From the History of the Workers' Press in Russia
V. I. Lenin
The history of the workers' press in Russia is indissolubly linked up with the history of the democratic and socialist movement. Hence, only by knowing the chief stages of the movement for emancipation is it possible to understand why the preparation and rise of the workers' press proceeded in a certain way, and in no other.
The emancipation movement in Russia has passed through three main stages, corresponding to the three main classes of Russian society, which have left their impress on the movement: (1) the period of the nobility, roughly from 1825 to 1861; (2) the raznochintsi or bourgeois-democratic period, approximately from 1861 to 1895; and (3) the proletarian period, from 1895 to the present time.
The most outstanding figures of the nobility period were the Decembrists and Herzen. At that time, under the serf-owning system, there could he no question of differentiating a working class from among the general mass of serfs, the disfranchised "lower orders", "the ruck". In those days the illegal general democratic press, headed by Herzen's Kolokol, was the forerunner of the workers' (proletarian-democratic or Social-Democratic) press.
Just as the Decembrists roused Herzen, so Herzen and his Kolokol helped to rouse the raznochintsi—the educated representatives of the liberal and democratic bourgeoisie who belonged, not to the nobility but to the civil servants, urban petty bourgeois, merchant and peasant classes. It was V. G. Belinsky who, even before the abolition of serfdom, was a forerunner of the raznochintsi who were to completely oust the nobility from our emancipation movement. The famous Letter to Gogol, which summed up Belinsky's literary activities, was one of the finest productions of the illegal democratic press, which has to this day lost none of its great and vital significance.
With the fall of the serf-owning system, the raznochintsi emerged as the chief actor from among the masses in the movement for emancipation in general, and in the democratic illegal press in particular. Narodism, which corresponded to the raznochintsi point of view, became the dominant trend. As a social trend, it never succeeded in dissociating itself from liberalism on the right and from anarchism on the left. But Chernyshevsky, who, after Herzen, developed the Narodnik views, made a great stride forward as compared with Herzen. Chernyshevsky was a far more consistent and militant democrat, his writings breathing the spirit of the class struggle. He resolutely pursued the line of exposing the treachery of liberalism, a line which to this day is hateful to the Cadets and liquidators. He was a remarkably profound critic of capitalism despite his utopian socialism.
The sixties and seventies saw quite a number of illegal publications, militant-democratic and utopian-socialist in content, which had started to circulate among the "masses". Very prominent among the personalities of that epoch were the workers Pyotr Alexeyev, Stepan Khalturin, and others. The proletarian-democratic current, however, was unable to free itself from the main stream of Narodism; this became possible only after Russian Marxism took ideological shape (the Emancipation of Labour group, 1883), and a steady workers' movement, linked with Social-Democracy, began (the St. Petersburg strikes of 1895–96).
But before passing to this period, from which the appearance of the workers' press in Russia really dates, we shall quote figures which strikingly illustrate the class differences between the movements of the three periods referred to. These figures show the classification of persons charged with state (political) crimes according to social estate or calling (class). For every 100 such persons there were:
In the nobility or feudal period (1827–46), the nobles, who were an insignificant minority of the population, accounted for the vast majority of the "politicals" (76%). In the Narodnik, raznochintsi period (1884–90; unfortunately, figures for the sixties and seventies are not available), the nobles dropped to second place, but still provided quite a high percentage (30.6%). Intellectuals accounted for the overwhelming majority (73.2%) of participants in the democratic movement.
In the 1901–03 period, which happened to be the period of the first political Marxist newspaper, the old Iskra, workers (46.1%) predominated over intellectuals (36.7%) and the movement became wholly democratised (10.7% nobles and 80.9% "non-privileged" people).
Running ahead, we see that in the period of the first mass movement (1905–08) the only change was that the intellectuals (28.4% as against 36.7%) were displaced by peasants (24.2% as against 9.0%).
