V. I. Lenin
International Social-Democracy is at present in a state of ideological wavering. Hitherto the doctrines of Marx and Engels were considered to be the firm foundation of revolutionary theory, but voices are now being raised every where to proclaim these doctrines inadequate and obsolete. Whoever declares himself to be a Social-Democrat and intends to publish a Social-Democratic organ must define precisely his attitude to a question that is preoccupying the attention of the German Social-Democrats and not of them alone.
We take our stand entirely on the Marxist theoretical position: Marxism was the first to transform socialism from a utopia into a science, to lay a firm foundation for this science, and to indicate the path that must be followed in further developing and elaborating it in all its parts. It disclosed the nature of modern capitalist economy by explaining how the hire of the labourer, the purchase of labour-power, conceals the enslavement of millions of propertyless people by a handful of capitalists, the owners of the land, factories, mines, and so forth. It showed that all modern capitalist development displays the tendency of large-scale production to eliminate petty production and creates conditions that make a socialist system of society possible and necessary. It taught us how to discern, beneath the pall of rooted customs, political intrigues, abstruse laws, and intricate doctrines—the class struggle, the struggle between the propertied classes in all their variety and the propertyless mass, the proletariat, which is at the head of all the propertyless. It made clear the real task of a revolutionary socialist party: not to draw up plans for refashioning society, not to preach to the capitalists and their hangers-on about improving the lot of the workers, not to hatch conspiracies, but to organise the class struggle of the proletariat and to lead this struggle, the ultimate aim of which is the conquest of political power by the proletariat and the organisation of a socialist society.
And we now ask: Has anything new been introduced into this theory by its loud-voiced “renovators” who are raising so much noise in our day and have grouped themselves around the German socialist Bernstein? Absolutely nothing. Not by a single step have they advanced the science which Marx and Engels enjoined us to develop; they have not taught the proletariat any new methods of struggle; they have only retreated, borrowing fragments of backward theories and preaching to the proletariat, not the theory of struggle, but the theory of concession—concession to the most vicious enemies of the proletariat, the governments and bourgeois parties who never tire of seeking new means of baiting the socialists. Plekhanov, one of the founders and leaders of Russian Social-Democracy, was entirely right in ruthlessly criticising Bernstein’s latest “critique”; the views of Bern stein have now been rejected by the representatives of the German workers as well (at the Hannover Congress).
We anticipate a flood of accusations for these words; the shouts will rise that we want to convert the socialist party into an order of “true believers” that persecutes “heretics” for deviations from “dogma,” for every independent opinion, and so forth. We know about all these fashionable and trenchant phrases. Only there is not a grain of truth or sense in them. There can be no strong socialist party without a revolutionary theory which unites all socialists, from which they draw all their convictions, and which they apply in their methods of struggle and means of action. To defend such a theory, which to the best of your knowledge you consider to be true, against unfounded attacks and at tempts to corrupt it is not to imply that you are an enemy of all criticism. We do not regard Marx’s theory as some thing completed and inviolable; on the contrary, we arc convinced that it has only laid the foundation stone of the science which socialists must develop in all directions if they wish to keep pace with life. We think that an independent elaboration of Marx’s theory is especially essential for Russian socialists; for this theory provides only general guiding principles, which, in particular, are applied in England differently than in France, in France differently than in Germany, and in Germany differently than in Russia. We shall therefore gladly afford space in our paper for articles on theoretical questions and we invite all comrades openly to discuss controversial points.
