Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

What Is To Be Done?



The “Plan” For an All-Russia Political Newspaper

“The most serious blunder Iskra committed in this connection” writes B. Krichevsky (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, p. 30), charging us with a tendency to “convert theory into a lifeless doctrine by isolating it from practice”, “was its ’plan’ for a general party organisation” (viz., the article entitled “Where To Begin”[1]). Martynov echoes this idea in declaring that “Iskra’s tendency to belittle the significance of the forward march of the drab everyday struggle in comparison with the propaganda of brilliant and completed ideas ... was crowned with the plan for the organisation of a party which it sets forth in the article entitled ’Where To Begin’ in issue No. 4” (ibid., p. 61). Finally, L. Nadezhdin has of late joined in the chorus of indignation against this “plan” (the quotation marks were meant to express sarcasm). In his pamphlet, which we have just received, entitled The Eve of the Revolution (published by the “Revolutionary-Socialist Group” Svoboda, whose acquaintance we have made), he declares (p. 126): “To speak now of an organisation held together by an all-Russia newspaper means propagating armchair ideas and armchair work” and represents a manifestation of “bookishness”, etc.

That our terrorist turns out to be in agreement with the champions of the “forward march of the drab everyday struggle” is not surprising, since we have traced the roots of this intimacy between them in the chapters on politics and organisation. But must draw attention here to the fact that Nadezhdin is the only one who has conscientiously tried to grasp the train of thought in an article he disliked and has made an attempt to reply to the point, whereas Rabocheye Dyelo, has said nothing that is material to the subject, but has tried merely to confuse the question by a series of unseemly, demagogic sallies. Unpleasant though the task may be, we must first spend some time in cleansing this Augean stable.

A. Who Was Offended By the Article “Where To Begin”

Let us present a small selection of the expletives and exclamations that Rabocheye Dyelo hurled at us. “It is not a newspaper that can create a party organisation, but vice versa....” A newspaper, standing above the party, outside of its control, and independent of it, thanks to its having its own staff of agents. “By what miracle has Iskra forgotten about the actually existing Social-Democratic organisations of the party to which it belongs?....” “Those who possess firm principles and a corresponding plan are the supreme regulators of the real struggle of the party and dictate to it their plan....” “The plan drives our active and virile organisations into the kingdom of shadows and desires to call into being a fantastic network of agents....” “Were Iskra’s plan carried into effect, every trace of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, which is taking shape, would be obliterated....” “A propagandist organ becomes an uncontrolled autocratic law-maker for the entire practical revolutionary struggle....” “How should our Party react to the suggestion that it be completely subordinated to an autonomous editorial board?”, etc., etc.

As the reader can see from the contents and the tone of these above quotations, Rabocheye Dyelo has taken offence. Offence, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the organisations and committees of our Party which it alleges Iskra desires to drive into the kingdom of shadows and whose very traces it would obliterate. How terrible! But a curious thing should be noted. The article “Where To Begin” appeared in May 1901. The articles in Rabocheye Dyelo appeared in September 1901. Now we are in mid-January 1902. During these five months (prior to and after September), not a single committee and not a single organisation of the Party protested formally against this monster that seeks to drive them into the kingdom of shadows; and yet scores and hundreds of communications from all parts of Russia have appeared during this period in Iskra, as well as in numerous local and non-local publications. How could it happen that those who would be driven into the realm of shadows are not aware of it and have not taken offence, though a third party has?

The explanation is that the committees and other organisations are engaged in real work and are not playing at “democracy”. The committees read the article “Where To Begin”, saw that it represented an attempt “to elaborate a definite plan for an organisation, so that its formation may be undertaken from all aspects”; and since they knew and saw very well that not one of these “sides” would dream of “setting about to build it” until it was convinced of its necessity, and of the correctness of the architectural plan, it has naturally never occurred to them to take offence at the boldness of the people who said in Iskra: “In view of the pressing importance of the question we, on our part, take the liberty of submitting to the comrades a skeleton plan to be developed in greater detail in a pamphlet now in preparation for the print.” With a conscientious approach to the work, was it possible to view things otherwise than that if the comrades accepted the plan submitted to them, they would carry it out, not because they are “subordinate”, but because they would be convinced of its necessity for our common cause, and that if they did not accept it, then the “skeleton” (a pretentious word, is it not?) would remain merely a skeleton? Is it not demagogy to fight against the skeleton of a plan, not only by “picking it to pieces” and advising comrades to reject it, but by inciting people inexperienced in revolutionary matters against its authors merely on the grounds that they dare to “legislate” and come out as the “supreme regulators”, i.e., because they dare to propose an outline of a plan? Can our Party develop and make progress if an attempt to raise local functionaries to broader views, tasks, plans, etc., is objected to, not only with the claim that these views are erroneous, but on the grounds that the very “desire” toraise” us gives “offence”? Nadezhdin, too, “picked” our plan “to pieces”, but he did not sink to such demagogy as cannot be explained solely by naivete or by primitiveness of political views. From the outset, he emphatically rejected the charge that we intended to establish an “inspectorship over the Party”. That is why Nadezhdin’s criticism of the plan can and should be answered on its merits, while Rabocheye Dyelo deserves only to be treated with contempt.

But contempt for a writer who sinks so low as to shout about autocracy and “subordination” does not relieve us of the duty of disentangling the confusion that such people create in the minds of their readers. Here we can clearly demonstrate to the world the nature of catchwords like “broad democracy”. We are accused of forgetting the committees, of desiring or attempting to drive them into the kingdom of shadows, etc. How can we reply to these charges when, out of considerations of secrecy, we can give the reader almost no facts regarding our real relationships with the committees? Persons hurling vehement accusations calculated to provoke the crowd prove to be ahead of us because of their brazenness and their disregard of the duty of a revolutionary to conceal carefully from the eyes of the world the relationships and contacts which he maintains, which he is establishing or trying to establish. Naturally, we refuse once and for all to compete with such people in the field of “democratism”. As to the reader who is not initiated in all Party affairs, the only way in which we can discharge our duty to him is to acquaint him, not with what is and what is im Werden but with a particle of what has taken place and what may be told as a thing of the past.