Social-Democracy in Russia was founded by the Emancipation of Labour group, which was formed abroad in 1883. The writings of this group, which were printed abroad and uncensored, were the first systematically to expound and draw all the practical conclusions from the ideas of Marxism, which, as the experience of the entire world has shown, alone ex press the true essence of the working-class movement and its aims. For the twelve years between 1883 and 1895, practically the only attempt to establish a Social-Democratic workers' press in Russia was the publication in St. Petersburg in 1885 of the Social-Democratic newspaper Rabochy; it was of course illegal, but only two issues appeared. Owing to the absence of a mass working-class movement, there was no scope for the wide development of a workers' press.
The inception of a mass working-class movement, with the participation of Social-Democrats, dates from 1895–96, the time of the famous St. Petersburg strikes. It was then that a workers' press, in the real sense of the term, appeared in Russia. The chief publications in those days were illegal leaflets, most of them hectographed and devoted to "economic" (as well as non-economic) agitation, that is, to the needs and demands of the workers in different factories and industries. Obviously, this literature could not have existed without the advanced workers' most active participation in the task of compiling and circulating it. Among St. Petersburg workers active at the time mention should be made of Vasily Andreyevich Shelgunov, who later became blind and was unable to carry on with his former vigour, and Ivan Vasilyevich Babushkin, an ardent Iskrist (1900–03) and Bolshevik (1903–05), who was shot for taking part in an uprising in Siberia late in 1905 or early in 1906.
Leaflets were published by Social-Democratic groups, circles and organisations, most of which, after the end of 1895, became known as "Leagues of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class". The "Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party" was founded in 1898 at a congress of representatives of local Social-Democratic organisations.
After the leaflets, illegal working-class newspapers began to appear; for example, in 1897 St. Petersburg Rabochy Listok appeared in St. Petersburg, followed by Rabochaya Mysl, which was shortly afterwards transferred abroad. Since then, almost right up to the revolution, local Social-Democratic newspapers came out illegally; true, they were regularly suppressed, but reappeared again and again all over Russia.
All in all, the workers' leaflets and Social-Democratic newspapers of the time—i.e., twenty years ago—were the direct forerunners of the present-day working-class press: the same factory "exposures", the same reports on the "economic" struggle, the same treatment of the tasks of the working-class movement from the standpoint of Marxist principles and consistent democracy, and finally, the same two main trends—the Marxist and the opportunist—in the working-class press.
It is a remarkable fact, one that has not been duly appreciated to this day, that as soon as the mass working-class movement arose in Russia (1895–96), there at once appeared the division into Marxist and opportunist trends—a division which has changed in form and features, etc., but which has remained essentially the same from 1894 to 1914. Apparently, this particular kind of division and inner struggle among Social-Democrats has deep social and class roots.
The Rabochaya Mysl, mentioned above, represented the opportunist trend of the day, known as Economism. This trend became apparent in the disputes among the local leaders of the working-class movement as early as 1894–95. And abroad, where the awakening of the Russian workers led to an efflorescence of Social-Democratic literature as early as 1896, the appearance and rallying of the Economists ended in a split in the spring of 1900 (that is, prior to the appearance of Iskra, the first issue of which came off the press at the very end of 1900).
The history of the working-class press during the twenty years 1894–1914 is the history of the two trends in Russian Marxism and Russian (or rather all-Russia) Social-Democracy. To understand the history of the working-class press in Russia, one must know, not only and not so much the names of the various organs of the press—names which convey nothing to the present-day reader and simply confuse him—as the content, nature and ideological line of the different sections of Social-Democracy.
The chief organs of the Economists were Rabochaya Mysl (1897–1900) and Rabocheye Dyelo (1898–1901). Rabocheye Dyelo was edited by B. Krichevsky, who later went over to the syndicalists, A. Martynov, a prominent Menshevik and now a liquidator, and Akimov, now an "independent Social-Democrat" who in all essentials agrees with the liquidators.
At first only Plekhanov and the whole Emancipation of Labour group (the journal Rabotnik, etc.) fought the Economists, and then Iskra joined the fight (from 1900 to August 1903, up to the time of the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.). What, exactly, was the essence of Economism?
