On the Ninetieth Anniversary of Lenin’s death: new aspects of his Testament – Written by Francesco Ricci – PdAC

Originally published on http://www.litci.org/en

Lenin’s last struggle, the first battle against Stalinism

In the Central Committee of October 6, 1922 Lenin was absent. Stalin presents a text that strongly limits the state monopoly on foreign trade, which is approved. A few days later Lenin sends a letter to the CC with a hard criticism of its decision. On December 13, Lenin writes to Trotsky and, realizing that their positions on this issue converge, asks him to make a battle on their behalf at the next meeting of the governing body.

Giving a few steps back: Why Lenin does not participate in the meetings and merely writes letters? Because he is seriously ill and bedridden. He had suffered a first stroke. But since the last Party Congress he attended, the XI, in the spring of 1922 he starts a battle against the bureaucratization evils he perceives to be growing in the state of the Soviets. In this Congress, in a speech made ​​on 27 March, he states: “The machine refused to obey the hand that guided it.” (1) That is why, a few months later, in a private meeting he proposes to Trotsky to form a bloc “against bureaucracy in general and against the Organizational Bureau in particular.” (2) And Organizational Bureau meant the very heart of Stalin’s apparatus.

On the night between the 12th and 13th December another stroke paralyzes Lenin. He can’t attend the CC meeting, but, after getting better, he writes to the CC on 16 December informing its members he had reached a full agreement with Trotsky, who would defend their common view at the next meeting. In the CC of 18 December Lenin and Trotsky’s position is approved and the previous resolution is modified. Stalin notes with concern the movement of a Lenin whose disease couldn’t stop him completely. So, he passed a motion in this very CC by which the full responsibility for Lenin’s care would be trusted to him. His desire is to isolate him, so he asks the doctors to determine a limitation of the patient’s political activity to a few minutes a day in which Lenin could only dictate a few lines to the secretaries, but wouldn’t receive the answers to his letters, or talk of politics with the rare visitors allowed in his room.

The prohibition, as rightly note by the historian Jean Jacques Marie, is deprived of any medical basis: moreover, to prevent a revolutionary who spent his life immersed in politics from engaging in politics, actually meant to seek to destroy his strength, worsen his disease. In fact, the real Stalin’s concern is not Lenin’s illness but, as J. J. Marie writes: Stalin wants to have “his hands on the man who decided to start a struggle with Trotsky against him.”

Knowing the first victory won in the CC, on 21 December, Lenin dictates to Krupskaya a letter to Trotsky: “I suggest that we should not stop and should continue the offensive.” (4) The offensive which Lenin speaks of is the one against Stalin and the bureaucrats the secretary of the CC is organizing around himself.

But Stalin is quickly informed of the fact that Krupskaya left Lenin dictate a message to Trotsky. Then he phones her and insults her, threatening to send her to the disciplinary bodies by compromising Lenin’s treatment. Lenin will know this episode only three months later: this precision, as we shall see, is significant because, unlike several commentators’ opinions, the divergence between Stalin and his wife did not affect the Testament that Lenin began to dictate by those days.

The Testament

The story of the last Lenin’s struggle (to recover the expression with which Lewin titled his book on the subject) is generally neglected by Stalinist, social-democratic or bourgeois historians. Why? Because it is a stony ground for the theory of Lenin-Stalin continuity, essential to both yesterday bureaucrats, who claim Lenin for the justification of their crimes, and the bourgeoisie and their agents to liquidate the Communism and every project of destruction of social class societies.

What was later known as Testament are the notes that Lenin wanted to send to the XII Congress of the Bolshevik Party, scheduled for the following months (5). His last dictates to the secretaries, Maria Volodiceva and Lydia Fotieva start on December 23, 1922 and end on January 4, 1923, when he dictates a last important message. In the text, Lenin starts by giving reason to Trotsky against Stalin on the debate about the Gosplan (the State Commission for planning). Then he carries out an evaluation of the main leaders of the party.

Lenin highlights “the unlimited authority” that Stalinconcentrated in his hands. After saying that Stalin and Trotsky are “the two outstanding leaders of the present CC”, he adds that Trotsky is “personally perhaps the most capable man in the present C.C.” and indicates some limitations of the leader with whom he led a battle against bureaucracy (“excessive preoccupation with the purely administrative side of the work” and “excessive self-assurance”). But this is a trifle compared with the merciless judgment he makes of all other leading exponents of the ruling party.

He goes on. On January 4, an additional note on Stalin said: “Stalin is too rude and this defect, although quite tolerable in our midst and in dealing among us Communists, becomes intolerable in a Secretary-General. That is why I suggest that the comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post and appointing another man in his stead who in all other respects differs from Comrade Stalin in having only one advantage, namely, that of being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite and more considerate to the comrades, less capricious, etc.”

It’s a blow aimed at proposing the removal of Stalin. Lenin does not seek compromising with Stalin, he indeed warns Trotsky against the maneuvers of the party secretary. And the battle continues. Now Lenin decides to take up the defense of the Georgian question against the chauvinistic policy supported by Stalin.

This is how Trotsky sums up the story in his autobiography: “Lenin names only six people there, and sums them up briefly, weighing each word. Unquestionably, his object in making the will was to facilitate the work of direction for me. He naturally wanted to do it with the least possible amount of friction. He talks about every one most guardedly, softening the most devastating judgments. At the same time he qualifies with reservations the too definite indication of the one whom he thinks entitled to first place. Only in his analysis of Stalin does one feel a different tone which in the later postscript to the will is nothing short of annihilating.” Then, Trotsky adds: “two more months passed during which the situation took definite shape. Lenin was now preparing not only to remove Stalin from his post of general secretary, but to disqualify him before the party as well.”

In order to “disqualify Stalin” and continue the battle Lenin then dictates two articles: “How we should reorganize the Workers and Peasants Inspection” and, in an even more explicit way, “Better fewer, but better.” Note that the Inspection that Lenin proposes to reorganize urgently was headed until a few days before by Stalin. This is also a shot against Stalin. The Politburo of the party discusses the opportunity to publish on Pravda the second of two articles. A leader close to Stalin had proposed to only print a copy and show it to Lenin … Finally the text is published on the 4th of March on Pravda.

Immediately after Lenin wrote to the Georgian leaders declaring solidarity with their position and against the Stalin’s position of “Great-Russia”, that is, against the denial of the right to self-determination of Georgia and the possibility to give life to a federated republic with Russia and not subordinate to it.

On this occasion Lenin turns to the leader he most estimates, the one he felt should replace him in case of his death: Trotsky. On March 5th, he dictates a letter to Trotsky asking him to do the same he did during the debate on the monopoly. “I would feel at ease if you agreed to undertake its defense. [of the Georgian question, editor]” (6). He also informed Trotsky, always through one of the secretaries, that he wanted to attack frontally Stalin in the upcoming Congress.

Meanwhile, he was also informed by Krupskaya, his wife and member of the party leadership, of the offenses Stalin had inflicted on her in December last year. At that point, a letter addressed to Stalin was written asking if he was prepared to make apologies, because “what has been done against my wife I consider having been done against me as well.”

On March 9th, while the battle is just beginning, Lenin is hit by another stroke, which deprives him of speaking.

From March 1923 to January 1924, the month of his death, Lenin doesn’t see Stalin. The relations between them are broken.

The fate of the testament

What about the testament of Lenin?

The text is not read at the XII Congress (April 1923). After Lenin’s death (January 21, 1924) Krupskaya brings the document to the CC and asks that the text should be read at the XIII Congress, which would take place in May 1924. But the leaders, at the suggestion of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinovev (which have formed a secret fraction), propose that it is kept confidential. Trotsky is outvoted. At the insistence of Krupskaya, it is decided that it would be read only to the heads of delegations. The meeting takes place on May 22, 1924, with the commitment of those present to keep the secret and not even take notes: the text is not delivered or read to the general audience of delegates.

It would be published abroad, first some fragments, then full, by the American militant Max Eastman, close to Trotsky, a year later. In Russia the will was published only in 1956, by Khrushchev, as a tool in the fight that had opened between the various fractions in dispute after the death of Stalin (1954), during the so-called “de-Stalinization.”

Many books have been written, starting from the considerations of Deutscher, a leading biographer of Trotsky, for a phase a Trotskyist leader (hostile to the constitution of the Fourth International in 1938), about the alleged hesitation of Trotsky. Why didn’t he claim the publication of the text? Why didn’t he launch immediately the battle against Stalin?

