Tsarist Russia entered the path of capitalist development later than other countries. Prior to the sixties of the past century there were very few mills and factories in Russia. Manorial estates based on serfdom constituted the prevailing form of economy. There could be no real development of industry under serfdom. The involuntary labour of the serfs in agriculture was of low productivity. The whole course of economic development made the abolition of serfdom imperative. In 1861, the tsarist government, weakened by defeat in the Crimean War, and frightened by the peasant revolts against the landlords, was compelled to abolish serfdom.
But even after serfdom had been abolished the landlords continued to oppress the peasants. In the process of "emancipation" they robbed the peasants by inclosing, cutting off, considerable portions of the land previously used by the peasants. These cut-off portions of land were called by the peasants otrezki (cuts). The peasants were compelled to pay about 2,000,000,000 rubles to the landlords as the redemption price for their "emancipation."
After serfdom had been abolished the peasants were obliged to rent land from the landlords on most onerous terms. In addition to paying money rent, the peasants were often compelled by the landlord to cultivate without remuneration a definite portion of his land with their own implements and horses. This was called otrabotki or barshchina (labour rent, corvee). In most cases the peasants were obliged to pay the landlords rent in kind in the amount of one-half of their harvests. This was known as ispolu (half and half system).
Thus the situation remained almost the same as it had been under serfdom, the only difference being that the peasant was now personally free, could not be bought and sold like a chattel.
The landlords bled the backward peasant farms white by various methods of extortion (rent, fines). Owing to the oppression of the landlords the bulk of the peasantry were unable to improve their farms. Hence the extreme backwardness of agriculture in pre-revolutionary Russia, which led to frequent crop failures and famines.
The survivals of serfdom, crushing taxation and the redemption payments to the landlords, which not infrequently exceeded the income of the peasant household, ruined the peasants, reduced them to pauperism and forced them to quit their villages in search of a livelihood. They went to work in the mills and factories. This was a source of cheap labour power for the manufacturers.
Over the workers and peasants stood a veritable army of sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, gendarmes, constables, rural police, who protected the tsar, the capitalists and the landlords from the toiling and exploited people. Corporal punishment existed right up to 1903. Although serfdom had been abolished the peasants were flogged for the slightest offence and for the non-payment of taxes. Workers were manhandled by the police and the Cossacks, especially during strikes, when the workers downed tools because their lives had been made intolerable by the manufacturers. Under the tsars the workers and peasants had no political rights whatever. The tsarist autocracy was the worst enemy of the people.
Tsarist Russia was a prison of nations. The numerous non-Russian nationalities were entirely devoid of rights and were subjected to constant insult and humiliation of every kind. The tsarist government taught the Russian population to look down upon the native peoples of the national regions as an inferior race, officially referred to them as inorodtsi (aliens), and fostered contempt and hatred of them. The tsarist government deliberately fanned national discord, instigated one nation against another, engineered Jewish pogroms and, in Transcaucasia, incited Tatars and Armenians to massacre each other.
Nearly all, if not all, government posts in the national regions were held by Russian officials. All business in government institutions and in the courts was conducted in the Russian language. It was forbidden to publish newspapers and books in the languages of the non-Russian nationalities or to teach in the schools in the native tongue. The tsarist government strove to extinguish every spark of national culture and pursued a policy of forcible "Russification." Tsardom was a hangman and torturer of the non-Russian peoples.
After the abolition of serfdom, the development of industrial capitalism in Russia proceeded at a fairly rapid pace in spite of the fact that it was still hampered by survivals of serfdom. During the twenty-five years, 1865-90, the number of workers employed in large mills and factories and on the railways increased from 706,000 to 1,433,000, or more than doubled.
Large-scale capitalist industry in Russia began to develop even more rapidly in the nineties. By the end of that decade the number of workers employed in the large mills and factories, in the mining industry and on the railways amounted in the fifty European provinces of Russia alone to 2,207,000, and in the whole of Russia to 2,792,000 persons.
This was a modern industrial proletariat, radically different from the workers employed in the factories of the period of serfdom and from the workers in small, handicraft and other kinds of industry, both because of the spirit of solidarity prevailing among the workers in big capitalist enterprises and because of their militant revolutionary qualities.
The industrial boom of the nineties was chiefly due to intensive railroad construction. During the course of the decade (1890-1900) over 21,000 versts of new railway line were laid. The railways created a big demand for metal (for rails, locomotives and cars), and also for increasing quantities of fuel – coal and oil. This led to the development of the metal and fuel industries.
In pre-revolutionary Russia, as in all capitalist countries, periods of industrial boom alternated with industrial crises, stagnation, which severely affected the working class and condemned hundreds of thousands of workers to unemployment and poverty.
Although the development of capitalism in Russia proceeded fairly rapidly after the abolition of serfdom, nevertheless, in economic development Russia lagged considerably behind other capitalist countries. The vast majority of the population was still engaged in agriculture. In his celebrated work, The Development of Capitalism in Russia Lenin cited significant figures from the general census of the population of 1897 which showed that about five-sixths of the total population were engaged in agriculture, and only one-sixth in large and small industry, trade, on the railways and waterways, in building work, lumbering, and so on.
This shows that although capitalism was developing in Russia, she was still an agrarian, economically backward country, a petty-bourgeois country, that is, a country in which low-productive individual peasant farming based on small ownership still predominated.
Capitalism was developing not only in the towns but also in the countryside. The peasantry, the most numerous class in pre-revolu-tionary Russia, was undergoing a process of disintegration, of cleavage. From among the more well-to-do peasants there was emerging an upper layer of kulaks, the rural bourgeoisie, while on the other hand many peasants were being ruined, and the number of poor peasants, rural proletarians and semi-proletarians, was on the increase. As to the middle peasants, their number decreased from year to year.
