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The Career of a Russian Terrorist

V. I. Lenin

The above is the subtitle of an article on the death of Karaulov, which Mr. Rubanovich, representative of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party[1], published in the French socialist newspaper L'Humanité[2]. It is, indeed, an instructive career.

After the events of March 1, 1881, Karaulov arrived in Paris and offered his services to the head of the Narodnaya Volya[3] to put the organisation on its feet again. The editor of the Vestnik Narodnoi Voli[4], the future renegade Tikhomirov, gave him permission. Karaulov returned to Russia with Lopatin, Sukhomlin, and others. In 1884 he was arrested in Kiev and sentenced to four years' penal servitude, although his colleagues received death sentences or penal servitude for life.

How is this "strange [in the words of Mr. Rubanovich] clemency" to be explained? Rumour had it, Mr. Rubanovich informs us, that the President of the military court was amazed by the resemblance Karaulov bore to his son, who had died in tragic circumstances. But, Mr. Rubanovich adds, "other explanations of this strange clemency" are current. However, he does not tell us what they are.[5]

But there are no doubts as to Karaulov's most recent "career". In 1905 he came out so brazenly against the revolutionaries, that the voters repudiated him in the elections to the First and the Second State Dumas. "If I have to choose between two camps," Karaulov said at a meeting (according to a report in Birzheviye Vedomosti[6]), "one of which is made up of government troops, and the other of revolutionaries with the notorious slogan of dictatorship of the proletariat, I should not hesitate to join the former against the latter." No wonder Witte interceded on behalf of this man for the reinstatement of his rights. No wonder that Karaulov gained prominence in the Third Duma as one of the most despicable counter-revolutionary Cadets, one of those who always had some hypocritical phrase ready.

The surprising thing is that there are people who consider themselves sympathisers of democracy, and who today, on the occasion of Karaulov's death, extol him as a "democrat", a "fighter", etc.

The surprising thing is that Mr. Rubanovich, who represents the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, can write in a French socialist organ that "much will be forgiven this former Socialist-Revolutionary who went over to the camp of the moderates, because he could strike the proper chord" (the reference is to the sitting of the Duma at which the Rights called Karaulov a jail-bird, and he retorted that he was proud of the fact).

To "forgive" a renegade his career because of an effective phrase is fully in the spirit of the Socialist-Revolutionaries. There are renegades from all revolutionary parties in all countries, and there are always some among them who are past masters in the art of playing for effect. But it is not often that revolutionaries, representatives of "revolutionary" parties, openly declare: "Much will be forgiven" a renegade for clever repartee. For such things to happen, it is necessary that the "revolutionary" party should include an enormous proportion of liberals with bombs. For such things to happen, it is necessary that these liberals, now left without bombs, should feel at home in "revolutionary" parties that do not in any way concern themselves with upholding revolutionary principles, revolutionary tradition, revolutionary honour and duty.

There is yet another and more profound lesson to be drawn from "the career of a Russian terrorist". It is a lesson of the class struggle; it shows that in Russia at present only revolutionary classes can serve as a prop for parties which are to any real extent revolutionary. Not Karaulov alone, but the mass of the bourgeois intelligentsia, which until recently was democratic and even revolutionary-minded, has now turned its back on democracy and the revolution. There is nothing accidental in this; it is the inevitable result of the development of class-consciousness on the part of the Russian bourgeoisie which has realised through experience how close is the moment when the "camp" of the monarchy and the camp of the revolution will confront each other and has realised through experience which side it will have to choose when that moment comes.

Those who want to learn from the great lessons of the Russian revolution must realise that only the development of the class-consciousness of the proletariat, only the organisation of this class and the exclusion of petty-bourgeois "fellow-travellers" from its party, and the elimination of the vacillation, weakness, and lack of principle, characteristic of them, can again lead, and surely will lead, to new victories of the people over the monarchy of the Romanovs.


[1] Socialist-Revolutionary Party—a petty-bourgeois party in Russia, which arose at the end of 1901 and beginning of 1902 as a result of the union of various Narodnik groups and circles. The newspaper Revolutsionnaya Rossiya (Revolutionary Russia) (1900–05) and the magazine Vestnik Russkoi Revolutsii (Herald of the Russian Revolution) (1901–05) became its official organs. The Socialist-Revolutionaries did not recognise the class differences between the proletariat and petty proprietors, glossed over the class differentiation and contradictions within the peasantry and rejected the leading role of the proletariat, in the revolution. The views of the Socialist-Revolutionaries were an eclectic mixture of the ideas of Narodism and revisionism, and they tried, as Lenin expressed it, to patch up "the rents in the Narodnik ideas with bits of fashionable opportunist ‘criticism' of Marxism" (see present edition, Vol. 9, p. 310). The tactics of individual terrorism advocated by the Socialist-Revolutionaries as the main form of struggle against the autocracy, did great harm to the revolutionary movement and hampered the organisation of the masses for revolutionary struggle.

The agrarian programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries envisaged the abolition of private ownership of the land and its transfer to the village communes on the basis of the "labour principle" and equalitarian land tenure (i.e., as much land to be given to each peasant household as it could farm without employing hired labour), and also the development of co-operatives. This programme, which the Socialist-Revolutionaries called the "socialisation of the land", in reality bore no resemblance whatsoever to socialism. In analysing the programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, Lenin showed that the preservation of commodity production and private farming on commonly-owned land does not eliminate the domination of capital, does not relieve the working peasants of exploitation and ruin. Co-operatives cannot be the means of salvation for the small peasants under capitalist conditions since they serve to enrich the village bourgeoisie. At the same time, Lenin pointed out that the demand for equalitarian land tenure, although not socialist, was of an historically progressive revolutionary-democratic character, inasmuch as it was directed against reactionary landed proprietorship.

