5. Lenin's Fight Against "Economism." Appearance of Lenin's Newspaper "Iskra"
Lenin was not present at the First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. He was at
that time in exile in Siberia, in the village of Shushenskoye, where he
had been banished by the tsarist government after a long period of
imprisonment in St. Petersburg in connection with the prosecution of
the League of Struggle.
But Lenin continued his revolutionary activities even while in exile.
There he finished a highly important scientific work, The Development
of Capitalism in Russia, which completed the ideological destruction of
Narodism. There, too, he wrote his well-known pamphlet, The Tasks of
the Russian Social-Democrats.
Although Lenin was cut off from direct, practical revolutionary work,
he nevertheless managed to maintain some connections with those engaged
in this work; he carried on a correspondence with them from exile,
obtained information from them and gave them advice. At this time Lenin
was very much preoccupied with the "Economists." He realized better
than anybody else that "Economism" was the main nucleus of compromise
and opportunism, and that if "Economism" were to gain the upper hand in
the working-class movement, it would undermine the revolutionary
movement of the proletariat and lead to the defeat of Marxism.
Lenin therefore started a vigorous attack on the "Economists" as soon as they appeared on the scene.
The "Economists" maintained that the workers should engage only in the
economic struggle; as to the political struggle, that should be left to
the liberal bourgeoisie, whom the workers should support. In Lenin's
eyes this tenet was a desertion of Marxism, a denial of the necessity
for an independent political party of the working class, an attempt to
convert the working class into a political appendage of the bourgeoisie.
In 1899 a group of "Economists" (Prokopovich, Kuskova and others, who
later became Constitutional-Democrats) issued a manifesto in which they
opposed revolutionary Marxism, and insisted that the idea of an
independent political party of the proletariat and of independent
political demands by the working class be renounced. The "Economists"
held that the political struggle was a matter for the liberal
bourgeoisie, and that as far as the workers were concerned, the
economic struggle against the employers was enough for them.
When Lenin acquainted himself with this opportunist document he called
a conference of Marxist political exiles living in the vicinity.
Seventeen of them met and, headed by Lenin, issued a trenchant protest
denouncing the views of the "Economists."
This protest, which was written by Lenin, was circulated among the
Marxist organizations all over the country and played an outstanding
part in the development of Marxist ideas and of the Marxist party in
The Russian "Economists" advocated the same views as the opponents of
Marxism in the Social-Democratic parties abroad who were known as the
Bernsteinites, that is, followers of the opportunist Bernstein.
Lenin's struggle against the "Economists" was therefore at the same
time a struggle against opportunism on an international scale.
The fight against "Economism," the fight for the creation of an
independent political party of the proletariat, was chiefly waged by
Iskra, the illegal newspaper founded by Lenin.
At the beginning of 1900, Lenin and other members of the League of
Struggle returned from their Siberian exile to Russia. Lenin conceived
the idea of founding a big illegal Marxist newspaper on an all-Russian
scale. The numerous small Marxist circles and organizations which
already existed in Russia were not yet linked up. At a moment when, in
the words of Comrade Stalin, "amateurishness and the parochial outlook
of the circles were corroding the Party from top to bottom, when
ideological confusion was the characteristic feature of the internal
life of the Party," the creation of an illegal newspaper on an
all-Russian scale was the chief task of the Russian revolutionary
Marxists. Only such a newspaper could link up the disunited Marxist
organizations and prepare the way for the creation of a real party.
But such a newspaper could not be published in tsarist Russia owing to
police persecution. Within a month or two at most the tsar's sleuths
would get on its track and smash it. Lenin therefore decided to publish
the newspaper abroad. There it was printed on very thin but durable
paper and secretly smuggled into Russia. Some of the issues of Iskra
were reprinted in Russia by secret printing plants in Baku, Kishinev
In the autumn of 1900 Lenin went abroad to make arrangements with the
comrades in the "Emancipation of Labour" group for the publication of a
political newspaper on an all-Russian scale. The idea had been worked
out by Lenin in all its details while he was in exile. On his way back
from exile he had held a number of conferences on the subject in Ufa,
Pskov, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Everywhere he made arrangements with
the comrades about codes for secret correspondence, addresses to which
literature could be sent, and so on, and discussed with them plans for
the future struggle.
