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The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats
Preface to the Second Edition

V. I. Lenin

Exactly five years have passed since the writing of the present pamphlet, which is now appearing in its second edition to meet our agitational requirements. In this brief period such tremendous progress has been made by our young working-class movement and such profound changes have taken place in the position of Russian Social-Democracy and in its strength that it may perhaps appear strange that the need should arise for an old pamphlet simply to be republished. Can it be that in 1902 the "tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats" have not changed in the least as compared with 1897? Has, then, the author himself, who at that time summed up what was still the "first experience of his Party activity, gone no step further in his views on this score?

These (or similar) questions will probably arise in the mind of many a reader, and to answer them we must refer to the pamphlet, What Is to Be Done?, and supplement some of the remarks made there. This reference is necessary so as to show how the author presented his views on Social-Democracy's present-day tasks, and supplement what is said there (pp. 31-32, 121, 138 [See present edition, Vol. 5. —Ed.]) about conditions obtaining when the pamphlet, which is now republished, was being written, and about its relation to that particular "period" in the development of Russian Social-Democracy. In all, I named four such periods in the above-mentioned pamphlet (What Is to Be Done?), the last of which referred "to the sphere of the present and, partly, of the future"; the third period was termed that of the domination (or, at least, the wide spread) of the "economist" trend, beginning with 1897-98; the second period was the name given to the years 1894-98, and the first to the years 1884-94. In the second period, in contrast to the third, we see no disagreements among the Social-Democrats themselves. At that time Social-Democracy was ideologically united, and it was then that an attempt was made to achieve the same unity in practice, in organisation (the formation of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party). At that time the main attention of the Social-Democrats was centred not on clearing up and deciding various internal Party questions (as was the case in the third period), but on the ideological struggle against the opponents of Social-Democracy, on the one hand, and on the development of practical Party work, on the other.

There was no such antagonism between the theory and the practice of the Social-Democrats as existed in the period of "economism".

The pamphlet in question reflects the specific features of the then situation and "tasks" of Social-Democracy. It calls for deeper and more widespread practical work, seeing no obstacles" whatever to this in lack of clarity on any of the general views, principles, or theories, seeing no difficulty (at that time there was none) in combining the political struggle with the economic. It addresses its explanations of principles to adherents of the Narodnaya Volya and the Narodnoye Pravo[1], who are opposed to Social-Democracy, in an endeavour to dispel the misunderstandings and prejudices which keep them away from the new movement.

So, at the present time, when the "economist" period is evidently coming to an end, the Social-Democrats' stand is again the same as it was five years ago. Of course, the tasks now confronting us are incomparably more complicated, as a result of the immense growth of the movement during this time, but the principal features of the present reproduce, on a broader base and on a larger scale, the specific features of the "second" period. The variance between our theory, programme, tactical tasks, and practical activities is disappearing in proportion to the disappearance of "economism." We can and must boldly call again for deeper and more widespread practical work, since the theoretical premises for this work have already been created to a large extent. We must again devote particular attention to non-Social-Democratic illegal trends in Russia, and here we are again confronted with trends which in essence are the very same as those of the first half of the 1890s —only much more developed, organised, and "mature."

While discarding their old vestments, the adherents of the Narodnaya Volya have transformed themselves into "Socialist-Revolutionaries," indicating, as it were, by this very name that they have stopped in mid-stream. They have broken away from the old ("Russian" socialism), but have not yet adhered to the new (Social-Democracy). The only theory of revolutionary socialism known to contemporary mankind, i.e., Marxism, has been relegated by them to the archives on the basis of bourgeois ("Socialists"!) and opportunist (-"Revolutionaries"!) criticism. In practice an absence of ideology and principles leads them to "revolutionary adventurism," which finds expression in a number of ways; their endeavours to place on a par such social sections and classes as the intelligentsia, the proletariat, and the peasantry; their noisy advocacy of "systematic" terrorism; their remarkable agrarian minimum programme (socialisation of the land, co-operatives, and attachment to the allotment. See Iskra, Nos. 23 and 24 [See pp. 186-207 of this volume. —Ed.]); their attitude towards the liberals (see Revolutsionnaya Rossiya, No. 9, and. Mr. Zhitlovsky's review of Osvobozhdeniye[2] in No. 9 of Sozialistische Monatshefte[3]), and much else with which we shall most probably have to deal more than once. In Russia there are still so many social elements and conditions fostering the instability of the intellectuals, evoking in radically-minded individuals a desire to combine the outmoded and outworn with the lifeless vogue of the day, and hindering their making common cause with the proletariat and its class struggle, that the Russian Social-Democrats will have yet to reckon with a trend or trends similar to that of the "Socialist-Revolutionaries" until the time comes when capitalist evolution and the sharpening of class contradictions will cut the ground from under their feet.

