History of the Bolshevik Party: Bolshevism - The Road to Revolution

Index

Part Four: The Revival

A Brief Interregnum

In the spring Lenin finally succeeded in setting up a party school in two small rooms rented from a leatherworker in the village of Longjumeau near Paris. The aim was to emphasise the vital importance of theory for cadre building. Lenin was particularly anxious that workers and people in contact with the masses should be designated by local committees to attend the school. There were, of course, other Party schools at Capri and Bologna, but these were dominated by the supporters of Bogdanov, and it is clear that Lenin intended the school at Longjumeau as a counterweight to the latter. Lenin threw himself wholeheartedly into the enterprise, preparing his lectures with characteristic meticulousness. He gave a total of 45 lectures on political economy, the agrarian question, and the theory and practice of socialism. Zinoviev and Kamenev lectured on the history of the party. Other lectures were given by Charles Rappaport and Inessa Armand. Among the students at the school was a young worker from Kiev whom nobody knew called Andrei Malinovsky, who was an agent of the tsarist police, who reported on every aspect of the school to the Paris Bureau of the Okhrana. Curiously, this Malinovsky was no relation to the notorious Roman Malinovsky.

Although it was clearly a Bolshevik affair, among lecturers there were Bolsheviks, Vperyodists, Mensheviks, Bundists, and conciliators, but no Liquidators. This was Lenin’s idea. If possible, he would have liked to isolate the Liquidators, separate out the better Menshevik elements (especially the Pro-Party Mensheviks), and save what could be saved of the ‘centrists’ and left reformists. But history shows that most left reformists find it easier to cling to the right reformists than to go over to the openly revolutionary trend. This is true of the leaders, but not of the rank and file, as shown by the experience of 1905–6 and 1910–14 as well as 1917. Here again we have another example of the flexibility of Lenin’s tactics. His main aim, however, was to establish the Bolsheviks as a clearly defined, independent tendency. It was necessary to conduct a persistent struggle to win over the best elements in the Party. But the first condition was to organise separately as a tendency.

For this reason, Lenin was delighted when they managed to launch a new publication in Petersburg, Zvezda (the Star), with an editorial board which included the Bolshevik V. Bonch-Bruyevich, but also N. Yordansky from the Plekhanov group and I. Pokrovsky, a Duma deputy sympathetic to the Bolsheviks. But he was even more pleased with the appearance of Mysl’ (Thought) in Moscow because it was a purely Bolshevik paper. He wrote to Maxim Gorky: “Congratulate us on our own little journal in Moscow, a Marxist one. This has been a happy day for us.” (LCW, To Maxim Gorky, 3 January, 1911, vol. 34, p. 437.)

But in general there were not many happy days at this time. The unhealthy atmosphere of émigré life with its eternal squabbles hung like a leaden ball around their necks, as Lenin complained:

Living in the midst of this ‘anecdotic’ situation, amidst these squabbles and scandals, this hell and ugly scum is sickening. To watch it all is sickening too. But one must not be influenced by one’s moods. Emigrant life now is a hundred times worse than it was before the revolution. Emigrant life and squabbling are inseparable. But the squabbling can be dismissed – nine-tenths of it takes place abroad; squabbling is a minor detail. The thing is that the Party, the Social Democratic movement are developing and going forward in face of all the hellish difficulties of the present situation. The purging of the Social Democratic Party of its dangerous ‘deviations’, liquidationism and otzovism, is going ahead unswervingly, and within the framework of unity it has moved ahead far more than before. (Quoted in N.K. Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, p. 208.)

However, in another letter to his sister Anna, he confided: “I do not know if I shall live to see the next rise of the tide.” (Quoted in R. Payne, The Life and Death of Lenin, p. 247.)

The problem with conciliationism is that politics cannot be reduced to simple arithmetic. It is not always the case that two plus two equals four. Two men in a boat, each one pulling in a different direction, is not better than a single rower who knows exactly where he is heading. The different tendencies inside the RSDLP were indeed pulling in opposite directions with completely contradictory tactics flowing from completely different perspectives and goals. The attempt to combine mutually contradictory tendencies created an impossible situation, which was soon visible to all. Heightened tensions within the party were everywhere in evidence. By May 1911, the Bolsheviks had withdrawn their representative (N.A. Semashko) from the Foreign Bureau of the CC. The Russian Bureau of the CC, paralysed by inner party strife, had practically ceased to exist. This was inevitable.

The unity of all the groups, achieved with such difficulty in January 1910, swiftly began to break up. As the practical problems of the work in Russia began to crop up it became ever more clear that cooperation was impossible. (N.K. Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, p. 224.)

The January Plenum had solved nothing. Lenin urgently demanded the calling of a new Conference. But his closest collaborators were stubbornly opposed to a break with the opportunist wing of the party. Rykov, Kamenev, Zinoviev, and the other Bolshevik conciliators clung to the illusion of compromise. Lenin scornfully referred to “good intentions, sweet words, kind thoughts, and impotence to carry them into practice.” (V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, in Russian, vol. 48, p. 16.) Finally, on Lenin’s insistence, a special meeting of CC members was held in Paris, from 28 May to 4 June, 1911. All of the CC members based abroad turned up (except for the Bundist Yanov). Lenin, Rykov, and Zinoviev attended for the Bolsheviks; Tyszka and Dzerzhinsky for the Polish and Lithuanian Social Democrats; Lieber for the Bund; B.I. Gorer for the Golos people, and M.V. Dzolin for the Letts (Latvians). Another mixed bag! The meeting predictably got off to a heated start.

The Liquidator and Bundist representatives immediately called the legality of the meeting into question. After a sharp debate, the meeting finally accepted Lenin’s resolution that this gathering be considered as a Central Committee meeting. (See KPSS v rezoluitsiakh, vol. 1, p. 247.) It was moved that a conference be convened and a committee was set up for the purpose of arranging this. This was too much for the Mensheviks. Martov and Dan walked out of the editorial board of Sotsial Demokrat in protest. After this there was not one representative organ of the RSDLP where Bolsheviks were together with Mensheviks. The split was a fact in all but name. The Mensheviks refused to acknowledge the validity of the June meeting in Paris – a ‘private meeting’, they called it. They were implacably opposed to a conference where they feared, rightly, that they would not have a majority. Lenin, on the contrary, placed all his hopes on the working class rank and file. By this time, any further compromise was ruled out, although even now the conciliators dragged their feet, terrified of being ‘isolated’. However, Lenin, as always, was ready to draw all the conclusions from the situation. Once he decided that ‘enough was enough’, he would not be swayed. Lenin directed a withering and unremitting fire on the ‘conciliators’.

By now, Lenin had decided to push things to the limit. With the revolution entering into a new and decisive phase, any further temporising with the Mensheviks would have been clearly irresponsible. The Bolsheviks were gaining ground inside Russia, the united front with the Pro-Party Mensheviks had borne fruit with the passing over of a large number of the best worker Mensheviks to the Bolsheviks. The tide was beginning to flow in favour of Lenin once again. Those who remained behind and resisted the necessary steps, had to be abandoned. A decisive split with these incorrigible elements was now inevitable. Lenin had only gone through the experience of the January Plenum, which soon turned out to be a farce, in order to convince his co-thinkers in practice of the impossibility of union with the Liquidators. This ‘experiment’ had now to be brought quickly to a close, if irreparable damage was not to be done to the Party and the cause of the revolution. The most pressing need now was to unite the revolutionary wing of the party on a principled basis in order to take advantage of the rising revolutionary wave.

Lenin’s implacable attitude was based upon political considerations. The political evolution of Menshevism was clearly to the right. It represented a Russian variant of opportunism. Although the objective conditions in Russia, and the pressure of the revolutionary wing, compelled the Mensheviks to adopt a somewhat more ‘left’ colouration, the main content of their theory and practice was clearly anti-revolutionary: the stress on parliamentarism, the constant hankering after a bloc with the liberals, the opposition to anything that might frighten the Cadets, the demand for the winding up of all underground activity and to subordinate the party’s activities to the existing tsarist legality – how could such a policy be reconciled with Marxism? Yet, despite the obvious truth of Lenin’s argument, it fell upon deaf ears. Many of the Bolshevik Party workers saw the question in purely practical and organisational terms. One such Party ‘practico’ wrote the following about Lenin’s position at this time:

About the ‘tempest in the teapot’ abroad we have heard, of course: the blocs of Lenin-Plekhanov on the one hand and of Trotsky-Martov-Bogdanov on the other. The attitude of the workers to the first bloc, as far as I know, is favourable. But in general the workers are beginning to look disdainfully at the emigration: “let them crawl on the wall as much as their hearts desire; but as for us, whoever values the interests of the movement – work, the rest will take care of itself”. That I think is for the best. (Quoted in L. Trotsky, Stalin, p. 131.)

These lines were written by Stalin. They accurately convey the disdain for theory and the vulgar empiricism that unfortunately characterised many Party activists in Russia. In general, they tended towards Lenin’s position because it was more in tune with their conception of a disciplined, centralised party. But whereas for Lenin, the party organisation was merely a tool in the service of revolutionary ideas and theory, the committeemen, or at least a good part of them, tended to regard it from an exclusively organisational standpoint. Even after the final split in 1912, Lenin still had many problems with committeemen (and women) who, like Stalin, regarded the split as merely an émigré squabble, and an irritating distraction from practical work. In April 1912, Lenin sent a heated letter to Ordzhonikidze, Spandaryan, and Stasova, reprimanding them for their dismissive attitude to the fight against the Liquidators:

Don’t be light-hearted about the campaign of the Liquidators abroad. It is a great mistake when people simply dismiss what goes on abroad with a wave of the hand and ‘send it to hell’. (LCW, Letter to G.K. Ordzhonikidze, S.S. Spandaryan, and Yelena Stasova, April 1912, vol. 35, p. 33.)

Mass Work Under Conditions of Reaction

In the years of reaction the Bolsheviks had to learn how to use each and every opportunity for legal mass work. A key area was that of the trade unions. The Mensheviks, with their opportunistic tendency to adapt to the most backward layers of the class, were always stronger in the unions than the Bolsheviks. Echoing the positions of the Economists, they held that the unions should be politically ‘neutral’, something that completely flies in the face of elementary Marxist principles. As the basic units of working class organisation, it is true that the unions must strive to embrace the broadest layers of the proletariat. Only the fascists must be excluded, as the direct enemies of the working class who seek to destroy not only the unions but all other democratic rights conquered by the workers, and thereby liquidate the germs of a new society which are maturing within the old.

However, while the unions should strive to organise all layers of the class, even politically backward layers, that does not at all mean that Marxists must not fight to win over a majority in the unions, and still less that the unions must be politically ‘neutral’. The struggle for workers’ rights cannot be limited to a purely economic struggle, but inevitably passes over into politics. To demand that the unions abstain from political activity (a demand which, ironically, unites the reactionaries and the anarcho-syndicalists) is to play into the hands of the bourgeois parties. Non-political trade unionism, as Lenin explained many times, is yellow trade unionism, bourgeois trade unionism. This was so obvious that even the Stuttgart Congress of the Second International stated that the Social Democrats should strive for leadership of the trade unions. Yet Martov opposed this, on the grounds that it was not appropriate for Russian conditions.

The combination of legal and illegal work meant that for the Bolsheviks participation in the mass labour organisations was obligatory under all circumstances. The socialist revolution would be unthinkable without a lengthy period of patient work to establish a firm base of support in the unions, making use of skilful and flexible tactics in order to combat, not only the police and the state, but the bureaucratic ‘policemen’ who strive to make the unions safe for the ruling class by purging them of revolutionary elements. Proletary no. 21, which came out in February 1908, published the resolution of the CC of the RSDLP on trade unions. Party members were instructed to set up Party groups within trade union organisations and to work in them under the direction of the local Party centres. Where police persecution made it impossible to organise trade unions or to recreate those that had been broken up, the CC proposed that trade union nuclei and trade unions should be organised illegally. As regards such legal organisations as benefit societies, temperance societies, and others, the resolution of the CC instructed the local Party organisations to form within them “well-knit groups of Social Democrats to conduct Party work among the broadest possible masses of the proletariat”. To thwart any attempt on the part of the Mensheviks to interpret this part of the resolution in an opportunist manner, the resolution pointed out the need for making it clear that “the organised activity of the proletariat cannot be limited to such societies alone” and that the legal existence of trade unions “should not belittle the militant tasks of organising the proletariat in trade unions”. (LCW, vol. 13, pp. 532-33, note.)

Although the Mensheviks maintained their advantageous position in the majority of unions right up to 1917, the Bolsheviks made steady progress. In November 1907, in Petersburg there were 12 clubs and trade union societies for workers, but by 1909 the number had increased to 19. These friendly societies often had to function under different names which camouflaged their real nature. For example, the Bolsheviks in St. Petersburg ran one called ‘The Source of Enlightenment and Knowledge’; another was called ‘Enlightenment’; yet another, in Vyborg, ‘Education’, and so on. Often these societies and clubs played the role of union organisations in the absence of real trade unions.

The systematic penetration of even the most bureaucratic and right-wing unions is a duty of every serious revolutionary current which is fighting for influence over the masses. The Bolsheviks conducted such work in the most difficult conditions of reaction. So successful were they in capturing positions in the legal unions that the authorities were increasingly concerned, as reflected in police reports, such as the following dated May 1907, which emerged from the archives of the Okhrana after the revolution: “The trade unions have already taken on the definite appearance of completely Social Democratic organisations, and are therefore extremely dangerous for the ruling stratum.” Alarmed police chiefs demanded stern measures against the unions before these “nests of revolutionary conspiracy” could once again give rise to armed uprisings. (Quoted in Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2, p. 319.)

Work in legal organisations was not confined to the unions. The Bolsheviks made use of every legal conference called by the government or the liberals, like the All-Russian Conference of popular universities in Petersburg in January 1908, where the Bolsheviks proposed a motion based on class demands, such as the right of workers’ organisations to representation on the boards of universities with the right to take part in the arranging of the curricula, choosing suitable lecturers on social sciences, and recognition of every nationality to education in its own language. The resolution was, not unsurprisingly, rejected, whereupon the workers’ representatives walked out. Not all such events ended so well. Another field of activity were the cooperatives. This had an important practical side, since, under the harsh conditions of reaction, workers resorted to the co-ops for all kinds of purposes (insurance, etc.). At the First All-Russian Congress of Representatives of Cooperative Societies, held in Moscow in April 1908, the Bolsheviks formed a group – against the wishes of the Mensheviks – to lead the fight of the trade union and workers’ cooperatives against the bourgeois cooperators who were in the majority. After a number of Bolsheviks had spoken the police imposed a ban on all speeches that referred to the class struggle, the trade unions, aid to workers during strikes and lockouts and any other potentially subversive matters (including the election of a congress bureau) on pain of arrest. As a protest against this, the congress was closed.

Another important field was work among women. Legal women’s organisations existed and held conferences where the Bolsheviks also intervened systematically. At the First All-Russian Women’s Congress, held in December in Petersburg, there were many women workers among the delegates. On the agenda was the fight against alcoholism, labour protection for women and children, equal rights for Jews, and the political and legal status of women. The women workers moved a resolution demanding universal, direct, and equal suffrage by secret ballot, without distinction of sex, race, and religion. The presiding commission refused to read out the resolution, and replaced it with another drafted on bourgeois-liberal lines, upon which the women workers walked out. A similar fate lay in store for the First All-Russian Congress of Factory Medical Officers and Representatives of Manufacturing Industry, which met in Moscow in April 1909 under the grandiose slogan of a ‘festival of reconciliation’. But when the workers present began to take the floor to denounce the appalling safety and hygiene conditions in their workplaces, the light of reconciliation soon dimmed. After the police demanded that no questions “liable to excite class struggle” be touched on in the debates, all the workers and some of the doctors walked out, in view of which regrettable setback, the presidium decided to close the congress. (LCW, vol. 15, pp. 510-11, note.)

These legal organisations often included backward and non-political layers, yet even here, in the most apparently unpromising territory, the Bolsheviks conducted political work, and used them to build and strengthen their links with the masses. Like a mountain climber doggedly searching out every nook and cranny to grasp and haul himself up, they looked for each and every legal opening and exploited it to the full. They even intervened in an Anti-Alcoholic Conference convened by the Temperance Society in December 1909. Slowly, painfully, the Bolsheviks regrouped and rebuilt the links with the masses, which had been brutally severed by the victorious counter-revolution. Nevertheless, it was still an uphill struggle. The revolutionaries were still swimming against the stream. The general situation of the class remained depressed. The Bolsheviks discouraged adventurist actions which would lay the workers open to repression. The basic need was to conserve what forces remained, advance slowly, inch by inch, and await a change in the situation. Only in 1911, with the Lena massacre, did the tide begin to turn. The recovery, as predicted by Trotsky, was linked to an economic revival. Up to that time, the graph of the strike movement, which provides a rough and ready index of the state of the movement, registered a steady and persistent decline, as demonstrated in table 4.1.

(4.1) Number of workers on strike per year, 1907-1910

Year

Workers on strike

1907

740,000

1908

176,000

1909

64,000

1910

46,000

Then in 1910–13 a boom announced the end of the long depression that dominated the early years of the 20th century. The production of cast iron – not unrelated to the war preparations of the tsarist regime – increased in the period 1909–13 from 175m to 283m poods. In the same period coal production went up from 1.591 billion to 2.214 billion tonnes. The economic upswing gave a powerful impetus to a revival of the class struggle. The workers flexed their muscles and felt their new-found economic power. In the second half of 1910 there was already a rise in the number of strikes, coinciding with the economic recovery. Increased production and full order books transformed the climate on the shop floor, increasing the confidence of the working class. By mid-1910, the working class once more passed onto the offensive. 10,000 Moscow textile workers struck in the summer. Later the strike wave spread to Riga, Vladimir, Kazan, Saratov, Warsaw, Odessa, Kostroma, and other industrial centres. The immediate causes of the strikes were low wages, bad conditions, and the old problem of factory fines. But these were only the immediate expression of a far more deep-seated and widespread feeling of disaffection. Now, feeling a new sense of power, they moved to take their revenge. The workers were smarting from the results of the defeat of the 1905 Revolution, from the years of oppression, sackings, wage cuts, and a thousand and one humiliations and injustices, and even strikes in protest against the use of the familiar form of address (‘ty’, which is the equivalent of the French ‘tu’, used by adults when talking to little children) by management when talking to workers.

Increased production went hand in hand with the concentration of capital, with mergers creating bigger and bigger factories. By 1914 factories of more than 500 workers represented 56.5 per cent of the total. Tsarist Russia was now one of the major world powers in terms of concentration of capital. Russia remained an extremely backward, semi-feudal economy but with an enormous concentration of industry and banking capital – more, in fact, than most other advanced capitalist countries. This was a graphic manifestation of the Marxist law of combined and uneven development. The process of monopolisation is shown by the fact that by 1913 nine big companies accounted for 53.1 per cent of the production of cast iron: seven watch factories produced 90 per cent of watches, six Baku firms produced 65 per cent of oil, and so on. The total number of monopolies in Russia was not less than 150–200 monopolies. The predominance of gigantic factories, concentrating large numbers of workers in appalling conditions, especially in the metal industry, was a powerful factor giving an impressive sweep to the strike movement that preceded the First World War and investing it with a clearly revolutionary character. (See A.G. Rashin, Formirovaniye Rabochego Klassa Rossiy, p. 98.)

Significantly, many of these strikes were successful. Out of 265, 140 (52.8 per cent) were won. Even more significant was the number of political strikes. In 1909, according to official figures, 7.7 per cent of strikes were political; in 1910, the figure was 8.1 per cent, but by 1912, the figure was an astonishing 75.8 per cent. These figures provide an unerring barometer of the mood of the masses. Nor did the movement limit itself to strikes. The wave of radicalisation also affected the intelligentsia, especially the youth. The student movement was revived, and soon fell under the influence of the revolutionary Social Democracy. In January-March 1911, the Bolsheviks were already in a position to call student strikes in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov, Tomsk, and Warsaw. There were also mass demonstrations, some of them of an overtly political character, like the extraordinary mass demonstrations which took place at Tolstoy’s funeral in November 1910. The great Russian novelist had earned the hatred of the reactionaries by his progressive views, and had even been excommunicated by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church. But despite official disapproval, it was impossible to prevent the masses from taking advantage of his funeral, not just to say a last farewell to the great man, but above all to express their hatred of the system and the autocratic regime.