In fact, as all the best biographers have documented and in the more recent studies, Trotsky simply didn’t think it was tactically appropriate, with Lenin seriously ill, and even soon after Lenin’s death, to launch a frontal attack for the removal of Stalin. He tries to fight a preparatory political battle; he tries to accumulate the necessary forces. Hence his acceptance of a series of compromises in that he understands to be a battle that can’t be won by him alone and in one shot. Above all, he hopes that the revolution in Europe, in Germany, can break the Russian isolation, the main cause for the advance of the bureaucracy.

1994, a first falsification of the testament is discovered

Until the opening of archives in Moscow, following the collapse of the Stalinism at the end of the eighties, this is all that we knew of Lenin’s testament.

The same Trotsky explained how that single sentence in the text in which Lenin refers to him in relatively negative terms had to be considered in the context of the reasoning of Lenin, who designated him, nevertheless, as his successor at the head of the revolution.

In particular, in the article “On the suppressed testament of Lenin” (see bibliography at the end) Trotsky insisted on the distorted interpretation of that sentence made by the Stalinists who tried to turn it into a “synthesis” of the testament but not based on the original version.

Which sentence is this? One in which Lenin, having already spoken positively of Trotsky, comes to talk of two other leading members, Kamenev and Zinoviev. He emphasizes their “not accidental” behavior when they committed a serious political mistake in the course of 1917. However, Lenin adds that in any case these errors “ought as little to be used against them personally as the non-Bolshevism of Trotsky.”

This is the “original” version – or at least it was considered original even by Trotsky. Stalin instead circulated readings in which that sentence was reversed: both the mistakes of Kamenev and Zinoviev and Trotsky’s non-Bolshevik past could neither be underestimated nor forgotten because they would have consequences in the present time.

The fact is that Trotsky never publicly questioned the phrase (at least in the version that was believed to be original), although indubitably those words are inconsistent with the rest of the text, and especially with the context of the last Lenin’s battle. Why would Lenin return to the non-Bolshevik past of whom was considered by him, after 1917, “the best of the Bolsheviks,” the main leader with Lenin of the revolution? Why would he deliver a weapon into the hands of Stalin just as Trotsky was his main ally in the battle against Stalin and the bureaucracy?

For years it remained an unclear point. Until, with the opening of archives in Moscow, new documents have been found. Let’s see.

In 1994, the historian Yuri Buranov writes a book called Lenin’s will. Falsified and forbidden. From the Secret Archives of the former Soviet Union (see bibliography). In the book he takes up a theme that had already been dealt on Russian magazines in 1991 and which was also given space in the Italian newspaper La Stampa in articles by Giulietto Chiesa (correspondent of L’Unitá in Moscow for years).

In the articles of 1991 as well as in the book of 1994 Buranov explains that he found in the Soviet archives a manuscript page of December 23, 1922: the one that opens the text of Lenin then known as the testament, copied (as confirmed by the handwriting expert) by Nadiezhda Alliluyeva, one of the secretaries of Lenin and also Stalin’s wife.

The thing is interesting for several reasons: Alliluyeva was not on duty that day at Lenin’s room (as evidenced by the diaries of the secretaries: see bibliography). Volodiceva was on duty that day. The latter – as had already emerged from the interviews remained unpublished until 1989, made ​​in 1967 by the historian Aleksandr Bek – had admitted that, while Lenin dictated his testament, the secretaries immediately brought the text to Stalin.

When Volodiceva, by order of the manager of the secretaries, Fotieva, brings the first dictation of Lenin in the study of Stalin, she finds Alliluyeva, Bukharin and a couple of other leaders. Stalin reads the text and, visibly frightened, gives the order to burn it. However, he urges his wife to make a copy and keep it, while Volodiceva is ordered to write on the copy to be kept in the archives a couple of phrases that Lenin had not dictated. Is from this modified version that five copies which are usually known as the testament of Lenin​​ are made.

So the text found in the archives by Buranov, handwritten by Stalin’s wife, is a copy of the original text actually dictated by Lenin. This page differs by a sentence from the one published in the Works of Lenin, and widely regarded for decades as the original: whereas Lenin is said to agree with Trotsky on the question of the State Planning Commission [Gosplan, led by Stalin] (I agree, in this regard, with Comrade Trotsky), by Stalin’s order it was added: “Up to a certain point and under certain conditions.”

These few words, as can be understood, spill the meaning of the sentence: they not only relativize the agreement between Lenin and Trotsky on that important point (it was the beginning of the battle against Stalin) but they almost reveal a contrast between the two men that Lenin would solve with a partial compromise.

Buranov has thus demonstrated unequivocally that Stalin did falsify the testament, at least with regard to the page where it was found the copy of the original. But can one believe that the rest of the text, which was delivered on time by the secretaries to Stalin, dictated gradually by Lenin, has no other forgeries?

Canfora’s hypothesis

Several years later, Luciano Canfora, a historian with Stalinist training, and certainly not suspected of sympathy for Trotsky, raises a new question. The general aim of his research is to prove an alleged and non-existent difference between Stalin and Togliatti, to beatify the latter with the so-called “Italian road to socialism,” i.e. Stalinist reformism led by one of the worst Stalinists in history, Togliatti.

In fact, he published a book dedicated to the falsification of various historical texts. The book also deals with Lenin’s testament.

Summarizing the discoveries made by Buranov proving irrefutably that at least the wording of December 23 has been tampered with by Stalin, Canfora asks: and if the same thing, using the same method, i.e. adding a sentence to change the understanding, had been made ​​in other parts of the text?

Re-reading the testament, it is clear that the its most contradictory phrase is the one we mentioned above, about Trotsky’s non-Bolshevik past. That phrase has been (in the “original” or in its deformed version) now and for decades the workhorse of the Stalinists: the phrase by which they tried to obscure the true meaning of the testament.

Some linguists, experts in Russian, confirm to Canfora that just that phrase, in Russian, is ungrammatical, it disagrees from a syntactic point of view with the main clause.

Canfora’s reasoning is at this point very simple: we know that Stalin did falsify a phrase at the beginning of the text; we know that he had the opportunity, through the secretaries, to make other “fixes” to the text by Lenin (who was unaware that his pages would end directly on the desk of Stalin); we know that phrase, fundamental, is out of tune with the intentions of Lenin; we know that phrase, even from a linguistic point of view, does not agree with the text.

Canfora has no evidence, because it could not find copies of the other original pages of the testament. It’s possible that, despite falsifying it, Stalin has not made ​​a copy as he did previously. Or it is possible, if not probable, that the copies made ​​were lost in the archives or have been destroyed. The conclusion of the historian, I repeat, who has no sympathy for Trotskyism, is nevertheless: the near certainty, based on all the evidence, that Lenin had never dictated in his testament a sentence about Trotsky’s non-Bolshevik past.

Knowing what has Stalin made later: the systematic falsification of the whole revolutionary history to credit himself a primary role in the crucial moments that he has never had; the extermination of all the Bolshevik leaders; perhaps even, as some historians suspect, even without having the evidence, the poisoning of Lenin; knowing all this, it wouldn’t certainly be a surprise if Canfora’s hypothesis coincide with the true facts.

It is significant that neither the discovery of Buranov nor the hypothesis advanced by Canfora have found space in historical studies after their publications. To our knowledge, this issue has caused only a few journalistic interest, and mostly in Italy, even after the amplification given by Canfora after Buranov.

Of course, if even Canfora’s hypothesis was based on a confirming document, the find would neither change the course of history nor would add much to the crimes of Stalinism. But it would be further evidence, added to infinite others, that between Lenin and Stalin there was an unbridgeable abyss. On the one hand the revolution and the Bolshevik Party which was its architect; on the other the counter-revolution and the Stalinist bureaucracy responsible for it.

A curiosity: Canfora’s mistake

In closing, it’s worth reporting the fact, which apparently escaped to all those who reviewed the book by Canfora, that False history in turn contains an involuntary mistake, or at least a blunder, which is unforgivable in a book that exposes the historical falsifications.

In rebuilding the moment when the party leaders were brought to the attention of Lenin’s testament, Canfora relies on the reconstruction made by ​​the writer Emil Ludwig. He, citing Radek (at that time a close leader to Stalin), wrote of a “leap from his seat” allegedly given by Trotsky during a CC session when Stalin would be reading the testament and in particular at the time of the reading of the sentence about his non-Bolshevism. According to Ludwig, repeated by Canfora, Trotsky would have asked Stalin to reread that passage.

