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New Events and Old Questions

V. I. Lenin

To all appearances the brief "lull" which has marked our revolutionary movement for the past six to nine months, as distinguished from its previous rapid and stormy development, is drawing to a close. However brief this "lull" may have been, however obvious it has been to every careful and informed observer that the absence (for so short a time) of open manifestations of mass indignation among the workers by no means signifies a stop in the growth of this indignation both in depth and in extent, numerous voices have nevertheless been raised among our intelligentsia—who are revolutionary in spirit but frequently have neither firm ties with the working class nor a sound foundation of definite socialist convictions—expressing despondency and a lack of faith in the mass working-class movement, on the one hand, and, on the other, calling for a repetition of the old tactics of individual, political assassinations as a necessary and obligatory method of political struggle at the present time. During the few months that have elapsed since the demonstrations of the previous season, a "party" of "Socialist-Revolutionaries" has had time to arise in our country, and has begun to declaim loudly that demonstrations have a discouraging effect, that "the people, alas, are still a long way off," and that it is easy, of course, to speak and write of arming the masses, but that now it is necessary to get down to "individual resistance" without trying to wriggle out of the urgent necessity of individual terror by obsolete references to one and the same old task (so dull and "uninteresting" to the intellectual who is free from "dogmatic" faith in the working-class movement!) of carrying on agitation among the proletarian masses and organising a mass onslaught.

But what at first sight seemed a most ordinary and "common place" strike suddenly broke out in Rostov-on-Don and led to events which manifestly demonstrated the utter stupidity and harmfulness of the Socialist-Revolutionaries' attempt to restore the Narodnaya Volya movement with all its theoretical and tactical mistakes. The strike, which Involved many thousands of workers and began with demands of a purely economic nature, rapidly developed into a political event, despite the extreme dearth of organised revolutionary forces participating in it. Crowds of people which, according to some participants, numbered between twenty and thirty thousand, held astonishingly serious and well-organised political meetings where Social-Democratic leaf lets were read and eagerly discussed, political speeches were delivered, the most casual and untrained representatives of the working people were told the elementary truths of socialism and the political struggle, and practical and "object" lessons were given on how to deal with the soldiers and how to appeal to them. The authorities and the police lost their heads (perhaps partly because the soldiers could not be relied on?) and for several days proved unable to interfere with the organising of open-air political mass gatherings, the like of which had never before been seen in Russia. When armed force was finally brought in, the crowd offered desperate resistance, and the murder of a comrade served as the occasion for a political demonstration at his funeral the following day.... The Socialist-Revolutionaries, however, most likely see the thing in a different light; from their standpoint it would perhaps have been "more expedient" if the six comrades murdered in Rostov had given their lives in an attempt on the lives of individual police tyrants.

We, however, are of the opinion that it is only such mass movements, in which mounting political consciousness and revolutionary activity are openly manifested to all by the working class, that deserve to be called genuinely revolutionary acts and are capable of really encouraging everyone who is fighting for the Russian revolution. What we see here is not the much-vaunted "individual resistance," whose only connection with the masses consists of verbal declarations, publication of sentences passed, etc. What we see is genuine resistance on the part of the crowd; and the lack of organisation, unpreparedness and spontaneity of this resistance remind us how unwise it is to exaggerate our revolutionary forces and how criminal it is to neglect the task of steadily improving the organisation and preparedness of this crowd, which is waging an actual struggle before our very eyes. The only task worthy of a revolutionary is to learn to elaborate, utilise and make our own the material which Russian life furnishes in only too great sufficiency, rather than fire a few shots in order to create pretexts for stimulating the masses, and material for agitation and for political reflection. The Socialist-Revolutionaries cannot find enough praise of the great "agitational" effect of political assassinations, about which there is so much whispering both in the drawing-rooms of the liberals and in the taverns of the common people. It is nothing to them (since they are free of all narrow dogmas on anything even approximating a definite socialist theory!) to stage a political sensation as a substitute (or, at least, as a supplement) for the political education of the proletariat. We, however, consider that the only events that can have a real and serious "agitational" (stimulating), and not only stimulating but also (and this is far more important) educational, effect are events in which the masses themselves are the actors, events which are born of the sentiments of the masses and not staged "for a special purpose" by one organisation or another. We believe that even a hundred regicides can never produce so stimulating and educational an effect as this participation of tens of thousands of working people in meetings where their vital interests and the links between politics and these interests are discussed, and as this participation in a struggle, which really rouses ever new and "untapped" sections of the proletariat to greater political consciousness, to a broader revolutionary struggle. We are told of the disorganisation of the government (which has been obliged to replace Messrs. the Sipyagins by Messrs. the Plehves and to "select" the vilest scoundrels to serve it), but we are convinced that to sacrifice one revolutionary, even in exchange for ten scoundrels, means only disorganising our own ranks, which are thin as it is, so thin that they cannot keep up with all that is "demanded" of them by the workers. We believe that the government is truly disorganised when, and only when, the broad masses, genuinely organised by the struggle itself, plunge the government into a state of confusion; when the legitimacy of the demands of the progressive elements of the working class becomes apparent to the crowd in the street and begins to be clear even to part of the troops called out for the purpose of "pacification"; when military action against tens of thousands of the people is preceded by wavering among the authorities, who have no way of really knowing what this military action will lead to; when the crowd see and feel that those who have fallen on the field of civil war are their comrades, a part of themselves, and are filled with new wrath and a desire to grapple more decisively with the enemy. Here it is no longer some scoundrel, but the existing system as a whole that comes out as the enemy of the people, against whom are arrayed the local and the St. Petersburg authorities, the police, the Cossacks, and the troops, to say nothing of the gendarmes and the courts which, as ever, supplement and complete the picture in every popular uprising.

