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Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin), the founder of Bolshevism, was born in the city of Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk) in 1870. In 1887 Lenin entered the Kazan University, but was soon arrested and expelled from the university for taking part in the revolutionary student movement. In Kazan Lenin joined a Marxist circle formed by one Fedoseyev. Lenin later removed to Samara and soon afterwards the first Marxist circle in that city was formed with Lenin as the central figure. Already in those days Lenin amazed everyone by his thorough knowledge of Marxism.

At the end of 1893 Lenin removed to St. Petersburg. His very first utterances in the Marxist circles of that city made a deep impression on their members. His extraordinarily profound knowledge of Marx, his ability to apply Marxism to the economic and political situation of Russia at that time, his ardent and unshakable belief in the victory of the workers' cause, and his outstanding talent as an organizer made Lenin the acknowledged leader of the St. Petersburg Marxists.

Lenin enjoyed the warm affection of the politically advanced workers whom he taught in the circles.

"Our lectures," says the worker Babushkin recalling Lenin's teaching activities in the workers' circles, "were of a very lively and interesting character; we were all very pleased with these lectures and constantly admired the wisdom of our lecturer."

In 1895 Lenin united all the Marxist workers' circles in St. Petersburg (there were already about twenty of them) into a single League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. He thus prepared the way for the founding of a revolutionary Marxist workers' party.

Lenin put before the League of Struggle the task of forming closer connections with the mass working-class movement and of giving it political leadership. Lenin proposed to pass from the propaganda of Marxism among the few politically advanced workers who gathered in the propaganda circles to political agitation among the broad masses of the working class on issues of the day. This turn towards mass agitation was of profound importance for the subsequent development of the working-class movement in Russia.

The nineties were a period of industrial boom. The number of workers was increasing. The working-class movement was gaining strength. In the period of 1895-99, according to incomplete data, not less than 221,000 workers took part in strikes. The working-class movement was becoming an important force in the political life of the country. The course of events was corroborating the view which the Marxists had championed against the Narodniks, namely, that the working class was to play the leading role in the revolutionary movement.

Under Lenin's guidance, the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class linked up the struggle of the workers for economic demands—improvement of working conditions, shorter hours and higher wages—with the political struggle against tsardom. The League of Struggle educated the workers politically.

Under Lenin's guidance, the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class was the first body in Russia that began to unite Socialism with the working-class movement. When a strike broke out in some factory, the League of Struggle, which through the members of its circles was kept well posted on the state of affairs in the factories, immediately responded by issuing leaflets and Socialist proclamations. These leaflets exposed the oppression of the workers by the manufacturers, explained how the workers should fight for their interests, and set forth the workers' demands. The leaflets told the plain truth about the ulcers of capitalism, the poverty of the workers, their intolerably hard working day of 12 to 14 hours, and their utter lack of rights. They also put forward appropriate political demands. With the collaboration of the worker Babushkin, Lenin at the end of i 894 wrote the first agitational leaflet of this kind and an appeal to the workers of the Semyannikov Works in St. Petersburg who were on strike. In the autumn of i895 Lenin wrote a leaflet for the men and women strikers of the Thornton Mills. These mills belonged to English owners who were making millions in profits out of them. The working day in these mills exceeded 14 hours, while the wages of a weaver were about 7 rubles per month. The workers won the strike. In a short space of time the League of Struggle printed dozens of such leaflets and appeals to the workers of various factories. Every leaflet greatly helped to stiffen the spirit of the workers. They saw that the Socialists were helping and defending them.

In the summer of 1896 a strike of 30,000 textile workers, led by the League of Struggle, took place in St. Petersburg. The chief demand was for shorter hours. This strike forced the tsarist government to pass, on June 2, 1897, a law limiting the working day to 11½ hours. Prior to this the working day was not limited in any way.

In December I895 Lenin was arrested by the tsarist government. But even in prison he did not discontinue his revolutionary work. He assisted the League of Struggle with advice and direction and wrote pamphlets and leaflets for it. There he wrote a pamphlet entitled On Strikes and a leaflet entitled To the Tsarist Government, exposing its savage despotism. There too Lenin drafted a program for the party (he used milk as an invisible ink and wrote between the lines of a book on medicine).

