often people with no opportunity for conducting really active work gather, could this “playing at democracy” develop here and there, especially in small groups.

To show the unseemliness of Rabocheye Dyelo’s favourite trick of advancing the plausible “principle” of democracy in revolutionary affairs, we shall again summon a witness. This witness, Y. Serebryakov, editor of the London magazine, Nakanune, has a soft spot for Rabocheye Dyelo and is filled with a great hatred for Plekhanov and the “Plekhanovites”. In its articles on the split in the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad, Nakanune definitely sided with Rabocheye Dyelo and poured a stream of petty abuse upon Plekhanov. All the more valuable, therefore, is this witness in the question at issue. In Nakanune for July (No. 7) 1899, an article entitled “Concerning the Manifesto of the Self-Emancipation of the Workers Group”, Serebryakov argued that it was “indecent” to talk about such things as “self-deception, leadership, and the so-called Areopagus in a serious revolutionary movement” and, inter alia, wrote:

“Myshkin, Rogachov, Zhelyabov, Mikhailov, Perovskaya, Figner, and others never regarded themselves as leaders, and no one ever elected or appointed them as such, although in actuality, they were leaders, because, in the propaganda period, as well as in the period of the struggle 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. They became leaders, not because they wished it, but because the comrades surrounding them had confidence in their wisdom, in their energy, in their loyalty. To be afraid of some kind of Areopagus (if it is not feared, why write about it?) that would arbitrarily govern the movement is far too naive. Who would pay heed to it?”

We ask the reader, in what way does the “Areopagus” differ from “anti  democratic tendencies”? And is it not evident that Rabocheye Dyelo’s “plausible” organisational principle is equally naive and indecent; naive, because no one would pay heed to the “Areopagus”, or people with “anti- democratic tendencies”, if “the comrades surrounding them had” no “confidence in their wisdom, energy, and loyalty”; indecent, because it is a demagogic sally calculated to play on the conceit of some, on the ignorance of others regarding the actual state of our movement, and on the lack of training and the ignorance of the history of the revolutionary movement on the part of still others. The only serious organisational principle for the active workers of our movement should he the strictest secrecy, the strictest selection of members, and the training of professional revolutionaries. Given these qualities, something even more than “democratism” would be guaranteed to us, namely, complete, comradely, mutual confidence among revolutionaries. This is absolutely essential for us, because there can be no question of replacing it by general democratic control in Russia. It would be a great mistake to believe that the impossibility of establishing real “democratic” control renders the members of the revolutionary organisation beyond control altogether. They have not the time to think about toy forms of democratism (democratism within a close and compact body of comrades in which complete, mutual confidence prevails), but they have a lively sense of their responsibility, knowing as they do from experience that an organisation of real revolutionaries will stop at nothing to rid itself of an unworthy member. Moreover, there is a fairly well-developed public opinion in Russian (and international) revolutionary circles which has a long history behind it, and which sternly and ruthlessly punishes every departure from the duties of comradeship (and “democratism”, real and not toy democratism, certainly forms a component part of the conception of comradeship). Take all this into consideration and you will realise that this talk and these resolutions about “anti-democratic tendencies” have the musty odour of the playing at generals which is indulged in abroad.

It must be observed also that the other source of this talk, viz., naivete is likewise fostered by the confusion of ideas concerning the meaning of democracy. In Mr. and Mrs. Webb’s book on the English trade unions there is an interesting chapter entitled “Primitive Democracy”. In it the authors relate how the English workers, in the first period of existence of their unions, considered it an indispensable sign of democracy for all the members to do all the work of managing the unions; not only were all questions decided by the vote of all the members, but all official duties were fulfilled by all the members in turn. A long period of historical experience was required for worker’s to realise the absurdity of such a conception of democracy and to make them understand the necessity for representative institutions, on the one hand, and for full-time officials, on the other. Only after a number of cases of financial bankruptcy of trade union treasuries had occurred did the workers realise that the rates of contributions and benefits cannot be decided merely by a democratic vote, but that this requires also the advice of insurance experts. Let us take also Kautsky’s book on parliamentarism and legislation by the people. There we find that the conclusions drawn by the Marxist theoretician coincide with the lessons learned from many years of practical experience by the workers who organised “spontaneously”. Kautsky strongly protests against Rittinghausen’s primitive conception of democracy; he ridicules those who in the name of democracy demand that “popular newspapers shall be edited directly by the people”; he shows the’ need for professional journalists, parliamentarians, etc., for the Social-Democratic leadership of the proletarian class struggle; he attacks the socialism of anarchists and litterateurs who in their “striving for effect” extol direct legislation by the whole people, completely failing to understand that this idea can be applied only relatively in modern society.

