Burning Questions of Our Movement


        The objections raised against the organization plan outlined here on the grounds that it is undemocratic and conspiratorial are totally unsound. Nevertheless, a question still remains which is frequently put and deserves detailed examination. This is the question about the relations between local work and all-Russian work. Fears are expressed that the formation of a centralized organization may shift the centre of gravity from the former to the latter, damage the movement, weaken our contacts with the masses of the workers and undermine local agitation generally. To these fears we reply that our movement in the past few years has suffered precisely from the fact that the local workers have been too absorbed in local work; that therefore it is absolutely necessary to shift the centre of gravity somewhat to national work and that far from weakening, this would strengthen our ties and the continuity of our local agitation. Take the question of central and local newspapers. I would ask the reader not to forget that we cite the publication of newspapers only as an example, illustrating an immeasurably broader and more varied revolutionary activity in general.

        In the first period of the mass movement (1896-98), an attempt is made by local Party workers to publish an all-Russian paper, the Rabochaya Gazeta. In the next period (1898-1900), the movement makes an enormous stride, but the attention of the leaders is wholly absorbed by local publications. If we count up all the local papers that were

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    published, we shall find that the average was one per month.[*] Does this not clearly illustrate our amateurishness? Does this not clearly show that our revolutionary organization lags behind the spontaneous growth of the movement? If the same number of issues had been published, not by scattered local groups, but by a single organization, we would not only have saved an enormous amount of effort, but we would have secured immeasurably greater stability and continuity in our work. This simple point is very frequently lost sight of by those practical workers who work actively and almost exclusively on local publications (unfortunately this is true even now in the overwhelming majority of cases), as well as by the publicists who display an astonishing quixotism on this question. The practical workers usually rest content with the argument that "it is difficult"** for local workers to engage in the organization of an all-Russian newspaper, and that local newspapers are better than no newspapers at all. The latter argument is, of course, perfectly just, and we shall not yield to any practical worker in our recognition of the enormous importance and usefulness of local newspapers in general. But this is not the point. The point is, can we not overcome the scatteredness and amateurishness that are so glaringly expressed in the thirty issues of local newspapers published throughout Russia in

        * See Report fo the Paris Congress,[89] p. 14. "From that time (1897) to the spring of 1900, thirty issues of various papers were published in various places. . . . On an average, over one issue per month was published."
        ** This difficulty is more apparent than real. As a matter of fact, there is not a single local circle but which has the opportunity of taking up some function or other in connection with all-Russian work. "Don't say: I can't; say: I won't."

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    two and a half years? Do not restrict yourselves to the indisputable, but too general, statement about the usefulness of local newspapers generally; have the courage also frankly to admit their negative aspects that have been revealed by the experience of two and a half years. This experience has shown that under the conditions in which we work, these local newspapers prove, in the majority of cases, to be unstable in their principles, lacking in political significance, extremely costly in regard to expenditure of revolutionary forces, and totally unsatisfactory from a technical point of view (I have in mind, of course, not the technique of printing them, but the frequency and regularity of publication). These defects are not accidental; they are the inevitable outcome of the scatteredness which, on the one hand, explains the predominance of local newspapers in the period under review, and, on the other hand, is fostered by this predominance. It is positively beyond the strength of a separate local organization to maintain stability of principles in its newspaper and raise it to the level of a political organ; it is beyond its strength to collect and utilize sufficient material to cast light on the whole of our political life. The argument usually advanced to support the need of numerous local newspapers in free countries that the cost of printing by local workers is low and that the population can be kept more fully and quickly informed, this argument, as experience has shown, speaks against local newspapers in Russia. They are excessively costly in regard to expenditure of revolutionary forces, and appear very rarely, for the very simple reason that the publication of an illegal newspaper, no matter how small its size, requires an extensive secret apparatus such as is possible with large factory production; for this apparatus cannot be created in a small, handicraft

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    workshop. Very frequently, the primitiveness of the secret apparatus (every practical worker can cite numerous cases) enables the police to take advantage of the publication and distribution of one or two issues to make mass arrests, which result in such a cleanup that it becomes necessary to start all over again. A well-organized secret apparatus requires professionally well-trained revolutionaries and division of labour applied with the greatest consistency, but both of these requirements are beyond the strength of a separate local organization, no matter how strong it may be at any given moment. Not only are the general interests of our movement as a whole (training of the workers in consistent socialist and political principles) better served by non-local newspapers, but so also are even specifically local interests. This may seem paradoxical at first sight, but it has been proved up to the hilt by the two and a half years of experience to which we have already referred. Everyone will agree that if all the local forces that were engaged in the publication of these thirty issues of newspapers had worked on a single newspaper, sixty if not a hundred issues could easily have been published and, consequently, it would have more fully expressed all the specifically local features of the movement True, it is not an easy matter to attain such a degree of organization, but we must realize the need for it. Every local circle must think about it, and work actively to achieve it, without waiting to be urged on from outside, without being tempted by the popularity and closer proximity of a local newspaper which, as our revolutionary experience has shown, proves to a large extent to be illusory.