After correctly pointing out that actually the first reading of the testament was given in a closed session of the XIII Congress, in May 1924, Canfora takes the rest of Ludwig and Radek’s story for granted, and ventures in assumptions that perhaps Trotsky found that sentence suspect, but was not able to prove it. Probably, Canfora adds, Trotsky already knew the original text (without the offending sentence), as one of the secretaries of Lenin, Marija Gljasser, was politically close to him and could have given him the information.

But Canfora makes a mistake that could have been avoided if he had bothered to read Trotsky’s article, written in 1932 (see bibliography), dedicated to the story of the testament. Trotsky explains that Ludwig-Radek are lying to exaggerate the legend propagated by the Stalinists about the fact that the testament contains harsh accusations of Lenin to Trotsky’s non-Bolshevik past, whereas in the original text (well, we can say today, the text Trotsky supposed to be original) Lenin says that it should not be imputed to Trotsky his non-Bolshevik past. Trotsky adds that he has not “leapt from his seat” and that the entire reconstruction of Ludwig is false not only because (as also noted by Canfora) the testament was read at another time to the leaders, but because furthermore it was Kamenev who read it not Stalin. Trotsky said he actually gave a “leap from the seat,” but on another occasion. It was at a plenum of the Central Committee, in 1926, when various unpublished texts by Lenin so far were read (this time by Stalin). It was on this occasion that Trotsky interrupted Stalin while he was reading the letter of March 5, 1923 (which we mentioned above). In this letter Lenin invites Trotsky to defend the Georgian question in the next CC meeting. The letter ended with very affectionate words, which were rare in Lenin: “With the very best comradely greetings.” In reading, Stalin changed some words and read a drier and more official “communist greetings.” At this moment Trotsky (who remembered by memory this significant detail on Lenin’s letter to him) interrupted Stalin and asked him to read the exact words. Which Stalin was obliged to do, embarrassed, because those “With the very best comradely greetings” were addressed to the leader with whom Lenin decided to start his last struddle, the first made ​​by the Bolsheviks against the Stalinist degeneration.


(1) VI Lenin, in Collected Works, vol. 33, p. 253.

(2) L. Trotsky, My Life, p. 441.

(3) J. J. Marie, Lénine, p. 271 (in French).

(4) VI Lenin, op.cit., Vol. 45.

(5) See VI Lenin, op.cit., Vol. 36.

(6) See. VI Lenin, op.cit., Vol. 45.



The book I have based on Moshe Lewin’s Lenin’s last struggle, 1968. This is the first text that sheds light on the matter, also based on the Diary of the Secretaries of Lenin (see below). Lewin’s book is more interesting for the accurate reconstruction of the facts than for author’s conclusions, not without a certain psychology.

The Diary of Secretaries of Lenin, are notes of service taken by Lenin’s collaborators, recorded between November 1922 and March 1923. It was published for the first time in 1963 in Russia by a history magazine, and then translated and published on Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique, of April-June 1967, edited by Lewin and Jean Jacques Marie. The text is also available on the Internet, http://www.persee.fr/web/revues.

Indispensable is also the article by Trotsky “On the suppressed Testament of Lenin”, 1932, published in July 1934 on the Trotskyist magazine New International then repeatedly reprinted by Pathfinder Press, New York. Italian edition is edited by Paul Casciola in a brochure for the Centro Studi Pietro Tresso: Lenin-Trotsky. In lotta contro lo stalinismo. La vera storia del Testamento di Lenin (1988). (Lenin-Trotsky. In the struggle against Stalinism. The true story of Lenin’s testament)

These books devote a few pages to the story: E.H. Carr, The death of Lenin. The interregnum, 1923-1924, Cambridge University Press, 1965; P. Broué, The Lost Revolution. Life of Trotsky,1879-1940, in particular in chapter 20, “The bloc with Lenin”, in chapter 22, “Lost opportunities” and in chapter 23, “Debate without Lenin”; Louis Fischer, The Life of Lenin, Harper & Row, 1964, in particular in the chapter L “Lenin’s last will and testament.”

The most recent discoveries about Stalin’s manipulation of the Testament are analyzed in Jurij Buranov, Lenin’s will. Falsified and forbidden; from the Secret Archives of the former Soviet Union, Prometheus Books, 1994. Buranov’s find was echoed by the Italian press in the article by Giulietto Church, published on La Stampa, July 12, 1991: “E’ un falso di Stalin il Testamento di Lenin” (Lenin’s testament is falsified by Stalin). (available on the newspaper’s website). Luciano Canfora resumes the information by Buranov and advances his hypothesis of further possible falsification in the book La storia falsa (The false story), Rizzoli, 2008.

Letter to NSF

The following letter was sent addressing the meeting of the NSF at Bagh (POK) to discuss Permanent Revolution :

Greetings comrades,

I comrade Adhiraj Bose, from the New Wave Bolshevik Leninist group, send you my greetings from india. I regret to inform that local compulsions and visa rules have prevented me from joining your meeting on the 26th, while I cannot be there in person, I will strive nevertheless to contribute to the meeting through this writing.

Firstly, I would like to commend you for conducting this meeting on a question that is of most vital importance to the world working class. The greatest concrete challenges today is to overcome the crisis of revolutionary leadership, this of course means the task of building the revolutionary party. But the question then comes, what is a revolutionary party ? and within that the question remains, What is a revolution ?

In 1906 Trotsky when reflecting upon the dynamics of the failed Russian revolution of 1905 concluded that the question of the democratic revolution is not isolated from the socialist revolution. The experience of that revolution had proven for him, that the time of the progressive revolutionary bourgeoisie was over and the task of social revolution chiefly fell upon the shoulders of the working class. The proletariat would have to fulfill the questions posed by the democratic revolution not as part of a bourgeois democratic revolution, but in passing as part of the greater socialist revolution.

Thus, from this conclusion emerged the theory of permanent revolution. While Trotsky in Results and Prospects was only analyzing the concrete realities in Russia in 1906, the theoretical arguments themselves found resonance in much of the world which was at the time still in the throes of feudalism and colonialism. It was thought (and some in the left still adhere to this notion) that the democratic revolution is a task best left to the bourgeoisie, and that the working class would have no part in it or at best a secondary role in it. Trotsky’s detractors have time and again cited the overwhelming burden of the democratic tasks that the backward countries of the world faced, to demonstrate as if that these countries are not ready for the socialist revolution. Their false arguments were washed away by the tide of history that came with the Russian revolution of 1917.

The success of the Russian revolution in 1917 had proven the oneness of the democratic and socialist revolution. However, this lesson has over time been forgotten by most if not all of the would-be leaders of the working class leading to one disastrous turn after another.

Take our present epoch for instance, where not too long ago the Maoists in Nepal had overturned the power of the monarchy in Nepal and had opened the floodgates of revolution in that backward Himalayan nation. The hopes of the Nepali proletariat were never raised higher than they were in 2006, that their nation would be free from imperialist hegemony and finally tread the path of progress and freedom. The events after 2006 would prove otherwise, as the fire of the revolution of Nepal was extinguished by the path taken by the Maoists which have now led them to a dead end. Rule has passed from the monarchy to a republic of comprador bourgeoisies licking the shoes of imperialist india.

Nepali society remains in the throes of backwardness and poverty and for all practical purposes exists as a buffer state of India. At best, the bourgeoisie could transform it into a zone for resource extraction selling Nepal’s valuable Himalayan water and mineral resources for imperial exploitation. The Maoists have fallen themselves into the trap of the Stalinist two-stage theory and have dragged the Nepali working class and peasantry down with it.

That however, is not the only example we can cite. Let us come to the middle east, which has been engulfed in the fires of a trans-regional revolution. While the popular masses and the proletariat scored victories after victories beginning in Tunisia, then Egypt, then Libya and finally Syria, bulk of the world leaderships dilly dallied over which revolution to support and which not to not recognizing the essence of the class struggle. Now with defeat in sight, the cretins among these so-called left leaderships pick straws on who was right about what. At the root of this tragic crisis, is the confounded understanding that the democratic struggle is separate and even counter-posed to the socialist struggle !