The Bund hints that we are “impostors”[2]; the Union Abroad accuses us of attempting to obliterate all traces of the Party. Gentlemen, you will get complete satisfaction when we relate to the public four facts concerning the past.

First fact.[3] The members of one of the Leagues of Struggle, who took a direct part in founding our Party and in sending a delegate to the Inaugural Party Congress, reached agreement with a member of the Iskra group regarding the publication of a series of books for workers that were to serve the entire movement. The attempt to publish the series failed and the pamphlets written for it, The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats and The New Factory Law,[4] by a circuitous course and through the medium of third parties, found their way abroad, where they were published.[14]

Second fact. Members of the Central Committee of the Bund approached a member of the Iskra group with the proposal to organise what the Bund then described as a “literary laboratory”. In making the proposal, they stated that unless this was done, the movement would greatly retrogress. The result of these negotiations was the appearance of the pamphlet The Working-Class Cause in Russia.[5]

Third fact. The Central Committee of the Bund, via a provincial town, approached a member of the Iskra group with the proposal that he undertake the editing of the revived Rabochaya Gazeta and, of course, obtained his consent. The offer was later modified: the comrade in question was invited to act as a contributor, in view of a new plan for the composition of the Editorial Board. Also this proposal, of course, obtained his consent.[15] Articles were sent (which we managed to preserve): “Our Programme” which was a direct protest against Bernsteinism, against the change in the line of the legal literature and of Rabochaya Mysl; “Our Immediate Task” (“to publish a Party organ that shall appear regularly and have close contacts with all the local groups”, the drawbacks of the prevailing “amateurism”), “An Urgent Question” (an examination of the objection that it is necessary first to develop the activities of local groups before undertaking the publication of a common organ; an insistence on the paramount importance of a “revolutionary organisation” and on the necessity of “developing organisation, discipline, and the technique of secrecy to the highest degree of perfection”).[6] The proposal to resume publication of Rabochaya Gazeta was not carried out, and the articles were not published.

Fourth fact. A member of the committee that was organising the second regular congress of our Party communicated to a member of the Iskra group the programme of the congress and proposed that group as editorial board of the revived Rabochaya Gazeta. This preliminary step, as it were, was later sanctioned by the committee to which this member belonged, and by the Central Committee of the Bund.[16] The Iskra group was notified of the place and time of the congress and (uncertain of being able, for certain reasons, to send a delegate) drew up a written report for the congress. In the report, the idea was suggested that the mere election of a Central Committee would not only fail to solve the question of unification at a time of such complete disorder as the present, but would even compromise the grand idea of establishing a party, in the event of an early, swift, and thorough police round-up, which was more than likely in view of the prevailing lack of secrecy; that therefore, a beginning should be made by inviting all committees and all other organisations to support the revived common organ, which would establish real contacts between all the committees and really train a group of leaders for the entire movement; and that the committees and the Party would very easily be able to transform such a group into a Central Committee as soon as the group had grown and become strong. In consequence of a number of police raids and arrests, however, the congress could not take place. For security reasons the report was destroyed, having been read only by a few comrades, including the representatives of one committee.

Let the reader now judge for himself the character of the methods employed by the Bund in hinting that we were impostors, or by Rabocheye Dyelo, which accuses us of trying to relegate the committees to the kingdom of shadows and to “substitute” for the organisation of a party an organisation disseminating the ideas advocated by a single newspaper. It was to the committees, on their repeated invitation, that we reported on the necessity for adopting a definite plan of concerted activities. It was precisely for the Party organisation that we elaborated this plan, in articles sent to Rabochaya Gazeta, and in the report to the Party congress, again on the invitation of those who held such an influential position in the Party that they took the initiative in its (actual) restoration. Only after the twice repeated attempts of the Party organisation, in conjunction with ourselves, officiallyto revive the central organ of the Party had failed, did we consider it our bounden duty to publish an unofficial organ, in order that with the third attempt the comrades might have before them the results of experience and not merely conjectural proposals. Now certain results of this experience are present for all to see, and all comrades may now judge whether we properly understood our duties and what should be thought of people that strive to mislead those unacquainted with the immediate past, simply because they are piqued at our having pointed out to some their inconsistency on the “national” question, and to others the inadmissibility of their vacillation in matters of principle.

B. Can A Newspaper Be A Collective Organiser?

The quintessence of the article “Where To Begin” consists in the fact that it discusses precisely this question and gives an affirmative reply to it. As far as we know, the only attempt to examine this question on its merits and to prove that it must be answered in the negative was made by L. Nadezhdin, whose argument we reproduce in full:

“... It pleased us greatly to see Iskra (No. 4) present the question of the need for an all-Russia newspaper; but we cannot agree that this presentation bears relevance to the title ’Where To Begin’. Undoubtedly this is an extremely important matter, but neither a newspaper, nor a series of popular leaflets, nor a mountain of manifestoes, can serve as the basis for a militant organisation in revolutionary times. We must set to work to build strong political organisations in the localities. We lack such organisations; we have been carrying on our work mainly among enlightened workers, while the masses have been engaged almost exclusively in the economic struggle. If strong political organisations are not trained locally, what significance will even an excellently organised all-Russia newspaper have? It will be a burning bush, burning without being consumed, but firing no one! Iskra thinks that around it and in the activities in its behalf people will gather and organise. But they will find it far easier to gather and organise around activities that are more concrete. This something more concrete must and should be the extensive organisation of local newspapers, the immediate preparation of the workers’ forces for demonstrations, the constant activity of local organisations among the unempIoyed (indefatigable distribution of pamphlets and leaflets, convening of meetings, appeals to actions of protest against the government, etc.). We must begin live political work in the localities, and when the time comes to unite on this real basis, it will not he an artificial, paper unity; not by means of newspapers can such a unification of local work into an all-Russia cause be achieved!” (The Eve of the Revolution, p. 54.)

