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An Urgent Question

In the previous article we said that our immediate task is to establish a Party organ, one that appears and can be delivered regularly, and we raised the question of whether and under what circumstances it is possible to achieve this aim. Let us examine the more important aspects of this question.

The main objection that may be raised is that the achievement of this purpose first requires the development of local group activity. We consider this fairly widespread opinion to be fallacious. We can and must immediately set about founding the Party organ—and, it follows, the Party itself—and putting them on a sound footing. The conditions essential to such a step already exist: local Party work is being carried on and obviously has struck deep roots; for the destructive police attacks that are growing more frequent lead to only short interruptions; fresh forces rapidly replace those that have fallen in battle. The Party has resources for publishing and literary forces, not only abroad, but in Russia as well. The question, therefore, is whether the work that is already being conducted should be continued in “amateur” fashion or whether it should be organised into the work of one party and in such a way that it is reflected in its entirety in one common organ.

Here we come to the most urgent question of our movement, to its sore point—organisation. The improvement of revolutionary organisation and discipline, the perfection of our underground technique are an absolute necessity. We must openly admit that in this respect we are lagging behind the old Russian revolutionary parties and must bend all our efforts to overtake and surpass them. Without improved organisation there can be no progress of our working-class movement in general, and no establishment of an active party with a properly functioning organ, in particular. That is on the one hand. On the other, the existing Party organs (organs in the sense of institutions and groups, as well as newspapers) must pay greater attention to questions of organisation and exert an influence in this respect on local groups.

Local, amateurish work always leads to a great excess of personal connections, to study-circle methods, and we have grown out of the study-circle stage which has become too narrow for our present-day work and which leads to an over-expenditure of forces. Only fusion into a single party will enable us strictly to observe the principles of division of labour and economy of forces, which must be achieved in order to reduce the losses and build as reliable a bulwark as possible against the oppression of the autocratic government and against its frantic persecutions. Against us, against the tiny groups of socialists hidden in the expanses of the Russian “underground,” there stands the huge machine of a most powerful modern state that is exerting all its forces to crush socialism and democracy. We are convinced that we shall, in the end, smash that police state, because all the sound and developing sections of our society are in favour of democracy and socialism; but, in order to conduct a systematic struggle against the government, we must raise revolutionary organisation, discipline, and the technique of underground work to the highest degree of perfection. It is essential for individual Party members or separate groups of members to specialise in the different aspects of Party work—some in the duplication of literature, others in its transport across the frontier, a third category in its distribution inside Russia, a fourth in its distribution in the cities, a fifth in the arrangement of secret meeting places, a sixth in the collection of funds, a seventh in the delivery of correspondence and all information about the movement, an eighth in maintaining relations, etc., etc. We know that this sort of specialisation requires much greater self-restraint, much greater ability to concentrate on modest, unseen, everyday work, much greater real heroism than the usual work in study circles.

The Russian socialists and the Russian working class, however, have shown their heroic qualities and, in general, it would be a sin to complain of a shortage of people. There is to be observed among the working youth an impassioned, uncontrollable enthusiasm for the ideas of democracy and socialism, and helpers for the workers still continue to arrive from among the intellectuals, despite the fact that the prisons and places of exile are overcrowded. If the idea of the necessity for a stricter organisation is made widely known among all these recruits to the revolutionary cause, the plan for the organisation of a regularly published and delivered Party newspaper will cease to be a dream. Let us take one of the conditions for the success of this plan—that the news paper be assured a regular supply of correspondence and other material from everywhere. Has not history shown that at all times when there has been a resurgence of our revolutionary movement such a purpose has proved possible of achievement even in respect of papers published abroad? If Social-Democrats working in various localities come to regard the Party newspaper as their own and consider the maintenance of regular contact with it, the discussion of their problems and the reflection of the whole movement in it to be their main task, it will be quite possible to ensure the supply to the paper of full information about the movement, provided methods of maintaining secrecy, not very complicated ones, are observed. The other aspect of the question, that of delivering the newspaper regularly to all parts of Russia, is much more difficult, more difficult than the similar task under previous forms of revolutionary movement in Russia when newspapers were not, to such an extent, intended for the masses of the people. The purpose of Social-Democratic newspapers, however, facilitates their distribution. The chief places to which the newspaper must be delivered regularly and in large numbers are the industrial centres, factory villages and towns, the factory districts of big cities, etc. In such centres the population is almost entirely working class; in actual fact the worker in such places is master of the situation and has hundreds of ways of outwitting the police; relations with neighbouring factory centres are distinguished by their extraordinary activity. At the time of the Exceptional Law against the Socialists (1878-90)[2] the German political police did not function worse, but probably better, than the Russian police; nevertheless, the German workers, thanks to their organisation and discipline, were able to ensure the regular transport across the frontiers of a weekly illegal newspaper and to deliver it to the houses of all subscribers, so that even the ministers could not refrain from admiring the Social-Democratic post (“the red mail”). We do not, of course, dream of such successes, but we can, if we bend our efforts towards it, ensure that our Party newspaper appears no less than twelve times a year and is regularly delivered in all the main centres of the movement to all groups of workers that can be reached by socialism.