The tsarist government scented a most dangerous enemy in Lenin.
Zubatov, an officer of gendarmes in the tsarist Okhrana, expressed the
opinion in a confidential report that "there is nobody bigger than
Ulyanov [Lenin] in the revolution today," in view of which he
considered it expedient to have Lenin assassinated.
Abroad, Lenin came to an arrangement with the "Emancipation of Labour"
group, namely, with Plekhanov, Axelrod and V. Zasulich, for the
publication of Iskra under joint auspices. The whole plan of
publication from beginning to end had been worked out by Lenin.
The first issue of Iskra appeared abroad in December 1900. The title
page bore the epigraph: "The Spark Will Kindle a Flame." These words
were taken from the reply of the Decembrists to the poet Pushkin who
had sent greetings to them in their place of exile in Siberia.
And indeed, from the spark (Iskra) started by Lenin there subsequently
flamed up the great revolutionary conflagration in which the tsarist
monarchy of the landed nobility, and the power of the bourgeoisie were
reduced to ashes.
The Marxist Social-Democratic Labour Party in Russia was formed in a
struggle waged in the first place against Narodism and its views, which
were erroneous and harmful to the cause of revolution.
Only by ideologically shattering the views of the Narodniks was it
possible to clear the way for a Marxist workers' party in Russia. A
decisive blow to Narodism was dealt by Plekhanov and his "Emancipation
of Labour" group in the eighties.
Lenin completed the ideological defeat of Narodism and dealt it the final blow in the nineties.
The "Emancipation of Labour" group, founded in 1883, did a great deal
for the dissemination of Marxism in Russia; it laid the theoretical
foundations for Social-Democracy and took the first step to establish
connection with the working-class movement.
With the development of capitalism in Russia the industrial proletariat
rapidly grew in numbers. In the middle of the eighties the working
class adopted the path of organized struggle, of mass action in the
form of organized strikes. But the Marxist circles and groups only
carried on propaganda and did not realize the necessity for passing to
mass agitation among the working class; they therefore still had no
practical connection with the working-class movement and did not lead
St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the
Working Class, which Lenin formed in 1895 and which started mass
agitation among the workers and led mass strikes, marked a new stage –
the transition to mass agitation among the workers and the union of
Marxism with the working-class movement. The St. Petersburg League of
Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class was the rudiment of
a revolutionary proletarian party in Russia. The formation of the St.
Petersburg League of Struggle was followed by the formation of Marxist
organizations in all the principal industrial centres as well as in the
In 1898 at the First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. the first, although
unsuccessful, attempt was made to unite the Marxist Social-Democratic
organizations into a party. But this congress did not yet create a
party : there was neither a party program nor party rules; there was no
single leading centre, and there was scarcely any connection between
the separate Marxist circles and groups.
In order to unite and link together the separate Marxist organizations
into a single party, Lenin put forward and carried out a plan for the
founding of Iskra, the first newspaper of the revolutionary Marxists on
an all-Russian scale.
The principal opponents to the creation of a single political
working-class party at that period were the "Economists." They denied
the necessity for such a party. They fostered the disunity and
amateurish methods of the separate groups. It was against them that
Lenin and the newspaper Iskra organized by him directed their blows.
The appearance of the first issues of Iskra (1900-0I) marked a
transition to a new period – a period in which a single Russian
Social-Democratic Labour Party was really formed from the disconnected
groups and circles.
* Quotations from English translations of Lenin and Stalin have been
checked with the original and the translations in some cases
revised. – Tr.