The Prague Conference

The failure of the attempt to secure unity convinced Lenin of the need for a clean break. He began to press for a new conference of all genuine revolutionary elements in Russia. In February 1910, Lenin wrote that the conference should be called “first of all, immediately and at all costs”. (LCW, Towards Unity, 13 (26) February, 1910, vol. 16, p. 155.) The Bolsheviks and the Pro-Party Mensheviks collaborated in the setting up of the Russian Organising Commission. It is a characteristic fact that Plekhanov no longer took part in the work. The burden of his Menshevik mistakes had prevented him, at the crucial moment, from making a final organisational break with the Liquidators. In a letter to Maxim Gorky, Lenin wrote: “Plekhanov is hedging, he always acts that way – it’s like a disease – before things break.” (LCW, Letter to Maxim Gorky, 15 September, 1911, vol. 36, p. 185.)

The Prague Conference (the minutes of which have not been published) was a decisive turning point. It was held under extremely difficult underground conditions. The position inside Russia was still too dangerous to allow the holding of a Conference there. Preparations for the Conference were hindered by arrests, although local conferences were held in November 1911. Finally, the conference was held in Prague. The preparations were made by Piatnitsky and Dzerzhinsky with the help of the Czech Social Democrats. Lenin wrote to the latter stressing the need for absolute clandestinity. On 19 October, 1911, he wrote to Anton Nemec: “No one, no organisation must know about this.” Despite all these precautions some of the delegates were arrested on the way to the conference, every detail of which was known to the Okhrana.

The conference opened on the 5 January, 1912, and lasted 12 days. The truth of the matter was that the attendance at the Prague Conference seemed to be an unpromising beginning. There were a mere 14 voting delegates, all but two of them Bolsheviks. The Letts, the Bund, the Polish and Lithuanian and the Caucasian Social Democrats, the Vperyod group, Plekhanov, and also Trotsky’s Pravda were all sent letters of invitation, but did not attend. Plekhanov gave the reason for staying away as ill health. These tendencies either opposed the convening of the conference, or at least entertained grave doubts about such a decisive break. Even now, conciliatory tendencies were still strong in the camp of Bolshevism. Differences and doubts surfaced at the conference, particularly, but by no means exclusively, on the part of the Pro-Party Mensheviks. Y.D. Zevin (who later joined the Bolsheviks and was one of the 26 Baku commissars murdered by the British) caused some controversy by defending the line given to him by Plekhanov. Plekhanov, as Lenin had feared, was already getting cold feet. At the opening session, Zevin read a prepared statement to the effect that he was taking part in this conference “only to the degree that it is not an all-Party conference but the conference of only part of the party”.

A number of Russian delegates, including Lenin’s trusted agent Ordzhonikidze, insisted on issuing invitations to the conference to the national Social Democratic parties and the editors of the party organs of the Vperyodists, Trotsky, and the Party Mensheviks. But all of them refused to attend. “I was against the invitation,” Lenin wrote later, “but the delegates invited the Vperyod group and Trotsky and Plekhanov.” (LCW, Letter to G.L. Shklovsky, 12 March, 1912, vol. 35, p. 25.) That was not all. At least four even wanted to invite the editors (Martov, Dan) of Golos Sotsial-Demokrata, the Mensheviks’ main newspaper, in open opposition to Lenin’s resolve to exclude the ‘Liquidators’ formally from the party. There were other expressions of disconformity. Several delegates criticised Sotsial-Demokrat for publishing articles unintelligible to ordinary workers. The underlying suspicion on the part of those delegates working inside Russia towards the émigré leaders surfaced in the demand, presented by Goloshchekin, Ordzhonikidze, and Spandaryan, that the Bolsheviks’ émigré organisations should be dissolved. Ordzhonikidze stated that the exile organisations were “null and void”, and even called into question the unity with Plekhanov’s group. Spandaryan went further, calling for the dissolving of all exile groups: “Let those who wish to work… join us in Russia”. Here again we see a manifestation of the narrowness of the Party ‘practicos’. Once again, Lenin had to correct the views of these people.

Some say: we must wage war on the émigrés. But we must understand what it is we are fighting against. While the Stolypin regime remains in Russia, there will always be people in exile. But these exiles are linked by a thousand threads to Russia and you are not going to sever these threads, try how you may. (From the Party Archives, quoted in Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2.)

However, despite this foot-dragging by part of the Bolshevik committeemen, the main goal was realised. The Prague Conference marked the final parting of the ways between Bolshevism and Menshevism. As the Mensheviks boycotted the Conference, the preparations went ahead for a purely Bolshevik Conference – in other words, a formal split had occurred. Lenin, in any case, had made his mind up; the moment for temporising had passed. It was necessary to carry out a radical separation of the revolutionary wing from opportunism, and he was not to be swayed by pressure from the conciliators now. The final resolution stated that the Liquidator group around the St. Petersburg periodicals Nasha Zarya and Dyelo Zhizni “has once and for all placed itself outside the party”. Nasha Zarya and Dyelo Zhizni were the organs of the extreme right wing of Menshevism (Potresov and co.). It also stated that the foreign exile groups could not use the name of the RSDLP.

Plekhanov now felt uncomfortable at being left alone with the Bolsheviks, but the Rubicon had now been crossed, and the reservations of the Pro-Party Mensheviks were to no avail. There was no going back now. Although they were the best of all the left Mensheviks, and undoubtedly sincere and devoted to the cause of the working class, they proved to be vacillating and uncertain allies, who would draw back at the decisive moment. This was a centrist current – that is to say, a tendency standing halfway between left reformism and genuine Marxism. Their conduct was absolutely typical of all centrist currents at all times, everywhere. But Lenin was by now in no mood for compromise and their proposals were rejected. Despite the uncompromising tone of the proceedings, however, he understood that the Prague Conference was not the end of the story, but the beginning of a fight to win over the majority of the working class, and also all other elements of the Party who could be won.

On the question of organisation, Lenin once again stressed the need to open up the Party, to form broad organisations capable of taking in the mass of workers newly aroused to political life in the new situation. A commission was set up to work out an organisational resolution. The forms of the party must adapt to changing circumstances. There was a pressing need to involve more people in the work, to give them responsibilities. Until now, the small number of activists in the underground cells had become accustomed to doing everything themselves. Now there needed to be a greater delegation of responsibilities, greater participation, and greater initiative on the part of Social Democratic workers in the factories, the trade unions, and all other organisations where the Party was present. These broader organisations should assume a greater role in the work of the Party. The composition of branch committees should be rotated to reduce the risk of repression. It was also necessary to wrest control of legal organisations from the liberals. This was the essential characteristic of Leninism, which is the polar opposite of all kinds of sectarianism. The proclamation of an independent party was not intended as an empty gesture or formality, but the first step to organising the work of the revolutionaries in the mass organisations, where they were obliged to engage in a struggle to tear the masses away from bourgeois liberal and opportunist leaderships. The conference stressed the role of the party press as an organiser, designating Rabochaya Gazeta (The Workers’ Gazette) as the official party organ.

An important part of the Prague conference was to work out a concrete programme of action to build the Party. Lenin attached great importance to the area reports, which put flesh and blood on the bare bones of his perspectives. A key element in winning the majority of the workers to Bolshevism was the work of the Duma fraction. Bolshevik electoral tactics were outlined by Lenin at the Conference. They were based, on the one hand, on opposition to the tsarist monarchy and the bourgeois-landlord parties which stood behind it. On the other hand, it was necessary to expose the liberals and remain completely independent from them. The Duma fraction must strive for a fighting agreement only with the representatives of the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie (the peasantry) – the Trudoviks and SRs. The Party was to put up its own candidates in all areas, but, under certain conditions, it was permissible to reach partial agreements with ‘other groups’, including the Liquidators. The conference resolution explained that:

The party must wage a merciless war against the tsarist autocracy and the parties of landlords and capitalists that support it, persistently exposing at the same time the counter-revolutionary views and false democracy of the bourgeois liberals (with the Cadet party at their head). Special attention should be paid in the election campaign to maintaining the independence of the party of the proletariat from all the non-proletarian parties, to revealing the petty bourgeois nature of the pseudo-socialism of the democratic groups (mainly the Trudoviks, the Narodniks, and the Socialist-Revolutionaries), and to exposing the harm done to the cause of democracy by their vacillations on questions of mass revolutionary struggle. (Quoted in A.Y. Badayev, Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, p. 20.)

The Provocateur Malinovsky

In addition to the groups already mentioned, there was another tendency present at the Prague Conference, albeit in an ‘unofficial’ capacity. The tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, had succeeded in placing its agents provocateurs at the highest levels of the Party and some of these unbeknownst to the rest of the delegates, two of which were present at the Bolsheviks’ founding congress. The delegate from Moscow was none other than the notorious agent provocateur Roman Malinovsky, the member of the Bolshevik Duma fraction, accompanied on this occasion by yet another agent, A.S. Romanov, the delegate from the central industrial region. Every speech and resolution was known to the police thanks to their conscientious reports. In an attempt to protect the members of the new Central Committee from the danger of arrest, special conspiratorial methods were used to guard against the police. Each delegate wrote the surname of the candidates and then handed it in to Lenin. The result was not even announced at the Conference. But Roman Malinovsky, a highly skilled provocateur, had already done a very effective job of gaining Lenin’s confidence. Malinovsky had succeeded in getting not only onto the CC but also into the Duma fraction. There were agents provocateurs in all opposition parties in Russia. The Party was hit by a series of police raids in Petersburg in February and March 1912. In a letter dated 28 March, Lenin wrote anxiously that “our affairs are bad there”.

The presence of a spy at such a high level in the Party bears witness to the extraordinary efficiency and tenacity of the Tsar’s secret service. This was no isolated instance. The tactic of provocation and spying had been developed to a fine art by the tsarist regime over a long period. The Bolshevik Party was constantly plagued by police infiltrators, some of whom succeeded in penetrating key positions. Such a man was Zhitomirsky, who even before 1905 occupied an important post in the underground organisation in Berlin, where he collaborated with Piatnitsky in the transportation of Bolshevik literature to Russia. “By all appearances he was one of us,” recalls Bobrovskaya, “a sincere, 100 per cent Bolshevik.” (C. Bobrovskaya, Provocateurs I Have Known, p. 13.) After the December defeat, and the Bolshevik centre was once more transferred abroad, Zhitomirsky offered his services to restore the old connections in Europe and organise the transportation of clandestine Bolshevik literature into Russia. The offer was accepted. After a time, he became a member of the all-important technical commission of the Central Committee, in charge of all underground work. As a result, the tsarist authorities were always one step ahead. One after another, Bolshevik groups were discovered and raided by the police. Not until 1911 was he caught red-handed in an act of provocation. Zhitomirsky was spirited away by his masters before he could be called to account, and there were plenty of others to take his place.

There were a number of reasons why the Okhrana was so successful in penetrating the revolutionary movement (not only the Bolsheviks) at this time. As we have already seen, the defeat of the 1905 Revolution had caused widespread demoralisation, especially, but not exclusively, among the intellectuals. Many people lost their bearings. Ideological backsliding, scepticism, cynicism, apostasy, all are the natural by-products of such periods, which are all too common in the history of the movement. A revolutionary without the necessary theoretical understanding or the necessary backbone, isolated in prison, under relentless interrogation by skilled agents, can crack under the pressure. After that, things have their own logic. The apparent ease with which some of these agents rose to the top at that time is also not difficult to understand. In a period of rampant reaction, with the party organisations smashed and the most experienced people in prison or exile, it was inevitable that their place would be taken by new, untested elements. Among these, it was relatively easy for the police to insert its agents. Given the extreme shortage of capable personnel, anyone showing ability would stand a good chance of obtaining a leading position. And the way to their advancement could be eased by the simple expedient of arresting anyone who represented an obstacle.

In this context, it is not hard to explain the rise of Roman Malinovsky. Polish by birth, Malinovsky was personally capable, intelligent, and energetic, although with the traits of an adventurer. Before moving to Moscow, he had been President of the St. Petersburg Metal Workers’ Union. Malinovsky had been arrested and exiled for party work. His credentials were therefore impeccable, and there was nothing remotely to suggest a darker side to the man, although he had in fact become an agent of the tsarist police in 1910. As a matter of fact, the police helped him to get selected as the Bolshevik parliamentary candidate by the usual method of arresting the alternative candidates! The police records show that he was paid a quantity of money for each arrest – 500 roubles, 700 roubles, and so on. But it is likely that a man like Malinovsky did not work just for the money. There is a kind of person with the psychology of an adventurer, a person without any fixed principles who enjoys excitement and even takes a certain pride in acting a part, deceiving people, and so on. In the criminal world, such people can make a good living as confidence tricksters – until they are caught. Malinovsky was the type of demoralised ex-revolutionary in whom cynicism had completely smothered all class instinct and obliterated all conscience. The daredevil element, the excitement of play-acting, of living two lives, the danger which also appeals to real spies, in his case probably served to blunt the sense of betrayal and shut off to his mind the enormity of what he was doing. Either way, he seems to have taken a perverse pride in his ‘work’, which was highly successful for some time.

During his period in the Duma, Malinovsky did such good work and was so popular that no one suspected him of being an agent. When the Mensheviks had accused him of being an agent, Lenin indignantly rejected the charge. This was also understandable. The virulence of the factional struggle was such that it spawned all sorts of irresponsible rumours about individuals. Lenin naturally attributed this to the usual factional malice and gossip about a leading member of the Bolshevik Duma fraction spread by its enemies. Bobrovskaya recalls the
atmosphere in party circles in Moscow shortly after the Prague Conference. Her brother had been arrested and their apartment searched by the police shortly after he had handed over addresses and secret meeting places on the frontier to Malinovsky, prior to his departure as a delegate.

When I was allowed my first visit to my brother, he managed to whisper to me: “Someone is spying in Moscow; I was sure of it after my first interrogation by the police. They know absolutely everything”. However, there was no one further from our thoughts in this connection than Malinovsky; anyone but he, our rising star, whose speeches from the Duma tribune later attracted general attention. (Ibid., p. 28.)

Yet all their successes in infiltrating revolutionary organisations, even at a very high level, all the provocations, the spying, the arrests, in the last resort, availed them nothing. There is a general tendency on the part of historically bankrupt regimes to attach excessive importance to the supposed strength of the state, especially the technical side of the apparatus of repression. This is a prejudice that can sometimes rub off on some ‘Marxists’ who can develop a strangely superstitious respect for the power of the state – a peculiar mirror image of the delusions of the ruling class. In fact, all the power of the state can crumble to dust, the moment it is confronted by the organised power of the masses, determined to put an end to their slavery and change society. A more powerful state (apparently) than Russian tsarism it would be difficult to imagine, with its mighty army, numerous police force, Cossack auxiliaries and vast bureaucracy. One arm of that state – as of any other – was the secret police. Here the art of provocation was developed to heights hitherto unimagined. But in the moment of truth, what did it all matter? The working class, under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, just swept it all aside with a brush of its hand.

A revolutionary organisation will, of course, take all possible measures to combat and hinder the attempts of the capitalist state to spy and infiltrate its ranks (this is a fact of life, even in the most ‘democratic’ states), but, in the final analysis, such activities cannot be decisive, and can even be counterproductive. Paradoxically, agents like Malinovsky, precisely in order to escape suspicion, are themselves compelled to do the work of the revolution. Years later, after the Bolsheviks had assumed power, Lenin was philosophical when he looked back on the Malinovsky case. Certainly, Malinovsky had betrayed dozens of comrades to arrest, hard labour, and death. Yet while he was there he was obliged to help the party set up a legal daily, Pravda. With one hand he sent comrades to prison, with the other, in order to escape detection, he helped the building of the revolutionary party. Such are the ironies of life! And ironies accompanied Malinovsky to his death. When, shortly before the First World War, he suddenly disappeared, and the Mensheviks redoubled their attacks, Lenin still refused to believe it, although the incident served as an unpleasant distraction. When Malinovsky was finally expelled, it was on a charge of a breach of discipline, for abandoning his post without permission!

Only after the October Revolution, when the Bolsheviks finally opened the police files, did they learn the stupefying truth about Malinovsky’s real role. What happened next constitutes a mystery suitable for a fictional spy story. At the time when the archives of the Okhrana were giving up their secrets, Malinovsky was working in Germany as a Soviet diplomat. When he received the fateful summons to Moscow, he must have realised immediately that he had been discovered. Although it would have been easy for him to slip away, he returned to Russia. Why did he go back? Was he so demoralised that he no longer cared what happened to him? Or, as seems more likely, did he entertain the idea of throwing himself on the mercy of the Party, professing loyalty to the revolution? If so, it turned out badly for him. Malinovsky paid for his crimes with his life.

After the Conference

Shortly after the Prague conference, on 28 February, 1912, the Mensheviks and all the other groups organised a separate conference in Paris. The split was now a fact, recognised by all. Present at the Paris meeting were the foreign committee of Bund, Plekhanov’s group, the Vperyod group, the Golos group, Trotsky’s group, and the conciliators. They raged about the Bolsheviks ‘splitting’ activities and ‘coup d’état’. As on earlier occasions, they made a fuss abroad, writing in the SDP press and sending a protest to the International Socialist Bureau. But all to no avail. The split between revolutionary Marxism and opportunism in Russia was an anticipation of the split in the international workers’ movement that occurred in 1914. Although neither he nor anyone else could foresee the terrible betrayal perpetrated by the leaders of the Second International in the First World War, Lenin was already drawing conclusions about the clash between Marxism and opportunism from the experience in Russia and the position of the leaders of the International in relation to it. Referring to the situation in the German SDP, he said it was “on the outside, unity, on the inside two sharply defined tendencies”, and he predicted the inevitability of conflict between them.

Lenin regarded the Prague Conference as the rebirth of the party. After the conference Lenin wrote to Maxim Gorky: “We have finally succeeded – in spite of the liquidationist scoundrels – in reviving the Party and its Central Committee.” (LCW, Letter to Maxim Gorky, February 1912, vol. 35, p. 23.) He hoped that, having extricated themselves from entanglement with the Mensheviks, the genuine revolutionary current could get down to the task of winning the working class. However, the process of separating out the revolutionary wing did not occur easily or without internal conflict. The response of the other tendencies to the Prague Conference was predictably hysterical, and many of the Bolsheviks were still wavering even after the Prague Conference. In a letter to his sister Anna, Lenin describes the atmosphere among the exiles:

Among our people here, by the way, there is more bickering and abuse of each other than there has been for a long time – there probably never has been so much before. All the groups and subgroups have joined forces against the last conference and those who organised it, so that matters even went as far as fisticuffs at meetings here. In short, there is so little here that is interesting or even pleasant that it’s not worth writing. (Letter to his sister Anna, 24 March, 1912, LCW, vol. 37, p. 474.)

Worse still, many of the activists in Russia, including the Bolsheviks, were conciliators. Lenin later conceded in private to Gorky that the “young workers in Russia” were “furiously irritated with those abroad”. (See LCW, Letter to Maxim Gorky, 25 August, 1912, vol. 35, p. 54.) Lenin’s correspondence in the months following the Prague Conference reveals his worried frame of mind. On 28 March he wrote to his supporters in Russia: “I am terribly upset and disturbed by the complete disorganisation of our (and your) relations and contacts. Truly it is enough to make one despair!” He admits that “things are bad” in St. Petersburg. And not only there: “No resolutions from anywhere, not a single one, demanding the money! [i.e., the Bolshevik funds held by the Socialist International.] Simply a disgrace. Neither from Tiflis nor from Baku (terribly important centres) is there any word of sense about reports having been delivered. Where are the resolutions? Shame and disgrace!” Later he wrote: “You are wrong not to reply to the Liquidators. This is a great mistake.” (LCW, vol. 35, p. 28, p. 29 and p. 36.) There were many such letters.

Meanwhile, the opponents of the Conference were not inactive. Trotsky tried to organise another meeting in August 1912 in Berne, but only the Liquidators turned up, as if to underline the hopeless position he had got himself into. Describing his attitude at that time, Trotsky writes:

In 1912, when the political curve in Russia took an unmistakable upward turn, I made an attempt to call a union conference of representatives of all the Social Democratic factions. To show that I was not alone in the hope of restoring the unity of the Russian Social Democracy, I can cite Rosa Luxemburg. In the summer of 1911, she wrote: “Despite everything, the unity of the party could still be saved if both sides could be forced to call a conference together.” In August 1911, she reiterated: “The only way to save the unity is to bring about a general conference of people sent from Russia, for the people in Russia all want peace and unity, and they represent the only force that can bring the fighting cocks abroad to their senses.”

Among the Bolsheviks themselves, conciliatory tendencies were then still very strong, and I had hoped that this would induce Lenin also to take part in a general conference. Lenin, however, came out with all his force against union. The entire course of the events that followed proved conclusively that Lenin was right. The conference met in Vienna in August 1912, without the Bolsheviks, and I found myself formally in a ‘bloc’ with the Mensheviks and a few disparate groups of Bolshevik dissenters. This ‘bloc’ had no common political basis, because in all important matters I disagreed with the Mensheviks. My struggle against them was resumed immediately after the conference. Every day, bitter conflicts grew out of the deep-rooted opposition of the two tendencies, the social-revolutionary and the democratic-reformist.