        And it is a bad service indeed those publicists render to the practical work who, thinking that they are particularly close to the practical workers, fail to see this illusoriness,

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    and make shift with the astonishingly hollow argument: we must have local newspapers, we must have district newspapers, and we must have all-Russian newspapers. Generally speaking, of course, all these are necessary, but once you undertake to solve a concrete organizational problem surely you must take time and circumstances into consideration. Is it not quixotic when the Svoboda (No. 1, p. 68), in a special article "dealing with the question of a newspaper," writes: "It seems to us that every locality, where any appreciable number of workers are collected, should have its own workers' newspaper; not a newspaper imported from somewhere, but its very own." If the publicist who wrote these words refuses to think about their meaning, then at least you, reader, think about it for him. How many scores, if not hundreds, of "localities where any appreciable number of workers are collected" are there in Russia, and would it not be simply perpetuating our amateurishness if indeed every local organization set to work to publish its own newspaper? How this diffusion would facilitate the task of the gendarmes of netting -- and without "any appreciable" effort -- the local Party workers at the very outset of their activity and preventing them from developing into real revolutionaries! A reader of an all-Russian newspaper, continues the author, would not find at all interesting the descriptions of the malpractices of the factory owners and the "details of factory life in other towns outside his own." But "an inhabitant of Orel would not find it dull reading about Orel affairs. In every issue he would learn of who had been 'called over the coals' and who had been 'scolded,' and his spirits would begin to soar." (P. 69.) Yes, yes, the spirit of the Orel reader is soaring but the flights of imagination of our publicist are also soaring -- too high. He should

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    have asked himself: is such a defence of petty parochialism in place? We are second to none in our appreciation of the importance and necessity of factory exposures, but it must be borne in mind that we have reached a stage when St. Petersburg folk find it dull reading the St. Petersburg correspondence of the St. Petersburg Rabochaya Mysl. Local factory exposures have always been and should allways continue to be made through the medium of leaflets, but we must raise the level of the newspaper, and not lower it to the level of a factory leaflet. What we require for a newspaper is not so much "petty" exposures, as of the major, typical evils of factory life, exposures based on especially striking facts and capable, therefore, of arousing the interest of all workers and all leaders of the movement, capable of really enriching their knowledge, widening their outlook, and of serving as a starting point for awakening new districts and new categories of the workers.

        "Moreover, in a local newspaper, all the malpractices of the factory administration and other authorities may be denounced hot on the spot. In the case of a general newspaper, however, by the time the news reaches it the facts will have been forgotten in the localities in which they occurred. The reader, when he gets the paper, will say: 'God knows when that happened!' " (Ibid.) Exactly! God knows when it happened. From the same source we learn that the 30 issues of newspapers which appeared in two and a half years, were published in six cities. This, on the average, is one issue per city per half year! And even if our frivolous publicist trebled his estimate of the productivity of local work (which would be absolutely wrong in the case of an average city, because it is impossible to increase productivity to any extent by our amateurish methods),

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    we would still get only one issue every two months, i.e., nothing at all like "denouncing hot on the spot." It would be sufficient, however, to combine ten or so local organizations, and send their delegates to take an active part in organizing a general newspaper, to enable us every fortnight to "denounce," over the whole of Russia, not petty, but really outstanding and typical evils. No one who knows the state of affairs in our organizations can have the slightest doubt on that score. As for catching the enemy red-handed -- if we mean it seriously and not merely as a trite phrase -- that is quite beyond the ability of the illegal paper generally. It can only be done by an anonymous leaflet, because exposures of that nature must be made within a day or two at the most (take, for example, the usual brief strikes, beatings in a factory, demonstrations, etc.).