Those who have performed practical work in our movement know how widespread the “primitive” conception of democracy is among the masses of the students and workers. It is not surprising that this conception penetrates also into rules of organisations and into literature. The Economists of the Bernsteinian persuasion included in their rules the following: “§ 10. All affairs affecting the interests of the whole of the union organisation shall be decided by a majority vote of all its members.” The Economists of the terrorist persuasion repeat after them. “The decisions of the committee shall become effective only after they have been referred to all the circles” (Svoboda, No. 1, p. 67). Observe that this proposal for a widely applied referendum is advanced in addition to the demand that the whole of the organisation be built on an elective basis! We would not, of course, on this account condemn practical workers who have had too few opportunities for studying the theory and practice of real democratic organisations. But when Rabocheye Dyelo, which lays claim to leadership, confines itself, under such conditions, to a resolution on broad democratic principles, can this be described as anything but a mere “striving for effect”?

F. Local and All-Russia Work

The objections raised against the plan of organisation here outlined on the grounds that it is undemocratic and conspiratorial are totally unsound. Nevertheless, there remains a question which is frequently put and which deserves detailed examination. This is the question of the relations between local work and all-Russia work. Fears are expressed that the formation of a centralised organisation may shift the centre of gravity from the former to the latter, damage the movement through weakening our contacts with the working masses and the continuity of local agitation generally. To these fears we reply that our movement in the past few years has suffered precisely from the fact that local workers have been too absorbed in local work; that therefore it is absolutely necessary to shift the centre of gravity somewhat to national work; and that, far from weakening this would strengthen our ties and the continuity of our local agitation. Let us take the question of central and local newspapers. I would ask the reader not to forget that we cite the publication of newspapers only as an example illustrating an immeasurably broader and more varied revolutionary activity in general.