“From Trotsky’s letter,” writes Axelrod on 4 May, shortly before the conference, “I got the very painful impression that he had not the slightest desire to come to a real and friendly understanding with us and our friends in Russia… for a joint fight against the common enemy.” Nor had I, in fact nor could I possibly have had, an intention of allying myself with the Mensheviks to fight against the Bolsheviks. After the conference, Martov complained in a letter to Axelrod that Trotsky was reviving the “worst habits of the Lenin-Plekhanov literary individualism.” The correspondence between Axelrod and Martov, published a few years ago, testifies to this perfectly unfeigned hatred of me. Despite the great gulf which separated me from them, I never had any such feeling toward them. Even today, I gratefully remember that in earlier years I was indebted to them for many things.

The episode of the August bloc has been included in all the ‘anti-Trotsky’ textbooks of the epigone period. For the benefit of the novices and the ignorant, the past is there presented in such a way as to suggest that Bolshevism came out of the laboratory of history fully armed – whereas the history of the struggle of the Bolsheviks against the Mensheviks is also a history of ceaseless efforts toward unity. After his return to Russia in 1917, Lenin made the last effort to come to terms with the Mensheviks-Internationalists. When I arrived from America in May of the same year, the majority of the Social Democratic organisations in the provinces consisted of united Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. At the party conference in March 1917, a few days before Lenin’s arrival, Stalin was preaching union with the party of Tsereteli. Even after the October Revolution, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, Lunacharsky, and dozens of others were fighting madly for a coalition with the Social Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks. And these are the men who are now trying to sustain their ideological existence by hair-raising stories about the Vienna unity conference of 1912! (L. Trotsky, My Life, pp. 224-26.)

The August Bloc was an unprincipled amalgam because it was made up of different tendencies with nothing in common except their hostility to Lenin. All talk about ‘unity’ was completely irrelevant now. When the Vperyod representative walked out, Trotsky was left with the Liquidators, with whom he had absolutely nothing in common – a completely unnatural bloc, as Trotsky later honestly admitted. Trotsky was undoubtedly mistaken in his attempt to get unity at this time, but his mistake was that of a genuine revolutionary with the interests of the working class and the victory of socialism at heart. Many years later Trotsky gave his final verdict on the August Bloc and his role in it:

I have in mind the so-called August Bloc of 1912. I participated actively in this bloc. In a certain sense I created it. Politically I differed with the Mensheviks on all fundamental questions. I also differed with the ultra-left Bolsheviks, the Vperyodists. In the general tendency of politics I stood far more closely to the Bolsheviks. But I was against the Leninist ‘regime’ because I had not yet learned to understand that in order to realise the revolutionary goal a firmly welded centralised party is indispensable. And so I formed this episodic bloc consisting of heterogeneous elements which was directed against the proletarian wing of the party.

In the August Bloc the Liquidators had their own faction, the Vperyodists also had something resembling a faction. I stood isolated, having co-thinkers but no faction. Most of the documents were written by me and through avoiding principled differences had as their aim the creation of a semblance of unanimity upon ‘concrete political questions’. Not a word about the past! Lenin subjected the August Bloc to merciless criticism and the harshest blows fell to my lot. Lenin proved that inasmuch as I did not agree politically with either the Mensheviks or the Vperyodists my policy was adventurism. This was severe but it was true.

As ‘mitigating circumstances’ let me mention the fact that I had set as my task not to support the right or ultra-left factions against the Bolsheviks but to unite the whole party as a whole. The Bolsheviks, too, were invited to the August conference. But since Lenin flatly refused to unite with the Mensheviks (in which he was completely correct) I was left in an unnatural bloc with the Mensheviks and the Vperyodists. The second mitigating circumstance is this, that the very phenomenon of Bolshevism as the genuine revolutionary party was then developing for the first time – in the practice of the Second International there were no precedents. But I do not thereby seek in the least to absolve myself from guilt. Notwithstanding the conception of permanent revolution which undoubtedly disclosed the correct perspective, I had not freed myself at that period especially in the organisational sphere from the traits of a petty-bourgeois revolutionist. I was sick with the disease of conciliationism toward Menshevism and with a distrustful attitude toward Leninist centralism. Immediately after the August conference the bloc began to disintegrate into its component parts. Within a few months I was not only in principle but organisationally outside the bloc. (L. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, pp. 177-78.)

The incident of the so-called August Bloc was later blown out of all proportion by the Stalinist falsifiers of the history of Bolshevism, with their barefaced invention of ‘Trotsky’s Bloc’ with the Liquidators. The August Bloc undoubtedly represented the shipwreck of conciliationism, showing the impossibility of unity between Bolshevism and Menshevism. Trotsky was particularly upset at this move towards a split which upset all his plans. He railed against Lenin, who replied in kind. Some harsh words were said on both sides in the heat of the moment, which would later be fished out of the archives and used by the Stalinists for unprincipled factional purposes in the struggle to discredit Trotsky after Lenin’s death, despite the explicit instructions in his Testament that “Trotsky’s non-Bolshevik past should not be used against him”.

A New Awakening

The year 1912 had begun quietly enough. The Factory Inspectorate only registered 21 strikes in January and the same number in February. Then, without warning, a bombshell burst in a clear blue sky. The Lena goldfield in Siberia was one of the biggest gold mines in the world. Among the shareholders was the Tsar’s mother, Count Witte, and government ministers. At the end of February a strike broke out in Lena over the atrocious wages and conditions. Significantly, the chairman of the strike committees was a Bolshevik, P.N. Batashev. The government sent in the troops, who, on 4 April, opened fire on a crowd of 3,000 miners, killing 270 and wounding a further 250. It was Bloody Sunday all over again. The shots that echoed over the frozen tundra broke the ice of five years of reaction.

The news of the massacre of miners had an electrifying effect. On 7 and 8 April, mass protest meetings were held in the factories of St. Petersburg. A few days later, with incredible stupidity, Makarov, the Minister of the Interior, answering questions in the Duma, said “so it was, and so it will be in the future”. The indignation of the masses finally boiled over. Between 14 and 22 April there were 140,000 on strike in St. Petersburg and from 12 to 30 April, 70,000 in Moscow. The protest strikes spread to the Ukraine, the Baltic states, the Middle Volga, Belorussia, Lithuania, Poland, and the North and Central industrial regions. This was followed by a new wave of strikes on 1 May, when 400,000 workers came out. These strikes were increasingly of a political character. There were 700 political strikes in April. On 1 May, there were more than 1,000 strikes in the St. Petersburg area – a higher number than in 1905. The knot of history was retied: the workers continued where they had left off in 1907, but on a higher level. The workers had learned from their experience. In January 1905 they began with appeals to the Little Father. Now they began with the slogan, ‘Down with the tsarist government!’

After Lena, everything changed in a matter of days. M.F. Van Koten, the St. Petersburg Okhrana Chief, wrote to the Police Department: “The events at Lena have heightened the mood of the local revolutionary groups and of factory workers.” (Quoted in R.B. McKean, St. Petersburg Between the Revolutions, p. 88.) Suddenly, the fortunes of the Bolsheviks were transformed. In 1905 the Social Democrats had been in a weak position with a very scant presence in the working class. And the Bolsheviks had been in a still weaker position within the Social Democracy. Now the opposite was the case. The Bolsheviks quickly became the decisive force within the Social Democracy, and the Social Democracy was the decisive political force in the working class. Responding quickly to events, they called on the workers to take revolutionary action. Using Zvezda as a legal front, they were able to give leadership to the mass movement, issuing fighting slogans and directives. The swift reaction of the Bolsheviks and their militant stance facilitated the rapid growth of Bolshevik numbers and influence. It also completely justified the split, which had, in fact, come just in time. To have remained entangled with the Mensheviks at such a moment would have meant paralysis.

The workers quickly took up the Bolshevik slogans on May Day: ‘Long live the democratic republic!’ ‘Long live socialism!’ The movement was not restricted to the workers. The student movement was given a new impetus by the Lena events which sparked off a ferment in the universities. This presented new possibilities for the spread of revolutionary ideas. But a lot of work was still needed to win complete hegemony of the mass movement. In particular, the re-awakening of democratic aspirations and the undoubted presence of constitutional illusions could have strengthened the influence of the bourgeois-liberals, who appeared to be ‘in opposition’. They were well-known public figures, not averse to making demagogic speeches ‘for democracy’, and speaking in the name of ‘the people’. For this reason, Lenin’s main fire was directed against the bourgeois liberals.

Revitalised and elated by the change in the situation, which he had awaited for so long, Lenin immediately set about galvanising his comrades and spurring them into action. In the latter part of June, he and Krupskaya moved from Paris to Kraków, in the Austrian-held part of Poland, in order to be nearer the revolution. Krupskaya recalls this period as only “half-emigration” when they had ever closer ties with the interior. From here, he bombarded the Party with letters, calls to action, complaints, and words of encouragement. It was also a relief to get away from the enervating atmosphere of intrigue, backstabbing and gossip which characterised émigré life in Paris. He wrote to Gorky that summer:

You ask me why I am in Austria. The Central Committee has set up a bureau here (entre nous); we are nearer to St. Petersburg, and it is much easier to write articles for the papers in Russia, and collaboration is being arranged. There is less wrangling, and that too is an advantage. There is no good library, and that is a disadvantage. It is hard to live without good books. (Quoted in R. Payne, The Life and Death of Lenin, p. 248.)

Lenin and Pravda

Throughout the year, the revolutionary movement was on the ascendant. The mood of revolt spread to the troops. There were mutinies in the Baltic Fleet, where the sailors, mostly of proletarian origins, were affected by the mood of the workers of nearby St. Petersburg. 500 Baltic Fleet sailors were arrested and sent for court martial. On 26 October, the Petersburg Bolsheviks called a strike in protest at the repression of the sailors. The protest spread to Moscow, Riga, Reval, Nikolaev, Nizhny Novgorod, Berdyansk, and other working class centres, anticipating the future unity of workers and soldiers in 1917.

After the long, frustrating years in the wilderness, the Party now began to experience rapid growth. By early 1913 the Bolsheviks had 22 workers’ cells in Moscow. The new upswing had a positive effect on morale and growth everywhere. Freed from the restrictive and debilitating influence of the Liquidators and the interminable internal conflicts, the Bolsheviks advanced with giant strides, under their own colours. This time the Mensheviks had missed the boat. However, rapidly changing conditions posed the need for a swift transformation of the Party’s methods and an urgent strengthening of the apparatus. The bourgeois liberals had the means to publish ‘popular’ papers like Sovremennik (The Contemporary) which, for lack of an alternative, was widely read by workers. The struggle against bourgeois influence in the masses demanded a Bolshevik daily paper. The Bolshevik Zvezda reached the minority of active workers, but it was quite insufficient for the changed situation. The Prague Conference agreed to launch a daily paper with the name Rabochaya Gazeta. In the spring of 1912 preparations were begun for the new publication. A team was formed consisting of N.N. Baturin, M.S. Olimsky, N.G. Poletaev, and CC members Ordzhonikidze and Stalin.

At the same time the Liquidators were talking about a daily and began an appeal for funds, although without success. By late March in Petersburg, Zvezda had the support of 108 groups of workers, the Mensheviks seven! By April, after the Lena events, the figures were 227 to eight. By late April, the Bolsheviks had collected enough money to issue the paper, which they called by the well-known name of Pravda. This meant, in effect, appropriating the name of Trotsky’s paper, a move which considerably embittered relations between the Bolsheviks and Trotsky, who, in a moment of anger, wrote a stinging attack on Lenin in a private letter not meant for publication which was later fished out and used unscrupulously by the Stalinists to blacken Trotsky’s name.

The new Pravda was an instant success. The first issue had a print run of 60,000. This was an invaluable weapon in the middle of a massive strike wave. Pravda was a real workers’ paper with links to every factory. Worker correspondents wrote in every issue commenting on every aspect of working class life. About 5,000 letters from workers were received in the first year. Regular columns included ‘Strikes in Petersburg’ and ‘Strikes in the Provinces’. Pravda was much more than a paper. It was a real organiser. In its pages there was not only a lot of information about the workers’ movement, but also directives and slogans, and many letters about the life and conditions of the workers written by workers themselves. This was not just a paper ‘for workers’, but a real workers’ paper, something they could identify with as their own. However, Pravda did not limit itself to describing what is. It also included theory as a necessary means of raising the consciousness of its readers to the level of the tasks demanded by history. It regularly featured Lenin’s articles, which provided the necessary theoretical generalisations and explanations, as well as polemics against other trends, with particular emphasis on exposing the Liquidators.

Lenin paid careful attention to Pravda, and wrote a large number of articles for it – out of 75 issues that came out between March and May of 1913, 41 contain at least one of Lenin’s articles. He also tried to involve Plekhanov, Gorky, and other intellectuals in Pravda, although Plekhanov was already moving away. Nor was Lenin’s participation limited to writing articles. He was also actively involved in reading and correcting articles, studying the reports and correspondence in order to gain a more accurate idea of what was going on in the factories, following the circulation figures, and analysing the results of financial campaigns. Such close attention was not at all accidental. Lenin well understood the key role of the paper as an organiser. To the degree that there is a serious organisation, capable of penetrating every factory, setting up a network of worker correspondents, raising money from the workers, sending regular reports, and the hundred-and-one other tasks involved in the workers’ press, the basis and framework is already established for far bigger tasks.

The new paper did not escape the attention of the authorities. Pravda had to contend with censorship, fines, and police raids. About 17 per cent of all the issues were confiscated in 1912. In May-June 1913 it was up to 40 per cent. By July-September the figure was 80 per cent! In an effort to fool the authorities, they changed its name repeatedly. The paper came out as Rabochaya Pravda (Workers’ Truth), Pravda Truda (Labour Truth), Severnaya Pravda (Northern Truth) and so on. Each time, the authorities imposed a new ban, and each time a new title appeared. And so the cat-and-mouse game went on. Apart from the legal problems, there was a permanent struggle to keep the paper going financially. There were continuous efforts to raise cash. Unlike the Mensheviks, who raised most of their finance from wealthy sympathisers, the Bolsheviks were proud of the fact that they raised most of their funds from small sums collected by the workers themselves. In the long run, this is the only really firm base for financing a revolutionary party. In 1912 there were 620 groups of workers organising collections for the paper, and by 1913, it was up to 2,181. Pravda was maintained mainly by the ‘kopecks of the workers’.

Neither persecution nor the lack of funds could halt the advance of the workers’ daily. Pravda’s influence increased by leaps and bounds. Tens of thousands of workers read the paper, often in groups, passing copies from one workshop to another. Pravda galvanised a wide layer of non-party workers around the Party, considerably expanding its influence and periphery. The local party organisations were given targets of money to raise to support Pravda. By such means the paper began to occupy a central place in the building of the Party – a collective organiser. By early 1913, the paper had not only increased its size, but its run was up too. Starting the year with a circulation of 23,000, by mid-March, it rose to 30–32,000, and 40–42,000 on Sundays. By the summer the number of individual and collective subscribers was an impressive 5,501. This automatically meant a growth in party membership, which had increased to 30–50,000 by September 1913. Groups of supporters were set up all over the country, even in far-off Tashkent in Central Asia. Eventually Pravda even began to penetrate the villages.

Despite the phenomenal success of Pravda, relations between Lenin and the paper’s editorial board were far from smooth. A section of the editorial board did not approve of Lenin’s attacks on the Liquidators: Stalin, S.S. Danilov, N.N. Lebedev, V.M. Molotov, S.M. Nakhimson, M.S. Olminsky – all opposed using the paper for factional disagreements. This detail reveals a total lack of understanding on the part of Lenin’s collaborators, even at this late stage. Lenin tried to ‘patiently explain’ the facts of life to his collaborators.

It is harmful, destructive, ridiculous to conceal differences from the workers (as Pravda is doing)… If you remain silent, you have abstained. And a paper which abstains, has perished. (V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, in Russian, vol. 48, p. 71.)

Lenin’s strained relations with other Bolshevik leaders were directly related to the question of tactics in the Duma. Early in 1912, the editors of Zvezda had published an article by the Bolshevik conciliator M.I. Frumkin, who demanded a single Social Democratic electoral programme and openly came out in favour of the Mensheviks’ electoral slogans. (See R.B. McKean, St. Petersburg Between the Revolutions, p. 132.) So sharp did the conflict become that the editorial board of Pravda, where Stalin was in charge at the time, pointedly refused to publish a single article by Lenin or Zinoviev on questions of electoral strategy. This produced a furious row. Even a superficial reading of Lenin’s correspondence with Pravda at this time shows that there was a running battle between him and the editors. Krupskaya notes that: “Sometimes – but not often – Ilyich’s articles got lost. At other times they were held up and inserted only after some delay. Ilyich used to worry; he wrote angry letters to Pravda, but that did not help much.” (N.K. Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, p. 261.)

During the election campaign for the Fourth Duma in 1912, Lenin wrote to the Pravda editorial board:

Pravda is carrying on now, at election time, like a sleepy old maid. Pravda doesn’t know how to fight. It does not attack, it does not persecute either the Cadet or the Liquidator.

Some time in October, he wrote to the editorial board in language which shows Lenin’s burning indignation at Pravda’s failure to expose the Liquidators:

The undersigned, now in the capacity of a permanent political contributor to Pravda and Nevskaya Zvezda, considers it his duty to express his protest against the behaviour of the colleagues in charge of these newspapers at a critical time.

The elections in St. Petersburg, both in the workers’ curia and in the 2nd urban curia, are a critical moment, a moment for realising the results of five years of work, a moment for determining, in many respects, the direction of work for the next five years.

At such a moment, the leading organ of working class democrats must follow a clear, firm, and precisely defined policy. But Pravda, which is in many respects effectively the leading organ, is not conducting such a policy.

And he continues:

Pravda itself has admitted that there are two clearly formalised lines, platforms, collective wills (the August, or Liquidators’, line and the January line). Yet Pravda creates the opinion that it is carrying on some third line ‘of its own’, invented only yesterday by someone and amounting (as we have learned from St. Petersburg through other channels, since Pravda’s editorial board has stubbornly refused to favour us with a reply) either to letting the Liquidators have one of the three candidates, or handing over to them the whole of the 2nd curia “in exchange for the workers’ curia”. If these rumours are untrue, Pravda bears the entire responsibility for them, because you cannot sow such uncertainty among Marxists that unquestionable friends, Marxists, believe these rumours, and pass them on.

At this hot time, Nevskaya Zvezda is closed down, without a single letter or explanation, collective exchange of opinion is completely interrupted, and political contributors are left in the dark, not knowing whom they are helping after all to get elected; may it not be a Liquidator? I am obliged hotly to protest against this, and to decline any responsibility for this abnormal situation, which is pregnant with drawn-out conflicts. (LCW, To the Editorial Board of Pravda, first half of October, 1912, vol. 36, p. 198, p. 194 and pp. 195-6.)

Finally, Lenin’s patience was exhausted:

We received a stupid and impudent letter from the editorial board (of Pravda). We will not reply. They must be got rid of… We are exceedingly disturbed by the absence of news about the plan for reorganising the editorial board… Reorganisation, but better still, the complete expulsion of all the old timers, is extremely necessary. (My emphasis.)

Lenin protested against the systematic censorship of his articles:

Why then does Pravda stubbornly and systematically cut out any mention of the Liquidators, both in my articles and in the articles of other colleagues? (LCW, To the Editors of Pravda, 1/8/1912, vol. 35, p. 47.)

In other letters he demands the return of unpublished articles, many of which vanished without trace. At times, it seems, Lenin did not even receive the paper, and there are also complaints that he was not paid: “Why don’t you pay me the money you owe? This delay is causing us great difficulties.” (LCW, To the Editors of Pravda, 24/11/1912, vol. 35, p. 66.) Finally, Lenin’s patience ran out. In a furious letter to Sverdlov, he wrote:

It is essential to put in our own editorial board of Dyen and throw out the present one. Work is thoroughly bad at present, the boosting of the Bundist Liquidators (Zeit) and the non–Social Democrat Jagiello is an absolute disgrace. The absence of a campaign for unity from below is stupid and base… are such people editors? They are not people, but wretched wet-rags and wreckers of the cause. (LCW, Letter to Sverdlov, 9/2/1913, vol. 35, p. 79.)