In word, the Economists were all for a mass type of working-class movement and independent action by the workers, emphasising the paramount significance of "economic" agitation and urging moderation or gradualness in passing over to political agitation. As the reader sees, these are exactly the same catchwords that the liquidators flaunt today. In practice, however, the Economists pursued a liberal-labour policy, the gist of which was tersely ex pressed by S. N. Prokopovich, one of the Economist leaders at that time, in the words: "economic struggle is for the workers, political struggle is for the liberals". The Economists, who made the most noise about the workers' independent activity and the mass movement, were in practice an opportunist and petty-bourgeois intellectual wing of the working-class movement.
The overwhelming majority of the class-conscious workers, who in 1901–03 accounted for 46 out of every 100 persons charged with state crimes, as against 37 for the intelligentsia, sided with the old Iskra, against the opportunists. Iskra's three years of activity (1901–03) saw the elaboration of the Social-Democratic Party's Programme, its main tactics, and the forms in which the workers' economic and political struggle could be combined on the basis of consistent Marxism. During the pre-revolutionary years, the growth of the workers' press around Iskra and under its ideological leadership assumed enormous proportions. The number of illegal leaflets and unlicensed printing-presses was exceedingly great, and increased rapidly all over Russia.
Iskra's complete victory over Economism, the victory of consistent proletarian tactics over opportunist-intellectualist tactics in 1903, still further stimulated the influx of "fellow-travellers" into the ranks of Social-Democracy; and opportunism revived on the soil of Iskrism, as part of it, in the form of "Menshevism".
Menshevism took shape at the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. (August 1903), originating from the minority of the Iskrists (hence the name Menshevism) and from all the opportunist opponents of Iskra. The Mensheviks reverted to Economism in a slightly renovated form, of course; headed by A. Martynov, all the Economists who had remained in the movement flocked to the ranks of the Mensheviks.
The new Iskra, which from November 1903 appeared under a new editorial board, became the chief organ of Menshevism. "Between the old Iskra and the new lies a gulf", Trotsky, then an ardent Menshevik, frankly declared. Vperyod and Proletary (1905) were the chief Bolshevik newspapers, which upheld the tactics of consistent Marxism and remained faithful to the old Iskra.
From the point of view of real contact with the masses and as an expression of the tactics of the proletarian masses, 1905–07, the years of revolution, were a test of the two main trends in Social-Democracy and in the working-class press—the Menshevik and Bolshevik trends. A legal Social-Democratic press could not have appeared all at once in the autumn of 1905 had the way not been paved by the activities of the advanced workers, who were closely connected with the masses. The fact that the legal Social-Democratic press of 1905, 1906 and 1907 was a press of two trends, of two groups, can only be accounted for by the different lines in the working-class movement at the time—the petty-bourgeois and the proletarian.
The workers' legal press appeared in all three periods of the upswing and of relative "freedom", namely, in the autumn of 1905 (the Bolsheviks' Novaya Zhizn, and the Mensheviks' Nachalo—we name only the chief of the many publications); in the spring of 1906 (Volna, Ekho, etc., issued by the Bolsheviks, Narodnaya Duma and others, issued by the Mensheviks); and in the spring of 1907.
The essence of the Menshevik tactics of the time was recently expressed by L. Martov in these words: "The Mensheviks saw no other way by which the proletariat could take a useful part in that crisis except by assisting the bourgeois liberal democrats in their attempts to eject the reactionary section of the propertied classes from political power—but, while rendering this assistance, the proletariat was to maintain its complete political independence." (Among Books by Rubakin, Vol. II, p. 772.) In practice, these tactics of "assisting" the liberals amounted to making the workers dependent on them; in practice they were liberal-labour tactics. The Bolsheviks' tactics, on the contrary, ensured the independence of the proletariat in the bourgeois crisis, by fighting to bring that crisis to a head, by exposing the treachery of liberalism, by enlightening and rallying the petty bourgeoisie (especially in the countryside) to counteract that treachery.
It is a fact—and the Mensheviks themselves, including the present-day liquidators, Koltsov, Levitsky, and others, have repeatedly admitted it—that in those years (1905–07) the masses of the workers followed the lead of the Bolsheviks. Bolshevism expressed the proletarian essence of the movement, Menshevism was its opportunist, petty-bourgeois intellectual wing.