In the first period of the mass movement (1896-98), an attempt was made by local revolutionary workers to publish an all-Russia paper — Rabochaya Gazeta. In the next period (1898-1900), the movement made an enormous stride forward, but the attention of the leaders was wholly absorbed by local publications. If we compute the total number of the local papers that were published, we shall find that on the average one issue per month was published.[15] Does this not clearly illustrate our amateurism? Does this not clearly show that our revolutionary organisation lags behind the spontaneous growth of the movement? If the same number of issues had been published, not by scattered local groups, but by a single organisation, we would not only have saved an enormous amount of effort, but we would have secured immeasurably greater stability and continuity in our work. This simple point is frequently lost sight of by those practical workers who work actively and almost exclusively on local publications (unfortunately this is true even now in the overwhelming majority of cases), as well as by the publicists who display an astonishing quixotism on this question. The practical workers usually rest content with the argument that “it is difficult”[16] [16] This difficulty is more apparent than real. In fact, there is not a single local study circle that lacks the opportunity of taking up some function or other in connection with all-Russia work. “Don’t say, I can’t; say, I won’t.”—Lenin for local workers to engage in the organisation of an all-Russia newspaper, and that local newspapers are better than no newspapers at all. This argument is, of course, perfectly just, and we, no less than any practical worker, appreciate the enormous importance and usefulness of local newspapers in general. But not this is the point. The point is, can we not overcome the fragmentation and primitiveness that are so glaringly expressed in the thirty issues of local newspapers that have been published throughout Russia in the course of two and a half years? Do not restrict yourselves to the indisputable, but too general, statement about the usefulness of local newspapers generally; have the courage frankly to admit their negative aspects revealed by the experience of two and a half years. This experience has shown that under the conditions in which we work, these local newspapers prove, in the majority of cases, to be unstable in their principles, devoid of political significance, extremely costly in regard to expenditure of revolutionary forces, and totally unsatisfactory from a technical point of view (I have in mind, of course, not the technique of printing, but the frequency and regularity of publication). These defects are riot accidental; they are the inevitable outcome of the fragmentation which, on the one hand, explains the predominance of local newspapers in the period under review, and, on the other, is fostered by this predominance. It is positively beyond the strength of a separate local organisation to raise its newspaper to the level of a political organ maintaining stability of principles; it is beyond its strength to collect and utilise sufficient material to shed light on the whole of our political life. The argument usually advanced to support the need for numerous local newspapers in free countries that the cost of printing by local workers is low and that the people can be kept more fully and quickly informed — this argument as experience has shown, speaks against local newspapers in Russia. They turn out to be excessively costly in regard to the expenditure of revolutionary forces, and appear very rarely, for the simple reason that the publication of an illegal newspaper, however small its size, requires an extensive secret apparatus, such as is possible with large-scale factory production; for this apparatus cannot be created in a small, handicraft workshop. Very frequently, the primitiveness of the secret apparatus (every practical worker can cite numerous cases) enables the police to take advantage of the publication and distribution of one or two issues to make mass arrests, which result in such a clean sweep that it becomes necessary to start all over again. A well-organised secret apparatus requires professionally well-trained revolutionaries and a division of labour applied with the greatest consistency, but both these requirements are beyond the strength of a separate local organisation, however strong it may be at any given moment. Not only the general interests of our movement as a whole (training of the workers in consistent socialist and political principles) but also specifically local interests are better served by non-local newspapers. This may seem paradoxical at first sight, but it has been proved to the hilt by the two and a half years of experience referred to. Everyone will agree that had all the local forces that were engaged in the publication of the thirty issues of newspapers worked on a single newspaper, sixty, if not a hundred, issues could easily have been published, with a fuller expression, in consequence, of all the specifically local features of the movement. True, it is no easy matter to attain such a degree of organisation, but we must realise the need for it. Every local study circle must think about it and work actively to achieve it, without waiting for an impetus from outside, without being tempted by the popularity and closer proximity of a local newspaper which, as our revolutionary experience has shown, proves to a large extent to be illusory.

And it is a bad service indeed those publicists render to the practical work who, thinking themselves particularly (close to the practical workers, fail to see this illusoriness, and make shift with the astoundingly hollow and cheap argument that we must have local newspapers, we must have district newspapers, and we must have all-Russia newspapers. Generally speaking, of course, all these are necessary, but once the solution of a concrete organisational problem is undertaken, surely time and circumstances must be taken into consideration. Is it not quixotic for Svoboda (No. 1, p. 68) to write in a special article “dealing with the question of a newspaper”: “It seems to us that every locality, with any appreciable number of workers, should have its own workers’ newspaper; not a newspaper imported from somewhere, but its very own.” If the publicist who wrote these words refuses to think of their meaning, then at least the reader may do it for him. How many scores, if not hundreds, of “localities” with any appreciable number of workers there are in Russia, and what a perpetuation of our amateurish methods this would mean if indeed every local organisation set about publishing its own. newspaper! How this diffusion would facilitate the gendarmerie’s task of netting — and without “any appreciable” effort — the local revolutionary workers at the very outset of their activity and of preventing them from developing into real revolutionaries. A reader of an all-Russia newspaper, continues the author, would find little interest in the descriptions of the. malpractices of the factory owners and the “details of factory life in various towns not his own”. But “an inhabitant of Orel would not find Orel affairs dull reading. In every issue he would learn who had been ’picked for a lambasting’ and who had been ’flayed’, and he would be in high spirits” (p. 69). Certainly, the Orel reader is in high spirits, but our publicist’s flights of imagination are also high — too high. He should have asked himself whether such concern with trivialities is tactically in order. We are second to none in appreciating the importance and necessity of factory exposures, but it must be borne in mind that we have reached a stage when St. Petersburg folk find it dull reading the St. Petersburg correspondence of the St. Petersburg Rabochaya Mysl. Leaflets are the medium through which local factory exposures have always been and must continue to be made, but we must raise the level of the newspaper, not lower it to the level of a factory leaflet. What we ask of a newspaper is not so much “petty” exposures, as exposures of the major, typical evils of factory life, exposures based on especially striking facts and capable, therefore, of arousing the interest of all workers and all leaders of the movement, of really enriching their knowledge, broadening their outlook, and serving as a starting-point for awakening new districts and workers from ever-newer trade areas.