To return to the question of specialisation, we must also point out that its insufficiency is due partially to the dominance of “amateur’ work and partially to the fact that our Social-Democratic newspapers usually devote far too little attention to questions of organisation.

Only the establishment of a common Party organ can give the “worker in a given field” of revolutionary activity the consciousness that he is marching with the “rank and file,” the consciousness that his work is directly essential to the Party, that he is one of the links in the chain that will form a noose to strangle the most evil enemy of the Russian proletariat and of the whole Russian people—the Russian autocratic government. Only strict adherence to this type of specialisation can economise our forces; not only will every aspect of revolutionary work be carried out by a smaller number of people, but there will be an opportunity to make a number of aspects of present-day activities legal affairs. This legalisation of activity, its conduct within the framework of the law, has long been advised for Russian socialists by Vorwärts (Forward)[3], the chief organ of the German Social-Democrats. At first sight one is astonished at such advice, but in actual fact it merits careful attention. Almost everyone who has worked in a local study circle in some city will easily remember that among the numerous and diverse affairs in which the circle engaged some were, in themselves, legal (e.g. the gathering of information on the workers’ conditions; the study of legal literature on many questions; consultation and reviewing of certain types of foreign literature; maintenance of certain kinds of relations; aid to workers in obtaining a general education, in studying factory laws, etc.). Making affairs of this sort the specific function of a special contingent of people would reduce the strength of the revolutionary army “in the firing line” (without any reduction of its “fighting potential”) and increase the strength of the reserve, those who replace the “killed and wounded.” This will be possible only when both the active members and the reserve see their activities reflected in the common organ of the Party and sense their connection with it. Local meetings of workers and local groups will, of course, always be necessary, no matter to what extent we carry out our specialisation; but, on the one hand, the number of mass revolutionary meetings (particularly dangerous from the standpoint of police action and often having results far from commensurate with the danger involved) will become considerably less and, on the other hand, the selection of various aspects of revolutionary work as special functions will provide greater opportunities to screen such meetings behind legal forms of assembly: entertainments, meetings of societies sanctioned by law, etc. Were not the French workers under Napoleon III and the German workers at the time of the Exceptional Law against the Socialists able to devise all possible ways to cover up their political and socialist meetings? Russian workers will be able to do likewise.

Further: only by better organisation and the establishment of a common Party organ will it be possible to extend and deepen the very content of Social-Democratic propaganda and agitation. We stand in great need of this. Local work must almost inevitably lead to the exaggeration of local particularities, to . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .[1] this is impossible without a central organ which will, at the same time, be an advanced democratic organ. Only then will our urge to convert Social-Democracy into a leading fighter for democracy become reality. Only then, too, shall we be able to work out definite political tactics. Social- Democracy has renounced the fallacious theory of the “one reactionary mass.” It regards utilisation of the support of the progressive classes against the reactionary classes to be one of the most important political tasks. As long as the organisations and publications are local in character, this task can hardly be carried out at all: matters do not go farther than relations with individual “liberals” and the extraction of various “services” from them. Only a common Party organ, consistently implementing the principles of political struggle and holding high the banner of democracy will be able to win over to its side all militant democratic elements and use all Russia’s progressive forces in the struggle for political freedom. Only then shall we be able to convert the workers’ smouldering hatred of the police and the authorities into conscious hatred of the autocratic government and into determination to conduct a desperate struggle for the rights of the working class and of the entire Russian people! In modern Russia, a strictly organised revolutionary party built up on this foundation will prove the greatest political force!

* * *

In subsequent issues we shall publish the draft programme of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party and begin a more detailed discussion of the various organisational questions.


[1] Part of the manuscript is not extant.—Ed.

[2] The Exceptional Law Against the Socialists was promulgated in Germany in 1878. The law suppressed all organisations of the Social-Democratic Party, mass working-class organisations, and the labour press; socialist literature was confiscated and the banishing of socialists began. The law was annulled in 1890 under pressure of the mass working-class movement.

[3] Vorwärts (Forward)—the central organ of German Social-Democracy; it was first published in 1876 and was edited by Wilhelm Liebknecht and others. Engels made use of its columns for the struggle against all manifestations of opportunism. From the middle nineties, however, after the death of Engels, Vorwärts began regularly to print articles of the opportunists, who predominated in German Social-Democracy and in the Second International.

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.

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