In 1903 there were about ten million peasant households in Russia. In his pamphlet entitled To the Village Poor, Lenin calculated that of this total not less than three and a half million households consisted of peasants possessing no horses. These were the poorest peasants who usually sowed only a small part of their land, leased the rest to the kulaks, and themselves left to seek other sources of livelihood. The position of these peasants came nearest to that of the proletariat. Lenin called them rural proletarians or semi-proletarians.
On the other hand, one and a half million rich, kulak households (out of a total of ten million peasant households) concentrated in their hands half the total sown area of the peasants. This peasant bourgeoisie was growing rich by grinding down the poor and middle peasantry and profiting from the toil of agricultural labourers, and was developing into rural capitalists.
The working class of Russia began to awaken already in the seventies, and especially in the eighties, and started a struggle against the capitalists. Exceedingly hard was the lot of the workers in tsarist Russia. In the eighties the working day in the mills and factories was not less than 12½ hours, and in the textile industry reached 14 to 15 hours. The exploitation of female and child labour was widely resorted to. Children worked the same hours as adults, but, like the women, received a much smaller wage. Wages were inordinately low. The majority of the workers were paid seven or eight rubles per month. The most highly paid workers in the metal works and foundries received no more than 35 rubles per month. There were no regulations for the protection of labour, with the result that workers were maimed and killed in large numbers. Workers were not insured, and all medical services had to be paid for. Housing conditions were appalling. In the factory-owned barracks, workers were crowded as many as 10 or 12 to a small "cell." In paying wages, the manufacturers often cheated the workers, compelled them to make their purchases in the factory-owned shops at exorbitant prices, and mulcted them by means of fines.
The workers began to take a common stand and present joint demands to the factory workers for the improvement of their intolerable conditions. They would down tools and go on strike. The earlier strikes in the seventies and eighties were usually provoked by excessive fines, cheating and swindling of the workers over wages, and reductions in the rates of pay.
In the earlier strikes, the workers, driven to despair, would sometimes smash machinery, break factory windows and wreck factory-owned shops and factory offices.
The more advanced workers began to realize that if they were to be successful in their struggle against the capitalists, they needed organization. Workers' unions began to arise.
In 1875 the South Russian Workers' Union was formed in Odessa. This first workers' organization lasted eight or nine months and was then smashed by the tsarist government.
In 1878 the Northern Union of Russian Workers was formed in St. Petersburg, headed by Khalturin, a carpenter, and Obnorsky, a fitter. The program of the Union stated that its aims and objects were similar to those of the Social-Democratic labour parties of the West. The ultimate aim of the Union was to bring about a Socialist revolution – "the overthrow of the existing political and economic system, as an extremely unjust system." Obnorsky, one of the founders of the Union, had lived abroad for some time and had there acquainted himself with the activities of the Marxist Social-Democratic parties and of the First International, which was directed by Marx. This circumstance left its impress on the program of the Northern Union of Russian Workers. The immediate aim of the Union was to win political liberty and political rights for the people (freedom of speech, press, assembly, etc.). The immediate demands also included a reduction of the working day.
The membership of the Union reached 200, and it had about as many sympathizers. It began to take part in workers' strikes, to lead them. The tsarist government smashed this workers' Union too.
But the working-class movement continued to grow, spreading from district to district. The eighties were marked by a large number of strikes. In the space of five years (1881-86) there were as many as 48 strikes involving 80,000 workers.
An exceptional part in the history of the revolutionary movement was played by the big strike that broke out at the Morozov mill in Orekhovo-Zuyevo in 1885.
About 8,000 workers were employed at this mill. Working conditions grew worse from day to day: there were five wage cuts between 1882 and 1884, and in the latter year rates were reduced by 25 per cent at one blow. In addition, Morozov, the manufacturer, tormented the workers with fines. It was revealed at the trial which followed the strike that of every ruble earned by the workers, from 30 to 50 kopeks went into the pocket of the manufacturer in the form of fines. The workers could not stand this robbery any longer and in January 1885 went out on strike. The strike had been organized beforehand. It was led by a politically advanced worker, Pyotr Moiseyenko, who had been a member of the Northern Union of Russian Workers and already had some revolutionary experience. On the eve of the strike Moiseyenko and others of the more class-conscious weavers drew up a number of demands for presentation to the mill owners; they were endorsed at a secret meeting of the workers. The chief demand was the abolition of the rapacious fines.
This strike was suppressed by armed force. Over 600 workers were arrested and scores of them committed for trial.
Similar strikes broke out in the mills of Ivanovo-Voznesensk in 1885.
In the following year the tsarist government was compelled by its fear of the growth of the working-class movement to promulgate a law on fines which provided that the proceeds from fines were not to go into the pockets of the manufacturers but were to be used for the needs of the workers themselves.
The Morozov and other strikes taught the workers that a great deal could be gained by organized struggle. The working-class movement began to produce capable leaders and organizers who staunchly championed the interests of the working class.
At the same time, on the basis of the growth of the working-class movement and under the influence of the working-class movement of Western Europe, the first Marxist organizations began to arise in Russia.
Prior to the appearance of the Marxist groups revolutionary work in Russia was carried on by the Narodniks (Populists), who were opponents of Marxism.
The first Russian Marxist group arose in 1883. This was the "Emancipation of Labour" group formed by G. V. Plekhanov abroad, in Geneva, where he had been obliged to take refuge from the persecution of the tsarist government for his revolutionary activities.