“Moreover, in a local newspaper, all the malpractices of the factory administration and other authorities may he denounced then and there. In the case of a general, distant newspaper, however, by the time the news reaches it the facts will have been forgotten in the source localities. The reader, on getting the paper, will exclaim: ’When was that-who remembers it?’” (ibid.). Precisely — who remembers it! From the same source we learn that the 30 issues of newspapers which appeared in the course of two and a half years were published in six cities. This averages one issue per city per half-year! And even if our frivolous publicist trebled his estimate of the productivity of local work (which would be wrong in the case of an average town, since it is impossible to increase productivity to any considerable extent by our rule-of-thumb methods), we would still get only one issue every two months, i.e., nothing at all like “denouncing then and there”. It would suffice, however, for ten local organisations to combine and send their delegates to take an active part in organising a general newspaper, to enable us every fortnight to “denounce”, over the whole of Russia, not petty, but really outstanding and typical evils. No one who knows the state of affairs in our organisations can have the slightest doubt on that score. As for catching the enemy red-handed — if we mean it seriously and not merely as a pretty phrase — that is quite beyond the ability of an illegal paper generally. It can be done only by a leaflet, because the time limit for exposures of that nature can be a day or two at the most (e.g., the usual brief strikes, violent factory clashes, demonstrations, etc.).

“The workers live not only at the factory, but also in the city,” continues our author, rising from the particular to the general, with a strict consistency that would have done honour to Boris Krichevsky himself; and he refers to matters like municipal councils, municipal hospitals, municipal schools, and demands that workers’ newspapers should not ignore municipal affairs in general.

This demand — excellent in itself — serves as a particularly vivid illustration of the empty abstraction to which discussions of local newspapers are all too frequently limited. In the first place, if indeed newspapers appeared “in every locality with any appreciable number of workers” with such detailed information on municipal affairs as Svoboda desires, this would, under our Russian conditions, inevitably degenerate into actual concern with trivialities, lead to a weakening of the consciousness of the importance of an all-Russia revolutionary assault upon the tsarist autocracy, and strengthen the extremely virile shoots — not uprooted but rather hidden or temporarily suppressed — of the tendency that has become noted as a result of the famous remark about revolutionaries who talk a great deal about non-existent parliaments and too little about existent municipal councils. We say “inevitably”, in order to emphasise that Svoboda obviously does not desire this, but the contrary, to come about. But good intentions are not enough. For municipal affairs to be dealt with in their proper perspective, in relation to our entire work, this perspective must first be clearly conceived, firmly established, not only by argument, but by numerous examples, so that it may acquire the stability of a tradition. This is still far from being the case with us. Yet this must be done first, before we can allow ourselves to think and talk about an extensive local press.

Secondly, to write really well and interestingly about municipal affairs, one must have first-hand knowledge, not book knowledge, of the issues. But there are hardly any Social-Democrats anywhere in Russia who possess such knowledge. To be able to write in newspapers (not in popular pamphlets) about municipal and state affairs, one must have fresh and varied material gathered and written up by able people. And in order to be able to gather and write up such material, we must have something more than the “primitive democracy” of a primitive circle, in which everybody does everything and all entertain themselves by playing at referendums. It is necessary to have a staff of expert writers and correspondents, an army of Social-Democratic reporters who establish contacts far and wide, who are able to fathom all sorts of “state secrets” (the knowledge of which makes the Russian government official so puffed up, but the blabbing of which is such an easy matter to him), who are able to penetrate “behind the scenes” — an army of’ people who must, as their “official duty”, be ubiquitous and omniscient. And we, the Party that fights against all economic, political, social, and national oppression, can and must find, gather, train, mobilise, and set into motion such an army of omniscient people — all of which requires still to be done. Not only has not a single step in this direction been taken in the overwhelming majority of localities, but even the recognition of its necessity is very often lacking. One will search in vain in our Social-Democratic press for lively and interesting articles, correspondence, and exposures dealing with our big and little affairs — diplomatic, military, ecclesiastical, municipal, financial, etc., etc. There is almost nothing, or very little, about these matters.[17] That is why “it always annoys me frightfully when a man comes to me, utters beautiful and charming words” about the need for newspapers in “every locality with any appreciable number of workers” that will expose factory, municipal, and government evils.

