What Is To Be Done? - pt. 2

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Burning Questions of Our Movement



    The Rabocheye Dyelo's assertions -- which we have analyzed above -- that the economic struggle is the most widely applicable means of political agitation and that our task now is to lend the economic struggle itself a political character, etc., express a narrow view not only of our political, but also of our organi~ational tasks. The "economic struggle against the employers and the government" does not in the least re quire -- and therefore such a struggle can never give rise to -- an all-Russian centralized organization that will combine, in one general onslaught, all and every manifestation of political opposition, protest and indignation, an organization that will consist of professional revolutionaries and be led by the real political leaders of the whole people. This is but natural. The character of any organization is naturally and inevitably determined by the content of its activity. Consequently, the Rabocheye Dyelo, by the assertions analyzed above, sanctifies and legitimatizes not only the narrowness of political activity, but also the narrowness of organization al work. In this case too, as always, it is an organ whose consciousness yields to spontaneity. And yet the worship of spontaneously developing forms of organization, failure to realize how narrow and primitive is our organizational work, what amateurs we still are in this most important sphere, failure to realize this, I say, is a veritable disorder from which our movement suffers. It is not a disorder that comes with decline, it is, of course, a disorder that comes with growth. But it is precisely at the present time, when the wave of spontaneous indignation, as it were, sweeps over us, leaders and organizers of the movement, that a most ir reconcilable struggle must be waged against all defence of backwardness, against any legitimization of narrowness in this matter, and it is particularly necessary to rouse in all who take part in practical work, in all who are preparing to take up their work, discontent with the amateurishness that prevails among us and an unshakable determination to get rid of it.


    We shall try to answer this question by giving a brief description of the activity of a typical Social-Democratic circle of the period of 1894-1901. We have already noted that the entire student youth of the period was absorbed in Marxism. Of course, these students were not only, or even not so much, absorbed in Marxism as a theory, but as an answer to the question: "What is to be done?"; as a call to take the field against the enemy. And these new warriors marched to battle

with astonishingly primitive equipment and training. In a vast number of cases, they had almost no equipment and absolutely no training. They marched to war like peasants from the plough, armed only with clubs. A students' circle, having no contacts whatever with the old members of the movement, no contacts with circles in other districts, or even in other parts of the same city (or with other universities), without the various sections of the revolutionary work being in any way organized, having no systematic plan of activity covering any length of time, establishes contacts with the workers and sets to work. The circle gradually expansds its propaganda and agitation; by its activities it wins the sympathies of rather large sections of workers and of a certain section of the educated classes, which provide it with money and from among whom the "committee" recruits new groups of young people. There is a growing fascination about the committee (or League of Struggle), its sphere of activity becomes wider and its activities expand quite spontaneously: the very people who a year or a few months previously had spoken at the gatherings of the students' circle and discussed the question, "Whither?", who established and maintained contacts with the workers, wrote and published leaflets, now establish contacts with other groups of revolutionaries, procure literature, set to work to publish a local newspaper, begin to talk about organizing a demonstration, and finally, commence open hostilities (these open hostilities may, according to circumstances, take the form of the publication of the very first agitational leaflet, or the first issue of a newspaper, or of the organization of the first demonstration). And usually the very first of these actions ends in immediate and wholesale arrests. Immediate and wholesale, precisely because these open hostilities were not the result of a systematic and carefully thought-out and gradually prepared plan for a prolonged and stubborn struggle, but simply the result of the spontaneous growth of traditional circle work; because, naturally, the police, in almost every case, knew the principal leaders of the local movement, for they had already "won a reputation" for themselves in their school days, and the police waited only for a convenient moment to make their raid, deliberately allowing the circle sufficient time to develop its work so that they might obtain a palpable corpus delicti, and always permitted several of the persons known to them to remain at liberty in order to act as "breeders" (which, I believe, is the technical term used both by our people and by the gendarmes). One cannot help comparing this kind of warfare with that conducted by a mob of peasants, armed with clubs, against modern troops. And one can only wonder at the virility of the movement which expanded, grew and scored victories in spite of the total lack of training among the fighters. It is true that from the historical point of view, the primitiveness of equipment was not only inevitable at first, but even legitimate as one of the conditions for the wide recruiting of fighters, but as soon as serious war operations commenced (and they commenced in fact with the strikes in the summer of 1896), the defects in our fighting organizations made themselves felt to an ever-increasing degree. Thrown into confusion at first and committing a number of mistakes (for example, its appeal to the public describing the misdeeds of the Socialists, or the deportation of workers from the capital to provincial industrial centres), the government very soon adapted itself to the new conditions of the struggle and managed to deploy its perfectly equipped detachments of