The fact of the matter is, that mankind has already gone as far as capitalism can allow it to, but history and humanity move forward regardless. This was the decisive factor discovered by Marx and analyzed further by Lenin and Trotsky, is the contradiction that lies at the core of permanent revolution today. Where the bourgeoisie tries its best to drag back humanity to levels where it can keep its power and privileges, the proletariat tries to push on ahead, breaking the shackles which bind it to the dead and moribund past. Thus, it is that the democratic struggle today, is no longer a bourgeois democratic struggle, but comes as an intrinsic part of the socialist revolution. If we fail to realize this, then we are doomed to fall, and by that I mean fall to the lowest depths of barbarism. World war 1 and 2 and even the calamity in Iraq show clearly what kind of future capitalism has in store for us, if we allow it to continue. Therefore, the question posed before us is short and simple, but brutal, “Socialism or Barbarism”.

On the Scottish question

The following was a reply made by Comrade Choppa to a comrade from London, who was opposed in principle to Scottish independence. :

We need to ask one question right at the start. If Scotland is such a pile of useless crap as Westminster makes it out to be, why are they so determined to keep hold of it?
And why are they suddenly throwing concessions and money at it?

Asking that question and stepping away from the doomsday atmosphere created by the English media and politicians, we next need to lay out what the National Question actually is.

Why? Because no-one bloody knows. Just because it has been clarified well by Lenin and Trotsky in their work with the early 3rd International, and by Trotsky in relation to Spain, for instance (and Ukraine, for that matter), doesn’t mean it’s been resolved for ever or that the consciousness of the working masses has stayed at the level L and T were able to raise it to. T didn’t even succeed in raising the consciousness of the Catalonian revolutionaries above the nationalist level during the Civil War to any great extent. And if Trotsky couldn’t do it in such a situation, we have to be very clear to ourselves that we aren’t Trotsky, and the workers of Britain are nowhere near as politically conscious as the workers were in the Spanish state during the Civil War.

The National Question is a democratic issue, not a socialist one, and we need to spell out for our readers just exactly what this means. Explicitly, and not indirectly as we do if we point out that the present referendum is to a high degree an internal fight between different sectors of the capitalist class. In fact, there are still democratic issues that are unresolved in the most advanced imperialist states, and many of them are connected with the position of ethnic or language or cultural groups as disadvantaged and discriminated minority groups within the big state while occupying a majority identity and position locally or regionally.

And modern history shows us that democratic issues can’t be ignored by anyone – they are the most powerful social engines of change we have seen – the right to vote, gender rights, national (etc) rights. After world war 2 the imperialists (with the aid of world Stalinism) were able to curb the socialist mobilization of the working class in most of the world, and at least contain it within bureaucratic chains where the class succeeded in overthrowing capitalism. But they were completely helpless in the face of the masses rising against them in the anti-colonial revolution. They did of course succeed in diverting the revolutions into democratic nationalist channels, but only at great cost to themselves and their colonial empires and direct economic control.

India is the great example of this process, of course. with the African and Asian anti-colonial wars a close second.

But – and this is the most important thing for us – the democratic revolution grows over into the socialist revolution, the two are inseparable (except abstractly and statically). And given the way forces change their relationships over time – there are ebbs and flows – the process can proceed both forwards towards more socialism, and backwards towards less democracy – a rolling back of democratic gains.

But the social forces fuelling all this don’t roll back or ebb away… Their leaderships and mass consciousness does the ebbing and flowing, not the fundamental social foundations of life in human society. Which is to say that on the one hand the democratic revolution didn’t just end when nationalist forces gained independent power with a state of their own. And on the other, the fusion of democratic and socialist needs is growing all the time as all sections of the bourgeoisie turn away from democratic ideals to devote all their energy to salvaging what they can of the capitalist system, leaving (as we can see more and more plainly) only the working class and its most immediate social allies as champions of democratic progress.

The continuation of the democratic revolution is best seen in the eruption of North Africa and the Middle East over the past few years. And is very clear in the demands for greater rights and autonomy within the established imperialist states – Ireland, Catalonia, the Basque country, Quebec, the rights of aboriginal peoples worldwide, etc etc.

And none of these mobilizations are any respecters of established sovereign borders. The Voice article mentions the “disintegration of the old social structures) and this is seen very clearly in the disintegration of the old nation state boundaries and jurisdictions. Developing social forces (the unstoppable onward march of the productive forces) – the world market, the imperialist bourgeoisie and the international working class – are making old social containers (like nation states) as antiquated and obsolete as the feudal aristocracy and its privileges were in the 18th century.

But of course these containers don’t disappear of their own accord. Revolution – conscious human action on the level of each society and the whole world – is needed to dismantle or demolish them and replace them with new more adequate political and social structures.

Right – so where does that leave us in relation to Scotland and the referendum?

I think we need to dismiss the “either/or” approach to the referendum for a start. The Voice writes that “nothing is in the interests of the working class” and we have to start from this. It’s like the question of Free Trade versus Protectionism. Purely bourgeois concerns – okay, some of their effects impinge on us too, but the question of state and class power isn’t raised at all. It’s just a question of which capitalist faction gets most from the present capitalist society.

And we have to use Trotsky’s (the 4th International’s) Transitional method a lot more deliberately and consciously than we have before. We need to place demands before the class that are winnable, and raise its consciousness by perceptible steps during the struggle for these demands.

Which means the United Socialist States of Europe, while necessary, needs to be built up to as a power slogan. The suggestion of a federation of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland is a lot more manageable.

And we have to raise the question which none of the left does about where the current consciousness of the working class stands.

If the struggle for more autonomy or even independence for Scotland can be combined with a struggle against capitalism then we can move forward to a struggle for more explicitly socialist demands. Which means less reformism which is good.

This isn’t the same as the Socialist Party’s call for a critical yes vote, which is abstract phrase-mongering since it lacks any transitional awareness of where the class is now and where it might be led during the course of the struggle.

The thing is, that our tasks are monumental regardless of how the vote goes.

As Galileo said of the earth, “Eppur si muove”, “it moves, regardless (of what you inquisitorial bastards would like to think)”. And we have to pursue our transitional Bolshevik-Leninist policies regardless of the way different capitalist governments and regimes move the goalposts every now and then.

Marx in his early years (till the 1850s roughly) leant heavily towards supporting the bourgeoisie against any other competing social force (except of course for the revolutionary working class). The bourgeoisie was the highest expression of development of the forces and relations of production over against slave-owners, feudal despots or petty tribal societies. He later saw that this was abstract and against the nature of social change, and that the cause of socialist revolution might just as well be forwarded from within some seemingly archaic social structures from pre-capitalist ages, like the Russian communal village, the mir. Or that real social mobilization against the oppressive ruling class might well move things on, regardless of obscurantist and mistaken leadership. After some slight initial hesitation due to the anarchist and inadequate leadership of the Paris Commune he nonetheless gave it his wholehearted support despite the fact that it might easily have broken up the unity of France and with it the French working class.

I think we’re at risk of being a bit abstract and anti-change ourselves if we appear to be defending the real imperialist unity of the United Kingdom while waving a very abstract banner of a Workers’ Unity to justify this when there is no concrete unified socialist consciousness to give our banner any reality.

The truth is concrete, and our way of dealing with the fluidity of concrete class realities with their ebb and flow is the transitional method.

Our problems grasping the nettle of nationalist opinion and mobilization in Britain (Wales and Scotland really – Ireland is better catered for in this respect) are largely due to our losing focus on what really agitates people and gets them mobilized rather than what we think should agitate them and get them on their feet.



Lenin’s May Day Leaflet


The Workers Holiday — May First

Comrades! Let us look carefully into the conditions of our life; let us observe that environment wherein we pass our days. What do we see? We work hard; we create unlimited wealth, gold and rich fabrics, brocade and velvet; we dig iron and coal from the bowels of the earth; we build machines, ships, castles, railways. All the wealth of the world is created by our hands, is obtained by our sweat and blood. And what reward do we receive for our hard labor? In justice we should live in fine houses, wear good clothing, and in any case not want for our daily bread. But we all know very well that our wages scarcely suffice for a bare existence. Our bosses lower the wage-rates, force us to work over-time, unjustly fine us. In a word, they oppress us in every way, and, in case of dissatisfaction on our part, they promptly discharge us. We time and time again discover that those to whom we turn for protection are friends and lackeys of our bosses. We, the workers are kept in ignorance, education is denied us, that we may not learn to struggle to improve our conditions. They hold us in bondage, discharge us on the slightest pretext, arrest and exile anyone offering resistance to oppression, forbid us to struggle. Ignorance and bondage — these are the means by which the capitalists and the Government, always at their service, keep us in subjection.