The predominance of the local papers over a central press may be a sign of either poverty or luxury. Of poverty, when the movement has not yet developed the forces for large-scale production, continues to flounder in amateurism, and is all but swamped with “the petty details of factory life”. Of luxury, when the movement has fully mastered the task of comprehensive exposure and comprehensive agitation, and it becomes necessary to publish numerous local newspapers in addition to the central organ. Let each decide for himself what the predominance of local newspapers implies in present-day Russia. I shall limit myself to a precise formulation of my own conclusion, to leave no grounds for misunderstanding. Hitherto, the majority of our local organisations have thought almost exclusively in terms of local newspapers, and have devoted almost all their activities to this work. This is abnormal; the very opposite should have been the case. The majority of the local organisations should think principally of the publication of an all-Russia newspaper and devote their activities chiefly to it. Until this is done, we shall not be able to establish a single newspaper capable, to any degree, of serving the movement with comprehensive press agitation. When this is done, however, normal relations between the necessary central newspaper and the necessary local newspapers will be established automatically.

*     *

It would seem at first glance that the conclusion on the necessity for shifting the centre of gravity from local to all-Russia work does not apply to the sphere of the specifically economic struggle. In this struggle, the immediate enemies of the workers are the individual employers or groups of employers, who are not bound by any organisation having even the remotest resemblance to the purely military, strictly centralised organisation of the Russian Government — our immediate enemy in the political struggle — which is led in all its minutest details by a single will.

But that is not the case. As we have repeatedly pointed out, the economic struggle is a trade struggle, and for that reason it requires that the workers be organised according to trades, not only according to place of employment. Organisation by trades becomes all the more urgently necessary, the more rapidly our employers organise in all sorts of companies and syndicates. Our fragmentation and our amateurism are an outright hindrance to this work of organisation which requires the existence of a single, all-Russia body of revolutionaries capable of giving leadership to the all-Russia trade unions. We have described above the type of organisation that is needed for this purpose; we shall now add but a few words on the question of our press in this connection.

Hardly anyone will doubt the necessity for every Social-Democratic newspaper to have a special department devoted to the trade union (economic) struggle. But the growth of the trade union movement compels us to think about the creation of a trade union press. It seems to us, however, that with rare exceptions, there can be no question of trade union newspapers in Russia at the present time; they would be a luxury, and many a time we lack even our daily bread. The form of trade union press that would suit the conditions of our illegal work and is already required at the present time is trade union pamphlets. In these pamphlets, legal[18] and illegal material should be gathered and grouped systematically, on the working conditions in a given trade, on the differences in this respect in the various parts of, Russia; on the main demands advanced by the workers in the given trade; on the inadequacies of legislation affecting that trade; on outstanding instances of economic struggle by the workers in the trade; on the beginnings, the present state, and the requirements of their trade union organisation, etc. Such pamphlets would, in the first place, relieve our Social-Democratic press of a mass of trade details that are of interest only to workers in the given trade. Secondly, they would record the results of our experience in the trade union struggle, they would preserve the gathered material, which now literally gets lost in a mass of leaflets and fragmentary correspondence; and they would summarise this material. Thirdly, they could serve as guides for agitators, because working conditions change relatively slow ly and the main demands of the workers in a given trade are extremely stable (cf., for example, the demands advanced by the weavers in the Moscow district in 1885 and in the St. Petersburg district in 1896). A compilation of such demands and needs might serve for years as an excellent handbook for agitators on economic questions in backward localities or among the backward strata of the workers. Examples of successful strikes in a given region, information on higher living standards, on improved working conditions, in one locality, would encourage the workers in other localities to take up the fight again and again. Fourthly, having made a start in generalising the trade union struggle and in this way strengthening the link between the Russian trade union movement and socialism, the Social-Democrats would at the same time see to it that our trade union work occupied neither too small nor too large a place in our Social-Democratic work as a whole. A local organisation that is cut off from organisations in other towns finds it very difficult, sometimes almost impossible, to maintain a correct sense of pro portion (the example of Rabochaya Mysl shows what a monstrous exaggeration can be made in the direction of trade-unionism) But an all-Russia organisation of revolutionaries that stands undeviatingly on the basis of Marxism, that leads the entire political struggle and possesses a staff of professional agitators, will never find it difficult to determine the proper proportion.