Previously Plekhanov had himself been a Narodnik. But having studied Marxism while abroad, he broke with Narodism and became an outstanding propagandist of Marxism.
The "Emancipation of Labour" group did a great deal to disseminate Marxism in Russia. They translated works of Marx and Engels into Russian – The Communist Manifesto, Wage-Labour and Capital, Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, etc. – had them printed abroad and circulated them secretly in Russia. Plekhanov, Zasulich, Axelrod and other members of this group also wrote a number of works explaining the teachings of Marx and Engels, the ideas of scientific Socialism.
Marx and Engels, the great teachers of the proletariat, were the first to explain that, contrary to the opinion of the utopian Socialists, Socialism was not the invention of dreamers (utopians), but the inevitable outcome of the development of modern capitalist society. They showed that the capitalist system would fall, just as serfdom had fallen, and that capitalism was creating its own gravediggers in the person of the proletariat. They showed that only the class struggle of the proletariat, only the victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, would rid humanity of capitalism and exploitation.
Marx and Engels taught the proletariat to be conscious of its own strength, to be conscious of its class interests and to unite for a determined struggle against the bourgeoisie. Marx and Engels discovered the laws of development of capitalist society and proved scientifically that the development of capitalist society, and the class struggle going on within it, must inevitably lead to the fall of capitalism, to the victory of the proletariat, to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Marx and Engels taught that it was impossible to get rid of the power of capital and to convert capitalist property into public property by peaceful means, and that the working class could achieve this only by revolutionary violence against the bourgeoisie, by a proletarian revolution, by establishing its own political rule – the dictatorship of the proletariat – which must crush the resistance of the exploiters and create a new, classless, Communist society.
Marx and Engels taught that the industrial proletariat is the most revolutionary and therefore the most advanced class in capitalist society, and that only a class like the proletariat could rally around itself all the forces discontented with capitalism and lead them in the storming of capitalism. But in order to vanquish the old world and create a new, classless society, the proletariat must have its own working-class party, which Marx and Engels called the Communist Party.
It was to the dissemination of the views of Marx and Engels that the first Russian Marxist group, Plekhanov's "Emancipation of Labour" group, devoted itself.
The "Emancipation of Labour" group raised the banner of Marxism in the Russian press abroad at a time when no Social-Democratic movement in Russia yet existed. It was first necessary to prepare the theoretical, ideological ground for such a movement. The chief ideological obstacle to the spread of Marxism and of the Social-Democratic movement was the Narodnik views which at that time prevailed among the advanced workers and the revolutionary-minded intelligentsia.
As capitalism developed in Russia the working class became a powerful and advanced force that was capable of waging an organized revolutionary struggle. But the leading role of the working class was not understood by the Narodniks. The Russian Narodniks erroneously held that the principal revolutionary force was not the working class, but the peasantry, and that the rule of the tsar and the landlords could be overthrown by means of peasant revolts alone. The Narodniks did not know the working class and did not realize that the peasants alone were incapable of vanquishing tsardom and the landlords without an alliance with the working class and without its guidance. The Narodniks did not understand that the working class was the most revolutionary and the most advanced class of society.
The Narodniks first endeavoured to rouse the peasants for a struggle against the tsarist government. With this purpose in view, young revolutionary intellectuals donned peasant garb and flocked to the countryside – "to the people," as it used to be called. Hence the term "Narodnik," from the word narod, the people. But they found no backing among the peasantry, for they did not have a proper knowledge or understanding of the peasants either. The majority of them were arrested by the police. Thereupon the Narodniks decided to continue the struggle against the tsarist autocracy single-handed, without the people, and this led to even more serious mistakes.
A secret Narodnik society known as "Narodnaya Volya" ("People's Will") began to plot the assassination of the tsar. On March 1, 1881, members of the "Narodnaya Volya" succeeded in killing Tsar Alexander II with a bomb. But the people did not benefit from this in any way. The assassination of individuals could not bring about the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy or the abolition of the landlord class. The assassinated tsar was replaced by another, Alexander III, under whom the conditions of the workers and peasants became still worse.
The method of combating tsardom chosen by the Narodniks, namely, by the assassination of individuals, by individual terrorism, was wrong and detrimental to the revolution. The policy of individual terrorism was based on the erroneous Narodnik theory of active "heroes" and a passive "mob," which awaited exploits from the "heroes." This false theory maintained that it is only outstanding individuals who make history, while the masses, the people, the class, the "mob," as the Narodnik writers contemptuously called them, are incapable of conscious, organized activity and can only blindly follow the "heroes." For this reason the Narodniks abandoned mass revolutionary work among the peasantry and the working class and changed to individual terrorism. They induced one of the most prominent revolutionaries of the time, Stepan Khalturin, to give up his work of organizing a revolutionary workers' union and to devote himself entirely to terrorism.
By these assassinations of individual representatives of the class of exploiters, assassinations that were of no benefit to the revolution, the Narodniks diverted the attention of the working people from the struggle against that class as a whole. They hampered the development of the revolutionary initiative and activity of the working class and the peasantry.
The Narodniks prevented the working class from understanding its leading role in the revolution and retarded the creation of an independent party of the working class.
Although the Narodniks' secret organization had been smashed by the tsarist government, Narodnik views continued to persist for a long time among the revolutionary-minded intelligentsia. The surviving Narodniks stubbornly resisted the spread of Marxism in Russia and hampered the organization of the working class.
Marxism in Russia could therefore grow and gain strength only by combating Narodism.
The "Emancipation of Labour" group launched a fight against the erroneous views of the Narodniks and showed how greatly their views and methods of struggle were prejudicing the working-class movement.