Yes, uprising. However far the beginning of what seemed to be a strike movement in a remote provincial town was from a "genuine" uprising, its continuation and its finale nevertheless evoke involuntary thoughts of an uprising. The prosaic motive for the strike and the minor nature of the demands presented by the workers throw into particularly bold relief, not only the mighty power of the solidarity of the proletariat, which at once saw that the railway workers' struggle was the common cause of the proletarians, but also its receptiveness of political ideas and political propaganda, and its readiness to defend with might and main, in open battle with the troops, those rights to a free life and free development which all thinking workers have already come to consider common and elementary. And the Don Committee was a thousand times right when it declared in its proclamation, "To All Citizens," which we print in full elsewhere in this issue, that the Rostov strike was one of the steps towards a general upsurge among the Russian workers with the demand for political liberty[1]. In events of this sort we really see with our own eyes how an armed uprising of the whole people against the autocratic government is maturing, not only as an idea in the minds and programmes of the revolutionaries, but also as the inevitable, natural and practical next step of the movement itself, as the result of the growing indignation, growing experience, and growing boldness of the masses, who are being given such valuable lessons, such a splendid education by the realities of Russian life.

An inevitable and natural step, I have said—and I hasten to make the reservation: if only we do not permit ourselves to depart by a single step from the impending and pressing task of assisting these masses, who have already begun to rise, to act more boldly and concertedly; of giving them not a couple but dozens of open-air speakers and leaders; of creating a real, militant organisation capable of guiding the masses, and not a so-called "combat organisation" that guides elusive individuals (if it does guide them at all). That this is a difficult task goes without saying, but we can quite justifiably adapt Marx's words which have so frequently and so ineptly been quoted of late, and say: "Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen" individual attempts and cases of resistance, more important than a hundred organisations and "parties" belonging only to the intelligentsia.[2]

Besides the Rostov fighting, the penal sentences passed on demonstrators are outstanding among recent political events. The government has decided to use every possible method of intimidation, from floggings to penal servitude. And what a splendid reply it received from the workers, whose speeches in court we give below[3]; how instructive this reply is to all those who were especially loud in their outcries about the discouraging effect of demonstrations, not because they wanted to encourage further work in this direction, but because they wanted to preach much-vaunted individual resistance! These speeches, coming as they do from the very thick of the proletariat, are excellent commentaries on events like those in Rostov, and, at the same time, they are remarkable statements ("public manifestations," I would say if this were not so specifically police terminology), imbuing with boundless vigour the long and difficult work for the "real" steps of the movement. What is remarkable in these speeches is the simple, authentically precise description of how the most everyday facts, occurring in scores and hundreds 01 millions, of the "misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation" of the workers in present-day society lead to the awakening of their consciousness, to their growing "revolt," to a revolutionary expression of this revolt (I have put in quotation marks the words I had to use in describing the speeches of the Nizhni-Novgorod workers, for they are the famous words which Marx uses in the last pages of the first volume of Capital, and which evoked such clamorous and unsuccessful attempts on the part of the "critics," opportunists, revisionists, etc., to refute the Social-Democrats and accuse them of not telling the truth).

For the very reason that these speeches came from ordinary workers by no means advanced in their development, workers who did not even speak as members of any particular organisation, but simply as men in the crowd, for the very reason that they stressed not their personal convictions but facts from the life of every proletarian or semi-proletarian in Russia, for that very reason their conclusions are so inspiring: "that is why we consciously went to the demonstration against the autocratic government." The ordinariness and "mass character" of the facts from which they drew their conclusions are a guarantee that thousands, tens and hundreds of thousands, can and inevitably will come to the same conclusion, provided we prove capable of continuing, extending, and strengthening systematic, theoretically consistent, and all-round revolutionary (Social Democratic) influence over them. We are ready to be condemned to penal servitude for fighting against political and economic slavery now that we have felt the breath of liberty, said four workers from Nizhni-Novgorod. And thousands of workers in Rostov, who for several days won for themselves the right to hold political gatherings, fighting off a series of attacks on the part of the soldiers against the unarmed crowd, repeated after them as It were: we are ready to face death.

By this sign shall ye conquer, is all that remains for us to say to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.


[1] The proclamation of the Don Committee of the R.S.D.L.P., "To All Citizens," dated November 6, 1902, was reprinted by Iskra, No. 29, December 1, 1902.

[2] Lenin is referring to the following passage from Karl Marx's letter to Wilhelm Bracke, of May 5, 1875: "Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes" (see Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, p. 16).

[3] Lenin is referring to the speeches made in court on October 28-31 (November 10-13), 1902, by Nizhni-Novgorod workers on trial for taking part in demonstrations on May I and 5 (14 and 18), 1902. The speeches were originally published as a separate leaflet by the Nizhni-Novgorod Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.; they were later reprinted by Iskra (No. 29, December 1, 1902) under the heading "Nizhni-Novgorod Workers in Court" and issued as a separate pamphlet.

Published: Iskra, No. 29, December 1, 1902.
Published according to the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 6, pages 278-283.

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