What means do we have to improve our conditions, to raise our wages, to shorten our working day, to protect ourselves from abuse, to read intelligent and useful books Everybody is against us — the bosses (since the worse off we are, the better they live), and all their lackeys, all those who live off the bounty of the capitalists and who, at their bidding, keep us in ignorance and bandage. We can look to no one for aid; we can rely only upon ourselves. Our strength lies in union; our salvation in united, stubborn, and energetic resistance to our exploiters. They have long understood wherein lay our strength, and have attempted in all manner of ways to keep us divided, and not to let us understand that we workers have interests in common. They cut wages, not everybody’s at once, but one at a time. They put foremen over us, they introduce piece work; and, laughing up their sleeves at how we workers toil at our work, lower our wages little by little. But it’s a long lane that has no turning. There is a limit to endurance. During the past year the Russian workers have shown their bosses that slavish submission can be transformed into the staunch courage of men who will not submit to the insolence of capitalists greedy for unpaid labor.

In various towns strikes have broken out; in Yaroslavl, Taikovo, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Belostok, Vilna, Minsk, Kiev, Moscow and other towns. The majority of the strikes ended successfully for the workers, but even unsuccessful strikes are only apparently unsuccessful. In reality they frighten the bosses terribly, cause them great losses, and force them to grant concessions for fear of a new strike. The factory inspectors also begin to get busy and notice the beams in the capitalists’ eyes. They are blind until their eyes are opened by the workers calling a strike. When in fact do the factory inspectors notice mismanagement in the factories of such influential personages as Mr. Tornton or the stockholders of the Putilov factory.

In St. Petersburg, too, we have made trouble for the bosses. The strike of the weavers at Tornton’s factory, of the cigarette workers at the Laferm and Lebedev factories, of the workers at the shoe factory, the agitation among the workers at the Kenig and Varonin factories, and among the dock workers, and finally the recent disturbances in Sestroretsk have proven that we have ceased to be submissive martyrs, and have taken up the struggle. As is well known, the workers from many factories and shops have organized the “Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class,” with the aim of exposing all abuses, of eradicating mismanagement, of fighting against the insolent oppressions of our conscienceless exploiters, and of achieving full liberation from their power. The “Union” distributes leaflets, at the sight of which the bosses and their faithful lackeys tremble in their boots. It is not the leaflets themselves which frighten them, but the possibility of our united resistance, of an exhibition of our mighty power, which we have shown them more than once. We workers of St. Petersburg, members of the “Union” invite the rest of our fellow workers to join our “Union” and to further the great cause of uniting the workers for a struggle for their own interests. It is high time for us Russian workers to break the chains with which the capitalists and the Government have bound us in order to keep us in subjection. It is high time for us to join the struggle of our brothers, the workers in other lands, to stand with them under a common flag upon which is inscribed: Workers of the World, Unite!

In France, Great Britain, Germany, and other countries, where the workers have already united in strong unions and have won many rights, they have established the 19th of April (the First of May abroad) [Before the October Revolution the Russian calendar was 13 days behind the West-European] as a general Labor holiday.

Forsaking the stuffy factories, they march in solid ranks, with bands and banners along the main streets of the towns; showing the bosses the whole might of their growing power, they gather in numerous large meetings, where speeches are delivered recounting the victories over the bosses in the preceding year, and indicating the plans for struggle in the future. Through fear of a strike, not a single factory owner fines the workers for absence from work on this day. On this day the workers also remind the bosses of their chief demand: the eight-hour working day — 8 hours work, 8 hours sleep, and 8 hours rest. This is what the workers of other countries are now demanding. There was a time, and not so long ago, when they, like we now, did not have the right to make known their needs. They, too, were crushed by want and lacked unity just as we now. But they, by stubborn struggle and heavy sacrifices, have won for themselves the right to discuss together the problems of the workers’ cause. We send our best wishes to our brothers in other lands that their struggle should quickly lead them to the desired victory, to the time when there shall be neither masters nor slaves, neither workers nor capitalists, but all alike will work and all alike enjoy life.

Comrades! If we will energetically and wholeheartedly strive to unite, the time will not be far distant when we, having joined our forces in solid ranks, will be able openly to unite in this common struggle of the workers of all lands, without distinction of race or creed, against the capitalists of the whole world. And our sinewy arm will be lifted on high and the infamous chains of bondage will fall asunder. The workers of Russia will arise, and the capitalists and the Government, which always zealously serves and aids the capitalists, will be stricken with terror!

April 19, 1896.

Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class

On the question of the united front tactic

In short the policy of united front-ism is one of ‘march separately but strike together’ . This in itself does not however, explain the various possible variations of the united front depending on the objective strength of forces involved. In principle the party of the working class creates united fronts where there is a need for joint interventions around shared interests. The most notable example of a united front at work was the united front of the Bolsheviks with the menshevik government to save the provincial government of Kerensky from Kornilov’s reaction.

In this instance, the party engaged in united front retained it’s own independent organizational existence even while siding with hostile forces. The overarching importance of the most urgent democratic tasks was realized which formed the basis for a united front. It was to save the february revolution that the Bolsheviks made an alliance with Kerensky against Kornilov, all the while knowing the reactionary nature of both forces involved. But it was the necessity for such a united front that compelled the formation of the united front tactic, one where the bolsheviks could fight off the forces of reaction.

A Bolshevist united front and Stalinist popular front :

The foremost consideration for any successful united front is the independence of the revolutionary force with the parties it is in a united front with. This is contrasted with the policy of a popular front where class compromise is sought around an opportunistic premise for advancing the organizational interest at hand. Stalinism presents before the working class the prospect of certain defeat through the popular front where it’s power is diluted into that of the national bourgeoisie. When Lenin joined hands with the government of Kerensky, the Bolsheviks did not dissolve themselves into the government, nor dilute their revolutionary programme for the sake of the alliance. It was over a particular agenda of defeating the reaction led by Kornilov that the cooperation was forged. However, when Stalin and the troika had ordered the Chinese communists to align with Chiang Kai Shek in the revolutionary upsurge of the mid-1920s, they dissolved themselves for sake of keeping that alliance intact.

It must be born in mind that numerical or organizational dimensions were secondary to the success of the united front. The Bolsheviks were in an inferior position of power in relation to their respective allies when they engaged in the united front. However, the reactionary regime was on the verge of collapse under pressure of war. Most importantly, the regime was fast losing or had already lost mass support. At the same time, the forces of revolution were gaining influence. In such a situation revolutionary help extended to bourgeois-democratic reactionaries ( like Kerensky ) would be like using a rope to hold up a dying man!

The successes of these actions have important lessons for us today when revolutionary bolsheviks seek to engage in a united front.

Few basic principles :

Before any united front is undertaken two key questions must be asked :

a) For what is there a need for a united front ? What benefits will it bring ?

b) What is the strength of our own forces ?

The answer to the first question will lay the ground for forging any united front with other organizations whether we agree on fundamental questions of theory or not. The answer to the second will help us understand how to approach the united front and how deeply we should commit our resources to it. Only once a clear understanding is reached by balancing between both these questions, can a revolutionary organization approach a united front with a firm footing. A united front based on light and weak foundations will end in a failure.

Once the basic questions have been answered, the next question must be that of particulars of engagement. :

a) Whom do we align with ?

b) To what extent to we align ?

Of course, it is impossible to answer these two questions without first answering the basic questions of the united front. In chapter 4 of the Communist Manifesto Marx laid the foundation for such an alliance as support for democratic struggles world over. For this purpose the communists would be willing to align with any force that is fighting for a democratic revolution. In saying this however, Marx never compromised the need for maintaining an independent character of the communist movement. This brings us to the second question on the extent of our engagement. That again depends primarily on two factors :

a) The class character of our allies

b) Our own objective(organizational) and subjective(theoretical) strength.

An important third factor in this of course would be the objective we intend to achieve through this united front. The nature of intervention whether it’s military or civil in nature, or whether we intend to in future to merge with a group if there are fundamental programmatic agreements, or whether we intend to wage a defensive struggle where the entire interests of the class are under jeopardy ( as would be with the case of a fascist threat ) . Each instance will come with its own imperatives and will determine the tactics of the united front in action.