We cannot here give a more detailed characterisation of the content and significance of the tactics of the two trends in the workers' press. We can do no more than accurately establish the main facts and define the main lines of historical development.
The working-class press in Russia has almost a century of history behind it; first, the pre-history, i.e., the history, not of the labour, not of the proletarian, but of the "general democratic", i.e., bourgeois-democratic movement for emancipation, followed by its own twenty-year history of the proletarian movement, proletarian democracy or Social-Democracy.
Nowhere in the world has the proletarian movement come into being, nor could it have come into being, "all at once", in a pure class form, ready-made, like Minerva from the head of Jupiter. Only through long struggle and hard work on the part of the most advanced workers, of all class-conscious workers, was it possible to build up and strengthen the class movement of the proletariat, ridding it of all petty-bourgeois admixtures, restrictions, narrowness and distortions. The working class lives side by side with the petty bourgeoisie, which, as it becomes ruined, provides increasing numbers of new recruits to the ranks of the proletariat. And Russia is the most petty-bourgeois, the most philistine of capitalist countries, which only now is passing through the period of bourgeois revolutions which Britain, for example, passed through in the seventeenth century, and France in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The class-conscious workers, who are now tackling a job that is near and dear to them, that of running the working-class press, putting it on a sound basis and strengthening and developing it, will not forget the twenty-year history of Marxism and the Social-Democratic press in Russia.
A disservice is being done to the workers' movement by those of its weak-nerved friends among the intelligentsia who fight shy of the internal struggle among the Social-Democrats, and who fill the air with cries and calls to have nothing to do with it. They are well-meaning but futile people, and their outcries are futile.
Only by studying the history of Marxism's struggle against opportunism, only by making a thorough and detailed study of the manner in which independent proletarian democracy emerged from the petty-bourgeois hodge-podge can the advanced workers decisively strengthen their own class-consciousness and their workers' press.
See present edition, Vol. 19, pp. 328–31.—Ed.
The Russian word Menshevism is derived from menshinstvo, the English for which is minority—Ed.
Decembrists—Russian revolutionaries of the nobility who fought against serfdom and the autocracy. They raised an armed revolt on December 14, 1825.
Kolokol (The Bell)—a political journal published under the motto Vivos voco! (I call on the living!) by A. I. Herzen and N. P. Ogaryov from July 1, 1857 to April 1865 in London, and from May 1865 to July 1867 in Geneva. Published as a monthly and for some time as a fortnightly, it put out 245 issues. In 1868 the journal was published in French (15 issues in all) with an occasional supplement in Russian. Kolokol, which was published in 2,500 copies and circulated throughout Russia, exposed the tyranny of the autocracy, the extortion and embezzlement practised by the government officials, and the ruthless exploitation of the peasants by the landlords. Kolokol addressed revolutionary calls to the masses, rousing them to the struggle against the tsarist government and the ruling classes.
The leading organ of the revolutionary uncensored press and the precursor of the working-class press in Russia, Kolokol played an important role in the development of the general democratic and revolutionary movement, in the struggle against the autocracy and serfdom.
Belinsky's Letter to Gogol was written in July 1847, and first published in 1855 in Herzen's Polyarnaya Zvezda (The Pole Star).
Narodism—a petty-bourgeois trend in the Russian revolutionary movement, which arose between the sixties and seventies of the nineteenth century. The Narodniks were out to abolish the autocracy and hand over the landed estates to the peasantry. At the same time they denied the tendency towards the development of capitalist relations in Russia, and consequently, considered the peasantry, not the proletariat, the principal revolutionary force. They regarded the village commune as the embryo of socialism. In their endeavour to rouse the peasants to the struggle against the autocracy, the Narodniks went into the villages, "among the people", but they met no support there.
In the eighties and nineties the Narodniks adopted a policy of conciliation with tsarism. They expressed the interests of the kulaks and waged a fierce struggle against Marxism.