        "The workers live not only in factories, but in the cities too," continues our author, rising from the particular to the general, with a strict consistency that would have done honour to Boris Krichevsky himself; and he refers to matters like municipal councils, municipal hospitals, municipal schools, and demands that workers' newspapers should not ignore municipal affairs in general. This demand -- an excellent one in itself -- serves as a particularly vivid illustration of the empty abstraction to which discussions about local newspapers are all too frequently limited. First of all, if indeed newspapers appeared "in every locality where any appreciable number of workers are collected" with such detailed information on municipal affairs as the Svoboda desires, it would, under our Russian conditions, inevitably degenerate into actual petty parochialism, would lead to a weakening of the consciousness of the importance of an all-Russian revolutionary onslaught on the tsarist autocracy, and

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    would strengthen those extremely virile shoots -- not uprooted but rather hidden or temporarily suppressed -- of the tendency which has already become notorious as a result of the famous remark about revolutionaries who talk a great deal about non-existent parliaments and too little about existing municipal councils. We say "inevitably" in order to emphasize that the Svoboda obviously does not want this but the contrary to happen. But good intentions are not enough. In order that municipal affairs may be dealt with in their proper perspective, in relation to the whole of our work, this perspective must first be clearly conceived, firmly established, not only by argument, but by numerous examples, so that it may acquire the stability of a tradition. This is far from being the case with us yet. And yet this must be done first, before we can allow ourselves to think and talk about an extensive local press.

        Secondly, in order to be able to write really well and interestingly about municipal affairs, one must have first-hand and not book knowledge of them. But there are hardly any Social-Democrats anywhere in Russia who possess that knowledge. In order to be able to write in newspapers (not in popular pamphlets) about municipal and state affairs one must have fresh and multifarious material collected and worked up by able people. And in order to be able to collect and work up such material, we must have something more than the "primitive democracy" of a primitive circle, in which everybody does everything and all entertain themselves by playing at referendums. For this it is necessary to have a staff of expert writers, expert correspondents, an army of Social-Democratic reporters who establish contacts far and wide, able to fathom all sorts of "state secrets"

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    (about which the Russian government official is so puffed up, but which he so easily blabs), able to penetrate "behind the scenes," an army of people whose "official duty" it must be to be ubiquitous and omniscient. And we, the Party that fights against all economic, political, social and national oppression, can and must find, collect, train, mobilize and set into motion such an army of omniscient people -- but all this has yet to be done! Far from taking a single step in this direction in the overwhelming majority of localities, the necessity for doing it is very often not even realized. Search our Social-Democratic press for lively and interesting articles, correspondence, and exposures of our diplomatic, military, ecclesiastical, municipal, financial, etc., etc., affairs and malpractices! You will find almost nothing, or very little, about these things.* That is why "it always frightfully annoys me when a man comes to me, utters beautiful and charming words" about the need for newspapers in "every locality where any appreciable number of workers are collected" that will expose factory, municipal and government evils.

        * That is why even examples of exceptionally good local newspapers fully confirm our point of view. For example, the Yuzhny Rabochy is an excellent newspaper, and is altogether free from instability of principles. But it has been unable to provide what it desired for the local movement, owing to the infrequency of its publication and to extensive police raids. What our Party most urgently requires at the present time, viz., a principled discussion of the fundamental questions of the movement and wide political agitation, has proved too big a job for the local newspaper. And what material of particular value it has published, like the articles about the mine owners' congress, unemployment, etc., was not strictly local material, it was required for the whole of Russia, and not for the South alone. No articles like that have appeared in any of our Social-Democratic newspapers.

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        The predominance of the local papers over a central press may be a sign either of poverty or of luxury. Of poverty, when the movement has not yet developed the forces for large-scale production, continues to flounder in amateurishness and is all but swamped with "the petty details of factory life." Of luxury, when the movement has already fully mastered the task of comprehensive exposure and comprehensive agitation and it becomes necessary to publish numerous local newspapers in addition to the central organ. Let each one decide for himself what the predominance of local newspapers implies at the present time. I shall limit myself to a precise formulation of my own conclusion in order not to furnish grounds for misunderstanding. Hitherto, the majority of our local organizations have been thinking almost exclusively of local newspapers, and have devoted almost all their activities to these. This is abnormal -- the very opposite should be the case. The majority of the local organizations should think principally of the publication of an all-Russian newspaper, and devote their activities principally to it. Until this is done, we shall not be able to establish a single newspaper capable, to any degree, of serving the movement with comprehensive press agitation. When it is done, however, normal relations between the necessary central newspapers and the necessary local newspapers will be established automatically.