Despite the reference to Dyen, this letter in fact deals with the state of affairs in the editorial board of Pravda at the end of 1912 and the beginning of 1913. (See LCW, vol. 35, p. 577, note.) It shows how far relations with Lenin had deteriorated at this time. Only after Lenin exerted heavy pressure at the Kraków conference, did Pravda modify its stance. As late as February 1913, Lenin, while noting with relief the changes in the Pravda editorial board, commented: “You cannot imagine to what extent we have been exhausted by working with a sullenly hostile editorial board.” (LCW, To the Editorial Board of Pravda, vol. 35, p. 82.) But gradually, Lenin succeeded in straightening things out. By the autumn of 1913, Lenin was able to write to Pravda congratulating it on its campaign in support of the Bolshevik deputies in the Duma. (LCW, To the Editorial Board of Za Pravdu, 2-11/11/1913, vol. 35, p. 115.)

Elections to the Fourth Duma

The elections to the Fourth Duma were held in the summer of 1912. To begin with the Mensheviks enjoyed many advantages. Apart from their many well-heeled sympathisers, they had obtained a subsidy from the German SPD and put out a daily legal paper, Luch (Sunbeam), demagogically appealing for ‘unity’, for ‘non-factional’ candidates, etc. This got a certain echo among non-party elements. For their part, the bourgeois-liberal Cadets, fearing with some reason defeat at the polls, resorted to deceit in order to get more votes. Their organ Rech’ (Speech) proclaimed on 3 February: “One should not give one’s vote to a party, or to individual candidates, but either for the strengthening of the constitutional layer in Russian society, or against it.” That was an appeal to the electorate to vote for the ‘progressive forces’ against ‘reaction’, the well-known siren song of opportunists in every period, which tries to blackmail the masses with the threat of reaction to vote for ‘the lesser evil’. Lenin fought against this deceit and for class independence and revolutionary policies. Conditions in Russia were still tough. The police made a series of arrests before the elections. The RSDLP’s electoral platform was illegally distributed in all the factories. From exile in Kraków Lenin impatiently followed the party’s election campaign. Watching for the slightest signs of opportunism on the part of the Bolshevik leadership, he remained implacably opposed to the idea of a non-party ‘progressive bloc’.

As Badayev, a Bolshevik candidate in the elections, writes:

The Bolshevik headquarters for the campaign were the editorial offices of Pravda, which became the scene of hard and continuous work. On these premises, meetings were held with the representatives of the districts and of the individual factories and mills. Simultaneously illegal election meetings were organised in the city districts.

Owing to the fact that incessant watch was kept by the police on every ‘suspicious’ worker, we had to resort to all sorts of subterfuges in order to gather together even in small groups. Usually, in order to avoid the attentions of the police, small meetings of not more than ten to twenty people were called. Summer helped us. Under the guise of picnic-parties, groups of workers went to the suburbs, mostly into the forest beyond the Okhta. The forest was the best refuge from police spies, who would not venture beyond the outskirts, for it was easy to escape from them there, and they were afraid of being attacked in some out-of-the-way spot.

At the meetings vehement arguments arose with the Liquidators. Our party called on the workers to enter the elections on the basic unabridged demands and to elect Bolsheviks only as delegates. The Liquidators talked continually about ‘unity’, the necessity of a united front, the necessity of abandoning factional disputes and, of course, of electing their candidates. (A.Y. Badayev, Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, p. 207.)

And Badayev explains what the attitude of the Bolsheviks was towards the demand for ‘the unity of all progressive forces’:

The Bolsheviks thought it necessary to put up candidates in all workers’ curiae and would not tolerate any agreements with other parties and groups, including the Menshevik-Liquidators.

They also considered it necessary to put up candidates in the so-called ‘second curiae of city electors’ (the first curiae consisted of large property owners and democratic candidates had no chance there at all) and in the elections in the villages, because of the great agitational value of the campaign. But in order to safeguard against the possible victory of reactionary candidates, the Bolsheviks permitted agreements respectively with the bourgeois democrats (Trudoviks, etc.) against the Liberals, and with the Liberals against the government parties during the second ballot for the election of electors in the city curiae. The five big towns (St. Petersburg, Moscow, Riga, Odessa, and Kiev) had a direct system of elections with second ballot. In these towns the Social Democrats put up independent lists of candidates, and as there was no danger of Black Hundred candidates being elected no agreements were entered into with the Liberal bourgeoisie. The resolutions of the Prague party conference, which established these tactics, emphasised that “election agreements must not involve the adoption of a platform, nor must the agreements bind the Social Democratic candidates by any political obligations whatsoever, or prevent the Social Democracy from resolutely criticising the counter-revolutionary nature of the Liberals and the half-heartedness and inconsistency of the bourgeois democrats”. Hence, the agreements entered into by the Bolsheviks in the second ballots were not in the nature of a bloc of political parties. (Ibid., pp. 24-5.)

On the face of it, there would have been a case for uniting with other forces for the sake of getting a bigger parliamentary representation. The electoral law was, of course, heavily weighted against the working class. Under the rigged tsarist electoral system, the voting was indirect. The workers voted for representatives who, in turn, elected 160 ‘electors’ (vyborshechiki), of which the Social Democrats made up 60 per cent. Together with ‘conciliators’ and diverse sympathisers, this figure would have been something like 83 per cent. The majority of the ‘electors’ from working class areas were Bolsheviks. But in the other curiae, the middle class, bourgeois and landlords predominated. Badayev explains:

The electoral law, passed by the government prior to the elections to the First Duma, was so drafted as to secure a majority for the bourgeoisie and the landlords. The voting was not direct but by a system of stages. Various classes of the population (the landlords, the big property-owners in the towns, the peasants, working men, etc.) had first to elect electors, who in turn elected the deputies from among themselves. For the peasants and working men the system was still more complicated; the workers, for example, first elected delegates, who in their turn elected electors, and only the latter took part in the Gubernia electoral colleges, which elected the deputies. In addition there were a number of property qualifications – for instance in the towns only householders (tenants of apartments) were entitled to vote. (Ibid., p. 22.)

Despite all the difficulties, the workers elected 3,500 representatives in all Russia. Of these, the Social Democrats had 54 per cent but if we include sympathisers, their total share was as much as 80 per cent. This was an outstanding triumph for the Bolsheviks, in difficult conditions, which, more than elections, resembled an obstacle race. Under election laws small workshops of less than 50 workers, which were usually more backward and under the thumb of the bosses, had one representative. But the big factories, which tended to be more militant and pro-Bolshevik, had only one representative for every 1,000 workers. In St. Petersburg, out of a total of 82 representatives, there were 26 Bolsheviks, 15 Mensheviks, and 41 non-party RSDLP sympathisers. The police replied with a series of arrests of workers’ representatives. In some factories where Bolsheviks were elected, the employers demanded reruns.

On 20 October, the Petersburg regional congress of electors elected a Bolshevik M.P., A.Y. Badayev, whose book Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, quoted above, is still the best work on this subject. F.N. Samoilov was elected in Vladimir, N.R. Shagov in Kostroma, M.N. Muranov in Kharkov, G.I. Petrovsky in Yekaterinoslav, and R.V. Malinovsky, the agent provocateur, in Moscow. Overall, the Social Democrats presented candidates in 53 towns and won in 32. The Mensheviks got seven of their candidates elected: three in the Caucasus, their traditional stronghold, and one each from the Don, Irkutsk, Tavrichesky, and Ufimsk. Only three were workers. This result marked an amazing triumph for the Bolsheviks, particularly if we bear in mind the fact that their party had only just been established as such and there had been very little time to prepare for the elections. It was a big boost for the organisation.

Bolsheviks in the Duma

The first big success for the Leninist tactic of combining legal and illegal work came in the autumn of 1912 with the election to the workers’ electoral colleges (curiae) in the elections to the Fourth Duma. Up to this time, the Duma fraction had been a Menshevik affair. Now the Bolsheviks for the first time began to develop work in the parliamentary arena. In the Third Duma the Social Democratic fraction consisted of nineteen deputies, divided along the following lines: four Bolsheviks and five sympathisers against ten Menshevik-Liquidators. But in practice, it was the Mensheviks who called the tune. The lines between the two factions were as yet insufficiently clear. Lenin had not yet decided that a split was inevitable. Consequently, up to the period 1912–14, the Social Democratic parliamentary fraction acted as one.

The situation in the Fourth Duma was completely different. The factional struggle had reached a decisive turning point. This was inevitably reflected in the parliamentary group. In the elections to the Fourth Duma the Bolsheviks won an overwhelming majority in the workers’ curiae. The Social Democratic fraction in the Fourth Duma consisted of six Bolsheviks and seven Mensheviks. In addition, one Polish deputy, Jagiello, supported the Mensheviks, making a total of 14 deputies. The Bolsheviks had won the majority in all six of the workers’ colleges of the largest industrial areas. The Menshevik deputies, on the contrary, were elected from non–working-class centres, chiefly the border provinces, where the majority of the population was petty bourgeois. The distribution of workers in the areas concerned shows for whom the working class voted. Badayev gives the figures for the six provinces with workers’ curiae. There were 1,008,000 workers (in factories and mines), whereas in the eight provinces which returned Mensheviks there were 214,000 workers. If Baku province (where the workers were disenfranchised) is included, the figure would be 246,000 workers. The Bolshevik deputies represented 88.2 per cent of the workers’ electors, against only 11.8 per cent for the Mensheviks. The distorted correlation of forces within the Social Democratic Duma fraction is only the result of a rigged electoral system specially designed to reduce the representation of the working class.

The six Bolsheviks were all workers; there were four metal workers (Petrovsky, Muranov, Malinovsky, and Badayev) and two textile workers (Shagov and Samoilov). The Bolshevik deputies were elected in the biggest industrial areas of Russia: G.I. Petrovsky was deputy for the Yekaterinoslav Gubernia, M.K. Muranov for Kharkov Gubernia, N.R. Shagov for the Kostroma Gubernia, F.N. Samoilov for the Vladimir Gubernia, R.V. Malinovsky for the Moscow Gubernia, and A.Y. Badayev for St. Petersburg. By contrast, the Menshevik seven were almost all intellectuals and professional people. The only worker among them, Burianov, was a follower of Plekhanov. The leading lights were all from the upper middle class: Skobelev (who had earlier collaborated with Trotsky on the Vienna Pravda, was the son of a Baku oil magnate; Chkheidze was a journalist; Chkhenkeli, a lawyer; Mankov, an accountant. The Mensheviks had a majority of only one, yet they insisted that they had the support of the majority of the working class. This was entirely false. However, their greater experience and knowledge of the parliamentary ‘tricks of the trade’ at first allowed them to dominate the Bolsheviks, who felt ill at ease in this strange and alien environment. In addition, the Bolshevik Duma fraction, in common with many other leading members of Lenin’s faction, was strongly influenced by conciliationism and, much to Lenin’s annoyance, resisted a break with the Mensheviks.

The laws governing parliamentary activity can be observed in the parliamentary fractions of reformist workers’ parties at all times. The pressures of the ruling class, its ideology and institutions is nowhere so intense as in the parliamentary hothouse. The bourgeoisie has perfected over a long period the necessary mechanisms for bribing, pressuring, and corrupting the parliamentary representatives of the proletariat. Unless the latter are thoroughly imbued with class consciousness and the necessary theoretical understanding to enable them to see through the tricks and manoeuvres of the enemy, they will inevitably tend to succumb to pressure and get sucked into the parliamentary morass of committees, procedure, points of order, and worse. It is not necessarily a question of direct personal corruption, careerism, bribes, etc., although all these weapons are actively employed to buy off the workers’ leaders. In the case of right-wing reformists, many are themselves middle-class lawyers, doctors, and economists standing far closer in their lifestyle and psychology to the bourgeoisie than to the workers they profess to represent. Even the most honest left reformists, even devoted workers from the factory floor steeled in years of struggle, can rapidly fall under the spell of the rarefied atmosphere of this artificial world, far removed from the reality of the class struggle.

For a reformist party, which in any case subordinates everything to the question of electing members of parliament, the independence of the parliamentary fraction from the party, the sacred right of each individual deputy to ‘follow his or her conscience’, is accepted as normal. This is just another way of expressing the independence of the reformist leaders from the working class, and their absolute and total dependence on the bourgeoisie. But for a revolutionary party, for which the parliamentary struggle is only one element in the general struggle of the working class to change society, this is unthinkable. The party, as the organised expression of the most conscious elements of the proletariat, can and must exercise control over its elected representatives at all levels, above all its members of parliament.

It is obvious that parliament is not an ideal platform for worker revolutionaries. The rarefied atmosphere of parliament had overawed the Bolshevik deputies, who at first lamely followed the line of least resistance. Thus, in the very first session, they failed to vote against the Cadet and Octobrist candidate for speaker. The fraction refused to read out the statement prepared by the Bolshevik CC on the grounds that they had their own – which, however, contained no revolutionary appeal to the masses outside parliament. There were other instances, such as when voting for the release of funds for public education during the debate on the budget, they failed to expose the class bias of the government’s education policy. Lenin was immediately alarmed by the way in which the six Bolshevik deputies yet again allowed themselves to be led by the nose:

If all our six are from the workers’ curiae, they must not submit in silence to a lot of Siberians [i.e., intellectual former exiles]. The six must come out with a very clear-cut protest, if they are being lorded over.

The Mensheviks tried to form a counterweight to the CC in the form of a ‘political commission’ of leading lights of the Duma Fraction to consider all questions and issue ‘recommendations’. In other words, the parliamentary bigwigs were to decide on all questions pertaining to the activity of the Duma fraction without reference to the Party. The behaviour of the fraction gave rise to much criticism and discontent in the rank and file, who felt control of the fraction slipping from their hands. Robert McKean comments:

The conciliatory attitude of the six Bolshevik parliamentarians assumed concrete form in several ways. They joined the Mensheviks in condemning the attempt of certain activists to launch a strike on the opening day of the State Duma. Four of them (excluding Malinovsky and Muranov) agreed with their Menshevik colleagues on 15 December, 1912 to merge the two factional newspapers and to the reciprocal inclusion of deputies’ names as collaborators of the respective editorial boards. In the composition of the fraction’s declaration, read out by Malinovsky on 7 December, 1912, the deputies reached a compromise on drafts sent by Lenin and Dan from abroad. Contrary to the claim of Soviet historians that the Bolsheviks forced the inclusion of their slogans, a close reading of the text reveals that the document omitted them, partly because the Mensheviks feared their incorporation would lead to criminal charges. Instead the document referred to a ‘sovereign popular representation’ and universal suffrage, but it did bow to Bolshevik demands by the exclusion of the Menshevik concerns for freedom of coalition and cultural-national autonomy. (R.B. McKean, St. Petersburg Between the Revolutions, pp. 140-41.)

Hiding behind the phraseology of bourgeois parliamentarism, the Menshevik deputies strove to free themselves from the control of the party and acquire ‘independent’ status, but in so doing merely revealed their slavish dependence on the norms of bourgeois parliamentarism and the Cadets and Octobrists. In a meeting of the fraction held on 1 November, 1907, the Mensheviks got through the following resolution:

The Duma Social Democratic fraction is an autonomous group which, while attentive to the voice of the party, in each concrete case of Duma work, shall resolve the issues independently. (Original in the Party Archives, quoted in Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2, p. 312.)

A steady stream of protest letters from Social Democratic workers was received by the Bolshevik organ Proletary. The need to bring public representatives under firm control of the party became a pressing question. Lenin advocated that members of the Duma Fraction should be as much under control as a member of any other of the leading bodies (EC, CC, etc.). Parliamentary work should be conducted in such a way that every party worker should participate in the general Duma work of the party.

Parallel to his struggle against the conciliationism of Pravda, Lenin waged war against the no less harmful conciliationism of the Bolshevik Duma group. As early as January 1912, he wrote: “See to it unconditionally that the letter of the Baku workers which we are sending you is published” (the letter demanded that the Bolshevik Duma group break with the Liquidators). Through the pages of their paper Luch, the Liquidators were waging a demagogic campaign for ‘unity’. Four of the Bolshevik Duma deputies’ names appeared in the list of collaborators of Luch. Lenin was furious. “When will the four (deputies) resign from Luch?” “Must we wait much longer? …Even from distant Baku 20 workers are protesting.” (Quoted in L. Trotsky, Stalin, p. 148.)

In September, he wrote:

The essence of the problem today is that under cover of shouts about unity, the Liquidators are flouting the will of the majority of class-conscious workers in St. Petersburg, and are foisting on the majority of the workers the splinter candidates of the minority intelligentsia, namely, the liquidationist intelligentsia.

All elections in a bourgeois country are accompanied by rampant phrase-mongering and licentious promises. The main principle of Social Democrats is not to trust words but go to the heart of the matter.

The Liquidators’ phrases about unity in their newspaper Luch are a pack of lies. In reality, unity has already been brought about in St. Petersburg by the majority of class-conscious workers against the Liquidators; it was established by the May Day demonstration, and by the support given to Pravda by 550 groups of workers against the 16 groups of Liquidators. (LCW, Workers’ Unity and the Elections, vol. 36, pp. 191-92.)

Under pressure of the remorseless criticism of Lenin, the Bolshevik deputies began to play a more active role in Duma affairs and distance themselves from the Menshevik ‘Siberians’. Given the general lack of freedom to carry out agitation and propaganda on behalf of the workers and peasants, the work in the Duma acquired an enormous significance. Of course, there were severe limitations. Theoretically the deputies had ‘parliamentary privilege’ but in practice could be arrested at any moment. Even within the Duma, the Social Democrats were confronted with all sorts of obstacles.

Nevertheless, all kinds of important issues were raised, which demanded a concrete response from the workers’ parliamentary representatives: the state budget, the rights of soldiers, Church subsidies, the conditions of workers, and, above all, the land question. This provided a wide scope for developing mass agitation and propaganda. What could not be said inside the Duma was supplemented by the illegal Party publications outside. Legal work was combined with illegal. This was the only way of preserving the revolutionary principles of the Party, while maintaining close links with the masses. Particularly good agitational speeches made by Social Democratic deputies were printed and distributed among the workers. Such a case was Surkov’s speech against Church subsidies, which was singled out for praise by Lenin, and ended with the words:

Civil servants in vestments are just as much enemies of the people as civil servants in uniforms… Not one penny of the people’s money for these bloody enemies of the people, these obscurers of the popular consciousness.

Lenin was particularly pleased because this speech completely exploded the god-builders’ myth that ‘religion is a personal affair’. In the 1909 budget debate the Social Democratic fraction exposed the fraud whereby an exorbitant amount of the workers’ money went to pay off the Tsar’s debts. On all such questions, the revolutionaries in the Duma mercilessly exposed the landlords and capitalists and the autocracy, setting out from concrete problems which directly affected the lives of the masses. At the same time, they exposed the limitation of the Duma itself: “The proletariat, of course, does not expect a solution for the worker question from the Third Duma,” said Polovsky in summing up in a debate on wages of workers. (Quoted in Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2, p. 314 in both quotes.)

The work in the Duma enabled the Party to address itself to the peasantry in a way that normal propaganda and agitation would not have permitted. By participating in the parliamentary debates on the land question, proposing agreements with the representatives of the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie, the Trudoviks, and demanding the most radical solution to the land question, the Social Democrats struck a blow at the heart of the autocracy.

In all, the Social Democratic fraction put down about 50 questions on all kinds of issues. They also moved their own bills, expressing in a concrete, concise form, various demands taken from the party programme. All this represented a valuable addition to the work of the Party. But much more important than their speeches in the chamber was the activity of the deputies outside the Duma. Here there was an open conflict with the Liquidators, who used their majority to oppose such activity. In December 1907 they passed a motion stating that no Social Democratic deputy was ‘obliged’ to participate in extra-parliamentary activity, but left it to each individual whether to accept or not. The Bolshevik deputies regularly visited the factories in their electoral districts, acquainting themselves with the workers’ problems first-hand, writing in the party press, and even attending illegal workers’ meetings. They gave report-backs of their activities to meetings of voters. Thus, the activity in the Duma was a two-way process, an active dialogue with the masses in which legal and illegal methods were combined to maintain a firm link between the members of parliament and the working class.

The socialist deputies also maintained an extensive correspondence with 54 regions of Russia, mainly answering letters from workers and peasants, but also from political prisoners, exiles, and intellectuals. By such means, the voice of the oppressed and exploited could at last find an echo in the parliamentary ‘holy of holies’. The Bolshevik deputies took a keen interest in the living and working conditions of the masses, which had suffered a brutal deterioration in the period of reaction. Badayev cites one example of this:

The Baltic naval dockyards were under the control of the Minister for the Navy. Working conditions there were as intolerable as in the other War Office factories. The ordinary workers earned 12 to 18 kopecks an hour, overtime was customary and normally meant that working-hours were doubled. The workshops were extremely unhealthy, damp, draughty, smoky, and in winter very cold. Men had to work in awkward, cramped positions. Seven or eight years there were often enough to make a man a complete wreck. (A.Y. Badayev, Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, p. 101.)