We have emphasised the passages in this eloquent tirade that most clearly show the author’s incorrect judgement of our plan, as well as the incorrectness of his point of view in general, which is here contraposed to that of Iskra. Unless we train strong political organisations in the localities, even an excellently organised all-Russia newspaper will be of no avail. This is incontrovertible. But the whole point is that there is no other way of training strong political organisations except through the medium of an all-Russia newspaper. The author missed the most important statement Iskra made before it proceeded to set forth its “plan”: that it was necessary “to call for the formation of a revolutionary organisation, capable of uniting all forces and guiding the movement in actual practice and not in name alone, that is, an organisation ready at any time to support every protest and every outbrea’ and use it to build up and consolidate the fighting forces suitable for the decisive struggle”. But now after the February and March events, everyone will agree with this in principle, continues Iskra. Yet what we need is not a solution of the question in principle, but its practical solution; we must immediately advance a definite constructive plan through which all may immediately set to work to build from every side. Now we are again being dragged away from the practical solution towards something which in principle is correct, indisputable, and great, but which is entirely inadequate and incomprehensible to the broad masses of workers, namely, “to rear strong political organisations”! This is not the point at issue, most worthy author. The point is how to go about the rearing and how to accomplish it.

It is not true to say that “we have been carrying on our work mainly among enlightened workers, while the masses have been engaged almost exclusively in the economic struggle”. Presented in such a form, the thesis reduces itself to Svoboda’s usual but fundamentally false contraposition of the enlightened workers to the “masses”. In recent years, even the enlightened workers have been “engaged almost exclusively in the economic struggle”. That is the first point. On the other hand, the masses will never learn to conduct the political struggle until we help to train leaders for this struggle, both from among the enlightened workers and from among the intellectuals. Such leaders can acquire training solely by systematically evaluating all the everyday aspects of our political life, all attempts at protest and struggle on the part of the various classes and on various grounds. Therefore, to talk of “rearing political organisations” and at the same time to contrast the “paper work” of a political newspaper to “live political work in the localities” is plainly ridiculous. Iskra has adapted its “plan” for a newspaper to the “plan” for creating a “militant preparedness” to support the unemployed movement, peasant revolts, discontent among, the Zemstvo people, “popular indignation against some tsarist bashi-bazouk on the rampage”, etc. Anyone who is at all acquainted with the movement knows full well that the vast majority of local organisations have never even dreamed of these things; that many of the prospects of “live political work” here indicated have never been realised by a single organisation; that the attempt, for example, to call attention to the growth of discontent and protest among the Zemstvo intelligentsia rouses feelings of consternation and perplexity in Nadezhdin (“Good Lord, is this newspaper intended for Zemstvo people?”—The Eve, p. 129), among the Economists (Letter to Iskra, No. 12), and among many practical workers. Under these circumstances, it is possible to “begin” only by inducing people to think about all these things, to summarise and generalise all the diverse signs of ferment and active struggle. In our time, when Social-Democratic tasks are being degraded, the only way “live political work” can be begun is with live political agitation, which is impossible unless we have an all-Russia newspaper, frequently issued and regularly distributed.

Those who regard the Iskra “plan” as a manifestation of “bookishness” have totally failed to understand its substance and take for the goal that which is suggested as the most suitable means for the present time. These people have not taken the trouble to study the two comparisons that were drawn to present a clear illustration of the plan. Iskra wrote: The publication of an all-Russia political newspaper must be the main line by which we may unswervingly develop, deepen, and expand the organisation (viz., the revolutionary organisation that is ever ready to support every protest and every outbreak). Pray tell me, when bricklayers lay bricks in, various parts of an enormous, unprecedentedly large structure, is it “paper” work to use a line to help them find the correct place for the bricklaying; to indicate to them the ultimate goal of the common work; to enable them to use, not only every brick, but even every piece of brick which, cemented to the bricks laid before and after it, forms a finished, continuous line? And are we not now passing through precisely such a period in our Party life when we have bricks and bricklayers, but lack the guide line for all to see and follow? Let them shout that in stretching out the line, we want to command. Had we desired to command, gentlemen, we would have written on the title page, not “Iskra, No. 1”, but “Rabochaya Gazeta, No. 3”, as we were invited to do by certain comrades, and as we would have had a perfect right to do after the events described above. But we did not do that. We wished to have our hands free to wage an irreconcilable struggle against all pseudo-Social-Democrats; we wanted our line, if properly laid, to be respected because it was correct, and not because it had been laid by an official organ.

“The question of uniting local activity in central bodies runs in a vicious circle,” Nadezhdin lectures us; “unification requires homogeneity of the elements, and the homogeneity can be created only by something that unites; but the unifying element may be the product of strong local organisations which at the present time are by no means distinguished for their homogeneity.” This truth is as revered and as irrefutable as that we must train strong political organisations. And it is equally barren. Every question “runs in a vicious circle” because political life as a whole is an endless chain consisting of an infinite number of links. The whole art of politics lies in finding and taking as firm a grip as we can of the link that is least likely to be struck from our hands, the one that is most important at the given moment, the one that most of all guarantees its possessor the possession of the whole chain.[7] If we had a crew of experienced bricklayers who had learned to work so well together that they could lay their bricks exactly as required without a guide line (which, speaking abstractly, is by no means impossible), then perhaps we might take hold of some other link. But it is unfortunate that as yet we have no experienced bricklayers trained for teamwork, that bricks are often laid where they are not needed at all, that they are not laid according to the general line, but are so scattered that the enemy can shatter the structure as if it were made of sand and not of bricks.