In his writings directed against the Narodniks, Plekhanov showed that their views had nothing in common with scientific Socialism, even though they called themselves Socialists.
Plekhanov was the first to give a Marxist criticism of the erroneous views of the Narodniks. Delivering well-aimed blows at the Narodnik views, Plekhanov at the same time developed a brilliant defence of the Marxist views.
What were the major errors of the Narodniks which Plekhanov hammered at with such destructive effect?
First, the Narodniks asserted that capitalism was something "accidental" in Russia, that it would not develop, and that therefore the proletariat would not grow and develop either.
Secondly, the Narodniks did not regard the working class as the foremost class in the revolution. They dreamed of attaining Socialism without the proletariat. They considered that the principal revolutionary force was the peasantry – led by the intelligentsia – and the peasant commune, which they regarded as the embryo and foundation of Socialism.
Thirdly, the Narodniks' view of the whole course of human history was erroneous and harmful. They neither knew nor understood the laws of the economic and political development of society. In this respect they were quite backward. According to them, history was made not by classes, and not by the struggle of classes, but by outstanding individ-uals – "heroes" – who were blindly followed by the masses, the "mob," the people, the classes.
In combating and exposing the Narodniks Plekhanov wrote a number of Marxist works which were instrumental in rearing and educating the Marxists in Russia. Such works of his as Socialism and the Political Struggle, Our Differences, On the Development of the Monistic View of History cleared the way for the victory of Marxism in Russia.
In his works Plekhanov expounded the basic principles of Marxism. Of particular importance was his On the Development of the Monistic View of History, published in 1895. Lenin said that this book served to "rear a whole generation of Russian Marxists." (Lenin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. XIV, p. 347.)
In his writings aimed against the Narodniks, Plekhanov showed that it was absurd to put the question the way the Narodniks did: should capitalism develop in Russia or not? As a matter of fact Russia had already entered the path of capitalist development, Plekhanov said, producing facts to prove it, and there was no force that could divert her from this path.
The task of the revolutionaries was not to arrest the development of capitalism in Russia – that they could not do anyhow. Their task was to secure the support of the powerful revolutionary force brought into being by the development of capitalism, namely, the working class, to develop its class-consciousness, to organize it, and to help it to create its own working-class party.
Plekhanov also shattered the second major error of the Narodniks, namely, their denial of the role of the proletariat as the vanguard in the revolutionary struggle. The Narodniks looked upon the rise of the proletariat in Russia as something in the nature of a "historical misfortune," and spoke of the "ulcer of proletarianism." Plekhanov, championing the teachings of Marxism, showed that they were fully applicable to Russia and that in spite of the numerical preponderance of the peasantry and the relative numerical weakness of the proletariat, it was on the proletariat and on its growth that the revolutionaries should base their chief hopes.
Why on the proletariat?
Because the proletariat, although it was still numerically small, was a labouring class which was connected with the most advanced form of economy, large-scale production, and which for this reason had a great future before it.
Because the proletariat, as a class, was growing from year to year, was developing politically, easily lent itself to organization owing to the conditions of labour prevailing in large-scale production, and was the most revolutionary class owing to its proletarian status, for it had nothing to lose in the revolution but its chains.
The case was different with the peasantry.
The peasantry (meaning here the individual peasants, each of whom worked for himself – Ed.), despite its numerical strength, was a labouring class that was connected with the most backward form of economy, small-scale production, owing to which it had not and could not have any great future before it.
Far from growing as a class, the peasantry was splitting up more and more into bourgeois (kulaks) and poor peasants (proletarians and semi-proletarians). Moreover, being scattered, it lent itself less easily than the proletariat to organization, and, consisting of small owners, it joined the revolutionary movement less readily than the proletariat.
The Narodniks maintained that Socialism in Russia would come not through the dictatorship of the proletariat, but through the peasant commune, which they regarded as the embryo and basis of Socialism. But the commune was neither the basis nor the embryo of Socialism, nor could it be, because the commune was dominated by the kulaks – the bloodsuckers who exploited the poor peasants, the agricultural labourers and the economically weaker middle peasants. The formal existence of communal land ownership and the periodical redivision of the land according to the number of mouths in each peasant household did not alter the situation in any way. Those members of the commune used the land who owned draught cattle, implements and seed, that is, the well-to-do middle peasants and kulaks. The peasants who possessed no horses, the poor peasants, the small peasants generally, had to surrender their land to the kulaks and to hire themselves out as agricultural labourers. As a matter of fact, the peasant commune was a convenient means of masking the dominance of the kulaks and an inexpensive instrument in the hands of the tsarist government for the collection of taxes from the peasants on the basis of collective responsibility. That was why tsardom left the peasant commune intact. It was absurd to regard a commune of this character as the embryo or basis of Socialism.
Plekhanov shattered the third major error of the Narodniks as well, namely, that "heroes," outstanding individuals, and their ideas played a prime role in social development, and that the role of the masses, the "mob," the people, classes, was insignificant. Plekhanov accused the Narodniks of idealism, and showed that the truth lay not with idealism, but with the materialism of Marx and Engels.
Plekhanov expounded and substantiated the view of Marxist materialism. In conformity with Marxist materialism, he showed that in the long run the development of society is determined not by the wishes and ideas of outstanding individuals, but by the development of the material conditions of existence of society, by the changes in the mode of production of the material wealth required for the existence of society, by the changes in the mutual relations of classes in the production of material wealth, by the struggle of classes for place and position in the production and distribution of material wealth. It was not ideas that determined the social and economic status of men, but the social and economic status of men that determined their ideas. Outstanding individuals may become nonentities if their ideas and wishes run counter to the economic development of society, to the needs of the foremost class; and vice versa, outstanding people may really become outstanding individuals if their ideas and wishes correctly express the needs of the economic development of society, the needs of the foremost class.
