MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE | History of CP Bolshevik

3. Beginning of Lenin's Revolutionary Activities. St. Petersburg League Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class

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 1895 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 1895 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.

LENIN'S STRUGGLE AGAINST NARODISM AND "LEGAL MARXISM."LENIN'S IDEA OF AN ALLIANCE OF THE WORKING CLASS AND THE PEASANTRY. FIRST CONGRESS OF THE RUSSIAN SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC LABOUR PARTY