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agents provocateurs, spies and gendarmes. Raids became so frequent, affected such a vast number of people and cleared out the local circles so thoroughly that the masses of the workers literally lost all their leaders, the movement assumed an incredibly sporadic character, and it became utterly impossible to establish continuity and coherence in the work. The terrible dispersion of the local leaders, the accidental character of the circle memberships, the lack of training in and the narrow outlook on theoretical, political, and organizational questions were all the inevitable result of the conditions described above. Things reached such a pass that in several places the workers, because of our lack of stamina and ability to maintain secrecy, began to lose faith in the intelligentsia and to avoid them; the intellectuals, they said, are much too careless and lay themselves open to police raids!

    Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the movement is aware that all thinking Social-Democrats have at last begun to regard these primitive methods as a disease. And in order that the reader who is not acquainted with the movement may have no grounds for thinking that we are "inventing" a special stage or special disease of the movement, we shall refer once again to the witness we have already quoted. We hope we shall be forgiven for the length of the quotation:     "While the gradual transition to more extensive practical activity," writes B-v in the Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 6, "a transition which is directly dependent on the general transitional period through which the Russian working-class movement is now passing, is a characteristic feature . . . there is, however, another and not less interesting feature in the general mechanism of the Russian workers' revolution. We refer to the general lack of revolutionary forces fit for action* which is felt not only in St. Petersburg, but throughout the whole of Russia. With the general revival of the working-class movement, the general development of the working masses, growing frequency of strikes, and with the mass struggle of the workers becoming more and more open, which intensifies government persecution, arrests, deportation and exile, this lack of highly skilled revolutionary forces is becoming increasingly marked and, without a doubt, cannot but affect the depth and the general character of the movement. Many strikes take place without the revolutionary organizations exercising any strong and direct influence upon them. . . . A shortage of agitational leaflets and illegal literature is felt. . . . The workers' circles are left without agitators. . . . In addition, there is a constant shortage of funds. In a word, the growth of the working-class movement is outstripping the growth and development of the revolutionary organizations. The numerical strength of the active revolutionaries is too small for them to concentrate in their own hands the influence exercised upon the whole mass of discontented workers, or to give this discontent even a shadow of coherence and organization. . . . The separate circles and individual revolutionaries are not brought together and united, and do not represent a single, strong and disciplined organization with the planned development of its parts. . . ." And admitting that the immediate organization of fresh circles to replace those that have been broken up "merely proves the virility of the movement . . . but does not prove the existence of an adequate number of sufficiently fit revolutionary workers," the author concludes: "The lack of practical training among the St. Petersburg revolutionaries is seen in the results of their work. The recent trials, especially that of the Self-Emancipation group and the Labour versus Capital group,[80] clearly showed that the young agitator, lacking a detailed knowledge of the conditions of labour and, consequently, of the conditions under which agitation can be carried on in a given factory, ignorant of the principles of secrecy, and understanding only the general principles of Social-Democracy" (but does he understand?) "is able to carry on his work for perhaps four, five or six months. Then come arrests, which frequently lead to the breakup of the whole organization, or at all events, part of it. The question arises, therefore, can the group conduct successful and fruitful activity if its existence is measured by months? . . . Obviously, the defects of the existing organizations cannot be wholly ascribed to the transitional period. . . . Obviously, the numerical and above all the qualitative make-up of the functioning organizations is no small factor, and the first task our Social-Democrats must undertake . . . is effectively to combine the organizations and make a strict selection of their membership."