In answer to the Narodniks' assertion that the masses are nothing but a mob, and that it is heroes who make history and convert the mob into a people, the Marxists affirmed that it is not heroes that make history, but history that makes heroes, and that, consequently, it is not heroes who create a people, but the people who create heroes and move history onward. Heroes, outstanding individuals, may play an important part in the life of society only in so far as they are capable of correctly understanding the conditions of development of society and the ways of changing them for the better. Heroes, outstanding individuals, may become ridiculous and useless failures if they do not correctly understand the conditions of development of society and go counter to the historical needs of society in the conceited belief that they are "makers" of history.
To this category of ill-starred heroes belonged the Narodniks.
Plekhanov's writings and the fight he waged against the Narodniks thoroughly undermined their influence among the revolutionary intelligentsia. But the ideological destruction of Narodism was still far from complete. It was left to Lenin to deal the final blow to Narodism, as an enemy of Marxism.
Soon after the suppression of the "Narodnaya Volya" Party the majority of the Narodniks renounced the revolutionary struggle against the tsarist government and began to preach a policy of reconciliation and agreement with it. In the eighties and nineties the Narodniks began to voice the interests of the kulaks.
The "Emancipation of Labour" group prepared two drafts of a program for a Russian Social-Democratic party (the first in 1884 and the second in 1887). This was a very important preparatory step in the formation of a Marxist Social-Democratic party in Russia.
But at the same time the "Emancipation of Labour" group was guilty of some very serious mistakes. Its first draft program still contained vestiges of the Narodnik views; it countenanced the tactics of individual terrorism. Furthermore, Plekhanov failed to take into account that in the course of the revolution the proletariat could and should lead the peasantry, and that only in an alliance with the peasantry could the proletariat gain the victory over tsardom. Plekhanov further considered that the liberal bourgeoisie was a force that could give support, albeit unstable support, to the revolution; but as to the peasantry, in some of his writings he discounted it entirely, declaring, for instance, that:
"Apart from the bourgeoisie and the proletariat we perceive no social forces in our country in which oppositional or revolutionary combinations might find support." (Plekhanov, Works, Russ. ed., Vol. III, p. 119.)These erroneous views were the germ of Plekhanov's future Menshevik views.
Neither the "Emancipation of Labour" group nor the Marxist circles of that period had yet any practical connections with the working-class movement. It was a period in which the theory of Marxism, the ideas of Marxism, and the principles of the Social-Democratic program were just appearing and gaining a foothold in Russia. In the decade of 1884-94 the Social-Democratic movement still existed in the form of small separate groups and circles which had no connections, or very scant connections, with the mass working-class movement. Like an infant still unborn but already developing in its mother's womb, the Social-Democratic movement, as Lenin wrote, was in the "process of fatal development."
The "Emancipation of Labor" group, Lenin said, "only laid the theoretical foundations for the Social-Democratic movement and made the first step towards the working-class movement."
The task of uniting Marxism and the working-class movement in Russia, and of correcting the mistakes of the "Emancipation of Labour" group fell to Lenin.
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin), the founder of Bolshevism, was born in the city of Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk) in 1870. In 1887 Lenin entered the Kazan University, but was soon arrested and expelled from the university for taking part in the revolutionary student movement. In Kazan Lenin joined a Marxist circle formed by one Fedoseyev. Lenin later removed to Samara and soon afterwards the first Marxist circle in that city was formed with Lenin as the central figure. Already in those days Lenin amazed everyone by his thorough knowledge of Marxism.
At the end of 1893 Lenin removed to St. Petersburg. His very first utterances in the Marxist circles of that city made a deep impression on their members. His extraordinarily profound knowledge of Marx, his ability to apply Marxism to the economic and political situation of Russia at that time, his ardent and unshakable belief in the victory of the workers' cause, and his outstanding talent as an organizer made Lenin the acknowledged leader of the St. Petersburg Marxists.
Lenin enjoyed the warm affection of the politically advanced workers whom he taught in the circles.
"Our lectures," says the worker Babushkin recalling Lenin's teaching activities in the workers' circles, "were of a very lively and interesting character; we were all very pleased with these lectures and constantly admired the wisdom of our lecturer."
In 1895 Lenin united all the Marxist workers' circles in St. Petersburg (there were already about twenty of them) into a single League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. He thus prepared the way for the founding of a revolutionary Marxist workers' party.
Lenin put before the League of Struggle the task of forming closer connections with the mass working-class movement and of giving it political leadership. Lenin proposed to pass from the propaganda of Marxism among the few politically advanced workers who gathered in the propaganda circles to political agitation among the broad masses of the working class on issues of the day. This turn towards mass agitation was of profound importance for the subsequent development of the working-class movement in Russia.
The nineties were a period of industrial boom. The number of workers was increasing. The working-class movement was gaining strength. In the period of 1895-99, according to incomplete data, not less than 221,000 workers took part in strikes. The working-class movement was becoming an important force in the political life of the country. The course of events was corroborating the view which the Marxists had championed against the Narodniks, namely, that the working class was to play the leading role in the revolutionary movement.
Under Lenin's guidance, the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class linked up the struggle of the workers for economic demands – improvement of working conditions, shorter hours and higher wages – with the political struggle against tsardom. The League of Struggle educated the workers politically.