The deputies received a large number of letters from workers. Often these letters expressed the desperation of the masses, like the one from a group of workers in the Urals, published in Novy Den’ on the 7 September, 1909, the essential message of which was: ‘We can’t go on living like this any more’. Such messages revealed the deep undercurrent of discontent which was building up in the depths of society and which found a voice in the fraction. The revolutionary Social Democrats in this reactionary Duma aspired to becoming the ‘tribunes of the people’, and, notwithstanding all the problems and failings, actually succeeded to a considerable extent.

Tactics in the Duma

The tactics of the Bolsheviks in the Duma consisted mainly in using it as a tribune from which to denounce and expose the crimes of the landlords and capitalists and their regime. But it was also necessary to master the Byzantine intricacies of parliamentary procedure in order to be able to intervene in the most effective manner. In general, the Bolsheviks would not support any proposal put forward by the liberals, considering it their main duty to unmask these hypocritical ‘friends of the people’. However, sometimes they were confronted with complicated tactical decisions as to whether it was permissible or not to vote for a bill which contained measures which might benefit working people. In such cases, it was usually deemed permissible to vote only for those parts of a bill which meant genuine improvements for the workers. Otherwise, they would vote against. In cases where the so-called progressive measures were of doubtful value, they should abstain. Here is another example of flexible tactics. Not to take such things into consideration, simply to vote against every liberal proposal on principle would have turned the Party into a sect.

The preponderant influence which the Bolsheviks enjoyed among the masses can be proved by comparing the numbers of deputies elected by the workers’ electoral colleges to the previous State Dumas. In the Second Duma, 12 Mensheviks and 11 Bolsheviks were elected by the workers’ colleges; in the Third there was an equal number of each; while in the Fourth Duma, only six deputies were elected, but they were all Bolsheviks.

At the time of the Second Duma, which coincided with the London Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, the majority of the party was definitely Bolshevik; and in the Fourth Duma there could be no doubt that the Bolsheviks had the support of at least three-fourths of the revolutionary workers. (Ibid., pp. 43-4.)

There were a hundred and one procedural obstacles designed to prevent the Social Democrats from making use of the Duma for revolutionary purposes. The chief difficulty was that an interpolation could only be introduced if it was signed by at least 33 Duma members. The signatures of the Social Democratic fraction amounted to only 14. Even if taken together with those of the ten Trudoviks, this did not give the required number. Here is a concrete case of an episodic agreement with other parties that is both necessary and permissible. In order to introduce an interpolation, the Social Democrats had to ‘borrow’ signatures from the Cadets or the Progressives.

The conditions under which the various parliamentary parties associated were such that individual members of the Cadets and Progressives sometimes added their signatures to our interpolations. But this only occurred rarely and very often they flatly refused to help us. (Ibid., p. 61.)

In order to get round these onerous restrictions, they had to resort to subterfuge and tricks to ‘bend the rules’ of parliamentary procedure. They would make a long speech denouncing some injustice or other, and then end with the words “Is the minister aware of this and what steps does he propose to take?” This concluding sentence of every interpolation did not have much sense, since the workers’ deputies were perfectly aware that every instance of oppression and police outrage was well known to the tsarist ministers with whose blessing and by whose orders it occurred, and they likewise knew in advance that the ministers would do nothing to prevent such infractions of the law. Neither did they attach any importance to the replies given by the ministers. The sole significance and purpose of these interpolations was that they exposed the autocratic regime and its fake parliament before the entire working class and invited the masses to draw the necessary conclusions. In this way, the Duma fraction could play the role of genuine revolutionary tribune of the people, partially cutting through the barriers of censorship and carrying the message of the party to millions who would otherwise have no access to socialist ideas.

Even if they succeeded in making an interpolation, the authorities resorted to other methods to restrict the activities of the Social Democrats in the chamber. “The chairman carefully followed our speeches, trying to anticipate and prevent all digressions from the formal topic of urgency; while we, ignoring his calls to order, went ahead and said what we regarded as necessary. Most of these encounters ended in Rodzianko or his vice-chairman losing patience and stopping the workers’ deputies in the middle of their speeches,” states Badayev. (Ibid., p. 61.) And finally, even if the interpolation went ahead, the authorities would ensure that nothing was done about it:

Although this interpolation was accepted by the Duma it fared no better than the other interpolations introduced by our fraction. On receiving the interpolations, the ministries concerned set in motion the entire bureaucratic machine of red tape, ‘making enquiries’, ‘waiting for reports’, etc. While the interpolation was thus being thickly covered with office dust, the acuteness of its subject matter passed and it was only then that the minister fulfilled his formal duty and presented his ‘explanations’. (Ibid., pp. 90-91.)

Such are the time-honoured methods of bourgeois parliamentarism, which have not changed much up to the present day, even in the most ‘democratic’ of parliaments.

Despite all difficulties, the Bolsheviks succeeded in mastering this unfamiliar arena of struggle and used it effectively to further the workers’ cause. The key to the revolutionary utilisation of parliament was at every moment to link the work of the parliamentary fraction with the movement outside parliament. The Bolshevik Duma deputies maintained the closest contacts with the workers outside the Duma, travelling to workers’ areas all over Russia, speaking at factory meetings, editing leaflets and proclamations, and paying close attention to the workers’ grievances. Badayev recalls how he kept up a voluminous correspondence with workers:

Every day I received a voluminous correspondence not only from St. Petersburg, but also from other cities, and many workers called to see me. In order that these consultations with the masses should continue, I published in Pravda the hours of my ‘reception’ at home. Some of these numerous visitors called on behalf of various organisations, while others came on personal matters.

The conversations and letters touched upon absolutely every aspect of the workers’ lives. I was kept informed of the work accomplished and of the persecutions incurred by the trade unions, of strikes, lockouts, unemployment, and new cases of police oppression. I was asked to intercede on behalf of those arrested, and received many letters from exiles, who requested me to organise financial and other material relief for them. Among those who came on personal matters, some even asked if I could help to find work for them. Very often visitors called in order to talk about the Duma and its work, to express their wishes and to give advice.

It was necessary to answer all the letters promptly and to deal with the requests. In a number of cases I had to initiate petitions and conduct negotiations with various government institutions. All this took a lot of time and my day was fully occupied even before the Duma opened. (Ibid., pp. 41-42.)

From the very beginning it was clear that this Duma was taking place in a very different atmosphere to that of the preceding ones. On the day it opened a massive strike wave was sweeping Russia. Badayev recalls the scene in Petersburg:

At about 3.30 p.m. a crowd formed of these workers and students appeared in Kirochnaya Street. Singing revolutionary songs, and carrying a red flag, about the size of a handkerchief, bearing the legend ‘Down with Autocracy’, they came out to Liteyny Prospect and went towards Nevsky Prospect. At the corner of Liteyny Prospect and Basseynaya and Simeonovskaya Streets, the ordinary police dispersed the demonstrators, picked up the flag from the sidewalk where the crowd had gathered and arrested the flag-bearer. (Ibid., pp. 52-53.)

Revolutionary Upswing

The elections to the Fourth Duma unfolded in the midst of a tremendous revolutionary upswing. That was the real reason for the success of the Bolsheviks. Throughout the whole of 1912 there were more than 3,000 strikes, with the participation of 1,463,000 workers, out of which 1,100,000 were involved in political strikes. In 1913, about two million workers struck, of whom 1,272,000 were involved in political strikes, in which Bolsheviks often played a leading role. There were new mutinies among the sailors and soldiers. The tactics of the Bolsheviks were firmly rooted in the perspective of a new revolutionary upswing. We get a glimpse of the tactics of the Social Democrats, who intervened in every strike and lockout, in the following extract:

It was decided that all workers locked out should keep in touch, that an appeal for help should be made to all St. Petersburg workers, a determined struggle waged against the use of alcohol during the lockout, and that workers’ educational societies should be requested to organise free lectures, etc. No man or woman was to approach the gates of the factory, and to plead for him or herself, or on behalf of groups of workers. When the factory was reopened, no worker was to return unless all were reinstated. (A.Y. Badayev, Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, p. 88.)

It is impossible to understand the organisational side of Lenin’s position in isolation to the political questions. The irresistible movement in the direction of a split was dictated by the whole logic of the situation. The time for diplomacy and futile attempts to unite tendencies that had been shown to be completely incompatible was long past. Hence Lenin’s intransigent opposition to all talk of unity with the Mensheviks at this time. It was absolutely imperative that the revolutionary party should be ‘well shod on all fours’ before the critical point was reached. There was not a moment to lose. In the course of the election campaign to the Duma, before mass meetings of workers the Bolsheviks had the opportunity to put forward their political line and test the response. It was overwhelmingly favourable. The instructions to the Social Democratic Duma group, signed by thousands of workers, were on clearly Bolshevik lines:

The demands of the Russian people advanced by the movement of 1905 remain unrealised.

The growth of reaction and the ‘renovation of the regime’ have not only not satisfied these demands, but, on the contrary, have made them still more pressing.

Not only are the workers deprived of the right to strike – there is no guarantee that they will not be discharged for doing so; not only have they no right to organise unions and meetings – there is no guarantee that they will not be arrested for doing so; they have not even the right to elect to the Duma, for they will be ‘disqualified’ or exiled if they do, as the workers from the Putilov works and the Nevsky shipyards were ‘disqualified’ a few days ago.

All this is quite apart from the starving tens of millions of peasants, who are left at the mercy of the landlords and the rural police chiefs.

All this points to the necessity of realising the demands of 1905. The state of economic life in Russia, the signs already appearing of the approaching industrial crisis and the growing pauperisation of broad strata of the peasantry make the necessity of realising the objects of 1905 more urgent than ever.

We think, therefore, that Russia is on the eve of mass movements, perhaps more profound than those of 1905. This is testified by the Lena events, by the strikes in protest against the ‘disqualifications’, etc.

As was the case in 1905, the Russian proletariat, the most advanced class of Russian society, will again act as the vanguard of the movement.

The only allies it can have are the long-suffering peasantry, who are vitally interested in the emancipation of Russia from feudalism.

A fight on two fronts – against the feudal order and the Liberal bourgeoisie which is seeking a union with the old powers – such is the form the next actions of the people must assume.

But in order that the working class may honourably discharge its role as the leader of the movement of the people, it must be armed with the consciousness of its interests and with a greater degree of organisation.

The Duma tribune is, under the present conditions, one of the best means for enlightening and organising the broad masses of the proletariat. (Quoted in A.Y. Badayev, Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, pp. 36-37.)

Needless to say, Lenin was in constant contact with Russia. Party leaders and activists came out to Kraków to discuss with Lenin who maintained an energetic correspondence with the interior, with the aid of the ever efficient and indefatigable Krupskaya. Occasionally formal meetings were held, where the tactics and programme of the party were reviewed. Such a meeting was the Kraków conference which met from 28 December, 1912 to 1 January, 1913. For purposes of camouflage it was called the February conference, and figured as such in the press and in party literature. Lenin was in the chair and in addition to the deputies the following were present: Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya, G. Zinoviev, A. Troyanovsky, Valentina Nikolayevna Lobova, E. Rozmirovich, and a few other comrades, delegates from big working-class centres. Of the deputies, Petrovsky, Malinovsky, Shagov, and Badayev were present.

The year which had passed since the Prague conference had witnessed a powerful development of the revolutionary movement, of political and economic strikes, mass demonstrations, and the creation and consolidation of the workers’ press. The split between the revolutionary and reformist wings of the Social Democracy was now total. The domination of the Liquidationist tendency among the Mensheviks rendered this inevitable. The division between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks was spreading throughout the whole labour movement and everywhere the revolutionary tendency was gaining ground – a fact that was underlined by the decisive victory of the Bolsheviks in the workers’ electoral colleges during the elections to the State Duma. These advances were duly noted:

1. The conference notes that, in spite of unparalleled persecutions and governmental interference in the elections, in spite of the Black-Hundred-Liberal bloc against the Social Democrats, which was definitely formed in many districts, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party achieved great victories in the elections to the Fourth Duma. Nearly everywhere there was an increase in the number of votes received by the Social Democrats in the second city electoral colleges, which are being wrested from the hands of the liberals. In the workers’ electoral colleges, which are the most important for our party, the RSDLP enjoys undivided rule. By electing only Bolsheviks as deputies from the workers’ electoral colleges, the working class has unanimously declared its unswerving loyalty to the old Russian Social Democratic Labour Party and its revolutionary traditions.

2. The conference welcomes the energetic work of the Social Democratic deputies in the Fourth Duma as expressed in the introduction of interpolations and in the declaration which, in the main, defined correctly the basic principles of Social Democracy.

3. Recognising, in accordance with party tradition, that the only correct policy is for the Duma Social Democratic fraction to be subordinated to the party as a whole, as represented by its central organisations, the conference considers that, in the interests of the political education of the working class and to ensure the maintenance of a correct party policy, it is necessary to follow every step of the fraction and thus establish party control over its work. (Ibid., p. 76.)

In his book, for fairly obvious reasons, Badayev skates over the real significance of this resolution, which is contained in the final sentence. The main purpose of the meeting at Kraków was, in effect, to call the Bolshevik Duma deputies to order, and to put an end to their conciliationism and vacillations. The Duma deputies’ activities were placed firmly under the control of the party’s leading bodies. They were instructed to terminate their collaboration with the editorial board of the Liquidators’ newspaper, Luch, by the end of January 1913. In an attempt to get the Bolshevik deputies to distance themselves from the Mensheviks, the conference passed a resolution stating that:

The only true type of organisation in the present period is an illegal party composed of nuclei each surrounded by a network of legal and semi-legal societies. The illegal nuclei must be organisationally adapted to the local everyday conditions.

The chief task was stated to be the setting up at factories and works of illegal party committees with one leading organisation at each centre. Badayev writes:

The conference recognised that the best type of organisation was that which prevailed at St. Petersburg. The St. Petersburg committee was composed of delegates elected by the districts and of co-opted members, which resulted in a very flexible organisation, in close touch with the nuclei, and at the same time well concealed from the secret police. It was also recommended that regional centres should be organised and contact maintained with the local groups on the one hand and the central committee on the other by a system of delegates. The resolution on organisation established a harmonious system firmly welded from the bottom to the top. (Ibid., p. 76.)

But despite all Lenin’s urgings, the majority of the Bolshevik faction stubbornly refused to break with the Menshevik parliamentary group, with whom they continued to maintain friendly relations, much to Lenin’s chagrin, throughout the first half of 1913. As a means of ensuring that the Duma deputies did not become divorced from the workers, Lenin insisted that they participate personally in the work of Pravda. Badayev recalls:

On the recommendation of comrade Lenin himself I was charged with the duty of publishing Pravda. Lenin told me that being the deputy for St. Petersburg, the representative of the St. Petersburg workers, I must take on that task. Pravda pursued not only educational and propagandist aims, but it was also the most important centre for organisation. He emphasised the point that my duty was to work there. (Ibid., p. 77.)

It is also clear that some sharp exchanges occurred between Lenin and Stalin in relation to the behaviour of the editorial board of Pravda. Krupskaya, whose book about Lenin was published in the USSR under Stalin, was compelled to express herself cautiously about this, but nevertheless reveals that relations between the two men were very strained. At this meeting Sverdlov was appointed editor of Pravda and co-opted onto the CC. This step represented a demotion for Stalin. However, the arrest of Sverdlov on 10 February, 1913 removed him from the picture. Stalin was once again placed in charge of Pravda, but was also arrested. But not before showing his defiance of Lenin and the other exiled leaders. Despite all that had been said at the Kraków meeting, Pravda continued to oppose a break with the Mensheviks in the Duma. In November 1912, it bluntly declared that “the fraction must be united”. In February, shortly before his arrest, Stalin wrote an article in the pages of Pravda, exhorting workers to speak out against attempts to split the fraction “from wherever they come” – a phrase, despite its oblique character, that is clearly directed against Lenin. (Pravda, No. 167, 26 February, 1913, quoted in R.B. McKean, op. cit., p. 141.)

‘The Masses Have Now Grown Up’

Meanwhile, events were moving rapidly. The class struggle was proceeding at an ever-accelerating pace. In the whole of Russia during 1913 about one million workers had participated in strikes; of these over half a million were involved in political strikes. By the summer of 1913 Russia was in the throes of a political crisis. At a Party meeting in Polish Galicia (then under Austrian rule), the perspective of a new revolution was placed on the order of the day. “The question of a new revolution is uppermost in the political life of the country.” (See KPSS v. rezoluitsiakh, vol. 1, p. 302.) In the context of general radicalisation, the Menshevik influence was in steep decline. The Bolsheviks were rapidly becoming the dominant force in the organised working class in Russia. Badayev reports that: “Party work had been strengthened, extended and consolidated, new groups had been formed and the old ones had grown larger and more effective.” (A.Y. Badayev, Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, p. 116.) Given the way in which Party membership was now calculated, it is difficult to say exactly how many members the Bolsheviks had at this time. Even Lenin didn’t know, as the following extract written in September 1913, shows:

The party was 150,000 in 1907 (according to the estimate approved by the London Congress). Right now, you can’t say how many… Probably a lot fewer, but 30 or 50,000. It’s impossible to be exact… The Party is the conscious and advanced layer of the class, its advance guard. The strength of this vanguard is ten or a hundred times greater than its numerical strength. Can the strength of hundreds be greater than that of thousands? Yes, it can be greater, when that hundred is organised. Organisation increases your strength tenfold. (V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, in Russian, vol. 24, p. 34.)

It was now urgent that all the disputed questions be resolved as quickly as possible. A new conference was held, this time at Poronino, a village not far from Kraków, where Lenin and a few members of the central committee were staying. In order to mislead the police, the Poronino conference was always referred to as the August conference, although it actually took place at the end of September 1913. Twenty-five to thirty representatives from the larger party organisations were present. In addition to Lenin, Zinoviev, and Krupskaya, who were living in Galicia, Kamenev, Shotman, Inessa Armand, Troyanovsky, Rozmirovich, Hanyecki, and other party workers also attended, as well as all the Duma Bolsheviks except Samoilov, who was ill. At the Poronino conference, a resolution was passed on the party press which marked a new departure:

1. The conference recognises the enormous importance of a legal press for the cause of Social Democratic agitation and organisation and therefore calls on all party organisations and class-conscious workers to lend their wholehearted support by distributing papers as widely as possible, by organising mass collective subscriptions and by the payment of regular dues. The conference once more emphasises that the said dues are membership dues to the party.

2. Special attention should be paid to the strengthening of the legal workers’ paper in Moscow and to the speedy establishment of a paper in the south.

3. The conference desires to bring about the closest cooperation between the existing legal papers by means of mutual exchange of information, the holding of conferences, etc.

4. Recognising the importance and the necessity of a theoretical Marxist organ, the conference desires party and trade union papers to call the attention of the workers to the journal Prosveshtchenye (Enlightenment), and to appeal to them to subscribe regularly and support it in a systematic fashion.

5. The conference calls the attention of party publishing organisations to the necessity for a wider circulation of popular pamphlets for agitation and propaganda.

6. In view of the recent development of the revolutionary movement and of the importance of analysing it thoroughly, in the complete manner which is impossible in the legal press, the conference draws special attention to the necessity of extending our illegal publishing work and recommends that, in addition to illegal pamphlets and leaflets, a central illegal party paper should be issued regularly at short intervals. (Quoted in A.Y. Badayev, Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, p. 120, my emphasis.)

The influence of the Bolsheviks was growing far faster than the Party’s actual membership. Krupskaya says in a letter that:

At the conference the reports from the locals were very interesting. Everybody was saying that the masses have now grown up… During the elections it had become apparent that there were self-made workers’ organisations everywhere … For the most part they are not connected with the Party, but they are of the Party in spirit. (Quoted in L. Trotsky, Stalin, p. 149.)

In the new conditions, with large numbers of fresh workers coming into the Party’s orbit, it was necessary to introduce drastic changes in the approach to recruitment, to open the doors to the workers. Here once more we see how flexible Lenin was on organisational questions. The Party is, after all, a living organism which will change and adapt itself to changing conditions. Thus, the very same Lenin who in 1903 argued against Martov’s attempt to dilute the Party by blurring the distinction between a member and a sympathiser, now advocated an entirely different approach, whereby any regular reader of Pravda should be regarded as a member (money paid regularly to Pravda should be considered as equivalent to “membership dues to the party”). There is, in reality, no contradiction between the two positions. They merely reflect a change in the objective situation, from a relatively small, embryonic party, which, of necessity must have the character of a cadre party, and a mass workers’ party.