Flexibility in tactics :

One of the hallmarks of Leninist thought has been the flexibility of its tactics in class struggle. Lenin characterized class war as a war fundamentally more complex than any other war hitherto fought, and not without reason. From this conclusion, he states in his work on guerrilla warfare that Marxists must be open to the use of the most varied tactics as the situation demands. Thus, revolutionaries must be prepared to go underground when faced with a emergency situation. When democratic organizing becomes impossible it is naive to retain any pretense of absolute internal democracy, a centralized organization with strict discipline becomes indispensable.

Such a flexibility must be shown in approaching the question of the united front as well. The working masses will not always possess revolutionary consciousness. Right up until the decisive eruption of revolution, we will be dealing with a population which albeit rebellious and militant may continue to harbor every possible illusion in the machinations of the bourgeois state. In such a situation revolutionaries must refrain from a sectarian attitude towards the organizations of the class. While sharply criticizing every opportunistic step which they may take to harm the interests of the class, the revolutionary force must be ready to work with these organizations whenever and wherever the interests of the class struggle are involved.

Here we are faced with a dialectical question. How to retain independence in perspective, discipline and organization while engaging in work with organizations whose character is decidedly non-revolutionary ? The whole success or failure of the united front for the revolutionary party is contingent on this question being answered correctly. There are no black and white alternatives given beforehand, since the issue is one of balance between forces involved.

Variations of the united front :

We may either enter a united front with a similar organization or express unity in action. This choice depends much on whom we plan on aligning with. The difference between these two variations can be demonstrated using the example of our tactics towards the forces involved in the Afghan war and our tasks in that country.

The foremost task of the present Afghan struggle much like China at the time of the Japanese invasion rested on the expulsion of the imperialist forces attempting to subjugate and exploit that country’s resources. The problem we face in pursuing this overarching goal, is that we will be sharing our battles with the most vile, most corrupt and reactionary of armies in the Afghan Taliban. Their agenda is to establish a repressive islamic state, which would perhaps in the long run make just as bad an agreement with world imperialism as the present quisling Karzai government. But the core tasks of bolsheviks is not to speculate idly on what possible future may befall Afghanistan, the core task is to understand the democratic tasks to fight for and chart the road for the socialist revolution in South Asia.

It is as obvious as daylight that there cannot be even the remotest of agreements with the Taliban on long term agenda. Given the chance, they would be as committed to the evisceration of the revolutionary party as the imperialists. However, our first commitment is towards fighting for the liberation of Afghanistan from the ongoing imperialist occupation. For this we are fighting the same enemy as the Taliban. Here we call for unity in action with the Taliban on the point of agreement over the fight against foreign imperialism. Our troops in the field would coordinate their attacks against ISAF troops and proxy Afghan National Army troops with the troops of the Taliban. However, we keep not only our own discipline in fighting, but retain our own propaganda, our own programmatic agenda for the future of Afghanistan as well as our long term hostility towards the idea of theocracy.

Of course, given the reality of our peripheral existence in the world and undoubtedly in Afghanistan, it would be next to impossible to build such an alliance even one only restricted to ‘unity in action’. Our actions must therefore, be oriented towards propaganda activities primarily and the cornerstone of this is the attack on imperialism. We would thus continue to work on the united front principle and express a ‘unity in action’ with the Taliban. At the same time, we warn the Afghan people of the dangers of allowing the Taliban to lead the anti-imperial struggle and condemn any agreement they make with any imperial force.

The same principles may not apply when and if we engage in a united front effort with an organization who share fundamental agreements in regard to programme. If we unite with organizations of the working class, with whom differences are of a peripheral nature but agreements are fundamental *( if we agree on the Socialist revolution and its path ), incidental differences on tactics and strategies to combat imperialism are secondary in nature. Here we engage in joint work with a view towards possible merger of forces over a common party building agenda on the basis of a programme for revolution. This would be a deep united front which may go beyond simply working together around single issues.


The united front tactic gives a Bolshevik-Leninist force its power. Despite smaller numbers and organizational weakness, we can multiply our forces in conjunction with the resources of another force in conducting our intervention. Using this approach we retain our own discipline and our own political character and use the power of bolshevik theory to build our strength in the class struggle. Care must be taken however, that we never weaken the effort by compromising our stance even and especially with respect to those we align with. Our alignments with deeply hostile forces which are against our ideals are necessarily only be temporary and issue-specific. Once a front with such forces has accomplished its core objectives, we must be prepared with our own organizational strength to fight against them and stake our own claim to power.

On the question of the revolutionary party

We are re-publishing this article written by comrade Jonas Potyguar on the question of the revolutionary party and it’s organization. The article lays bare the critical importance of organizing the party on the principles of democratic centralism and with a distinct emphasis of recruiting workers as its grassroots.


88 years without lenin: A revolutionary leninist party, or a party of affiliated sympathizers ? 

– Jonas Potyguar

The topic of construction of a revolutionary party and the discussion hinging round this pivot abound among socialists. The character of a Leninist party has been attacked from all kinds of angles.

It has even been said – and not altogether wrong – that Lenin’s main contribution to Marxism has been the theory and practise of the organisation of a revolutionary party. This is so, because Lenin regarded organisation as a fundamental issue among all the other tasks, whether agitation or propaganda.

He has even stated that the task of organisation is more important than that of the use of revolutionary violence in the revolution and that is what he said in 1919, at the funeral of Sverdlov, the greatest organiser the Bolshevik party has ever had:

“Comrades, people who judge by what they see on the surface, the numerous enemies of our revolution, and those who to this day vacillate between the revolution and its opponents, consider the most striking feature of our revolution to be the determined and relentlessly firm way it has dealt with the exploiters and the enemies of the working people. There is no doubt that without this, without revolutionary violence, the proletariat could not have triumphed. Nor can there be any doubt that revolutionary violence was a necessary and legitimate weapon of the revolution only at definite stages of its development, only under definite and special conditions, and that a far more profound and permanent feature of this revolution and condition of its victory was, and remains, the organisation of the proletarian masses, the organisation of the working people.”1

And he tops this reasoning “…the main task of the proletarian revolution is precisely the task of organisation.”2

That is why, unlike reformists, Marxists wish to exert power together with the organised masses and that is not a feat of some great parliamentary “leaders”. The most serious symptom of capitulation to the apparatuses – whether reformist or bourgeois parliamentary – and the most frequent way in which this is expressed is the abandonment of the organisation of the toiling masses – or the pushing back of this task to second-best position (in their own organisations) – and of the vanguard in the revolutionary party. The most appealing task normally are those that imply audience, where is possible to test out very soon and in front of people one’s own individual aptitudes. The simple “grey” task of organising, recruiting and spreading the orientation of the party through the press, for example, is much more difficult and tedious. But pushing the task of organisation to the second-rate level means to yield to the pressure of the bourgeoisie and to capitulate to the apparatuses where a few leaders “substitute” the labour of the masses and of the advance guard.


This is so important that taking it as priority and building the revolutionary party in Russia was the reason for the victory in Russia and the opposite, considering this a secondary task, led to the defeat of the revolution in Germany in 1918.

The secret of the Bolshevik party and their most important lesson on how to build revolutionary parties all over the world was that, understanding the importance of the organisation, they leaned on a tripod that could (and can) ensure strength and invincibility to any revolutionary party: the use of Marxist theory, a close link with the International and their insertion in the workers’ movement.

“Only relying on Marxist revolutionary theory and on the experience of the international social democracy we can merge our revolutionary trend with the workers’ movement…”3

Using this tripod, Bolshevism gets organised in a new type of party, reflecting not only the specificity of the Tsarist Russia but also the new historic epoch of wars and revolutions. It is from his analysis of imperialism that Lenin draws his vision of a new type of party, fighting, for action, for the seizure of power.

“Imperialism is a stage of capitalism in which, after having done all it could have done, it now revolves towards decadence… There may be many similar wars… To fulfil this new task, the proletarian party may need organisations of a totally new type. It is difficult to foretell what the new form of organisation should be in correspondence with this phase.”4

In 1900, defending a party built around a hard core, basically by professional revolutionaries, he said,

“We must prepare men who would not dedicate only their free afternoons to the revolution, but their entire lives…” 5

He asserts that the party must have a flexible structure to define when a frontal combat is required and when it is necessary to retreat properly. He asserts that unconditional centralisation and the most severe discipline of the proletariat inside their party is one of the fundamental conditions for victory over bourgeoisie.

He draws on the norm that the grassroots of the party be active militants, where all the members, without any exception, take part in the struggle, in the movement and in the everyday life of the toiling masses.