Under Lenin's guidance, the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class was the first body in Russia that began to unite Socialism with the working-class movement. When a strike broke out in some factory, the League of Struggle, which through the members of its circles was kept well posted on the state of affairs in the factories, immediately responded by issuing leaflets and Socialist proclamations. These leaflets exposed the oppression of the workers by the manufacturers, explained how the workers should fight for their interests, and set forth the workers' demands. The leaflets told the plain truth about the ulcers of capitalism, the poverty of the workers, their intolerably hard working day of 12 to 14 hours, and their utter lack of rights. They also put forward appropriate political demands. With the collaboration of the worker Babushkin, Lenin at the end of i 894 wrote the first agitational leaflet of this kind and an appeal to the workers of the Semyannikov Works in St. Petersburg who were on strike. In the autumn of 1895 Lenin wrote a leaflet for the men and women strikers of the Thornton Mills. These mills belonged to English owners who were making millions in profits out of them. The working day in these mills exceeded 14 hours, while the wages of a weaver were about 7 rubles per month. The workers won the strike. In a short space of time the League of Struggle printed dozens of such leaflets and appeals to the workers of various factories. Every leaflet greatly helped to stiffen the spirit of the workers. They saw that the Socialists were helping and defending them.
In the summer of 1896 a strike of 30,000 textile workers, led by the League of Struggle, took place in St. Petersburg. The chief demand was for shorter hours. This strike forced the tsarist government to pass, on June 2, 1897, a law limiting the working day to 11½ hours. Prior to this the working day was not limited in any way.
In December 1895 Lenin was arrested by the tsarist government. But even in prison he did not discontinue his revolutionary work. He assisted the League of Struggle with advice and direction and wrote pamphlets and leaflets for it. There he wrote a pamphlet entitled On Strikes and a leaflet entitled To the Tsarist Government, exposing its savage despotism. There too Lenin drafted a program for the party (he used milk as an invisible ink and wrote between the lines of a book on medicine).
The St. Petersburg League of Struggle gave a powerful impetus to the amalgamation of the workers' circles in other cities and regions of Russia into similar leagues. In the middle of the nineties Marxist organizations arose in Transcaucasia. In 1894 a Workers' Union was formed in Moscow. Towards the end of the nineties a Social-Democratic Union was formed in Siberia. In the nineties Marxist groups arose in Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Yaroslavl and Kostroma and subsequently merged to form the Northern Union of the Social-Democratic Party. In the second half of the nineties Social-Democratic groups and unions were formed in Rostov-on-Don, Ekaterinoslav, Kiev, Nikolayev, Tula, Samara, Kazan, Orekhovo-Zuyevo and other cities.
The importance of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class consisted in the fact that, as Lenin said, it was the first real rudiment of a revolutionary party which was backed by the working-class movement.
Lenin drew on the revolutionary experience of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle in his subsequent work of creating a Marxist Social-Democratic party in Russia.
After the arrest of Lenin and his close associates, the leadership of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle changed considerably. New people appeared who called themselves the "young" and Lenin and his associates the "old fellows." These people pursued an erroneous political line. They declared that the workers should be called upon to wage only an economic struggle against their employers; as for the political struggle, that was the affair of the liberal bourgeoisie, to whom the leadership of the political struggle should be left.
These people came to be called "Economists."
They were the first group of compromisers and opportunists within the ranks of the Marxist organizations in Russia.
Although Plekhanov had already in the eighties dealt the chief blow to the Narodnik system of views, at the beginning of the nineties Narodnik views still found sympathy among certain sections of the revolutionary youth. Some of them continued to hold that Russia could avoid the capitalist path of development and that the principal role in the revolution would be played by the peasantry, and not by the working class. The Narodniks that still remained did their utmost to prevent the spread of Marxism in Russia, fought the Marxists and endeavoured to discredit them in every way. Narodism had to be completely smashed ideologically if the further spread of Marxism and the creation of a Social-Democratic party were to be assured.
This task was performed by Lenin.
In his book, What the "Friends of the People" Are and How They Fight Against the Social-Democrats (1894), Lenin thoroughly exposed the true character of the Narodniks, showing that they were false "friends of the people" actually working against the people.
Essentially, the Narodniks of the nineties had long ago renounced all revolutionary struggle against the tsarist government. The liberal Narodniks preached reconciliation with the tsarist government "They think," Lenin wrote in reference to the Narodniks of that period, "that if they simply plead with this government nicely enough and humbly enough, it will put everything right." (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 413.)*
The Narodniks of the nineties shut their eyes to the condition of the poor peasants, to the class struggle in the countryside, and to the exploitation of the poor peasants by the kulaks, and sang praises to the development of kulak farming. As a matter of fact they voiced the interests of the kulaks.
At the same time, the Narodniks in their periodicals baited the Marxists. They deliberately distorted and falsified the views of the Russian Marxists and claimed that the latter desired the ruin of the countryside and wanted "every muzhik to be stewed in the factory kettle." Lenin exposed the falsity of the Narodnik criticism and pointed out that it was not a matter of the "wishes" of the Marxists, but of the fact that capitalism was actually developing in Russia and that this development was inevitably accompanied by a growth of the proletariat. And the proletariat would be the gravedigger of the capitalist system.
Lenin showed that it was the Marxists and not the Narodniks who were the real friends of the people, that it was the Marxists who wanted to throw off the capitalist and landlord yoke, to destroy tsardom.
In his book, What the "Friends of the People" Are, Lenin for the first time advanced the idea of a revolutionary alliance of the workers and peasants as the principal means of overthrowing tsardom, the landlords and the bourgeoisie.
In a number of his writings during this period Lenin criticized the methods of political struggle employed by the principal Narodnik group, the "Narodnaya Volya," and later by the successors of the Narodniks, the Socialist-Revolutionaries – especially the tactics of individual terrorism. Lenin considered these tactics harmful to the revolutionary movement, for they substituted the struggle of individual heroes for the struggle of the masses. They signified a lack of confidence in the revolutionary movement of the people.