[1] Rabochaya Mysl and Rabocheye Dyelo, especially the Reply to Plekhanov.—Lenin

[2] See “Who Will Bring About the Political Revolution?” in the collection published in Russia, entitled The Proletarian Struggle. Re-issued by the Kiev Committee.—Lenin

[3] Regeneration of Revolutionism and the journal Svoboda.—Lenin

[4] See Collected Works, Vol. 5, p. 18 —Ed.

[5] German “loose”.—Ed.

[6] Iskra’s campaign against the tares evoked the following angry outburst from Rabocheye Dyelo: “For Iskra, the signs of the times lie not so much in great events [of the spring], as in the miserable attempts of the agents of Zubatov to ’legalise’ the working-class movement. It fails to see that these facts tell against it; for they testify that the working-class movement has assumed menacing proportions in the eyes of the government” (Two Conferences, p. 27). For all this we have to blame the “dogmatism” of the orthodox who “turn a deaf ear to the imperative demands of life”. They obstinately refuse to see the yard-high wheat and are combating inch-high tares! Does this not reveal a “distorted sense of perspective in regard to the Russian working-class movement” (ibid., p. 27)?—Lenin

[7] Of wages earned.—Tr.

[8] For the moment let us observe merely that our remarks on “pushing on from outside” and Svoboda’s other disquisitions on organisation apply in their entirety to all the Economists, including the adherents of Rabocheye Dyelo; for some of them have actively preached and defended such views on organisation, while others among them have drifted into them.—Lenin

[9] This term is perhaps more applicable to Svoboda than the former, for in an article entitled “The Regeneration of Revolutionisin” the publication defends terrorism, while in the article at present under review it defends Economism. One might say of Svoboda that “it would if it could, but it can’t”. Its wishes and intentions are of the very best — but the result is utter confusion; this is chiefly due to the fact that, while Svoboda advocates continuity of organisation, it refuses to recognise continuity of revolutionary thought and Social-Democratic theory. It wants to revive the professional revolutionary (“The Regeneration of Revolutionism”), and to that end proposes, first, excitative terrorism, and, secondly, — an organisation of average workers" (Svoboda, No. 1, p. 66, et seq.), as less likely to be “pushed on from outside”. In other words, it proposes to pull the house down to use the timber for heating it.—Lenin

[10] Note: This footnote has been moved into the body of the document.

[11] Note: This footnote has been moved into the body of the document.

[12] Svoboda, No. 1, p. 66, in the article “Organisation”: “The heavy tread of the army of workers will reinforce all the demands that will be advanced in behalf of Russian Labour” — Labour with a capital L, of course. And the author exclaims: “I am not in the least hostile towards the intelligentsia, but [but — the word that Shchedrin translated as meaning: The ears never grow higher than the forehead!] — but I always get frightfully annoyed when a man comes to me uttering beautiful and charming words and demands that they be accepted for their [his?] beauty and other virtues” (p. 62). Yes, I always get “frightfully annoyed”, too.—Lenin

[13] Cf. The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats, p. 21, polemics against P. L. Lavrov. (See Collected Works, Vol. 2, pp. 340-41. —Ed.)—Lenin

