|LENIN'S STRUGGLE AGAINST NARODISM AND "LEGAL
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.
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
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
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
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