The reference is to the First Congress of the R. S. D. L. P. held in Minsk on March 1–3 (13–15), 1898. The Congress was attended by nine delegates from six organisations: the St. Petersburg, Moscow, Ekaterinoslav and Kiev Leagues of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, from the Kiev Rabochaya Gazeta group and from the Bund. The Congress elected a Central Committee of the Party, confirmed Rabochaya Gazeta as the Party's official organ, published a Manifesto, and proclaimed the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad the foreign representative of the Party.
The First Congress of the R. S. D. L. P. was significant in that it adopted decisions and a Manifesto proclaiming the establishment of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, thereby playing an important role in the matter of revolutionary propaganda. The Congress, however, did not adopt a Programme or draft Party Rules. The Central Committee elected at the Congress was soon arrested and the printing-press of Rabochaya Gazeta was seized, thus making it impossible for the Congress to unite and establish contact between the various Marxist circles and organisations. There was no single central leadership and no single line in the work of the local organisations.
St. Petersburg Rabochy Listok (St. Petersburg Workers' Bulletin)—organ of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. Two issues appeared—No. 1 in February (dated January) 1897 mimeographed in Russia in 300—400 copies, and No. 2 in September 1897 in Geneva in printed form.
The newspaper put forward the task of combining the economic struggle of the working class With broad political demands, and stressed the need for creating a workers' party.
Rabotnik (The Worker)—a non-periodical symposium published abroad in 1896-99 by the Union of Russian Social-Democrats under the editorship of the Emancipation of Labour group. The symposium was issued on the initiative of Lenin who, during his journey abroad in 1895, made arrangements with Plekhanov and Axelrod for the symposium to be edited and published by the Emancipation of Labour group. On his return to Russia Lenin did much to organise support for this publication and have articles and correspondence sent to it from Russia. Before his arrest in December 1895 Lenin had prepared and forwarded to Rabotnik an obituary article "Frederick Engels" and several items of correspondence, some of which (those from A. A. Vaneyev, M. A. Silvin, and S. P. Shesternin) were published in No. 1–2 and No. 5–6 of the symposium.
Altogether six issues of Rabotnik were published in three books, and 10 issues of Listok Rabotnika.
Vperyod (Forward)—an illegal Bolshevik weekly published in Geneva from December 22, 1904 (January 4, 1905) to May 5(18), 1905. Eighteen issues were put out. Its organiser, manager and guiding spirit was Lenin. Other members of the editorial board were V. V. Vorovsky, A. V. Lunacharsky, and M. S. Olminsky. All correspondence, including that of the local committees in Russia; was handled by N. K. Krupskaya. Lenin defined the content of the newspaper in the following words: = "The line of Vperyod is the line of the old 'Iskra'. In the name of the old Iskra, Vperyod resolutely combats the new Iskra." (See present edition, Vol. 8, p. 130.) Besides leading articles, Lenin wrote numerous paragraphs for Vperyod and rewrote items of correspondence. Some articles were written by Lenin in co-operation with other members of the editorial board (Vorovsky, Olminsky and others). Over sixty articles and minor items by Lenin were published in Vperyod. Some issues of the newspaper, e. g., Nos. 4 and 5, which dealt with the events of January 9(22), 1905, and the beginning of the revolution in Russia, were written almost entirely by Lenin. His articles in Vperyod were often reprinted in the local Bolshevik press and published in the form of leaflets and pamphlets.
The outstanding role which the newspaper played in combating Menshevism, reasserting the Party principle, formulating and elucidating the issues posed by the rising revolution, and fighting for a congress to be convened, was acknowledged in a special resolution of the Third Party Congress, which recorded a vote of thanks to the editorial hoard. By a decision of the Third Congress the newspaper Vperyod was superceded by Proletary.
Proletary (The Proletarian)—an illegal Bolshevik weekly, Central Organ of the R. S. D. L. P., founded in accordance with a resolution of the Third Party Congress. By a decision of the plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee of April 27 (May 10), 1905, Lenin was appointed Editor-in-Chief. Proletary was published in Geneva from May 14 (27) to November 12 (25), 1905. Twenty-six issues were put out.