[14] The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats, p. 23. (See Collected Works, Vol. 2, p. 342. —Ed.) Apropos, we shall give another illustration of the fact that Rabocheye Dyelo either does not understand what it is talking about or changes its views “with the wind”. In No. 1 of Rabocheye Dyelo, we find the following passage in italics: “The substance set forth in the pamphlet accords entirely with the editorial programme of ’Rabocheye Dyelo’” (p. 142). Really? Does the view that the overthrow of the autocracy must not be set as the first task of the mass movement accord with the views expressed in The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats? Do the theory of “the economic struggle against the employers and the government” and the stages theory accord with the views expressed in that pamphlet? We leave it to the reader to judge whether a periodical that understands the meaning of “accordance in opinion” in this peculiar manner can have firm principles.—Lenin

[15] See Report to the Paris Congress,[24] p. 14. From that time (1897) to the spring of 1900, thirty issues of various papers were published in various places.... On an average, over one issue per month was published".—Lenin

[16] Note: This footnote has been moved into the body of the document.

[17] That is why even examples of exceptionally good local newspapers fully confirm our point of view. For example, Yuzhny Rabochy[25] is an excellent newspaper, entirely free of instability of principle. But it has been unable to provide what it desired for the local movement, owing to the infrequency of its publication and to extensive police raids. Principled presentation of the fundamental questions of the movement and wide political agitation, which our Party most urgently requires at the present time, has proved too big a job for the local newspaper. The material of particular value it has published, like the articles on the mine owners’ convention and on unemployment, was not strictly local material, it was required for the whole of Russia, not for the South alone. No such articles have appeared in any of our Social-Democratic newspapers.—Lenin

[18] Legal material is particularly important in this connection, and we are particularly behind in our ability to gather and utilise it systematically. It would not be an exaggeration to say that one could somehow compile a trade union pamphlet on the basis solely of legal material, but it could not be done on the basis of illegal material alone. In gathering illegal material from Workers oil questions like those dealt with in the publications of Rabochaya Mysl, we waste a great deal of the efforts of revolutionaries (whose place in this work could very easily be taken by legal workers), and yet we never obtain good material. The reason is that a worker who very often knows only a single department of a large factory and almost always the economic results, but not the general conditions and standards of his work, cannot acquire the knowledge which is possessed by the office staff of a factory, by inspectors, doctors, etc., and which is scattered in petty newspaper reports and in special industrial, medical, Zemstvo, and other publications.

I vividly recall my “first experiment”, which I would never like to repeat. I spent many weeks “examining” a worker, who would often visit me, regarding every aspect of the conditions prevailing in the enormous factory at which he was employed. True, after great effort, I managed to obtain material for a description (of the one single factory!), but at the end of the interview the worker would wipe the sweat from his brow, and say to me smilingly: ’I find it easier to work overtime than to answer your questions.”

The more energetically we carry on our revolutionary struggle, the more the government will be compelled to legalise part of the “trade union” work, thereby relieving us of part of our burden.—Lenin

[19] The full name of this small organisation was Workers’ Group for the Struggle Against Capital; its views were close to those of the “Economists”. The group was formed in St. Petersburg in the spring of 1899; it prepared a mimeographed leaflet, “Our Programme”, which was never circulated, owing to the arrest of the group.

[20] N. N.—pseudonym of S. N. Prokopovich, an active “Economist” who later became a Cadet.

[21] Vasilyev, N. V.—Colonel of the Gendarmes, supporter of the Zubatov “police socialism”.

Ozerov, I. Kh. and Worms, A. E.—professors at Moscow University, spokesmen for the “police socialism” of Zubatov.

[22] Afanasy Ivanovich and Pulkheria Ivanovna—a patriarchal family of petty provincial landlords in Gogol’s Old-Time Landowners.

[23] Lenin refers here to his own revolutionary activity in St. Petersburg in 1893-95.

[24] The reference is to the pamphlet Report on the Russian Social-Democratic Movement to International Socialist Congress in Paris, 1900. The Report was submitted to the Congress by the Editorial Board of Rabocheye Dyelo on behalf of the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad and was published as a separate pamphlet in Geneva in 1901; the pamphlet also contained the report of the Bund (“The History of the Jewish Working-Class Movement in Russia and Poland”).

[25] Yuzhny Rabochy (The Southern Worker)—a Social-Democratic newspaper, illegally published from January 1900 to April 1903 by a group of that name; twelve issues appeared.


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