’Another comparison: “A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organiser. In this respect it may be compared to the scaffolding erected round a building under construction; it marks the contours of the structure and facilitates communication between the builders, permitting them to distribute the work and to view the common results achieved by their organised labour.“[8] Does this sound anything like the attempt of an armchair author to exaggerate his role? The scaffolding is not required at all for the dwelling; it is made of cheaper material, is put up only temporarily, and is scrapped for firewood as soon as the shell of the structure is completed. As for the building of revolutionary organisations, experience shows that sometimes they may be built without scaffolding, as the seventies showed. But at the present time we cannot even imagine the possibility of erecting the building we require without scaffolding.

Nadezhdin disagrees with this, saying: “Iskra thinks that around it and in the activities in its behalf people will gather and organise. But they will find it far easier to gather and organise around activities that are more concrete!” Indeed, “far easier around activities that are more concrete”. A Russian proverb holds: “Don’t spit into a well, you may want to drink from it.” But there are people who do not object to drinking from a well that has been spat into. What despicable things our magnificent, legal “Critics of Marxism” and illegal admirers of Rabochaya Mysl have said in the name of this something more concrete! How restricted our movement is by our own narrowness, lack of initiative, and hesitation, which are justified with the traditional argument about finding it “far easier to gather around something more concrete”! And Nadezhdin — who regards himself as possessing a particularly keen sense of the “realities of life”, who so severely condemns “armchair” authors and (with pretensions to wit) accuses Iskra of a weakness for seeing Economism everywhere, and who sees himself standing far above the division between the orthodox and the Critics — fails to see that with his arguments he contributes to the narrowness that arouses his indignation and that he is drinking from the most spat-in well! The sincerest indignation against narrowness, the most passionate desire to raise its worshippers from their knees, will not suffice if the indignant one is swept along without sail or rudder and, as “spontaneously” as the revolutionaries of the seventies, clutches at such things as “excitative terror”, “agrarian terror”, “sounding the tocsin etc. Let us take a glance at these “more concrete” activities around which he thinks it will be “far easier” to gather and organise: (1) local newspapers; (2) preparations for demonstrations; (3) work among the unemployed. It is immediately apparent that all these things have been seized upon at random as a pretext for saying something; for, however we may regard them, it would be absurd to see in them anything especially suitable for “gathering and organising”. The selfsame Nadezhdin says a few pages further: “It is time we simply stated the fact that activity of a very pitiable kind is being carried on in the localities, the committees are not doing a tenth of what they could do ... the coordinating centres we have at present are the purest fiction, representing a sort of revolutionary bureaucracy, whose members mutually grant generalships to one another; and so it will continue until strong local organisations grow up.” These remarks, though exaggerating the position somewhat, no doubt contain many a bitter truth; but can it be said that Nadezhdin does not perceive the connection between the pitiable activity in the localities and the narrow mental outlook of the functionaries, the narrow scope of their activities, inevitable in the circumstances of the lack of training of Party workers confined to local organisations? Has he, like the author of the article on organisation, published in Svoboda, forgotten how the transition to a broad local press (from 1898) was accompanied by a strong intensification of Economism and “primitiveness”? Even if a “broad local press” could be established at all satisfactorily (and we have shown this to be impossible, save in very, exceptional cases) — even then the local organs could not “gather and organise” all the revolutionary forces for a general attack upon the autocracy and for leadership of the united struggle. Let us not forget that we are here discussing only the “rallying”, organising significance of the newspaper, and we could put to Nadezhdin, who defends fragmentation, the question he himself has ironically put: “Have we been left a legacy of 200,000 revolutionary organisers?” Furthermore, “preparations for demonstrations” cannot be contraposed to Iskra’s plan, for the very reason that this plan includes the organisation of the broadest possible demonstrations as one of its aims; the point under discussion is the selection of the practical means. On this point also Nadezhdin is confused, for he has lost sight of the fact that only forces that are “gathered and organised” can “prepare for” demonstrations (which hitherto, in the overwhelming majority of cases, have taken place spontaneously) and that we lack precisely the ability to rally and organise. “Work among the unemployed.” Again the same confusion; for this too represents one of the field operations of the mobilised forces and not a plan for mobilising the forces. The extent to which Nadezhdin here too underestimates the harm caused by our fragmentation, by our lack of “200,000 organisers”, can be seen from the fact that: many people (including Nadezhdin) have reproached Iskra for the paucity of the news it gives on unemployment and for the casual nature of the correspondence it publishes about the most common affairs of rural life. The reproach is justified; but Iskra is “guilty without sin”. We strive “to stretch a line” through the countryside too, where there are hardly any bricklayers anywhere, and we are obliged to encourage everyone who informs us even as regards the most common facts, in the hope that this will increase the number of our contributors in the given field and will ultimately train us all to select facts that are really the most outstanding. But the material on which we can train is so scanty that, unless we generalise it for the whole of Russia, we shall have very little to train on at all. No doubt, one with at least as much ability as an agitator and as much knowledge of the life of the vagrant as Nadezhdin manifests could render priceless service to the movement by carrying on agitation among the unemployed; but such a person would be simply hiding his light under a bushel if he failed to inform all comrades in Russia as regards every step he took in his work, so that others, who, in the mass, still lack the ability to undertake new kinds of work, might learn from his example.