In the book, What the "Friends of the People" Are, Lenin outlined the main tasks of the Russian Marxists. In his opinion, the first duty of the Russian Marxists was to weld the disunited Marxist circles into a united Socialist workers' party. He further pointed out that it would be the working class of Russia, in alliance with the peasantry, that would overthrow the tsarist autocracy, after which the Russian proletariat, in alliance with the labouring and exploited masses, would, along with the proletariat of other countries, take the straight road of open political struggle to the victorious Communist revolution.
Thus, over forty years ago, Lenin correctly pointed out to the working class its path of struggle, defined its role as the foremost revolutionary force in society, and that of the peasantry as the ally of the working class.
The struggle waged by Lenin and his followers against Narodism led to the latter's complete ideological defeat already in the nineties.
Of immense significance, too, was Lenin's struggle against "legal Marxism." It usually happens with big social movements in history that transient "fellow-travelers" fasten on them. The "legal Marxists," as they were called, were such fellow-travelers. Marxism began to spread widely throughout Russia; and so we found bourgeois intellectuals decking themselves out in a Marxist garb. They published their articles in newspapers and periodicals that were legal, that is, allowed by the tsarist government. That is why they came to be called "legal Marxists."
After their own fashion, they too fought Narodism. But they tried to make use of this fight and of the banner of Marxism in order to subordinate and adapt the working-class movement to the interests of bourgeois society, to the interests of the bourgeoisie. They cut out the very core of Marxism, namely, the doctrine of the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. One prominent legal Marxist, Peter Struve, extolled the bourgeoisie, and instead of calling for a revolutionary struggle against capitalism, urged that "we acknowledge our lack of culture and go to capitalism for schooling."
In the fight against the Narodniks Lenin considered it permissible to come to a temporary agreement with the "legal Marxists" in order to use them against the Narodniks, as, for example, for the joint publication of a collection of articles directed against the Narodniks. At the same time, however, Lenin was unsparing in his criticism of the "legal Marxists" and exposed their liberal bourgeois nature.
Many of these fellow-travelers later became Constitutional-Democrats (the principal party of the Russian bourgeoisie), and during the Civil War out-and-out White guards.
Along with the Leagues of Struggle in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and other places, Social-Democratic organizations arose also in the western national border regions of Russia. In the nineties the Marxist elements in the Polish nationalist party broke away to form the Social-Democratic Party of Poland and Lithuania. At the end of the nineties Latvian Social-Democratic organizations were formed, and in October 1897 the Jewish General Social-Democratic Union – known as the Bund – was founded in the western provinces of Russia.
In 1898 several of the Leagues of Struggle – those of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and Ekaterinoslav – together with the Bund made the first attempt to unite and form a Social-Democratic party. For this purpose they summoned the First Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (R.S.D.L.P.), which was held in Minsk in March 1898.
The First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. was attended by only nine persons. Lenin was not present because at that time he was living in exile in Siberia. The Central Committee of the Party elected at the congress was very soon arrested. The Manifesto published in the name of the congress was in many respects unsatisfactory. It evaded the question of the conquest of political power by the proletariat, it made no mention of the hegemony of the proletariat, and said nothing about the allies of the proletariat in its struggle against tsardom and the bourgeoisie.
In its decisions and in its Manifesto the congress announced the formation of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.
It is this formal act, which played a great revolutionary propagandist role, that constituted the significance of the First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.
But although the First Congress had been held, in reality no Marxist Social-Democratic Party was as yet formed in Russia. The congress did not succeed in uniting the separate Marxist circles and organizations and welding them together organizationally. There was still no common line of action in the work of the local organizations, nor was there a party program, party rules or a single leading centre.
For this and for a number of other reasons, the ideological confusion in the local organizations began to increase, and this created favourable ground for the growth within the working-class movement of the opportunist trend known as "Economism."
It required several years of intense effort on the part of Lenin and of Iskra (Spark), the newspaper he founded, before this confusion could be overcome, the opportunist vacillations put an end to, and the way prepared for the formation of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.
Lenin was not present at the First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. He was at that time in exile in Siberia, in the village of Shushenskoye, where he had been banished by the tsarist government after a long period of imprisonment in St. Petersburg in connection with the prosecution of the League of Struggle.
But Lenin continued his revolutionary activities even while in exile. There he finished a highly important scientific work, The Development of Capitalism in Russia, which completed the ideological destruction of Narodism. There, too, he wrote his well-known pamphlet, The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats.
Although Lenin was cut off from direct, practical revolutionary work, he nevertheless managed to maintain some connections with those engaged in this work; he carried on a correspondence with them from exile, obtained information from them and gave them advice. At this time Lenin was very much preoccupied with the "Economists." He realized better than anybody else that "Economism" was the main nucleus of compromise and opportunism, and that if "Economism" were to gain the upper hand in the working-class movement, it would undermine the revolutionary movement of the proletariat and lead to the defeat of Marxism.
Lenin therefore started a vigorous attack on the "Economists" as soon as they appeared on the scene.
The "Economists" maintained that the workers should engage only in the economic struggle; as to the political struggle, that should be left to the liberal bourgeoisie, whom the workers should support. In Lenin's eyes this tenet was a desertion of Marxism, a denial of the necessity for an independent political party of the working class, an attempt to convert the working class into a political appendage of the bourgeoisie.