The St. Petersburg League of Struggle gave a powerful impetus to the amalgamation of the workers' circles in other cities and regions of Russia into similar leagues. In the middle of the nineties Marxist organizations arose in Transcaucasia. In 1894 a Workers' Union was formed in Moscow. Towards the end of the nineties a Social-Democratic Union was formed in Siberia. In the nineties Marxist groups arose in Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Yaroslavl and Kostroma and subsequently merged to form the Northern Union of the Social-Democratic Party. In the second half of the nineties Social-Democratic groups and unions were formed in Rostov-on-Don, Ekaterinoslav, Kiev, Nikolayev, Tula, Samara, Kazan, Orekhovo-Zuyevo and other cities.

The importance of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class consisted in the fact that, as Lenin said, it was the first real rudiment of a revolutionary party which was backed by the working-class movement.

Lenin drew on the revolutionary experience of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle in his subsequent work of creating a Marxist Social-Democratic party in Russia.

After the arrest of Lenin and his close associates, the leadership of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle changed considerably. New people appeared who called themselves the "young" and Lenin and his associates the "old fellows." These people pursued an erroneous political line. They declared that the workers should be called upon to wage only an economic struggle against their employers; as for the political struggle, that was the affair of the liberal bourgeoisie, to whom the leadership of the political struggle should be left.

These people came to be called "Economists."

They were the first group of compromisers and opportunists within the ranks of the Marxist organizations in Russia.


Although Plekhanov had already in the eighties dealt the chief blow to the Narodnik system of views, at the beginning of the nineties Narodnik views still found sympathy among certain sections of the revolutionary youth. Some of them continued to hold that Russia could avoid the capitalist path of development and that the principal role in the revolution would be played by the peasantry, and not by the working class. The Narodniks that still remained did their utmost to prevent the spread of Marxism in Russia, fought the Marxists and endeavoured to discredit them in every way. Narodism had to be completelysmashed ideologically if the further spread of Marxism and the creation of a Social-Democratic party were to be assured.

This task was performed by Lenin.

In his book, What the "Friends of the People" Are and How They Fight Against the Social-Democrats (1894), Lenin thoroughly exposed the true character of the Narodniks, showing that they were false "friends of the people" actually working against the people.

Essentially, the Narodniks of the nineties had long ago renounced all revolutionary struggle against the tsarist government. The liberal Narodniks preached reconciliation with the tsarist government "They think," Lenin wrote in reference to the Narodniks of that period, "that if they simply plead with this government nicely enough and humbly enough, it will put everything right." (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 413.)*

The Narodniks of the nineties shut their eyes to the condition of the poor peasants, to the class struggle in the countryside, and to the exploitation of the poor peasants by the kulaks, and sang praises to the development of kulak farming. As a matter of fact they voiced the interests of the kulaks.

At the same time, the Narodniks in their periodicals baited the Marxists. They deliberately distorted and falsified the views of the Russian Marxists and claimed that the latter desired the ruin of the countryside and wanted "every muzhik to be stewed in the factory kettle." Lenin exposed the falsity of the Narodnik criticism and pointed out that it was not a matter of the "wishes" of the Marxists, but of the fact that capitalism was actually developing in Russia and that this development was inevitably accompanied by a growth of the proletariat. And the proletariat would be the gravedigger of the capitalist system.

Lenin showed that it was the Marxists and not the Narodniks who were the real friends of the people, that it was the Marxists who wanted to throw off the capitalist and landlord yoke, to destroy tsardom.

In his book, What the "Friends of the People" Are, Lenin for the first time advanced the idea of a revolutionary alliance of the workers and peasants as the principal means of overthrowing tsardom, the landlords and the bourgeoisie.

In a number of his writings during this period Lenin criticized the methods of political struggle employed by the principal Narodnik group, the "Narodnaya Volya," and later by the successors of the Narodniks, the Socialist-Revolutionaries—especially the tactics of individual terrorism. Lenin considered these tactics harmful to the revolutionary movement, for they substituted the struggle of individual heroes for the struggle of the masses. They signified a lack of confidence in the revolutionary movement of the people.