All without exception now talk of the importance of unity, of the necessity for “gathering and organising”; but in the majority of cases what is lacking is a definite idea of where to begin and how to bring about this unity. Probably all will agree that if we “unite”, say, the district circles in a given town, it will be necessary to have for this purpose common institutions, i.e., not merely the common title of “League”, but genuinely common work, exchange of material, experience, and forces, distribution of functions, not only by districts, but through specialisation on a town-wide scale. All will agree that a big secret apparatus will not pay its way (to use a commercial expression) “with the resources” (in both money and manpower, of course) of a single district, and that this narrow field will not provide sufficient scope for a specialist to develop his talents. But the same thing applies to the co-ordination of activities of a number of towns, since even a specific locality will be and, in the history of our Social-Democratic movement, has proved to be, far too narrow a field; we have demonstrated this above in detail with regard to political agitation and organisational work. What we require foremost and imperatively is to broaden the field, establish real contacts between the towns on the basis of regular, common work; for fragmentation weighs down on the people and they are “stuck in a hole” (to use the expression employed by a correspondent to Iskra), not knowing what is happening in the world, from whom to learn, or how to acquire experience and satisfy their desire to engage in broad activities. I continue to insist that we can start establishing real contacts only with the aid of a common newspaper, as the only regular, all-Russia enterprise, one which will summarise the results of the most diverse forms of activity and thereby stimulate people to march forward untiringly along all the innumerable paths leading to revolution, in the same way as all roads lead to Rome. If we do not want unity in name only, we must arrange for all local study circles immediately to assign, say, a fourth of their forces to active work for the common cause, and the newspaper will immediately convey to them[9] [9] A reservation: that is, if a given study circle sympathises with the policy of the newspaper and considers it useful to become a collaborator, meaning by that, not only for literary collaboration, but for revolutionary collaboration generally. Note for Rabocheye Dyelo: Among revolutionaries who attach value to the cause and not to playing at democracy, who do not separate “sympathy” from the most active and lively participation, this reservation is taken for granted.—Lenin the general design, scope, and character of the cause; it will give them a precise indication of the most keenly felt shortcomings in the all-Russia activity, where agitation is lacking and contacts are weak, and it will point out which little wheels in the vast general mechanism a given study circle might repair or replace with better ones. A study circle that has not yet begun to work, but which is only just seeking activity, could then start, not like a craftsman in an isolated little workshop unaware of the earlier development in “industry” or of the general level of production methods prevailing in industry, but as a participant in an extensive enterprise that reflects the whole general revolutionary attack on the autocracy. The more perfect the finish of each little wheel and the larger the number of detail workers engaged in the common cause, the closer will our network become and the less will be the disorder in the ranks consequent on inevitable police, raids.

The mere function of distributing a newspaper would help to establish actual contacts (if it is a newspaper worthy of the name, i.e., if it is issued regularly, not once a month like a magazine, but at least four times a month). At the present time, communication between towns on revolutionary business is an extreme rarity, and, at all events, is the exception rather than the rule. If we had a newspaper, however, such communication would become the rule and would secure, not only the distribution of the newspaper, of course, but (what is more important) an exchange of experience, of material, of forces, and of resources. Organisational work would immediately acquire much greater scope, and the success of one locality would serve as a standing encouragement to further perfection; it would arouse the desire to utilise the experience gained by comrades working in other parts of the country. Local work would become far richer and more varied than it is at present. Political and economic exposures gathered from all over Russia would provide mental food for workers of all trades and all stages of development; they would provide material and occasion for talks and readings on the most diverse subjects, which would, in addition, be suggested by hints in the legal press, by talk among the people, and by “shamefaced” government statements. Every outbreak, every demonstration, would be weighed and, discussed in its every aspect in all parts of Russia and would thus stimulate a desire to keep up with, and even surpass, the others (we socialists do not by any means flatly reject all emulation or all “competition”!) and consciously prepare that which at first, as it were, sprang up spontaneously, a desire to take advantage of the favourable conditions in a given district or at a given moment for modifying the plan of attack, etc. At the same time, this revival of local work would obviate that desperate, “convulsive” exertion of all efforts and risking of all forces which every single demonstration or the publication of every single issue of a local newspaper now frequently entails. On the one hand, the police would find it much more difficult to get at the “roots”, if they did not know in what district to dig down for them. On the other hand, regular common work would train our people to adjust the force of a given attack to the strength of the given contingent of the common army (at the present time hardly anyone ever thinks of doing that, because in nine cases out of ten these attacks occur spontaneously); such regular common work would facilitate the “transportation” from one place to another, not only of literature, but also of revolutionary forces.

In a great many cases these forces are now being bled white on restricted local work, but under the circumstances we are discussing it would be possible to transfer a capable agitator or organiser from one end of the country to the other, and the occasion for doing this would constantly arise. Beginning with short journeys on Party business at the Party’s expense, the comrades would become accustomed to being maintained by the Party, to becoming professional revolutionaries, and to training themselves as real political leaders.

And if indeed we succeeded in reaching the point when all, or at least a considerable majority, of the local committees local groups, and study circles took up active work for the common cause, we could, in the not distant future, establish a weekly newspaper for regular distribution in tens of thousands of copies throughout Russia. This newspaper would become part of an enormous pair of smith’s bellows that would fan every spark of the class struggle and of popular indignation into a general conflagration. Around what is in itself still a very innocuous and very small, but regular and common, effort, in the full sense of the word, a regular army of tried fighters would systematically gather and receive their training. On the ladders and scaffolding of this general organisational structure there would soon develop and come to the fore Social-Democratic Zhelyabovs from among our revolutionaries and Russian Bebels from among our workers, who would take their place at the head of the mobilised army and rouse the whole people to settle accounts with the shame and the curse of Russia.