In 1899 a group of "Economists" (Prokopovich, Kuskova and others, who later became Constitutional-Democrats) issued a manifesto in which they opposed revolutionary Marxism, and insisted that the idea of an independent political party of the proletariat and of independent political demands by the working class be renounced. The "Economists" held that the political struggle was a matter for the liberal bourgeoisie, and that as far as the workers were concerned, the economic struggle against the employers was enough for them.
When Lenin acquainted himself with this opportunist document he called a conference of Marxist political exiles living in the vicinity. Seventeen of them met and, headed by Lenin, issued a trenchant protest denouncing the views of the "Economists."
This protest, which was written by Lenin, was circulated among the Marxist organizations all over the country and played an outstanding part in the development of Marxist ideas and of the Marxist party in Russia.
The Russian "Economists" advocated the same views as the opponents of Marxism in the Social-Democratic parties abroad who were known as the Bernsteinites, that is, followers of the opportunist Bernstein.
Lenin's struggle against the "Economists" was therefore at the same time a struggle against opportunism on an international scale.
The fight against "Economism," the fight for the creation of an independent political party of the proletariat, was chiefly waged by Iskra, the illegal newspaper founded by Lenin.
At the beginning of 1900, Lenin and other members of the League of Struggle returned from their Siberian exile to Russia. Lenin conceived the idea of founding a big illegal Marxist newspaper on an all-Russian scale. The numerous small Marxist circles and organizations which already existed in Russia were not yet linked up. At a moment when, in the words of Comrade Stalin, "amateurishness and the parochial outlook of the circles were corroding the Party from top to bottom, when ideological confusion was the characteristic feature of the internal life of the Party," the creation of an illegal newspaper on an all-Russian scale was the chief task of the Russian revolutionary Marxists. Only such a newspaper could link up the disunited Marxist organizations and prepare the way for the creation of a real party.
But such a newspaper could not be published in tsarist Russia owing to police persecution. Within a month or two at most the tsar's sleuths would get on its track and smash it. Lenin therefore decided to publish the newspaper abroad. There it was printed on very thin but durable paper and secretly smuggled into Russia. Some of the issues of Iskra were reprinted in Russia by secret printing plants in Baku, Kishinev and Siberia.
In the autumn of 1900 Lenin went abroad to make arrangements with the comrades in the "Emancipation of Labour" group for the publication of a political newspaper on an all-Russian scale. The idea had been worked out by Lenin in all its details while he was in exile. On his way back from exile he had held a number of conferences on the subject in Ufa, Pskov, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Everywhere he made arrangements with the comrades about codes for secret correspondence, addresses to which literature could be sent, and so on, and discussed with them plans for the future struggle.
The tsarist government scented a most dangerous enemy in Lenin. Zubatov, an officer of gendarmes in the tsarist Okhrana, expressed the opinion in a confidential report that "there is nobody bigger than Ulyanov [Lenin] in the revolution today," in view of which he considered it expedient to have Lenin assassinated.
Abroad, Lenin came to an arrangement with the "Emancipation of Labour" group, namely, with Plekhanov, Axelrod and V. Zasulich, for the publication of Iskra under joint auspices. The whole plan of publication from beginning to end had been worked out by Lenin.
The first issue of Iskra appeared abroad in December 1900. The title page bore the epigraph: "The Spark Will Kindle a Flame." These words were taken from the reply of the Decembrists to the poet Pushkin who had sent greetings to them in their place of exile in Siberia.
And indeed, from the spark (Iskra) started by Lenin there subsequently flamed up the great revolutionary conflagration in which the tsarist monarchy of the landed nobility, and the power of the bourgeoisie were reduced to ashes.
The Marxist Social-Democratic Labour Party in Russia was formed in a struggle waged in the first place against Narodism and its views, which were erroneous and harmful to the cause of revolution.
Only by ideologically shattering the views of the Narodniks was it possible to clear the way for a Marxist workers' party in Russia. A decisive blow to Narodism was dealt by Plekhanov and his "Emancipation of Labour" group in the eighties.
Lenin completed the ideological defeat of Narodism and dealt it the final blow in the nineties.
The "Emancipation of Labour" group, founded in 1883, did a great deal for the dissemination of Marxism in Russia; it laid the theoretical foundations for Social-Democracy and took the first step to establish connection with the working-class movement.
With the development of capitalism in Russia the industrial proletariat rapidly grew in numbers. In the middle of the eighties the working class adopted the path of organized struggle, of mass action in the form of organized strikes. But the Marxist circles and groups only carried on propaganda and did not realize the necessity for passing to mass agitation among the working class; they therefore still had no practical connection with the working-class movement and did not lead it.
The St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, which Lenin formed in 1895 and which started mass agitation among the workers and led mass strikes, marked a new stage – the transition to mass agitation among the workers and the union of Marxism with the working-class movement. The St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class was the rudiment of a revolutionary proletarian party in Russia. The formation of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle was followed by the formation of Marxist organizations in all the principal industrial centres as well as in the border regions.
In 1898 at the First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. the first, although unsuccessful, attempt was made to unite the Marxist Social-Democratic organizations into a party. But this congress did not yet create a party : there was neither a party program nor party rules; there was no single leading centre, and there was scarcely any connection between the separate Marxist circles and groups.
In order to unite and link together the separate Marxist organizations into a single party, Lenin put forward and carried out a plan for the founding of Iskra, the first newspaper of the revolutionary Marxists on an all-Russian scale.
The principal opponents to the creation of a single political working-class party at that period were the "Economists." They denied the necessity for such a party. They fostered the disunity and amateurish methods of the separate groups. It was against them that Lenin and the newspaper Iskra organized by him directed their blows.The appearance of the first issues of Iskra (1900-0I) marked a transition to a new period – a period in which a single Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party was really formed from the disconnected groups and circles.