MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE | History of CP Bolshevik

H I S T O R Y O F  T H E C O M M U N I S T   P A R T Y

O F  T H E

S O V I E T  U N I O N

(B O L S H E V I K S)

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    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-DEMO-
    CRATIC LABOUR PARTY
     

        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 completely smashed 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.


        * Quotations from English translations of Lenin and Stalin have been checked with the original and the translations in some cases revised. -- Tr.

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        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

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    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 Whiteguards.

        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

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    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.

LENIN'S FIGHT AGAINST "ECONOMISM." APPEARANCE OF LENIN'S NEWSPAPER "ISKRA"