That is what we should dream of!

*     *

“We should dream!” I wrote these words and became alarmed. I imagined myself sitting at a “unity conference” and opposite me were the Rabocheye Dyelo editors and contributors. Comrade Martynov rises and, turning to me, says sternly: “Permit me to ask you, has an autonomous editorial board the right to dream without first soliciting the opinion of the Party committees?” He is followed by Comrade Krichevsky; who (philosophically deepening Comrade Martynov, who long ago rendered Comrade Plekhanov more profound) continues even more sternly: “I go further. I ask, has a Marxist any right at all to dream, knowing that according to Marx, mankind always sets itself the tasks it can solve and that tactics is a process of the growth of Party tasks which grow together with the Party?”

The very thought of these stern questions sends a cold shiver down my spine and makes me wish for nothing but a place to hide in. I shall try to hide behind the back of Pisarev.

“There are rifts and rifts,” wrote Pisarev of the rift between dreams and reality. “My dream may run ahead of the natural march of events or may fly off at a tangent in a direction in which no natural march of events will ever proceed. In the first case my dream will not cause any harm; it may even support and augment the energy of the working men.... There is nothing in such dreams that would distort or paralyse labour-power. On the contrary, if man were completely deprived of the ability to dream in this way, if he could not from time to time run ahead and mentally conceive, in an entire and completed picture, the product to which his hands are only just beginning to lend shape, then I cannot at all imagine what stimulus there would be to induce man to undertake and complete extensive and strenuous work in the sphere of art, science, and practical endeavour.... The rift between dreams and reality causes no harm if only the person dreaming believes seriously in his dream, if he attentively observes life, compares his observations with his castles in the air, and if, generally speaking, he works conscientiously for the achievement of his fantasies. If there is some connection between dreams and life then all is well.”[17]

Of this kind of dreaming there is unfortunately too little in our movement. And the people most responsible for this are those who boast of their sober views, their “closeness” to the “concrete”, the representatives of legal criticism and of illegal “tail-ism”.

C. What Type of Organisation Do We Require?

From what has been said the reader will see that our “tactics. as-plan” consists in rejecting an immediate call for assault; in demanding “to lay effective siege to the enemy fortress”; or, in other words, in demanding that all efforts be directed towards gathering, organising, and mobilising a permanent army. When we ridiculed Rabocheye Dyelo for its leap from Economism to shouting for an assault (for which it clamoured in April 1901, in “Listok” Rabochego Dyela, 157 No. 6) it of course came down on us with accusations of being “doctrinaire”, of failing to understand our revolutionary duty, of calling for caution, etc. Of course, we were not in the least surprised to hear these accusations from those who totally lack principles and who evade all arguments by references to a profound “tactics-as-process”, any more than we were surprised by the fact that these charges were repeated by Nadezhdin, who in general has a supreme contempt for durable programmes and the fundamentals of tactics.

It is said that history does not repeat itself. But Nadezhdin exerts every effort to cause it to repeat itself and he zealously imitates Tkachov[18] in strongly condemning “revolutionary culturism”, in shouting about “sounding the tocsin” and about a special “ eve-of-the-revolution point of view”, etc., Apparently, he has forgotten the well-known maxim that while an original historical event represents a tragedy, its replica is merely a farce.[19] The attempt to seize power, which was prepared by the preaching of Tkachov and carried out by means of the “terrifying” terror that did really terrify, had grandeur, but the “excitative” terror of a Tkachov the Little is simply ludicrous, particularly so when it is supplemented with the idea of an organisation of average people.

“If Iskra would only emerge from its sphere of bookishness,” wrote Nadezhdin, “it would realise that these (instances like the worker’s letter to Iskra, No. 7, etc.) are symptoms of the fact that soon, very soon, the ’assault’ will begin, and to speak now [sic!] of an organisation linked with an all-Russia newspaper means to propagate armchair ideas and armchair activity.” What an unimaginable muddle — on the one hand, excitative terror and an “organisation of average people”, along with the opinion that it is far “easier” to gather around something “more concrete”, like a local newspaper, and, on the other, the view that to talk “now” about an all-Russia organisation means to propagate armchair thoughts, or, bluntly put, “now” it is already too late! But what of the “extensive organisation of local newspapers” — is it not too late for that, my dear L. Nadezhdin? And compare with this Iskra’s point of view and tactical line: excitative terror is nonsense; to talk of an organisation of average people and of the extensive publication of local newspapers means to fling the door wide open to Economism. We must speak of a single all-Russia organisation of revolutionaries, and it will never be too late to talk of that until the real, not a paper, assault begins.

“Yes, as far as organisation is concerned the situation is anything but brilliant,” continues Nadezhdin. “Yes, Iskra is entirely right in saying that the mass of our fighting forces consists of volunteers and insurgents.... You do well to give such a sober picture of the state of our forces. But why, at the same time, do you forget that the masses are not ours at all, and consequently, will not ask us when to begin military operations; they will simply go and ’rebel’.... When the crowd itself breaks out with its elemental destructive force it may overwhelm and sweep aside the ’regular troops’ among whom we prepared all the time to introduce extremely systematic organisation, but never managed to do so.” (Our italics.)