The Narodnoye Pravo followers, who in 1897 were at least just as vague (see below, pp. 20-22 [See present edition, Vol. 2, pp. 344-45. —Ed.]) as the present-day Socialist-Revolutionaries, very quickly disappeared from the scene as a consequence of this. But their "sober" idea — that of completely separating from socialism the demand for political liberty —has not died, and could not have died, for in Russia liberal democratic trends are very strong and are constantly becoming stronger among the most diverse sections of the big and petty bourgeoisie. For this reason the liberal Osvobozhdeniye, which wants to group around itself the representatives of the bourgeois opposition in Russia, has become the legitimate heir of the Narodnoye Pravo, and its definite, consistent, and mature continuator. And just as the withering and decay of the old, pre-Reform Russia, the patriarchal peasantry, and the old type of intelligentsia, who can be equally enthusiastic over the village commune, agricultural co-operatives, and "elusive" terrorism, are inevitable, so too is it inevitable for the propertied classes of capitalist Russia, the bourgeoisie, and the petty bourgeoisie, to grow and mature, with their sober liberalism, which is beginning to realise that it does not pay to maintain a dull-witted, barbarian, and costly autocratic government that offers no defence against socialism —with their demand for European forms of class struggle and class domination, with their innate (in the period of the awakening and growth of the proletariat) ambition to conceal their bourgeois class interests by denying the class struggle in general.

We thus have reason to be grateful to the liberal land-owning gentry who are endeavouring to found a "Zemstvo constitutional party." Let us first begin with the least important thing: we are grateful to them for removing Mr. Struve from Russian Social-Democracy, completing his metamorphosis from a quasi-Marxist into a liberal, helping us by a living example to demonstrate to one and all the real meaning of Bernsteinism in general and of Russian Bernsteinism in particular. Secondly, by striving to turn diverse sections of the Russian bourgeoisie into conscious liberals, Osvobozhdeniye will help us to hasten the conversion of more and more masses of workers into conscious socialists. There has been so much rambling, liberal-Narodnik quasi-socialism in our country that the new liberal trend is clearly a step forward in comparison. It will now be a simple matter to give the workers a vivid demonstration of the Russian liberal and democratic bourgeoisie, to show the need for an independent political party of the working class that would be part of international Social-Democracy; it will now be a simple matter to call on the intellectuals to make their stand absolutely clear: liberalism or Social-Democracy; half-way theories and trends will very quickly be ground down between the mill stones of these two growing and mounting "opposites." Thirdly, and this of course is most important, we shall be grateful to the liberals if through their opposition they will undermine the alliance between the autocracy and certain sections of the bourgeoisie and intelligentsia. We say "if" because by flirting with the autocracy, extolling peaceful cultural work, and by their war against "tendentious" revolutionaries, etc., the liberals are undermining not so much the autocracy, as the struggle against the autocracy. By steadily and uncompromisingly exposing all the half-heartedness of the liberals, all their attempts to flirt with the government, we shall be nullifying the effects of this treacherous aspect of the liberal-bourgeois gentle men's political activity and paralysing their left hands while ensuring the greatest results from the work of their right hands.

Thus, both the Narodnaya Volyn and the Narodnoye Pravo have made great strides in developing, defining, and giving shape to their actual aspirations and their actual nature. The struggle which in the first half of the 1890s took place among narrow circles of revolutionary youth is now reviving as a decisive struggle of mature political trends and real political parties.

In view of this, the new edition of the Tasks may perhaps prove useful also because it will remind the Party's young members of its recent past, will show how the Social-Democrats came to occupy that position among the other trends which has only now become fully defined, and will help give a clearer and more distinct picture of the essentially identical but more complex "tasks" of the present.

The Social-Democrats are now faced with the urgent task of putting an end to all dissension and wavering in their midst, of closing their ranks, and merging organisationally under the banner of revolutionary Marxism, of concentrating all their efforts so as to unite all Social-Democrats engaged in practical work, extend and deepen their activity, while at the same time devoting serious attention to explaining to the broadest possible masses of intellectuals and workers the real significance of the two above-mentioned trends, with which Social-Democracy has long had to reckon.

August 1902


[1] Narodnoye Pravo (People's Right) —an illegal organisation of Russian democratic intellectuals founded in the summer of 1893, its initiators including 0. V. Aptekman, A. I. Bogdanovich, A. V. Gedeonovsky, M. A. Natanson, and N. S. Tyutchev who had formerly belonged to the Narodnaya Volya. The members of the Narodnoye Pravo set themselves the aim of uniting all opposition forces to fight for political reforms. The organisation issued two programme documents, "Manifesto," and "An Urgent Question." In the spring of 1894 it was smashed by the tsarist government. Lenin's estimation of the Narodnoye Pravo as a political party is to be found in his "What the 'Friends of the People' Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats" (see present edition, Vol. 1, pp. 129-332), and "The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats" (see present edition, Vol. 2, pp. 323-51). Most of the members of the Narodnoye Pravo subsequently joined the Socialist-Revolutionary Party.

[2] Osvobozhdeniye (Emancipation) —a fortnightly magazine published abroad from June 18 (July 1), 1902, to October 18 (31), 1905, under the editorship of P. B. Struve. Arising out of the opposition Zemstvo movement, Osvobozhdeniye was in fact the illegal organ of the Russian liberal bourgeoisie and consistently advocated the ideas of moderate-monarchist liberalism. In 1903 the League of Emancipation developed around the magazine (taking definite shape in January 1904), and continued to exist until October 1905. Together with the Zemstvo-constitutionalists, the Osvobozhdeniye group formed the nucleus of the Cadet Party —the chief bourgeois party in Russia —which was formed in October 1905.

[3] Sozialistische Monatshefte (Socialist Monthly) —a magazine, which was the chief organ of the opportunists of German Social-Democracy and one of the organs of international opportunism. During the 1914-18 imperialist world war, it took the stand of social-chauvinism. It was published in Berlin from 1897 to 1933.

Published: First Published in December 1902 in the pamphlet issued by the League of Russian Social-Democracy Abroad.
Published according to the text in the pamphlet.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 6, pages 211-216.

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