After power has been seized, discipline and centralisation are even more important:

“The strictest centralisation and discipline are required within the political party of the proletariat in order to counteract this, in order that the organisational role of the proletariat (and that is its principal role) may be exercised correctly, successfully and victoriously. The dictatorship of the proletariat means a persistent struggle – bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative – against the forces and traditions of the old society. The force of habit in millions and tens of millions is a most formidable force. Without a party of iron that has been tempered in the struggle, a party enjoying the confidence of all honest people in the class in question, a party capable of watching and influencing the mood of the masses, such a struggle cannot be waged successfully.” 6

For the Bolshevik party, right from the beginning, even when it consisted of a tiny group of intellectuals who acted in hiding, the insertion in the industrial working class was priority. This orientation is based on the Marxist vision, on the Marxist standpoint on the central character of the industrial working class and the very experience of Marx and Engels who did their best to take socialist ideas to the real movement of working class. As early as 1893, Lenin gets in contact with advanced workers of Saint Petersburg and in 1902 he said:

“Our work is aimed, first of all and above all, at factory workers of the cities. Russian social democracy must not disperse its strength, but concentrate its activity on industrial proletariat… we do not deem it wise to orient our strength towards craftsmen and farmhand…”7

Later on, when the party was no longer small, Lenin oriented it towards other sectors without, however, forsaking that priority. Having defined this priority to social advance guard sectors proved correct, for in 1917 Lenin defended the seizure of power when he achieves majority of soviets in two most important working class cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg. We must add that in those days the Russian working class counted 3 millions souls densely concentrated in big factories among 150 million inhabitants. They achieved the miracle of leading dozens and dozens of millions because they were a power inside the industrial proletariat.

Lenin attached an enormous importance to the press of the party. In his famous book What to do? he spreads a vision of a party newspaper as an organizational and political centraliser for the whole party. Thus, in 1912, faced with the first signs of struggle of the working class, he launches a legal newspaper, the Pravda, whose launching was preceded by a several-month-long campaign asking factory workers for their financial support. Contributions came in tens of thousands and there was also a subscription campaign. Pravda had the backing of tens and hundreds of workers, who – with their modest contributions – ensured its publication.

Reflecting directly the situation of class struggle, the ups and downs, victories and defeats, and also the different phases of the construction of the party, there were great wavering as far as the number of militants goes. A party of a few tens of militant cadres in 1901 and of hundreds in 1903 was a founding group, as Lenin put it; “a communist nucleus whose central task was to insert themselves among the masses of workers.” In 1905, at the beginning of the revolution, an advance-guard party with 8 000 militants, most of them inserted in industrial centres, a party in “transition from communist propaganda and agitation to action”. In 1907, at the congress of reunification with the Mensheviks, 77 000 militants with a slight majority of Bolsheviks, the party was already in the period of “mass party” whose essential task was, as Lenin used to say, “take the initiative in massive actions”. At a time of a slump in the struggles, of defeats, in 1910, in most regions the party disintegrated and just a few dozen militants remained. In 1916 the new ascent began and the Bolshevik party had at most 5 000 members and a few cadres. When the revolution began, thousands and thousands of workers joined the political battle and left-wing parties and by April 1917 the party could already boast 79 000 members and by July the figure reaches 170 000, 250 000 by March 1919, 610 000 in March’20 and 730 000 in March 1921.

Bolshevism combined a great inflexibility as far as principles are concerned and a great flexibility at the time of using tactics (forms of struggle) of the most varied type. For example, the defence of using parliament and then boycott, the defence of participating in all the workers’ organisations (trade unions) but censuring the yellow trade unions; the use of terrorism (and also guerrilla) but in a compulsory manner using it only in the service of the working class and as part of the workers’ struggle.

This is absolutely essential in the building of revolutionary parties because to fall into opportunism or ultra-leftism is to give priority to an only procedure, isolate it and turn it into an absolute (for example the use of the parliament). It is just like this popular saying goes: “anything in excess is poison”.

This is how Lenin expresses this vision: “On the other hand, Bolshevism, which had arisen on this granite foundation of theory, went through fifteen years of practical history (1903-17) unequalled anywhere in the world in its wealth of experience… During those fifteen years, no other country knew anything even approximating to that revolutionary experience, that rapid and varied succession of different forms of the movement—legal and illegal, peaceful and stormy, underground and open, local circles and mass movements, and parliamentary and terrorist forms”. 8

If Bolshevism could triumph in the revolution it is because they knew how to expose the opportunists in Russia and in II International; this was one of the causes of victory.

A party of active militants based on professional militants made the building of a mass party for combat and seizure of power possible. This was expressed, for example, in the way Barmin, a young Bolshevik leader, recruited new members in the factories: “Join the party that does not promise advantages or privileges. If we achieve victory, we shall build a new world. If we are defeated, we shall fight to the last man.”

But in order to build a party that can resist the pressure of the bourgeoisie and the defeat it is necessary to mould a party and leaders capable of learning from their errors.

“A political party’s attitude towards its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it fulfils in practice its obligations towards its class and the working people. Frankly acknowledging a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, analysing the conditions that have led up to it, and thrashing out the means of its rectification – that is the hallmark of a serious party; that is how it should perform its duties, and how it should educate and train its class, and then the masses. By failing to fulfil this duty and give the utmost attention and consideration to the study of their patent error, the “Lefts” in Germany (and in Holland) have proved that they are not a party of a class, but a circle, not a party of the masses, but a group of intellectualists and of a few workers who ape the worst features of intellectualism.” 9

But he was not satisfied with just identifying the error but reasoned in a Marxist way that is to say, with the understanding that the pressures inside the party reflected the pressures existing in the bourgeois society and he always tried to propose concrete measures within the scope of the organisation of the party to correct the existing deviation or problem.

That is how in the early 1905, in the middle of the revolution, as he saw a lot of hesitations among the leaders of his faction, he proposed clear steps: that the committees of the party should have a majority of workers. (“eight workers for every two intellectuals, for workers have class instinct) He lost when the votes were taken. But in November 1905 in the middle of the revolutionary crisis, he was requesting one intellectual for several hundreds of workers.

After the seizure of power and by the end of the civil war, climbers were flooding the party. Lenin proposed:

“…I should advise the most rigorous admission to the party: a three-year period as candidate for workers (considering a worker one who has worked at least 10 years in the great industry as a simple salaried worker and has now been working for at least 2 or 3 years); for peasants and combatants of the Red Army, 4 years and for everybody else, 5 years.”10

When the danger of bureaucratisation of the USSR emerges, in his last writings he insists that:

“Inclusion of many workers to the CC will help workers to improve our administrative body… The workers who will become part of the CC should be mainly not those who have been acting for a long time in the Soviets… for they have been soaked in with certain traditions and prejudices that we wish to fight against.”11

What a difference between this party and the German party! The latter, held on to legal (parliamentary) intervention, with affiliates who did not have an everyday active participation in the life of the party and workers’ struggles. This “giant” party had, on the eve of the war, a million members, 90 daily papers and had reached 4 million votes in the elections to the parliament. It had magazines, schools, universities, 2.5 million workers were organised in trade unions led by social democrats. When the war broke out it split to pieces like crystal receiving the first bullet. But this routine in the form of organisation was so deep that this lax and rusty structure affected also the Spartaquists, whose leader was Rose Luxemburg, who in 1914 publicly split away from the reformists but did not split away, or took a long time to do so, with their forms of organisation. And that proved deadly for the German revolution. Rose Luxemburg failed to understand that the new epoch required a new type of party. Her organisation had to form itself in the middle of the war and in totally clandestine conditions, had no time to grow up: its members had no discipline and most militants, reacting in an ultra-leftist fashion to the opportunist capitulation of the social democrats, refused to take part in elections or trade unions. Later on Lenin reflected that the main error of German communists was that they did not split away from the social democrats early enough, even before the war.

In 1921 he was to say:

“it is necessary to expose in full details what is it that does not exist in most of the legal parties in the West. There is no everyday work (revolutionary work) done by each and every one member of the party.”12

Nowadays, there is a great discussion in the workers’ movement about the characteristics and the structure of a revolutionary party. Most people point blank refuse to have “Leninist” Democratic Centralism which is regarded as antidemocratic and the form of “affiliated” members, a lax form that admits “ample democracy” for the grassroots, is regarded as preferable.