    *                     *                      *
        It would seem at first glance that the conclusion concerning the necessity for shifting the centre of gravity from local work to all-Russian work does not apply to the sphere of the specifically economic struggle, In this stuggle, the im-

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    mediate enemy of the workers is the individual employer or group of employers, who are not bound by any organization having even the remotest resemblance to the purely military, strictly centralized organization of the Russian government which is guided even in its minutest details by a single will, and which is our immediate enemy in the political struggle.

        But that is not the case. As we have already pointed out time and again, the economic struggle is a trade struggle, and for that reason it requires that the workers be organized according to trade and not only according to their place of employment. And this organization by trade becomes all the more imperatively necessary, the more rapidly our employers organize in all sorts of companies and syndicates. Our scatteredness and our amateurishness are an outright hindrance to this work of organization which requires the existence of a single, all-Russian body of revolutionaries which is capable of giving leadership to the all-Russian trade unions. We have already described above the type of organization that is desired for this purpose, and now we shall add just a few words about this in connection with the question of our press.

        That every Social-Democratic newspaper must have a special section devoted to the trade union (economic) struggle hardly anyone will doubt. But the growth of the trade union movement compels us to think also about a trade union press. It seems to us, however, that with rare exceptions, there can be no question of trade union newspapers in Russia at the present time; they would be a luxury, and many a time we lack even our daily bread. The form of trade union press that would suit the conditions of our illegal work and is already required at the present time is trade union pam-

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    phlets. In these pamphlets, legal* and illegal material should be collected and grouped systematically, on conditions of labour in a given trade, on the differences in this regard in the various parts of Russia, the principal demands advanced by the workers in a given trade, the defects of the laws concerning that trade, outstanding cases of economic struggle by the workers in this trade, on the rudiments, the present state and the requirements of their trade union organization, etc. Such pamphlets would, in the first place, relieve our Social-Democratic press of a mass of trade details that are of interest only to the workers of the given trade; secondly,

        * Legal material is particularly important in this connection, and we are particularly behind in our ability systematically to collect and utilize it. It would not be an exaggeration to say that one could somehow compile a trade union pamphlet on the basis of legal material alone, but it could not be done on the basis of illegal material alone. In collecting illegal material from workers on questions like those dealt with in the publications of the Rabochaya Mysl, we waste a great deal of the efforts of revolutionaries (whose place in this work could very easily be taken by legal workers), and yet we never obtain good material. The reason is that a worker who very often knows only a single department of a large factory and almost always the economic results, but not the general conditions and standards of his work, cannot acquire the knowledge which is possessed by the office staff of a factory, by inspectors, doctors, etc., and which is scattered in petty newspaper reports, and in special industrial, medical, Zemstvo and other publications.
        I very distinctly remember my "first experiment," which I would never like to repeat. I spent many weeks "examining" a worker who used to visit me, about every aspect of the conditions prevailing in the enormous factory at which he was employed. True, after great effort, I managed to obtain material for a description (of just one single factory!), but at the end of the interview the worker would wipe the sweat from his brow and say to me smilingly: "I find it easier to work overtime than answer your questions!"
        The more energetically we carry on our revolutionary struggle, the more the government will be compelled to legalize a part of the "trade union" work, thereby relieving us of part of our burden.

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    they would record the results of our experience in the trade union struggle, would preserve the material collected -- which now literally gets lost in a mass of leaflets and fragmentary correspondence -- and would generalize this material. Thirdly, they could serve as material for the guidance of agitators, because conditions of labour change relatively slowly and the principal demands of the workers in a given trade are extremely stable (cf., for example, the demands advanced by the weavers in the Moscow district in 1885 and in the St. Petersburg district in 1896); a compilation of these demands and needs might serve for years as an excellent handbook for agitators on economic questions in backward localities or among the backward strata of the workers. Examples of successful strikes, information about the higher standard of living, about better conditions of labour in one district, would encourage the workers in other districts to take up the fight again and again. Fourthly, having made a start in generalizing the trade union struggle, and having in this way strengthened the link between the Russian trade union movement and Socialism, the Social-Democrats would at the same time see to it that our trade union work did not take up either too small or too large a part of our entire Social-Democratic work. A local organization that is cut off from the organizations in other towns finds it very difficult, and sometimes almost impossible, to maintain a correct sense of proportion (and the example of the Rabochaya Mysl shows what a monstrous exaggeration can be made in the direction of trade unionism). But an all-Russian organization of revolutionaries that stands undeviatingly on the basis of Marxism, that leads the whole of the political struggle and possesses a staff of professional agitators, will never find it difficult to determine the proper proportion.

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