Proletary carried on the line of the old, Leninist, Iskra and preserved complete continuity with the Bolshevik newspaper Vperyod.
Lenin wrote about ninety articles and paragraphs for the newspaper. His articles determined the paper's political character, its ideological message and Bolshevik trend. Lenin bore a heavy burden of the work on the newspaper as manager and editor, receiving regular assistance from the other members of the editorial board—Vorovsky, Lunacharsky and Olminsky.
Proletary reacted immediately to all important events in the Russian and international labour movement, and waged a relent less struggle against the Mensheviks and other opportunist revisionist elements. The newspaper did a great deal to propagandise the decisions of the Third Party Congress, and played an important part in rallying the Bolsheviks organisationally and ideologically. Proletary consistently advocated revolutionary Marxism and formulated all the basic issues involved in the rising revolution in Russia. The newspaper highlighted the events of 1905 and roused the broad masses of the working people to the struggle for the victory of the revolution.
Proletary gave a good deal of attention to the local Social-Democratic organisations. Some of Lenin's articles in this newspaper were reprinted by the local Bolshevik newspapers and distributed in leaflet form. Proletary suspended publication shortly after Lenin's departure for Russia early in November 1905. The last two issues (Nos. 25 and 26) were edited by Vorovsky, but even these contained several articles by Lenin, which were published after his departure from Geneva.
Novaya Zhizn (New Life)—the first legal Bolshevik newspaper, published as a St. Petersburg daily from October 27 (November 9) to December 3 (16), 1905. Lenin took over the editorship upon his return to Russia early in November. Novaya Zhizn was virtually the Central Organ of the R.S.D.L.P. Closely associated with the paper were V. V. Vorovsky, M. S. Olminsky, A. V. Lunacharsky and others. Maxim Gorky was an active contributor to the paper, to which he gave substantial financial aid.
Issue No. 9 of the paper for November 10, 1905 carried Lenin's first article "The Reorganisation of the Party", which was followed by more than ten articles from his pen. The paper's circulation reached 80 000, despite constant persecution. Fifteen of the paper's twenty-seven issues were confiscated and destroyed. It was banned after publication of issue No. 27 on December 2 (15), No. 28 being put out illegally.
Nachalo (The Beginning)—a legal Menshevik daily published in St. Petersburg from November 13 (26) to December 2 (15), 1905. Sixteen issues came out. The editors and publishers of the news paper were D. M. Herzenstein and S. N. Saltykov, and among the contributors were P. B. Axelrod, F. I. Dan, L. G. Deutsch, N. I.Yordansky, L. Martov, and A. N. Potresov.
Volna (The Wave)—a legal Bolshevik daily published in St. Petersburg from April 26 (May 9) to May 24 (June 6), 1906. Twenty-five issues were put out. Beginning with No. 9 for May 5 (15), 1906 (after the close of the Fourth Congress and Lenin's arrival from Stockholm) the paper was virtually edited by Lenin. Some twenty-five articles by him were published in the paper. Others on the editorial staff were V. V. Vorovsky and M. S. Olminsky. Volna was subjected to frequent police repressions and was eventually closed down by the tsarist government. Its place was taken by the legal Bolshevik paper Vperyod.
Ekho (The Echo)—a legal Bolshevik daily published in St. Petersburg from June 22 (July 5) to July 7 (20), 1906 in place of the suppressed newspaper Vperyod. Fourteen issues were put out. Actually the paper was edited by Lenin, whose articles appeared in every issue. Lenin also conducted the "Book and Magazine" section.
Almost every issue of the newspaper was subjected to repressions, twelve of the fourteen issues being seized by the police.
Narodnaya Duma (People's Duma)—a Menshevik daily published in St. Petersburg in March–April 1907 in place of the suppressed Russkaya Zhizn. Twenty-one issues of the paper came out.
Published: Rabochy No. 1, April 22, 1914. Published according to the text in Rabochy.|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 245-253.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Joe Fineberg
eSource: Marxists.org - Marxists Internet Archive