Astounding logic! For the very reason that the “masses are not ours” it is stupid and unseemly to shout about an immediate “assault”, for assault means attack by regular troops and not a spontaneous mass upsurge. For the very reason that the masses may overwhelm and sweep aside the regular troops we must without fail “manage to keep up” with the spontaneous upsurge by our work of “introducing extremely systematic organisation” in the regular troops, for the more we “manage” to introduce such organisation the more probably will the regular troops not be overwhelmed by the masses, but will take their place at their head. Nadezhdin is confused because he imagines that troops in the course of systematic organisation are engaged in something that isolates them from the masses, when in actuality they are engaged exclusively in all-sided and all-embracing political. agitation, i.e., precisely in work that brings closer and merges into a single whole the elemental destructive force of the masses and the conscious destructive force of the organisation of revolutionaries. You, gentlemen, wish to lay the blame where it does not belong. For it is precisely the Svoboda group that, by including terror in its programme, calls for an organisation of terrorists, and such an organisation would indeed prevent our troops from establishing closer contacts with the masses, which, unfortunately, are still not ours, and which, unfortunately, do not yet ask us, or rarely ask us, when and how to launch their military operations.

“We shall miss the revolution itself,” continues Nadezhdin in his attempt to scare Iskra, “in the same way as we missed ..the recent events, which came upon us like a bolt from the blue.” This sentence, taken in connection with what has been quoted above, clearly demonstrates the absurdity of the “eve-of-therevolution point of view” invented by Svoboda.[10] Plainly put, this special “point of view” boils down to this that it is too late “now” to discuss and prepare. If that is the case, most worthy opponent of “bookishness”, what was the use of writing a pamphlet of 132 pages on questions of theory[11] [11] In his Review of Questions of Theory, Nadezhdin, by the way, made almost no contribution whatever to the discussion of questions of theory, apart, perhaps, from the following passage, a most peculiar one from the “eve-of-the-revolution point of view”: “Bernsteinism, on the whole, is losing its acuteness for us at the present moment, as is the question whether Mr. Adamovich will prove that Mr. Struve has already earned a lacing, or, on the contrary, whether Mr. Struve will refute Mr. Adamovich and will refuse to resign — it really makes no difference, because the hour of revolution has struck” (p. 110). One can hardly imagine a more glaring illustration of Nadezhdin’s infinite disregard for theory. We have proclaimed “the eve of the revolution”, therefore “it really makes no difference” whether or not the orthodox will succeed in finally driving the Critics from their positions! Our wiseacre fails to see that it is precisely during the revolution that we shall stand in need of the results of our theoretical battles with the Critics in order to be able resolutely to combat their practical positions!—Lenin and tactics”? Don’t you think it would have been more becoming for the “eve-of-the-revolution point of view” to have issued 132,000 leaflets containing the summary call, “Bang them — knock’em down!”?

Those who make nation-wide political agitation the cornerstone of their programme, their tactics, and their organisational work, as Iskra does, stand the least risk of missing the revolution. The people who are now engaged throughout Russia in weaving the network of connections that spread from the all-Russia newspaper not only did not miss the spring events, but, on the contrary, gave us an opportunity to foretell them. Nor did they miss the demonstrations that were described in Iskra, Nos. 13 and 14; on the contrary, they took part in them, clearly realising that it was their duty to come to the aid of the spontaneously rising masses and, at the same time, through the medium of the newspaper, help all the comrades in Russia to inform themselves of the demonstrations and to make use of their gathered experience. And if they live they will not miss the revolution, which, first and foremost, will demand of us experience in agitation, ability to support (in a Social-Democratic manner) every protest, as well as direct the spontaneous movement, while safeguarding it from the mistakes of friends and the traps of enemies.

We have thus come to the last reason that compels us so strongly to insist on the plan of an organisation centred round an all-Russia newspaper, through the common work for the common newspaper. Only such organisation will ensure the flexibility required of a militant Social-Democratic organisation, viz., the ability to adapt itself immediately to the most diverse and rapidly changing conditions of struggle, the ability, “on the one hand, to avoid an open battle against an overwhelming enemy, when the enemy has concentrated all his forces at one spot and yet, on the other, to take advantage of his unwieldiness and to attack him when and where he least expects it”.[12] It would be a grievous error indeed to build the Party organisation in anticipation only of outbreaks and street fighting, or only upon the “forward march of the drab everyday struggle”. We must always conduct our everyday work and always be prepared for every situation, because very frequently it is almost impossible to foresee when a period of outbreak will give way to a period of calm. In the instances, however, when it is possible to do so, we could not turn this foresight to account for the purpose of reconstructing our organisation; for in an autocratic country these changes take place with astonishing rapidity, being sometimes connected with a single night raid by the tsarist janizaries.[20] And the revolution itself must not by any means be regarded as a single act (as the Nadezhdins apparently imagine), but as a series of more or less powerful outbreaks rapidly alternating with periods of more or less complete calm. For that reason, the principal content of the activity of our Party organisation, the focus of this activity, should be work that is both possible and essential in the period of a most powerful outbreak as well as in the period of complete calm, namely, work of political agitation, connected throughout Russia, illuminating all aspects of life, and conducted among the broadest possible strata of the masses. But this work is unthinkable in present-day Russia without an all-Russia newspaper, issued very frequently. The organisation, which will form round this newspaper, the organisation of its collaborators (in the broad sense of the word, i.e., all those working for it), will be ready for everything, from upholding the honour, the prestige, and the continuity of the Party in periods of acute revolutionary “depression” to preparing for, appointing the time for, and carrying out the nation-wide armed uprising.

Indeed, picture to yourselves a very ordinary occurrence in Russia-the total round-up of our comrades in one or several localities. In the absence of a single, common, regular activity that combines all the local organisations, such round-ups frequently result in the interruption of the work for many months. if, however, all the local organisations had one common activity, then, even in the event of a very serious round-up, two or three energetic persons could in the course of a few weeks establish contact between the common centre and new youth circles, which, as we know, spring up very quickly even now. And when the common activity, hampered by the arrests, is apparent to all, new circles will be able to come into being and make connections with the centre even more rapidly.