Split in the Duma Group

The whole situation exposed the crying contradiction of the Duma fraction, where the Mensheviks were using their formal majority of one to dominate its activities and hamper the intervention of the Bolshevik deputies, a situation which the latter were prepared to accept in the name of unity. Lenin was highly critical of the Bolshevik Duma fraction for dragging its feet on the question of a break from the Menshevik seven: “The campaign against the seven began excellently,” he wrote, “but is now being carried on with insufficient determination.” (LCW, To the Editorial Board of Za Pravdu, vol. 34, p. 118.) As the Kraków meeting had failed to produce a definitive solution, this time the need for a split in the Duma fraction was spelled out in no uncertain terms. At a meeting of the Central Committee held in July, the ‘six’ were, in effect, censured, although only Malinovsky was present from the Duma fraction. This time, no excuses would be accepted. However, the way that this question was handled was important. It was absolutely necessary that the workers should understand the reasons for the split, and that the full responsibility be placed at the door of the Mensheviks. Badayev tries to present the conduct of the Bolshevik deputies in the best possible light, but it is clear that they only took the decision to break with the Mensheviks very reluctantly and under pressure:

Of course, it was obvious to all of us already at that period, that the time was drawing near for a complete rupture with the Mensheviks. But the desire to preserve unity within the Social Democratic Party by some means or other was still strong among the broad masses of the workers. Naturally the wide public did not know what was taking place inside the party organisation, in our underground committees or nuclei, owing to the police regime then prevailing in Russia. But the Duma fraction operated in the sight of all; every worker, not only in St. Petersburg, but even in the most remote corners of Russia, knew of its existence and activities. When the broad masses referred to party unity, they mainly had our fraction in mind. (A.Y. Badayev, Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, p. 112, my emphasis.)

The Bolsheviks organised a campaign of collecting signatures to mobilise the maximum amount of support behind their Duma deputies. The result was an outstanding success.

By 1 November, in just two weeks, Pravda and the Bolshevik fraction received over eight resolutions of support bearing over 5,000 signatures. During the same period, the Mensheviks could only muster 3,500 signatures. And even this proportion was not maintained, since the Mensheviks had exhausted all their efforts in the first weeks, and every day saw a falling off in the number of Menshevik resolutions while the number of resolutions in favour of the ‘six’ continued to increase. In the course of the next month the Bolsheviks’ lead was still more pronounced; the flow of pro-Menshevik resolutions from the provinces virtually dried up, whereas that of the Bolsheviks was only just beginning. By 1 December, it was clear that the Bolsheviks could count at least two and a half times as many supporters among the Russian workers as the Mensheviks. The same conclusion was evident from the amount of money collected by each group among the workers. The Mensheviks were able to raise only about 150 roubles for every 1,000 obtained by the Bolsheviks.

Despite the fact that the Bolsheviks by this time had united behind them the decisive sections of the working class, conciliationist moods still persisted, as Badayev himself admits:

Some Social Democratic circles abroad too did not grasp the nature and meaning of the split in the fraction, but hovered between the two camps, passing from Bolshevism to Menshevism and vice versa. One of the largest of these two groups, Vperyod (Forward), thought that the split was the result of the “absence of a single leading party centre, enjoying the confidence of the majority of party members”. The Vperyodists recognised that the demands of the ‘six’ were just, but they thought that the whole question only amounted to minor organisational clashes within the fraction. Thus they entirely missed the significance of the split and the fundamental differences which had led to it.

The Mensheviks naturally seized upon the split in the Duma group to make a fuss abroad, taking advantage of the ignorance of Russian affairs among foreign Social Democratic parties and their natural reluctance to countenance a split. In this, they were helped by the fact that it was their nominee who represented the fraction on the International Socialist Bureau (of the Second International). The Mensheviks decided to raise the question at the next meeting of the Bureau on 1 December, and Chkheidze and Skobelev duly set out for London. Hoping to enlist the considerable authority of Plekhanov for the Menshevik cause, Chkheidze telegraphed him in Italy asking him to come to London to state his views on the split at the Bureau meeting.

Plekhanov, however, not only declined to come to London, but sent a letter to the International Socialist Bureau stating that he supported the ‘six’ and considered that the Mensheviks were to blame for the split. At the same time, since he believed that this matter finally clinched the question of a split in the Social Democratic Party, Plekhanov decided to resign from the Bureau, on which he was the representative of the whole party. The following extract from his letter is quoted from Badayev’s book:

The differences of opinion which have existed within the Russian Social Democratic Party during the last few years have now led to the division of our Duma fraction into two competing groups. This split occurred as the result of certain regrettable decisions taken by our Liquidationist comrades, who chanced to be in a majority (seven against six). Since a decisive blow has been dealt at the unity of our party, I, who represent among you the whole party, have no other choice but to resign. This I am doing by the present letter. (See A.Y. Badayev, Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, p. 131, p. 132 and p. 133.)

The approach of a new revolution by no means signified that the party could abandon the struggle for partial demands. On the contrary, it invested this struggle with a new urgency. There was a need to fight for every partial demand, no matter how small, which tended to improve the working class’s living standards, conditions, and rights, in order to fuse the Party ever closer to the masses. The reality of the Bolshevik Party bears not the slightest resemblance to the caricature of Bolshevism advanced by Martov who spitefully defined it as “maximalism, the striving for immediate maximum results, indeed the realisation of social improvements, without taking into account objective conditions”. (J. Martov, Mirovoy Bol’shevism.) Had this really been the case, the Bolsheviks could never have succeeded in winning a majority of the working class, as it did, both in 1912–14, and once again in September-November 1917.

Writing as an exile after the October Revolution had already furnished the ultimate proof of the correctness of Lenin’s perspectives, policy, and methods, Martov’s spite is clearly the product of embittered envy and not just a defective memory. As we have already had occasion to observe, the difference between revolutionary Marxism and so-called reformism is not at all that the latter accepts the need to fight for reforms while the former denies it. In any event, the revolutionaries are distinguished from the reformists by being the most consistent and determined fighters for reforms, while the latter, especially in periods of capitalist crisis, always pass from reforms to counter-reforms and ‘austerity’ under the pressure of big business, while all serious reforms have historically been the by-product of the revolutionary struggle to change society. Unfortunately for the Liquidators, under Russia’s conditions even the fight for the most partial demands, if conducted seriously, led inexorably to the demand for the overthrow of tsarism.

The National Question

The attitude of the Bolsheviks to democratic demands is shown by their stance on the national question. Without a clear and principled stand on the national question, they could never have led the working class to the conquest of power. The national question was of decisive importance for Russia, where 57 per cent of the population consisted of non-Russian national minorities who suffered oppression and discrimination at the hands of the 43 per cent who were Great Russians. The onset of reaction in the period 1907–10 intensified the national antagonisms to an unbearable degree. Rampant reaction immediately trampled underfoot all the gains made by the oppressed nationalities in the previous period. Finnish autonomy was abolished. Millions of people were deprived of voting rights on grounds of their ‘citizenship’.

Anti-Semitism revealed its ugly face again in the notorious Beylis case in Kiev, when Black Hundred elements blamed the Jews for the alleged ritual murder of a Christian boy. The vilest racist prejudices were deliberately used by the regime to divide and enslave the people. The right-wing press published sensationalist articles claiming that the ritual murder of Christian boys by Jews was part of the Jewish faith. The case was so scandalous that a wave of indignation swept through Russian society. Liberal public opinion expressed its moral outrage. But the fact was that the origin of this racist poison was the regime itself and the social system upon which it rested. It is no coincidence that anti-Semitism was rife at the court of Nicholas and was shared by the Tsar and his entourage who deliberately encouraged it.

The only way to fight racism is by uniting the workers in struggle against all forms of oppression and discrimination, as part of the general revolutionary struggle to change society. This does not preclude, but presupposes that action is taken by the labour movement to deal with fascists and racists who attack members of oppressed minorities. But it is imperative that the defence of the oppressed minority be undertaken by the working class united as a whole, without distinction of race, language, or colour. At the time of the Beylis trial, the Social Democrats organised a protest campaign against the anti-Semites. In September and October the Bolsheviks put out a series of leaflets. One of them said:

Comrades: We workers, do not need the enslavement of one nation by another. Finn, Pole, Jew, German, Armenian are all brothers to us. We must not fight against them, but against the autocracy and capitalism. (Quoted in Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2, p. 431.)

The leaflets called for protest strikes, which actually took place in Petersburg, Kiev, Revel, Gomel, Byelostok, Brest-Litovsk, and other areas. In other words the Party responded to racist poison with a class appeal.

The workers of Russia and the Ukraine responded with strikes in defence of the oppressed Jewish people. Finally, under pressure from the mass protest movement, Beylis was declared innocent. The way to combat racism is precisely by strengthening the unity of all working people in struggle, cutting across all differences of nationality, race, religion, colour, or language. By contrast, the kind of petty-bourgeois nationalism that emphasises national differences merely acts as grist to the mill of the racists. Thus, in the context of tsarist Russia, the separatist line of the Bund was extremely harmful. They pursued a policy which amounted to splitting the workers on national lines, demanding the right to act as the sole representative of the Jewish workers, demanding Saturday rest for Jews, rights for the Jewish language, and other demands in line with ‘cultural-national autonomy’.

Members of the oppressed nationalities (Estonian workers, Ukrainian peasants, etc.) frequently wrote asking for support to the Social Democratic Duma fraction. The Bolshevik Party itself was a model of how to unite workers from different nationalities in common class organisations, even where there was a history of racial conflict between them, as was the case in tsarist Russia, where the regime not only incited the Russians and Ukrainians against the Jews, but also turned Azeris and Georgians against Armenians. The pogroms against Armenians in Baku are now less well remembered than those against the Jews, but they were every bit as horrific. And yet in Bolshevik organisations Russian, Ukrainian, Jewish, Latvian, Armenian workers worked together. Lenin was always radically opposed to separate national organisations of the working class:

In our party in the Caucasian Social Democracy, Georgians, Armenians, Tartars, Russians have been working together in united social democratic organisations for more than ten years. This is not a phrase, but a proletarian solution of the national question. The only solution. The same thing in Riga: there are Russians, Latvians, and Lithuanians; the only ones to organise apart are the separatists – the Bund. This is also the case in Vilna. (V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, in Russian, vol. 48, p. 162.)

This is a crushing answer to all attempts to split the workers organisations on national lines.

Great-Russian chauvinism was always one of the most powerful weapons of reaction. On the issue of the national question, too, Lenin, denounced not only the open Black Hundred reaction, but also the liberal bourgeoisie:

The liberal bourgeoisie of all nations – and the Great Russian above all – fights for the privileges of ‘its’ nation… for national particularity, for national exclusiveness and through this, assists the policy of our ministry of internal affairs. (Ibid., vol. 25, p. 71.)

And again:

Bourgeois nationalism and proletarian internationalism are two implacably opposed slogans, corresponding to two great class camps throughout the entire capitalist world and expressing two policies (rather, two world outlooks) on the national question. (Ibid., vol. 24, p. 123.)

Confusion over the national question would have been a catastrophe for the Russian Revolution. That is why it occupied a central place in all the debates from 1903 onwards. There were serious problems not only with the Jewish nationalists of the Bund, but also with the Polish and Lithuanian Social Democrats who were influenced by Rosa Luxemburg who denied the rights of nations to self-determination. Rosa Luxemburg was undoubtedly a resolute defender of internationalism. In her stubborn resistance to the prejudices of the petty-bourgeois Polish nationalists of the Polish Socialist Party (PSP), she had right on her side. But her understanding of internationalism was rather abstract and one-sided. In effect, she denied the right of the Polish people to self-determination. For the RSDLP to have accepted this position, as she demanded, would have been an unmitigated disaster and a gift to the Polish nationalists. So serious were the differences that it led to a split in the Polish Social Democracy in which an opposition group, which sympathised with Lenin’s position, and led by J.S. Hanyecki and A.M. Malecki, broke away. Lenin’s position was far more profound and dialectical. In the years immediately before and during the First World War, he wrote a large number of articles and documents on the national question which to this day retain all their vitality and relevance. As was his wont, Lenin discussed his ideas on this with younger cadres and encouraged them to go into print: The result was, among others, Shaumyan’s pamphlet On National-Cultural Autonomy and Stalin’s article in Prosveshtchenye, The National Question and the Social Democracy, which was, in effect, dictated by Lenin.

Lenin on the National Question

What was Lenin’s attitude to the national question?

Marxists will fight against even the smallest manifestation of inequality and discrimination. For example, we are against any privileged status for a particular language. There is no particular reason why there should be an ‘official’ language with a monopoly over other languages. That was Lenin’s position. But it did not mean that he allied himself with the reactionary exclusiveness of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie of the oppressed nationalities with their demand for ‘national-cultural autonomy’, the glorification of their ‘own’ language and culture, which conceals their striving to oppress other peoples. “The slogan of workers’ democracy is not ‘national culture’ but the international culture of democracy and the working-class movement.”

Behind the appeals to ‘national culture’ lie the class interest of the exploiters of every nation – the landlords and capitalists. The ruling ideas of every nation are the ideas of the ruling class. That is an elementary proposition for Marxists. Here too, Lenin maintained a class position:

The elements of democratic and socialist culture are present, if only in rudimentary form, in every national culture, since in every nation there are toiling and exploited masses, whose conditions of life inevitably give rise to the ideology of democracy and socialism. But every nation also possesses a bourgeois culture (and most nations a reactionary and clerical culture as well) in the form, not merely of ‘elements’, but of the dominant culture. Therefore, the general ‘national culture’ is the culture of the landlords, the clergy, and the bourgeoisie. This fundamental and, for a Marxist, elementary truth, was kept in the background by the Bundist, who ‘drowned’ it in his jumble of words, i.e., instead of revealing and clarifying the class gulf to the reader, he in fact obscured it. In fact, the Bundist acted like a bourgeois, whose every interest requires the spreading of a belief in a non-class national culture.

He explains that:

The national culture of the bourgeoisie is a fact (and, I repeat, the bourgeoisie everywhere enters into deals with the landed proprietors and the clergy). Bellicose bourgeois nationalism which stultifies, fools, and disunites the workers in order that the bourgeoisie may lead them by the halter – such is the fundamental fact of the present day. Those who seek to serve the proletariat must unite the workers of all nations, and unswervingly fight bourgeois nationalism, domestic, and foreign. (LCW, Critical Remarks on the National Question, vol. 20, p. 22, p. 24 and p. 25, my emphasis.)

Lenin was opposed to the setting up of separate schools on national lines which have the effect of dividing the population and reinforcing racial and national prejudices. Lenin exposed the reactionary nature of this and other demands flowing from the so-called policy of ‘Cultural Autonomy’ advocated by the Austrian Social Democracy:

‘Cultural-national autonomy’ implies precisely the most refined and, therefore, the most harmful nationalism, it implies the corruption of the workers by means of the slogan of national culture and the propaganda of the profoundly harmful and even anti-democratic segregating of schools according to nationality. In short, this programme undoubtedly contradicts the internationalism of the proletariat and is in accordance only with the ideals of the nationalist petty bourgeoisie.

Instead of the demand for ‘national cultural autonomy’, Lenin advanced the demand for the right to self-determination. This is a democratic demand which sets out from the assumption that no nation should be obliged to remain within the frontiers of another nation, contrary to its will. The right of every people to determine its own affairs, free from the coercion of a more powerful people, is an elementary right which must be defended. But this does not mean that Marxists are under an obligation to defend separatism. As a matter of fact, Lenin pointed out that “For a Marxist, of course, all other conditions being equal, big states are always preferable to small ones.” (LCW, The National Programme of the RSDLP, vol. 19, p. 541 and p. 545.) The nation state, like private property, is an obsolete and reactionary institution that hampers the free development of the productive forces. The domination of the world market, long ago predicted by Marx and Engels, is now a fact. No country, no matter how big and powerful, can escape from the irresistible pull of the world market. That is why the so-called independence of those countries which succeeded in throwing off the yoke of direct foreign oppression since 1945 has turned into a mere fiction. They are more exploited and oppressed than before – except that the exploitation takes place indirectly, through the mechanism of world trade.

The proletariat, far from undertaking to uphold the national development of every nation, on the contrary, warns the masses against such illusions, stands for the fullest freedom of capitalist intercourse, and welcomes every kind of assimilation of nations, except that which is founded on force or privilege. (LCW, Critical Remarks on the National Question, vol. 20, p. 35.)

Marxists do not stand for the erection of new frontiers, but for the elimination of all frontiers, in the socialist united states of the world. But this statement does not exhaust the question. Yes, we are in favour of large units, all other things being equal. But all other things are not equal. Marx once said that there was no greater calamity for a people than to oppress another people. Where this occurs, it is the duty of Marxists to defend the oppressed minority. We are opposed to all forms of discrimination, oppression, and the denial of national rights, and will fight against it. But that is insufficient. The working class must have its own, independent position on the national question, as on any other question. And as on any other question, this must serve the general cause of the struggle for the socialist transformation of society. There is no question of setting aside the struggle for socialism or the fight between wage labour and capital in the interests of some kind of ‘national unity’. In the fight against national oppression too, the revolutionary class struggle must be put to the fore.

Lenin explained a thousand times that the Russian Marxists, as members of an oppressor nation (the Great Russians), had to fight against the oppressive policies and conduct of its own bourgeoisie, and defend the rights of those nations oppressed by the Great Russians. This was necessary to show to the workers and peasants of the other, non-Russian nations that the Russian workers had no interest in oppressing them, but were the most consistent defenders of their rights. As final proof of this, Lenin insisted that the Russian party inscribe on its banner the right of nations to self-determination. In effect, the Russian workers were saying to the Poles, the Finns, the Georgians, Ukrainians, and the rest: ‘We have no interest in keeping you in chains. Let us combine to overthrow the exploiters, and then we will give you the freedom to decide what your relations will be with us. We hope to show you that you will be treated with absolute equality, and that you will choose to remain with us. But if you decide something else, that is your own affair, and we will fight to defend your right, even if it means setting up your own state.’

Lenin never made the slightest concession to nationalism, including to the nationalism of the oppressed. His whole line of argument on the national question was motivated by a burning belief in internationalism and the revolutionary mission of the proletariat.

If a Ukrainian Marxist allows himself to be swayed by his quite legitimate and natural hatred of the Great-Russian oppressors to such a degree that he transfers even a particle of this hatred, even if it be only estrangement, to the proletarian culture and proletarian cause of the Great-Russian workers, then such a Marxist will get bogged down in bourgeois nationalism. Similarly, the Great-Russian Marxist will be bogged down, not only in bourgeois, but also in Black-Hundred nationalism, if he loses sight, even for a moment, of the demand for complete equality for the Ukrainians, or of their right to form an independent state. (Ibid., p. 33.)

The main purpose of the slogan of the right to self-determination was precisely to guarantee the unity of the working class. The other side of the coin was that the Marxists of the oppressed nationalities should concentrate on fighting their own bourgeoisie, on combating the nationalist poison of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie of the oppressed nationality, of waging a remorseless struggle to combat the influence of nationalism in the working class. Moreover, Lenin was always implacably opposed to setting up separate organisations for the workers of oppressed nationalities. The Russian Marxists stood for the unity of the working class and its organisations, not just the party, but the trade unions also:

Working-class democracy counterposes to the nationalist wrangling of the various bourgeois parties over questions of language, etc., the demand for the unconditional unity and complete amalgamation of the workers of all nationalities in all working class organisations – trade-union, cooperative, consumers’, educational, and all others – in contradistinction to any kind of bourgeois nationalism. Only this type of unity and amalgamation can uphold democracy and defend the interests of the workers against capital – which is already international and is becoming more so – and promote the development of mankind towards a new way of life that is alien to all privileges and all exploitation. (Ibid., p. 22.)

Self-determination was thus only one part of a programme aimed at securing the unity of the workers of both oppressed and oppressor nations. It did not at all signify support for nationalism and separatism, as Lenin explains, when he says that:

The recognition of the right [to self-determination] does not exclude either propaganda and agitation against separation or the exposure of bourgeois nationalism. (LCW, The National Programme of the RSDLP, vol. 19, p. 544.)

The Balkan Wars

The national question has always been a treacherous minefield, because the demand for national liberation and ‘self-determination’ is not simple. Behind what appears at first sight to be a progressive demand can lurk the most reactionary forces and interests. That is why Lenin insisted that the demand for self-determination did not possess an absolute validity, but had to be subordinate to the interests of the proletariat and world revolution. Marxists are not at all obliged to support it in every case, as is frequently supposed. Marx had long ago pointed out the reactionary role played by ‘small nations’ which become the cat’s-paws of imperialist ‘big brothers’. He was particularly scathing about Pan-Slavism, the doctrine whereby Russian tsarism put itself forward as the ‘Liberator’ of the Slavs, and used this position to gain a foothold in the Balkans. Following in Marx’s footsteps, Lenin’s position on the national question was characterised by his constant insistence on the class question. He consistently warned against the danger of nationalist intoxication and wrote ironically about the slogans of ‘freedom’, behind which the bourgeoisie sought to conceal its reactionary intrigues and deceive the people.