The Bolshevik Party exposed the attempts of the Socialist-Revolutionaries to masquerade as socialists, carried out a deter mined struggle against the Socialist-Revolutionaries for influence over the peasantry, and showed the danger to the working-class movement of their tactics of individual terrorism. At the same time the Bolsheviks were prepared, on definite conditions, to enter into temporary agreements with the Socialist-Revolutionaries in the struggle against tsarism.

The fact that the peasantry is not a homogeneous class deter mined the political and ideological instability and organisational disunity of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and their constant waverings between the liberal bourgeoisie and the proletariat. As early as the first Russian revolution the Right wing of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party broke away and formed the legal Popular Socialist Party, whose outlook was close to that of the Cadets, and the Left wing formed the semi-anarchist league of Maximalists. During the Stolypin reaction the Socialist-Revolutionary Party experienced a complete ideological and organisational break down. The majority of its members adopted a social-chauvinist position during the First World War.

After the victory of the February bourgeois-democratic revolution in 1917, the Socialist-Revolutionaries together with the Mensheviks and Cadets were the mainstay of the counter-revolutionary bourgeois-landlord Provisional Government of which the Party leaders (Kerensky, Avksentyev, Chernov) were members. The Socialist-Revolutionaries refused to support the demands of the peasants for the abolition of landlordism, supporting its preservation, and the Socialist-Revolutionary ministers of the Provisional Government sent punitive detachments against those peasants who had seized the landlords' estates.

At the end of November 1917, Left-wing Socialist-Revolutionaries founded the independent party of Left Socialist-Revolutionaries. Striving to preserve their influence over the peasant masses, the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries formally recognised Soviet power and entered into an agreement with the Bolsheviks, but very soon began to struggle against Soviet power.

During the years of foreign military intervention and civil war, the Socialist-Revolutionaries engaged in counter-revolutionary subversive activities, actively supported the interventionists and the whiteguard elements, took part in counter-revolutionary plots, organised terrorist acts against leaders of the Soviet state and the Communist Party. After the civil war, the Socialist-Revolutionaries continued their hostile activities against the Soviet state both within the country and abroad among whiteguard émigrés.

[2] L'Humanité—a daily newspaper founded in 1904 by Jean Jaurès as the organ of the French Socialist Party. Soon after the split in the Socialist Party at the Tours Congress (December 1920) and the formation of the Communist Party, the paper became the latter's organ. It is now published in Paris as the central organ of the French Communist Party.

[3] Narodnaya Volya (People's Will)—the secret political organisation of Narodnik-terrorists, formed in August 1879 following the split in the Narodnik organisation Zemlya i Volya (Land and Freedom). Narodnaya Volya was headed by an Executive Committee which included A. I. Zhelyabov, A. A. Kvyatkovsky, A. D. Mikhailov, N. A. Morozov, Sophia Perovskaya, Vera Figner, M. F. Frolenko, and others. While still adhering to Narodnik utopian-socialist ideas, Narodnaya Volya took up the political struggle, regarding the overthrow of the autocracy and the achievement of political freedom as a major aim. Its programme envisaged a "permanent popular representative body" elected by universal suffrage, the proclamation of democratic liberties, the transfer of the land to the people, and measures to put the factories in the hands of the workers. "The Narodnaya Volya members," wrote Lenin, "made a step forward when they took up the political struggle, but they failed to connect it with socialism"

Narodnaya Volya fought heroically against the tsarist autocracy; guided by their erroneous theory of "active" heroes and a "passive" mass, they planned to remould society without the participation of the people, by their own efforts, through individual terrorism that would intimidate and disorganise the government. After the assassination of Alexander II on March 1, 1881, the government was able, by savage reprisals, death sentences, and acts of provocation, to crush it out of existence. Repeated attempts to revive the organisation during the eighties ended in failure. Thus, in 1886 a group in the Narodnaya Volya tradition was formed by A. I. Ulyanov (elder brother of Lenin) and P. Y. Shevyryov; but after an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Alexander III in 1887, the group was uncovered and its active members executed.

While criticising Narodnaya Volya's erroneous utopian programme, Lenin expressed great respect for its members' selfless struggle against tsarism and valued highly the technique of its underground activities and strictly centralised organisation.

[4] Vestnik Narodnoi Voli (Messenger of the People's Will) was published in Geneva from 1883 to 1886, as the organ of the Narodnaya Volya Party. It was edited by P. L. Lavrov and L. A. Tikhomirov; in all there were five issues.

[5] He apparently refers to the current suspicion that Karaulov "made a clean breast of it" at the investigation. —Lenin

[6] Birzheviye Vedomosti or Birzhevka (Stock-Exchange Recorder)—a daily bourgeois newspaper published in St. Petersburg from 1880. The name Birzhevka was commonly used to indicate the lack of principle and corruption of the bourgeois press. The newspaper was closed down at the end of October 1917.

Published: Sotsial-Demokrat, No. 19-20, January 13 (26), 1911.
Published according to the Sotsial-Demokrat text.
Source:Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 46-48.
Translated: Dora Cox

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