On the other hand, picture to yourselves a popular uprising. Probably everyone will now agree that we must think of this and prepare for it. But how? Surely the Central Committee cannot appoint agents to all localities for the purpose of preparing the uprising. Even if we had a Central Committee, it could achieve absolutely nothing by such appointments under present-day Russian conditions. But a network of agents[13] that would form in the course of establishing and distributing the common newspaper would not have to “sit about and wait” for the call for an uprising, but could carry on the regular activity that would guarantee the highest probability of success in the event of an uprising. Such activity would strengthen our contacts with the broadest strata of the working masses and with all social strata that are discontented with the autocracy, which is of such importance for an uprising. Precisely such activity would serve to cultivate the ability to estimate correctly the general political situation and, consequently, the ability to select the proper moment for an uprising. Precisely such activity would train all local organisations to respond simultaneously to the same political questions, incidents, and events that agitate the whole of Russia and to react to such “incidents” in the most vigorous, uniform, and expedient manner possible; for an uprising is in essence the most vigorous, most uniform, and most expedient “answer” of the entire people to the government. Lastly, it is precisely such activity that would train all revolutionary organisations throughout Russia to maintain the most continuous, and at the same time the most secret, contacts with one another, thus creating real Party unity; for without such contacts it will be impossible collectively to discuss’ the plan for the uprising and to take the necessary preparatory measures on the eve, measures that must be kept in the strictest secrecy.

In a word, the “plan for an all-Russia political newspaper”, far from representing the fruits of the labour of armchair workers, infected with dogmatism and bookishness (as it seemed to those who gave but little thought to it), is the most practical plan for immediate and all-round preparation of the uprising, with, at the same time, no loss of sight for a moment of the pressing day-to-day work.



[1] See Collected Works, Vol. 5, pp. 13-24 —Ed.

[2] Iskra, No. 8.The reply of the Central Committee of the General Jewish Union of Russia and Poland to our article on the national question.—Lenin

[3] We deliberately refrain from relating these facts[21] in the sequence of their occurrence.—Lenin

[4] See Collected Works, Vol. 2, pp. 323-51 and 267-315 —Ed.

[5] The author requests me to state that, like his previous pamphlets, this one was sent to the Union Abroad on the assumption that its publications were edited by the Emancipation of Labour group (owing to certain circumstances, he could not then — February 1899 — know of the change in editorship). The pamphlet will be republished by the League[22] at an early date.—Lenin

[6] See Collected Works, Vol. 4, pp. 210-14, 215-20, 221-26 —Ed.

[7] Comrade Krichevsky and Comrade Martynov! I call your attention to this outrageous manifestation of “autocracy”, “uncontrolled authority”, “supreme regulating”, etc. just think of it: a desire to possess the whole chain!! Send in a complaint at once. Here you have a ready-made topic for two leading articles for No. 12 of Rabocheye Dyelo!Lenin

[8] Martynov, in quoting the first sentence of this passage in Rabocheye Dyelo (No. 10, p. 62), omitted the second, as if desiring to emphasise either his unwillingness to discuss the essentials of the question or his inability to understand them.—Lenin

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

[10] The Eve of the Revolution, p. 62.Lenin

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

[12] Iskra, No. 4, “Where To Begin”. “Revolutionary culturists, who do not accept the eve-of-the-revolution point of view, are not in the least perturbed by the prospect of working for a long period of time,” writes Nadezhdin (p. 62). This brings us to observe: Unless we are able to devise political tactics and an organisational plan for work over a very long period, while ensuring, in the very process of this work, our Party’s readiness to be at its post and fulfil its duty in every contingency whenever the march of events is accelerated — unless we succeed in doing this, we shall prove to he but miserable political adventurers. Only Nadezhdin, who began but yesterday to describe himself as a Social-Democrat, can forget that the aim of Social-Democracy is to transform radically the conditions of life of the whole of mankind and that for this reason it is not permissible for a Social-Democrat to be “perturbed” by the question of the duration of the work.—Lenin

[13] Alas, alas! Again I have let slip that awful word “agents”, which jars so much on the democratic cars of the Martynovs! I wonder why this word did not offend the heroes of the seventies and yet off ends the amateurs of the nineties? I like the word, because it clearly and trenchantly indicates the common cause to which all the agents bend their thoughts and actions, and if I had to replace this word by another, the only word I might select would be the word “collaborator”, if it did not suggest a certain bookishness and vagueness. The thing we need is a military organisation of agents. However, the numerous Martynovs (particularly abroad), whose favourite pastime is “mutual grants of generalships to one another”, may instead of saying “passport agent” prefer to say, “Chief of the Special Department for Supplying Revolutionaries with Passports”. etc.—Lenin

[21] Lenin added this footnote for purposes of secrecy. The facts are enumerated in the order in which they actually took place.

[14] The reference is to the negotiations between the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class and Lenin who, in the second half of 1897, wrote the two pamphlets mentioned.

[22] The reference is to the League of Russian Revolutionary Social-Democracy Abroad.

[15] The reference is to the negotiations between Lenin and the Central Committee of the Bund.

[16] The “fourth fact” of which Lenin speaks was the attempt of the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad and the Bund to convene the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. in the spring of 1900. The “member of the committee” referred to was I. H. Lalayants (a member of the Ekaterinoslav Social-Democratic Committee) who came to Moscow in February 1900 for talks with Lenin.

[17] Lenin cites the article by D. I. Pisarev “Blunders of Immature Thinking”.

[18] Tkachov, P. N. (1844-1885)—one of the ideologists of revolutionary Narodism, a follower of the Auguste Blanqui.

[19] Lenin refers to the following passage from Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce” (see Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1958, p. 247).

[20] Janizaries—privileged Turkish infantry, abolished in 1826. The janizaries plundered the population and were known for their unusual brutality. Lenin called the tsarist police “janizaries”.


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