In his writings on the national question before 1914, Lenin frequently uses the example of the way in which Norway separated from Sweden in 1905. This was a very simple example, and probably for that reason Lenin chose it. Unfortunately, the national question is not always so simple. Whether or not Marxists will defend the right of self-determination depends on the concrete circumstances of each case.

The categorical requirement of Marxist theory in investigating any social question is that it be examined within definite historical limits, and, if it refers to a particular country (e.g., the national programme for a given country), that account be taken of the specific features distinguishing that country from others in the same historical epoch.

And again:

There can be no question of the Marxists of any country drawing up their national programme without taking into account all these general historical and concrete state conditions. (LCW, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, vol. 20, pp. 400-401.)

One would have thought that this was sufficiently clear. But unfortunately, ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. Having glanced at Lenin’s writings and caught sight of the phrase ‘right to self-determination’, some people who evidently consider themselves to be followers of Lenin conclude that, come rain, hail, or shine, it is always necessary to support each and every demand for independence. What Lenin carefully explained and qualified becomes transmuted into a kind of nervous tic, compelling those who suffer from it to jump to attention every time some nationalist group sounds the trumpet. One really wonders why Lenin bothered to write all those volumes, when it seems that those who speak and act in his name have clearly not understood a single line!

In the light of the most recent history of the Balkans after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, it is instructive to recall the position that Lenin took on the Balkan Wars. Did he immediately fall into line behind one or other of the belligerent countries? Far from it. He denounced the Balkan Wars as reactionary on all sides. There is no way that the working class could have supported any of the belligerents, although each one of them (of course!) loudly protested that they were the victims of aggression and that their ‘right to self-determination’ was being violated. “Never and in no place,” wrote Lenin of the Balkan conflict, “has ‘freedom’ been won by the oppressed peoples by means of war of one people against another… Real freedom of the Slav peasants on the Balkans, and also of the Turkish peasant can be won only by complete freedom within each country…” (V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, in Russian, vol. 22, pp. 151-52.) This is the real Lenin. This is the voice of his uncompromising revolutionary class internationalism. What a contrast with the disgraceful chauvinist demagogy of the leaders of the former Communist parties like Zyuganov today, who have thrown Lenin overboard and are echoing the old Slavophile rubbish which Marx and Lenin so despised.

In the period following the first Russian Revolution, storm clouds were gathering over Europe, which was soon to receive a harsh lesson in the importance of the national question. Even while events in Russia were moving towards a final split between the forces of revolutionary Marxism and reformism, on an international scale, other forces were being unleashed. The contradictions between the rival groups of imperialist powers – Germany, Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, and Russia – were raising the spectre of war on an incomparably vaster and more terrifying scale than in the past. At the Copenhagen Congress of the Second International, which took place from 15 to 25 August, 1910, the Russian party was represented by Lenin and Plekhanov. A central place in the debates at the International Congress was occupied by the struggle against militarism and the war question. Already at the Stuttgart Congress (August 1907) Lenin had included a number of amendments on the resolution on war, i.e., in the event of war, to take advantage of economic and political crisis to overthrow capitalism.

The explosive contradictions between the great powers reached the critical point in the Balkans in August 1914. But even before that, the fault lines were exposed by the Balkan Wars. The slow, ignominious decline of the Ottoman Empire was brought to a head by the successive wars of the Balkan peoples to free themselves from Turkish rule. In a series of wars, Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria won their freedom, but instantly became transformed into the puppets of different European powers (Britain, Russia, Austria, Prussia) and the small change of imperialist diplomacy. France was pressuring Russia to take a tougher line in the Balkans against Austria-Hungary which in the autumn of 1908 suddenly added to its colonial possessions in the Balkans by annexing Bosnia-Herzegovina, a clear provocation to the government of St. Petersburg. But in this vicious game of power politics, tsarist Russia was playing an equally predatory role. Its main aim had not varied for decades – to give cynical support to Bulgaria and Serbia against Turkey under the hypocritical banner of Pan-Slavism in order to dominate not only the Balkans, but Turkey itself. The seizure of Constantinople, and thus the gaining of access to a warm water port with an outlet to the Mediterranean, remained the central goal. This was the real purpose behind the setting up of the ‘Union of four monarchies’ against Turkey.

The uproar that ensued after the Austrian annexation of Bosnia also exposed the imperialist ambitions of the Russian bourgeois liberals, who demanded that Russia act on the Balkans. The right-wing Cadet leader Guchkov condemned the government’s decision not to go to war over Bosnia as a betrayal of the Slavs. The Russian government, he said, was displaying a “flabby indolence”, while the Russian people were prepared for the “inevitable war with the German races”. Behind this belligerence was the cold, calculating policy of the Russian bourgeoisie which looked forward to rich commercial profits from the seizure of Constantinople and control of the Black Sea and the shipping routes through the straits. Struve denounced the Bosnian affair as “a national disgrace”, and asserted that Russia’s destiny was to extend its civilisation “to the whole of the Black Sea basin”. “The straits must become ours,” Mikhail Rodzianko, President of the Duma, told the Tsar in March 1913. “A war will be joyfully welcomed and it will raise the government’s prestige.” (O. Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1921, p. 247 and p. 248.) There was also still unfinished business in the Balkans, since a significant part of Balkan territory (Macedonia) had remained under Turkish rule. On 26 September, 1912 the first Balkan War broke out. Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece (the Union of four monarchies) lined up against Turkey. Formally, this was a war of national liberation of Balkan peoples against the Turkish oppressors, but behind the slogans which demagogically proclaimed freedom and self-determination lurked the predatory ambitions of the different national bourgeoisies, behind each of which stood one or another of the great powers, intent on waging war by proxy against its rivals. France, Germany, Britain, and Austria-Hungary were all watching the position in the Balkans with a mixture of greed, fear, and suspicion.

The decrepit Ottoman Empire was defeated in the First Balkan War. The Turkish yoke was removed, but immediately replaced by the yoke of the ‘national’ Serb, Greek, and Bulgarian landlords and capitalists. Moreover, the latter immediately began to vie with each other over the spoils of victory, like rabid dogs fighting over a bone. The London Conference in the spring of 1913 finally established ‘Peace’ in the Balkans after the First Balkan War, but did so in such a way as to guarantee the outbreak of a new and even more nightmarish war – one that would eventually sweep up not only the Balkans but the whole world in its train. The London Conference set the seal on the involvement of the Great Powers in the Balkans. This was a self-evident fact anyway. Behind the ruling clique of each of the ‘independent’ Balkan regimes stood one or another of the European powers. And each of the latter was grouped in one of the two great blocs – the Triple Alliance led by Germany, and the ‘Entente’ led by Britain. Like Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany also had ambitions in the Balkans which may be summed up in the question: Who was destined to inherit the Ottoman Empire? Then, as now, the different national regimes on the Balkans were really just the agents of the main imperialist states.

The reactionary role of the national bourgeoisies in the Balkans was immediately revealed by their vicious expansionism, as expressed in the policy of ‘Greater Bulgaria’, ‘Greater Serbia’, ‘Greater Greece’ and reflecting nothing more than the greed of ruling landlord-capitalist circles, conspiring with great powers for the ruination of all the peoples of the Balkans. The new war broke out on 6 June, 1913, when Bulgaria attacked Greece and Serbia. Sensing the possibility of easy spoils, Romania joined in. Turkey also weighed in against Bulgaria, which suffered a shattering defeat and the loss of a considerable amount of territory. This shows how empty the concept of ‘colonial’ oppression is when seen from a formal and anti-dialectical position. Nations which were previously oppressed colonies can be transformed into their opposite. The war against Turkey might be said to have had a relatively progressive aspect, in that (theoretically at least) it was fought to free the Macedonians from the Turkish yoke, although, in practice, the different Balkan states were already seeking aggrandisement at the expense of their neighbours. But the Second Balkan War had an openly reactionary and imperialist character, as the Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian, and Romanian ruling cliques fought among each other for the division of the spoils.

There was not an atom of progressive content in any of this. Nor could the rights of self-determination be invoked in any meaningful way to solve the bloody impasse that afflicted the Balkans then and has continued to do so ever since. The only way out of the bloody impasse in the Balkans consisted in a revolution led by the working class with the aim of a democratic Balkan federation. That was Lenin’s position and also that of all genuine Balkan socialists and democrats, especially the greatest of them, Christian Rakovsky. These ‘national’ wars, led by the national bourgeoisie, as Lenin explained, were infinitely more costly in human lives than a revolution would have been. Without a revolution led by the working class in alliance with the poor peasantry, no solution was possible for the Balkans. The real programme defended by the Marxists as the only solution to the Balkan problem was explained by Trotsky in his article The Balkan Question and Social Democracy, which appeared in Pravda on 1 August, 1910:

The only way out of the national and state chaos and the bloody confusion of Balkan life is a union of all the peoples of the peninsula in a single economic and political entity, on the basis of national autonomy of the constituent parts. Only within the framework of a single Balkan state can the Serbs of Macedonia, the sanjak, Serbia, and Montenegro be united in a single national-cultural community, enjoying at the same time the advantages of a Balkan common market. Only the united Balkan peoples can give a real rebuff to the shameless pretensions of tsarism and European imperialism. (L. Trotsky, The Balkan Wars 1912-13, pp. 39-40.)

Lenin himself made the same point in his article The Balkan War and Bourgeois Chauvinism:

The Balkan peoples could have carried out this task ten times more easily than they are doing now and with a hundred times fewer sacrifices by forming a Federated Balkan Republic. National oppression, national bickering and incitement on the ground of religious differences would have been impossible under complete and consistent democracy. The Balkan peoples would have been assured of truly rapid, extensive and free development. (LCW, The Balkan War and Bourgeois Chauvinism, vol. 19, p. 39.)

Like Lenin, Trotsky saw the solution to the Balkan problem not in national but in class terms:

The historical guarantee of the independence of the Balkans and of the freedom of Russia lies in revolutionary collaboration between the workers of Petersburg and Warsaw and the workers of Belgrade and Sofia. (L. Trotsky, The Balkan Wars 1912-13, pp. 41-42.)

These lines remain equally true today, except that the slogan of a Democratic Federation must now be replaced by that of a Democratic Socialist Federation of Balkan Peoples, as the only way to overcome the ghastly legacy of Balkanisation to which neither capitalism nor Stalinism has the answer.

The Gathering Storm

The real significance of the Balkan Wars is that they clearly revealed a tendency towards a world war. The tensions between the big imperialist powers had been steadily accumulating to the critical point where any accident could ignite a general conflict. The only hope of avoiding war was not pacifist declarations but the revolutionary movement of the working class. This was the position taken by Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg at the congresses of the International that immediately preceded the First World War. On the face of it, the forces at the disposal of the international socialist movement were more than enough to stop a war. In 1914, the Second International was a mass organisation with 41 parties in 27 countries with a total membership of about 12 million workers. Resolutions passed by big majorities in the Stuttgart and Basel congresses pledged the International to oppose war by all means at its disposal.

Lenin’s position on war was neither ‘warmongering’ nor tearful pacifism but revolutionary through and through. Among the many slanders levelled against Lenin, one of the most absurd is that he ‘wanted war’. This assertion is frequently linked to a misinterpretation of his idea of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ which has been almost universally misunderstood. When a Polish journalist, Majkosen, asked Lenin before the First World War whether, if war would hasten revolution, he wanted a war, he answered:

No, I don’t want that… I am doing all I can, and will continue to do so till the end, to hinder the war mobilisation. I don’t want millions of proletarians to be forced to slaughter one another impelled by the lunacy of capitalism. There can be no misunderstanding on this point. To objectively predict war, and to strive, in the event of such a misfortune to develop, to take advantage of it as best we can – that is one thing. To desire a war and work for it, that is something entirely different. (V.I. Lenin Biography, Moscow, 1963, p. 213.)

In November 1912 the Basel Emergency Conference of the International was held. The impressive number of delegates proclaimed the colossal power of the labour organisations of the world – a total of 555 delegates representing 23 countries listened as the greatest issue of the day was earnestly debated. At the conference the predominant trend was pacifism. The great French socialist Jean Jaurès read out an anti-war resolution: “The proletariat demands peace in the most energetic terms,” he proclaimed. But such general declarations ‘for peace’ are not worth the paper they are written on in the event of war breaking out. In order to transform such general sentiments into a fighting programme against war, something else is required. That is why Lenin had moved an amendment at the Stuttgart Congress in 1907 stating that in the event of war, the working class would take advantage of the situation to overthrow capitalism. In fact, that would be the only way in which war could be stopped. Amazingly, Lenin’s amendment was unanimously approved. But, as it later became clear, the leaders of the international Social Democracy only voted for such resolutions because they had not the slightest intention of ever carrying them out.

Such was the general rule in almost all the parties of the Second International. The revolutionary programme was safely kept locked in a drawer, tucked away in the Party’s constitution, to be taken out and dusted off to be read out at May Day meetings, and then put back again for the rest of the year. Between the theory and practice of the Social Democracy, there was an unbridgeable abyss. The masses believed in the socialist aims of the party, but for most of the leaders, sucked into the rarefied world of parliamentary politics, the latter were at best irrelevant and at worst an embarrassing encumbrance. Their outlook was well summed up in the winged phrase of the father of revisionism, Eduard Bernstein: “The movement is everything, the final goal is nothing.”

But just as the leaders of the Second International were lulling the workers with the vision of peaceful, gradual change and reform, the capitalist system was preparing a rude awakening for all classes in society. The Balkan Wars had solved nothing, but raised the temperature of international relations to fever pitch. Macedonia was divided between Greece and Serbia. Romania seized a chunk of Bulgarian territory (southern Dobrudja). In the western Balkans, the powers set up a new independent Albania. But Serbia, although victorious, was blocked from getting secure access to the Adriatic Sea, an aim in which she was backed by Russia. Defeated and humiliated in the Second Balkan War, Bulgaria waited for an opportunity to take her revenge and joined the camp of Germany and Austria. From fear of Russia, Turkey, the other defeated power, also moved closer to Germany, with whom it concluded an alliance in August 1914. On the other hand, Serbia and Montenegro grew even closer to Russia in self-defence against Austria-Hungary. In the words of Russia’s Foreign Minister Sazonov: “Our fundamental task is to guarantee the political and economic emancipation of Serbia.” (B.H. Sumner, A Survey of Russian History, p. 380.) The world was sliding uncontrollably towards war.

In Russia, the Bolshevik legal press waged a consistent anti-war agitation, concentrating on exposing the real war aims of tsarism in the Balkans. Lenin’s slogans were “Against interference of other powers in the Balkan war… War against war! Against any interference! For Peace: such are the workers’ slogans.” As opposed to the sentimental whimperings of the pacifists, Lenin always approached the question of war from a class standpoint, exposing the interests that lay behind the patriotic slogans. Lenin’s articles constantly denounced the capitalists and arms manufacturers and unmasked the real war aims of Russian tsarism, showing their material basis and class content. He always asked, with a lawyer’s turn of phrase, ‘cui prodest?’ – who benefits from the arms race? There was no question of taking sides in this Balkan conflict. The interests of the Balkan people could not be served by a war. And the very idea that the right of self-determination of this or that Balkan statelet could serve as a justification for dragging the whole of Europe into war was simply monstrous. Later, in 1915, Lenin explained that if the war had been a question of a military conflict between Serbia and Austria alone, it would be necessary to support Serbia, from the point of view of the rights of nations to self-determination. However, this right was never considered by Lenin to be absolute for all times and circumstances. In no way could the struggle for self-determination of the Serbs or any other people justify plunging the whole world into a war. In this case, as always, the right of self-determination was subordinate to the interests of the working class and the world revolution.

The Bolsheviks’ Influence Grows

The Bolshevik deputies in the Duma also did their duty on the question of the Balkan War. On 12 June, 1913, Badayev announced the Bolsheviks’ refusal to vote for the war budget in the Duma, with the defiant slogan: ‘Not a penny for the arms budget’. Mass agitation was organised against war, with factory resolutions denouncing the Balkan War and the even greater threat of world war. At the same time there were anti-war demonstrations in Germany, France, and Britain. As the fatal year 1914 dawned, there were big strikes and demonstrations commemorating the anniversary of Bloody Sunday on 9 January. In St. Petersburg, Riga, Moscow, Nikolaev, Warsaw, Tver, Kiev, Kheso, Drinsk, and other workers’ centres, 260,000 people participated in demonstrations. And this was only the beginning. From 17 to 20 March in St. Petersburg there were 156,000 workers on strike, in Riga 60,000, in Moscow 10,000. The atmosphere was white hot. Russia was rapidly moving towards a new revolutionary situation. On 22 April, Bolshevik, Menshevik, and Trudovik deputies were excluded from the Duma for ‘obstructionism’. More than 100,000 workers participated in political protest strikes in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

One strike wave followed another. On 1 May more than half a million workers struck and demonstrated: in St. Petersburg there were 250,000, in Riga 44,000, in Moscow 32,000, in the Caucasus about 20,000. In its size and sweep, the movement surpassed even that of 1905. Lenin, in his article May Days of Revolution, pointed out that there are two basic conditions for a pre-revolutionary situation: that the masses cannot live as before and that the ruling class cannot rule as before. This was clearly the case in Russia. On the eve of the World War, Russia was again rapidly heading for a new revolution. The workers’ movement was in a state of continuous ebullition. The growth in the party’s influence was recorded by Badayev, who deals with the structure of the St. Petersburg organisation and the work of the St. Petersburg committee:

All activity in the St. Petersburg District is now controlled by the St. Petersburg Committee, which has been functioning since autumn last year. The Committee has contacts at all works and factories and is informed of all developments there. The organisation of the district is as follows: At the factory, party members form nuclei in the various workshops and delegates from the nuclei form a factory committee (at small factories, the members themselves constitute the committee). Every factory committee, or workshop nucleus in large factories, appoints a collector who on each payday collects the dues and other funds, books, subscriptions for the newspapers, etc. A controller is also appointed to visit the institutions for which the funds were raised, to see that the correct amounts have been received there and collect the money. By this system, abuses in the handling of money are avoided.

Each district committee elects by secret voting an executive commission of three, care being taken that the committee as a whole should not know of whom the executive commission actually consists.

The district executive commissions send delegates to the St. Petersburg Committee, again trying to ensure that the names should not be known by the whole district committee. The St. Petersburg Committee also elects an executive commission of three. Sometimes, for reasons of secrecy, it was found inadvisable to elect the representatives from the district commission and they were co-opted at the discretion of the St. Petersburg Committee.

Owing to this system, it was difficult for the secret police to find out who are members of the St. Petersburg Committee, which was thus enabled to carry on its work, to guide the activities of the organisations, declare political strikes, etc.

The Committee is held in high esteem by the workers, who, on all important points, await its guidance and follow its instructions. Special attention is paid to the leaflets which the Committee issues from time to time.

St. Petersburg trade union organisations have decided not to call political strikes on their own initiative but to act only on instructions from the St. Petersburg Committee. It was the Committee which issued the call for strikes on 9 January, 4 April, and 1 May. The workers strongly resented the suppression of Pravda and wanted to strike, but the Committee decided that it was necessary first to prepare the action properly and to issue an explanatory leaflet which should reach the masses. Within a few days another paper appeared and as it followed the same policy the workers were somewhat reassured. Although no appeal to strike action was issued, some 30,000 workers left their work.

Leaflets are of great importance and the Committee devoted much effort to perfecting its machinery for their printing and distribution. The Committee consists entirely of workers, and we write the leaflets ourselves and have difficulty in finding intellectuals to help in correcting them.

The St. Petersburg political strikes, far from ruining the organisation, strengthened it. It may be asserted that the St. Petersburg organisation was revived, strengthened, and is developing, owing to the political strike movement. The shouts of the Liquidators about a ‘strike fever’ show that they are completely detached from the workers’ organisations and from the life of the masses; they altogether fail to grasp what is now taking place among the workers. From my position in the centre of the St. Petersburg working-class movement, I notice everywhere how the strength of the workers is increasing, how it shows itself and how it will overwhelm everything.

The resolutions of the Kraków Conference were read and studied by the workers in the factories and the entire work of our organisation was conducted in their spirit. Their correctness was fully proved in practice; taking active part in the work, I felt all the time that the line of policy was correct. I rarely met a Liquidator or heard of one; this surprised me at first, but later, at a meeting of metalworkers, I learned that they were almost non-existent in St. Petersburg. (Quoted in A.Y. Badayev, Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, pp. 117-18.)