In the book, What the "Friends of the People" Are, Lenin outlined the main tasks of the Russian Marxists. In his opinion, the first duty of the Russian Marxists was to weld the disunited Marxist circles into a united Socialist workers' party. He further pointed out that it would be the working class of Russia, in alliance with the peasantry, that would overthrow the tsarist autocracy, after which the Russian proletariat, in alliance with the labouring and exploited masses, would, along with the proletariat of other countries, take the straight road of open political struggle to the victorious Communist revolution.

Thus, over forty years ago, Lenin correctly pointed out to the working class its path of struggle, defined its role as the foremost revolutionary force in society, and that of the peasantry as the ally of the working class.

The struggle waged by Lenin and his followers against Narodism led to the latter's complete ideological defeat already in the nineties.

Of immense significance, too, was Lenin's struggle against "legal Marxism." It usually happens with big social movements in history that transient "fellow-travelers" fasten on them. The "legal Marxists," as they were called, were such fellow-travelers. Marxism began to spread widely throughout Russia; and so we found bourgeois intellectuals decking themselves out in a Marxist garb. They published their articles in newspapers and periodicals that were legal, that is, allowed by the tsarist government. That is why they came to be called "legal Marxists."

After their own fashion, they too fought Narodism. But they tried to make use of this fight and of the banner of Marxism in order to subordinate and adapt the working-class movement to the interests of bourgeois society, to the interests of the bourgeoisie. They cut out the very core of Marxism, namely, the doctrine of the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. One prominent legal Marxist, Peter Struve, extolled the bourgeoisie, and instead of calling for a revolutionary struggle against capitalism, urged that "we acknowledge our lack of culture and go to capitalism for schooling."

In the fight against the Narodniks Lenin considered it permissible to come to a temporary agreement with the "legal Marxists" in order to use them against the Narodniks, as, for example, for the joint publication of a collection of articles directed against the Narodniks. At the same time, however, Lenin was unsparing in his criticism of the "legal Marxists" and exposed their liberal bourgeois nature.

Many of these fellow-travelers later became Constitutional-Democrats (the principal party of the Russian bourgeoisie), and during the Civil War out-and-out White guards.

Along with the Leagues of Struggle in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and other places, Social-Democratic organizations arose also in the western national border regions of Russia. In the nineties the Marxist elements in the Polish nationalist party broke away to form the Social-Democratic Party of Poland and Lithuania. At the end of the nineties Latvian Social-Democratic organizations were formed, and in October 1897 the Jewish General Social-Democratic Union—known as the Bund—was founded in the western provinces of Russia.

In 1898 several of the Leagues of Struggle—those of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and Ekaterinoslav—together with the Bund made the first attempt to unite and form a Social-Democratic party. For this purpose they summoned the First Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (R.S.D.L.P.), which was held in Minsk in March 1898.

The First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. was attended by only nine persons. Lenin was not present because at that time he was living in exile in Siberia. The Central Committee of the Party elected at the congress was very soon arrested. The Manifesto published in the name of the congress was in many respects unsatisfactory. It evaded the question of the conquest of political power by the proletariat, it made no mention of the hegemony of the proletariat, and said nothing about the allies of the proletariat in its struggle against tsardom and the bourgeoisie.

In its decisions and in its Manifesto the congress announced the formation of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.

It is this formal act, which played a great revolutionary propagandist role, that constituted the significance of the First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.

But although the First Congress had been held, in reality no Marxist Social-Democratic Party was as yet formed in Russia. The congress did not succeed in uniting the separate Marxist circles and organizations and welding them together organizationally. There was still no common line of action in the work of the local organizations, nor was there a party program, party rules or a single leading centre.

For this and for a number of other reasons, the ideological confusion in the local organizations began to increase, and this created favourable ground for the growth within the working-class movement of the opportunist trend known as "Economism."

It required several years of intense effort on the part of Lenin and of Iskra (Spark), the newspaper he founded, before this confusion could be overcome, the opportunist vacillations put an end to, and the way prepared for the formation of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.

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