What are the main questions that arise in the application to Russia of the programme common to all Social-Democrats? We have stated that the essence of this programme is to organise the class struggle of the proletariat and to lead this struggle, the ultimate aim of which is the conquest of political power by the proletariat and the establishment of a socialist society. The class struggle of the proletariat comprises the economic struggle (struggle against individual capitalists or against individual groups of capitalists for the improvement of the workers’ condition) and the political struggle (struggle against the government for the broadening of the people’s rights, i.e., for democracy, and for the broadening of the political power of the proletariat). Some Russian Social-Democrats (among them apparently those who direct Rabochaya Mysl) regard the economic struggle as incomparably the more important and almost go so far as to relegate the political struggle to the more or less distant future. This standpoint is utterly false. All Social- Democrats are agreed that it is necessary to organise the economic struggle of the working class, that it is necessary to carry on agitation among the workers on this basis, i.e., to help the workers in their day-to-day struggle against the employers, to draw their attention to every form and every case of oppression and in this way to make clear to them the necessity for combination. But to forget the political struggle for the economic would mean to depart from the basic principle of international Social-Democracy, it would mean to forget what the entire history of the labour movement teaches us. The confirmed adherents of the bourgeoisie and of the government which serves it have even made repeated attempts to organise purely economic unions of workers and to divert them in this way from “politics,” from socialism. It is quite possible that the Russian Government, too, may undertake something of the kind, as it has always endeavoured to throw some paltry sops or, rather, sham sops, to the people, only to turn their thoughts away from the fact that they are oppressed and without rights. No economic struggle can bring the workers any lasting improvement, or can even be conducted on a large scale, unless the workers have the right freely to organise meetings and unions, to have their own newspapers, and to send their representatives to the national assemblies, as do the workers in Germany and all other European countries (with the exception of Turkey and Russia). But in order to win these rights it is necessary to wage a political struggle. In Russia, not only the workers, but all citizens are deprived of political rights. Russia is an absolute and unlimited monarchy. The tsar alone promulgates laws, appoints officials and controls them. For this reason, it seems as though in Russia the tsar and the tsarist government are independent of all classes and accord equal treatment to all. But in reality all officials are chosen exclusively from the proper tied class and all are subject to the influence of the big capitalists, who make the ministers dance to their tune and who achieve whatever they want. The Russian working class is burdened by a double yoke; it is robbed and plundered by the capitalists and the landlords, and to prevent it from fighting them, the police bind it hand and foot, gag it, and every attempt to defend the rights of the people is persecuted. Every strike against a capitalist results in the military and police being let loose on the workers. Every economic struggle necessarily becomes a political struggle, and Social-Democracy must indissolubly combine the one with the other into a single class struggle of the proletariat. The first and chief aim of such a struggle must be the conquest of political rights, the conquest of political liberty. If the workers of St. Petersburg alone, with a little help from the socialists, have rapidly succeeded in wringing a concession from the government—the adoption of the law on the reduction of the working day—then the Russian working class as a whole, led by a single Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, will be able, in persistent struggle, to win incomparably more important concessions.
The Russian working class is able to wage its economic and political struggle alone, even if no other class comes to its aid. But in the political struggle the workers do not stand alone. The people’s complete lack of rights and the savage lawlessness of the bashi-bazouk officials rouse the indignation of all honest educated people who cannot reconcile themselves to the persecution of free thought and free speech; they rouse the indignation of the persecuted Poles, Finns, Jews, and Russian religious sects; they rouse the indignation of the small merchants, manufacturers, and peasants, who can nowhere find protection from the persecution of officials and police. All these groups of the population are incapable, separately, of carrying on a persistent political struggle. But when the working class raises the banner of this struggle, it will receive support from all sides. Russian Social-Democracy will place itself at the head of all fighters for the rights of the people, of all fighters for democracy, and it will prove invincible!
These are our fundamental views, and we shall develop them systematically and from every aspect in our paper. We are convinced that in this way we shall tread the path which has been indicated by the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in its published Manifesto.
The reference is to Plekhanov’s article, “Bernstein and Materialism,” published in issue No. 44 of Neue Zeit (New Times), organ of the German Social-Democrats, in July 1898.
The Hannover Congress of the German Social-Democrats was held in 1899 from September 27 to October 2 (October 9-14). In the discussion of the chief point on the agenda, “The Attack on the Fundamental Views and Tactics of the Party,” the Congress voted against Bernstein’s revisionist views, without, however, subjecting them to an extensive criticism.
The law of June 2 (14), 1897, establishing an eleven-and-a-half- hour day for industrial enterprises and railway workshops. Prior to this the working day in Russia had not been regulated and was as long as fourteen or fifteen hours. The tsarist government was forced to issue the June 2 law because of pressure on the part of the working-class movement headed by the Leninist “League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class.” Lenin made a detailed analysis and criticism of the law in a pamphlet entitled The New Factory Law (see present edition, Vol. 2, pp. 267-315).
Articles for “Rabochaya Gazeta”
Written: Written in the second half of 1899
Published: First published in 1925 in Lenin Miscellany III.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 4, pages 205-226.
Lenin wrote "Our Programme", "Our Immediate Task" and "An Urgent Question" during his exile. He intended the articles for Rabochaya Gazeta, which had been adopted as official organ of the Party at the First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. An attempt to renew the publication of the newspaper was made in 1899 and the editorial group proposed to Lenin that be assume the editor ship; later it invited him to collaborate. Lenin sent the articles with the letter to the editorial group. The attempt to renew publication was unsuccessful and the articles were never printed.