Bolshevik influence was continually spreading to new layers of the class – to the youth and women. Pravda was the main weapon for this work. Its circulation grew to an impressive 40,000 a day, whereas the Mensheviks’ Luch (The Ray) sold a maximum of 16,000 copies. The Bolsheviks always took the question of revolutionary work among women workers very seriously. Lenin, in particular, attached an enormous importance to this question, especially in the period of the revolutionary upsurge from 1912–14, and during the First World War. It was at this time that International Women’s Day, 23 February (8 March), began to be celebrated with mass workers’ demonstrations. It is not an accident that the February (March, according to the new calendar) Revolution arose from disturbances around Women’s Day, when women demonstrated against the war and the high cost of living.

Social Democrats had begun consistent work among women workers during the 1912–14 upsurge. The Bolsheviks organised the first International Women’s Day meeting in Russia in 1913. The same year, Pravda began regularly publishing a page devoted to questions facing women. The Bolsheviks launched a women’s newspaper, Rabotnitsa (Woman Worker), in 1914, with the first issue appearing on International Women’s Day, when the party again organised demonstrations. The paper was suppressed in July along with the rest of the workers’ press. The Bolshevik paper was supported financially by women factory workers and distributed by them in the workplaces. It reported on the conditions and struggles of women workers in Russia and abroad, and encouraged women to join in struggle with their male co-workers. It urged them to reject the women’s movement initiated by bourgeois women following the 1905 Revolution.

A key question was the fight for leadership in the unions, where the Mensheviks were traditionally strong. Prior to the First World War in most countries the unions represented a minority of the class and were heavily dominated by the skilled trades who enjoyed higher wages and better conditions than the rest. This layer, which Marx characterised as the ‘aristocracy of labour’ were frequently under the influence of the liberals and it was no accident that the trade unions, especially their leading layer, were organically inclined towards conservatism and opportunism. Russia was no exception to the rule, which explains why the Mensheviks were traditionally stronger than the Bolsheviks in this milieu.

The St. Petersburg trade unions, among the strongest and best organised had at most 30,000 members in 1914, and in the whole of Russia, there were no more than 100,000, a small percentage of the total work force. Nevertheless, as the basic units of the class, the unions were of fundamental importance to any tendency which aspired to the leadership of the masses. Despite all the difficulties, the Bolsheviks conducted patient revolutionary work in even the most bureaucratic and reactionary unions to win the majority. And eventually this painstaking and patient labour was crowned with success.

By 1913–14, the Bolsheviks were in a position to organise an intervention in all the trade union congresses and mount a successful challenge to the right wing. By the summer of 1914, the Bolsheviks had won the majority in the unions of both Moscow and St. Petersburg. In St. Petersburg, out of 19 trade unions, 16 supported the Bolsheviks, while only three (the draughtsmen, clerks, and chemists) were for the Mensheviks. In Moscow, all 13 trade unions were with the Bolsheviks. Given the traditional influence of the Mensheviks in the unions, this advance was particularly spectacular, and symptomatic of a complete change in the mood of the class.

Under the impulse of the mass revolutionary movement the right wing were losing their traditional base of support among the skilled layers of the working class and the unions. The statements of the Menshevik leaders of this period provide a frank admission of their growing isolation from the working class. A.L. Chkhenkeli, member of the Duma for Kars and Batum, lamented at a meeting of the Menshevik Duma fraction in January 1914 that “we have lost all our ties with the working class”. This evaluation received official confirmation at the OC’s meeting in February which admitted that “the Duma fraction stands at a remote distance from the popular masses”. The reason for the Mensheviks’ loss of support is not hard to find. Their entire policy consisted of cultivating their connections with the liberal bourgeoisie. They looked up, not down, for a solution. Consequently, the upsurge of the mass movement in the form of a stormy strike wave took them aback. In fact, they really regarded it as a nuisance, fearing anything that might frighten away their Cadet friends. This attitude of distrust towards the mass movement was intimately linked to their whole conception of the Russian Revolution as a bourgeois affair. The masses were supposed to behave responsibly, accept the role of second fiddle to the bourgeoisie, and not go ‘too far’.

Mensheviks also remained extremely ambivalent in their attitude towards strikes. In part their reservations derived from their different interpretation of the shape of a bourgeois revolution in Russian conditions and of the nature of the contemporary crisis… [However] the unspoken fear of Menshevik intellectuals was that the apparently ceaseless and uncontrollable surge of labour unrest would frighten off potential ‘bourgeois allies’.

In an article in Nasha Zarya, Dan warned that “in the political struggle, the strike is not always the sole expedient means.” (R.B. McKean, St. Petersburg Between the Revolutions, p. 120 and p. 122.) For reformist labour leaders, the strike, or any mass initiative from below is, of course, never ‘expedient’. But the masses see things differently, and soon learn how to distinguish between leaders and organisations that support them in struggle and those that act as permanent fire-hoses for the bosses.

The Bolsheviks showed no such restraint, and consequently were rapidly extending their influence in the unions, especially the key industrial unions, like the metalworkers. Even traditionally Menshevik unions, like the print-workers, moved away from the Liquidators, who were increasingly isolated and discredited. In the summer of 1913, they were defeated in the election of the Moscow printers’ union. The same thing happened in the Baltic region in the autumn. In April 1914 the Bolsheviks won half of the seats on the leading bodies of the Petersburg printers’ union. This energetic and successful drive into the trade unions proved to be a dress rehearsal for what occurred in 1917. The skilful combination of work in the illegal underground party organisations and the penetration of all kinds of legal workers’ organisations – the unions, the co-ops, the insurance societies (kassy), the legal press, and the Duma, was shown in practice to be the only correct road.

The figures for the unions – embracing only a small minority of the workers, albeit an important one – by no means gives us a complete picture of the strength of the Party at this time. In most towns, the Bolsheviks had won a predominant influence in almost all workers’ clubs and associations which, under the influence of the Party, were given a political character. In many areas (especially the provinces) these clubs became centres of revolutionary activity. The same was true of the cooperative societies in the Ukraine and elsewhere, and in the workers’ mutual and insurance societies (kassy). By participating in such work, paying attention to the day-to-day problems of the workers and their families, the Bolsheviks were able also to establish contacts with other layers: traders, shopkeepers, accountants, railway employees, civil servants, artisans, and other non-proletarian sections. In St. Petersburg, Moscow, Riga, Baku, etc., legal work was conducted by the Bolsheviks even in sports clubs and musical and drama societies. The slow, patient work in these seemingly unpromising environments paid off handsomely in the end. After all, real revolutionary work is not at all glamorous, but consists in a proportion of about nine-tenths of precisely such humdrum and unspectacular work to sink roots in the masses wherever they are.

In order to build links with the peasants and rural proletarians – a vital task for a mass party in Russia – the Bolsheviks launched the slogan: ‘Carry the revolutionary word to the village’. Pravda published letters from peasants alongside those of the workers. Nor did the Bolsheviks neglect work among students and intellectuals. The Petersburg higher education group (which included all Social Democratic factions) under Bolshevik leadership had about 100 members, which was still relatively weak, reflecting the falling off of revolutionary influence in the intelligentsia in the previous period, but was expanding again. Thus, the newly formed Bolshevik Party carried into practice the old slogan of the Narodniks, ‘Go among the People!’ But it did so on a higher basis, armed with a scientific programme and a proletarian revolutionary policy. The whole thrust of the policy can be simply summed up: the proletariat must fight to place itself at the head of each and every oppressed section of society, and the Party must fight to win the leadership of the proletariat.

The Bolsheviks on the Eve of the War

Feeling the earth quake under their feet, the bourgeois liberals began to distance themselves from the government, demanding reforms. They were both frightened themselves and attempting to frighten the regime into granting concessions. ‘Reform before it is too late!’ That was their battle cry. They took heart from the growing conflict between ‘reformers’ and ‘reactionaries’ within the regime itself which proceeded in tandem with the conflict between the Cadets and the autocracy. There was even a ‘strike of Ministers’ in 1913. As always, splits at the top are the first warning of an impending revolutionary crisis. The Interior Minister, Maklakov, wrote in worried terms to the Tsar: “The mood among the factory workers is uneasy,” and advocated a crackdown. Naturally this proposal was approved by the Tsar but turned down by the Prime Minister Kokovtsov – further indications of vacillations and splits at the top as the government lost its nerve and arguments broke out over whether to use the mailed fist or the velvet glove to deal with the problem.

By now the government was monopolised by the most reactionary elements. As war approaches, everything become clearer, sharper. All elements of confusion and ambiguity are removed. The ‘middle-ground’ liberals, the compromisers, and all accidental figures and groupings are mercilessly squeezed out of the picture. And finally there remains only two trends which present society with a stark and imperious alternative – revolution or reaction. The liberals, in desperation, tried to lean on the working class and to this end patched up a deal. In March 1914, the Cadets set up a kind of ‘opposition committee’ and even included a Bolshevik on it (I.I. Skvortsov-Stepanov). Despite the well-known spinelessness of the liberals, Dan and the Mensheviks placed all their hopes on this.

Informed of this development, Lenin considered it important as a symptom. Lenin advised Skvortsov-Stepanov to go along in order to obtain precise information on how far the liberals were prepared to go in practice, that is, to what extent the moneybags were prepared to make donations to help to develop the illegal press, and so on. The reply was, predictably, unclear! The Cadets (and still less their allies the Octobrists) had no serious intention of challenging the regime or aiding the revolution. Their pleas to the bureaucracy to ‘reform itself’ were aimed at preserving the system, not overthrowing it. The Mensheviks committed the ‘small’ mistake of confusing revolution with counter-revolution in a democratic guise. Faced with the working class, the liberals and reactionaries inevitably closed ranks in one reactionary bloc. The real difference between the liberals and the government was on how best to defeat the working class. Nevertheless, as Lenin said, it was necessary to use these splits in a skilful way, but not to sow illusions in them as the Mensheviks did.

Objectively the situation was ripe for revolution, but the decisive factor was the subjective factor – the capability of the working class and its leadership to take advantage of the situation to overthrow the autocracy and take power. The party was now stronger than ever, after parting company with the opportunists. But the war intervened to cut across the whole process. By the spring of 1914 Pravda had a daily circulation of almost 40,000, but many more were actually circulated and read in the factories. Pravda in April 1914 had 8,858 subscribers in 740 areas of Russia; by June the figure had risen to 11,534 in 944 areas. This sharp increase shows the rapid spread of Bolshevik ideas and the increased penetration of the masses. The Liquidators raised an anguished plea for ‘unity’ only when the Bolsheviks already had, in practice, obtained an overwhelming majority in the class. In the spring of 1914 – Pravda’s second anniversary (22 April) – there was a campaign for fund-raising (‘Press day’). All party groups, trade union cells, factory groups, cultural societies, etc. were involved. The campaign obtained greetings and donations from 1,107 different workers’ groups. In addition to Pravda, there was also a theoretical journal, Prosveshcheniye (Enlightenment) as well as a host of regional and local papers.

Despite this remarkable progress, on the eve of a new revolutionary upturn, Lenin was uneasy. While recognising that magnificent work had been done on the ground, he saw that the Central Committee tended to lag behind:

While in the field of agitation and propaganda of the party over the past two to three years of the new upswing an enormous amount of work has been done, in the field of organisational consolidation, up to the present time, proportionately very little has been done. (Voprosy Istoriya KPSS, 1957, no. 4, p. 117.)

Lenin was critical not only of the CC but also of the Pravda editorial board. He saw the need for new blood, for the renovation of the leading bodies with fresh layers of workers. This entailed, to some extent, a gamble, but anything was better than stagnation and excessive reliance on ‘old glories’, some of whom had fallen into routinism and conservatism. It was necessary to strike a balance. Lenin, with his habitual patience, tact, and loyalty, was always ready to preserve older comrades, but also always on the lookout for new talent – a most important part of the art of leadership. Lenin insistently demanded the inclusion of fresh workers in the leading bodies. Preparation was now underway for a new party congress. Once again the Liquidators opposed it, describing it as a ‘private meeting of Lenin’s clique’. But their protests no longer cut any ice.

The Liquidators were desperately thrashing about, announcing all kinds of plans – for the setting up of a federal committee to call a joint congress and the like, all of which were rejected. The Bolsheviks now had the upper hand. They had the troops on the ground. The Liquidators did not. The situation was so clear that the basis for conciliationism had completely evaporated. The Bolsheviks now turned down the proposals for unity but made it clear that any bona fide workers’ group in Russia would be invited to send delegates to the congress, irrespective of tendency. The question of ‘unity’ had been settled in action. The ‘August Bloc’, riven with internal contradictions from its inception, finally broke up in early 1914. The Latvian Social Democrats – the only mass organisation represented there – broke away, and the whole thing fell to bits. Trotsky had already resigned from the journals of the Liquidators and in February 1914 attempted to establish a new ‘non-factional’ journal, Bor’ba. But the time for such attempts was long past. With his usual wry humour, Lenin commented that the unifiers couldn’t even unite among themselves. In desperation the Mensheviks turned to the Second International. But after the conduct of the Second International in the previous dispute, Lenin was on his guard. He considered this attempt to look for an honest broker as a joke. But because of the authority of the International, to turn down the offer of mediation would not have been understood. The Bolsheviks decided, after all, to participate in the ‘unification meeting’ called by the International Bureau, with the intention of “exposing the fiction of the August Bloc”. (See V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, in Russian, vol. 24, p. 289.)

At the meeting which took place in Brussels in July 1914, the Bolsheviks were represented by second-line leaders. Also present were the Menshevik Liquidators, Trotsky’s Bor’ba, Plekhanov’s Yedinstvo (Unity) group, the Menshevik Duma deputies, Vperyod, the Bund, the Letts, the Lithuanian Social Democrats, and three Polish groups. The International had wheeled out some of its big guns in an attempt to bring about a shotgun marriage between two politically irreconcilable trends by bureaucratic means. This was quite logical for people who had long ago turned their back on principled politics in favour of Realpolitik. The chairman of the meeting was the Belgian Social Democratic leader Vandervelde, along with Huysmans and Kautsky. In the course of the meeting, Kautsky uttered prophetic words that, “In Germany there is no split, despite the differences between Rosa Luxemburg and Bernstein,” a phrase which would soon be shown up for the hollow sham it was. The meeting accepted Kautsky’s motion that there were no differences in the Russian Social Democracy which should impede unity. But the Bolsheviks stood firm, despite pressures from all sides. At the meeting, which lasted three days, the Bolshevik representatives rejected the International’s pretensions to act as an arbitration court. They saw no reason to make concessions this time. Vandervelde threatened the Bolsheviks with condemnation at the next International Congress. In fact, the next Congress would never be held. Events on a vast scale would blow the old International sky high, cruelly exposing all the lies, half-truths, and shams upon which it had rested.

The weakness of the Russian bourgeoisie, and its dependence on foreign capital, in turn determined the foreign policy of tsarism, which found itself entangled as a junior partner in an alliance with Anglo-French imperialism. By 1912, everything was, in practice, subordinated to the perspective of war. The foreign policy of tsarism was dictated by the war aims of the ruling autocracy and the landlords, which was identical to those of the Russian bankers and capitalists. It amounted to the conquest of foreign territories, markets, and sources of raw materials – the classical policy of imperialism and expansionism. The Russian bourgeoisie, including its ‘liberal’ wing, was content to play second fiddle to the autocracy in the hope of obtaining profitable markets as a result of war. But on the eve of the war, the autocracy was once more staring revolution in the face.

On the eve of the First World War, the revolutionary movement was even stronger and more widespread than in 1905. More important still, the consciousness of the working class was on a qualitatively higher level, a fact that was reflected in the Bolshevik majority. Trotsky later commented:

In order to understand the two chief tendencies in the Russian working class, it is important to have in mind that Menshevism finally took shape in the years of ebb and reaction. It relied chiefly upon a thin layer of workers who had broken with the revolution. Whereas Bolshevism, cruelly shattered in the period of the reaction, began to rise swiftly on the crest of a new revolutionary tide in the years before the war. “The most energetic and audacious element, ready for tireless struggle, for resistance and continual organisation, is that element, those organisations and those people who are concentrated around Lenin.” In these words the Police Department estimated the work of the Bolsheviks during the years preceding the war. (L. Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, p. 58.)

The Bolsheviks’ superiority was shown by a whole series of facts. In the elections to the Fourth Duma, the Bolsheviks won six out of nine of the workers’ places. In the political campaign around the establishment of an independent Duma fraction, the Bolshevik deputies got more than 69 per cent of all workers’ signatures. After the establishment of an independent Duma Bolshevik fraction in October 1913, the Liquidators got the support of only 215 workers’ groups, while the Bolshevik deputies got 1,295 (85.7 per cent!). Other statistics indicate the crushing superiority of the Bolshevik influence. In 1913, the Liquidators’ newspaper got the support of 661 workers’ groups while Pravda had 2,181 (77 per cent). By 1914, (up to 13 May), the corresponding figures were 671 to 2,873 (i.e., 81 per cent). Thus, despite the difficulty of arriving at precise figures under the prevailing conditions of illegal and semi-legal work, it can be calculated with a large degree of certainty that the Bolsheviks had the support of at least three-quarters of the organised working class.

The workers’ movement was going from strength to strength. New areas were constantly being drawn into the struggle. A strike of 50,000 oil workers in Baku began in May 1914. Strikes in solidarity with Baku took place in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kharkov, Kiev, Rostov, and Nikolaev. On 1 July, the St. Petersburg committee of the Party called out the workers with the slogan: “Comrades of Baku, we are with you! A victory of the Baku workers is our victory!” The temperature was rising fast. On that day, a mass meeting of 12,000 workers in the big Putilov works was broken up by the police, with 50 injured and two dead. The news from Petersburg shook the whole country. By 4 July, there were 90,000 on strike. The Bolshevik Central Committee called a three-day general strike as a test of strength. By 7 July, the strike was almost total with 130,000 workers out.

Even while the workers struck, French President Poincaré was in Petersburg to discuss certain delicate matters pertaining to the international situation with the Tsar. While the two men calmly discussed the coming war, another kind of war had broken out on the streets of St. Petersburg. The centre of the capital was occupied by police and troops who clashed with the workers. Although the strike had only been called for three days, the strike wave, in fact, was uninterrupted. The figures in table 4.2 show the numbers out on strike and reveal the real position in the days leading up to the War.

(4.2) Numbers of workers on strike by day

Day

Number of workers on strike

8 July

150,000

9 July

117,000

10 July

111,000

11 and 12 July

More than 130,000

The government struck back. Pravda was closed on 8 July and Bolsheviks were arrested everywhere. Union headquarters and workers’ clubs were closed down. This was tantamount to officially recognising that in July 1914 Russia was once more in the throes of a revolutionary situation. This fact could not be altered by a few arrests. By the summer, the strike movement had already exceeded that of 1905. One and a half million workers were participating in strikes, most of them political. But there were also weaknesses: the movement was mainly concentrated in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the other major industrial centres. In 1905, the movement, at its high point, had been more widespread. In 1905, Petersburg accounted for 20 per cent of the total strike statistics. In 1912-13, it was 40 per cent, and in 1914, more than 50 per cent.

These statistics show that there was quite a wide gap between the proletarian vanguard, concentrated in St. Petersburg and the other centres of industry, and the more backward masses, especially in the provinces, and the peasantry. A certain amount of time and experience was necessary in order to allow the provinces to catch up. It was still too early to enter into a decisive battle, although there was a great deal of impatience and ultra-left tendencies among the young Bolsheviks. Sections of the youth in Petersburg were impatient to go over onto the offensive. An ultra-left group led by the section of the bakers’ union set up a ‘left Bolshevik committee’ and argued in favour of extending the barricade fighting. These young hotheads were responsible for a serious setback. They called together 123 delegates from factory committees who were all arrested by the police. On 14 July, the strike came to an end. Things were clearly coming to a head, although Lenin was in favour of postponing the decisive clash for a little longer. He understood that the attitude of the peasantry was decisive for determining that of the army. Those who were pushing for the continuation of strike action and barricade fighting were pressing for an insurrection before the time was ripe. The July events could have been transformed, in normal circumstances, into a revolutionary situation. But dramatic events on the international scale cut across these developments.

As the whole of Europe stood trembling on the brink of the abyss, Russian tsarism was more afraid of social revolution than of war. On 28 June (NS), the Austrian Crown prince Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. Immediately a general mobilisation was declared in Russia. When on 10 July (NS) the Austrian government presented Serbia with a humiliating ultimatum, St. Petersburg hastened to put pressure on its Serbian ‘brothers’ to accede to all demands other than those that violated its rights as a sovereign state. This is just what the Serbs did in their reply to the note of 10 July. It made no difference. The Vienna government considered the Serbian reply to be ‘insufficient’. At this juncture, any answer from Serbia would have been insufficient. On 15 July, the Austrians began shelling Belgrade. Late on the evening of 18 July, Count Pourtalès called on the Russian foreign minister Sazonov and informed him ‘with tears in his eyes’ that from midnight, Germany was at war with Russia. The great slaughter was about to commence.