The discussion on centralisation or non-centralisation of a revolutionary party depends on the purpose it is being built for.

If it is for the seizure of power and to install the dictatorship of the proletariat and overcome the resistance of imperialism by force, the organisation of the party will necessarily have to be centralised, where the 100% of the militants are active and committed militants of workers’ cause. History has proved that without such a type of party victory is always in jeopardy.

On the other hand, if we want to have a party centred hinging round parliamentary activity, elections, a trade union activity now and again (strictly legal) so as to achieve more votes and reach power through elections, there is no need for any democratic centralism. The structure of social democratic parties is good enough for that.

But it is deceitful to tell simple people who do not understand politics that the structure of “affiliates” is more democratic: this is simply a lie! In this type of parties, it is the opportunist leadership who decide everything, and more often than not they are members of parliament, governors, presidents, trade union bureaucrats and the affiliates are simply informed via TV about the guideline of the party, just the way it keeps on happening in Brazilian PT: it turned neoliberal without consulting the hundreds of thousand of affiliated workers.

On the contrary, the Leninist structure of democratic centralism, with the active militants, who participate in the everyday struggle of the workers and party life, discuss everything freely inside the party with the most absolute democracy and then, in a centralised way, everybody, from the freshest to the oldest, have to defend the guideline voted by majority.

This is the only way in which workers can impede that their leader be corrupted by the bourgeoisie.

“And if the workers’ party is really revolutionary, if it is really workers’ (that is to say: linked to the masses, to most workers, to the grassroots of the proletariat and not only to the upper crust sector), if it is really a party, that is: if it is the organisation of the revolutionary advance guard, strong and consistent, capable of doing the revolutionary task among the masses by any possible means, then there is no doubt that this party will be able to hold its members of parliament back…” 13

“The more outstanding the scabs are (meaning Kamenev and Zinoviev) the more compulsory it is to punish them at once with expulsion. The only way to heal a workers’ party is to purge a dozen pusillanimous petty intellectuals, to huddle together the revolutionary rank and file, march together with revolutionary workers.” 14

By means of thousands of negative examples, history has proved the absolute necessity of a Leninist party and today the loss of many revolutions happens just because proletariat does not have a tool of this type and is trapped by the demagogic socialist and “democratic” leaders.

The United Secretariat of the IV International has long forsaken the democratic centralist structure of the organisation of their parties and of the International. But now they take another step forward and make a call to unite all the anticapitalist left, a call that has been passed at the XV Congress of the LCR (France) to:

“… build a new political force, ample and pluralist, radically anticapitalist and resolutely democratic. This grouping in a united party is necessary and urgent to act together along the major guidelines that may, in our opinion, be summed up in a few points: opposition to imperialism, to the war, to the capitalist globalisation… the perspective of a breach with capitalism.”15

This resolution is a “jewel” of opportunism in every field. It would be necessary to write an entire book to expose the venom it contains.

To begin with the expression “opposition to imperialism”. “Opposition” is a parliamentary term. Anybody, down to the blind man in the doorway of a church is “opposition to imperialism”. “Opposition to the war”, yes, of course we are all against the war and the imperialist invasion of Iraq. But are we for the anticolonial war that the Iraqi resistance is carrying out now, and even if necessary, for sending them weapons?

Let us go on to the “perspective” of breach with the capitalism. This just does not commit anybody to anything and left for the future it is something that even Rosseto (Minister of Land Reform in Lula administration) might sign. And the break away from capitalism is to replace it with…. what? That is not said. In this way, anyone can fit into the party, any anti-neoliberal democrat, like the ones who head the World Social Forum and claim that “another world is possible” even in the imperialist system or claim for “unlimited” democracy – and this is something everybody likes – especially imperialism and their companies that exploit and govern the world in an “unlimited way”.

To enter the kingdom of democracy it is not necessary to have a disciplined party of determined and toughened proletarians, ready to die for their class; all you need for that is “to be ample and pluralist”. That is so, because obviously what is needed here is not a party to lead an insurrection and a revolution but to form “potential socialist ministers” for the parliament who would dedicate themselves to diminish the poverty of the “excluded” by means of “compensatory measures” and to guarantee a “law” that would demand from the capital that it should share out its profit and to yell from the parliamentary tribunal against capitalism. What is the use of a centralised party, organised and educated for the seizure of power if it is all about civilised “opposition” to her majesty the bourgeoisie? It is far more convenient to make an “ample and plural” party with members of parliament, consultants, trade union leaders, where liberty would prevail so far that it would even be possible to become a minister in a capitalist government!

Whether to be part of an “anticapitalist” party or not is not a point of principles. Very often revolutionaries are compelled to be there in order to fight reformists who are there. But USec defends the dissolution of their organisations in such parties making the frontiers between revolutionaries and reformists blurred.

Be that as it may, what matters is not what is said but what is done, for words are often gone with the wind and what stays are the bourgeois laws defending the large Brazilian estates applied against the poor of the countryside by a “Trotskyist” minister (in reference to minister Rosseto, member of the USec). It is a disgrace for the IV International. Those who accept such treason are accomplices in the blemishing of the banner of the IV International, of Leninism and revolutionary Marxism.


1 Lenin, C.W. tome 38, page 158

2 Lenin, C.W. tome 7, page 59

3 Lenin, C.W. tome 26, page 30

4 Lenin, C.W. tome 4 page 396

5 Lenin, Lef-wing communism, an infantile disorder

6 Lenin, C.W. tome 2, page 486

7 Lenin, Lef-wing communism, an infantile disorder

8 Lenin, Lef-wing communism, an infantile disorder

9 Lenin, C.W. tome 45, page 7

10 Lenin, C.W. tome 45, page 363

11 Lenin, C.W. tome 44, page 14

12 Lenin, C.W. tome 39, page 173

13 Lenin, C.W. tome 34, page 439

14 Lenin, C.W. tome 34, page 439

15 Rouge, 21/11/2003

Understanding 1947 (part 1)

The formation of India and Pakistan in 1947 is a crucial question for the Indian left. Few historical questions are as pertinent, and at the same time few are as divisive. The formation of the Indian republic raises a number of questions which concern the very foundations of capitalism in India and in that context turn a searchlight on the true historical character of the transfer of power which took place on the 15th of August 1947.

Some questions central to our understanding of the events preceding and taking place at the point of the transfer of power on 15th of August 1947 are :

a) Was India’s independence in 1947 a revolutionary event?
b) Were the events of 1947 and the year immediately preceding it ‘peaceful’? And was the independence struggle as a whole ‘peaceful’?
c) How did the transfer of power affect the development of capitalism in India and Pakistan? Did they both subsequently fall to foreign imperialism? If so why so? If not why not?

I will tackle these questions in sequence.

a) Was India’s independence in 1947 a revolutionary event?

Let us first understand what we mean by ‘revolution’. Real socio-economic revolutions that change the face of history only take place when an old worldwide mode of production has outlived itself. That is to say a mode of production affecting human society as a whole – like slavery, feudalism, and capitalism. When the foundations of such a system become wholly rotten, and when the precursors of a new mode of production are emerging ever stronger, revolutions break out that sweep away the ruins of the old system and usher in new societies based on the new forces of production and new relations between the people working with them.

Revolutions are an outburst of social energy channelling the creative forces of the new system to break the chains of the old mode of production, like slavery or serfdom. They are opposed in a life-and-death struggle by the decaying, destructive forces of the old system which seek to prolong its life. In short, a true social-historical revolution can only be an epoch-making change in economy and society bringing with it the change of one mode of production into another. A deep historical revolution of this kind is not simply a regime change from one kind of government to another be it democratic or dictatorial. Even the bloodiest rebellions or coups d’état fall short of this historical significance if they produce no change in the underlying mode of production. Fascist regimes still operate on a bourgeois capitalist economic basis, so Nazi Germany was no revolutionary creation. A true revolution is a process which overthrows the economic and political dominance of the old ruling class and replaces it with the rule of the formerly oppressed class – as happened when the slave-owning rulers of the ancient Roman Empire were ousted during the rise of feudal Europe, and the feudal rulers of old Europe were thrown aside in bourgeois revolutions such as those in England in 1649 and France in 1789.

For instance, in bourgeois revolutions, the ruling class of feudal lords were overthrown by the political mobilization of the oppressed proto-bourgeois serfs and traders. In their place the bourgeois class seized power and wielded it through its political representatives, be it the New Model Army in England or the Jacobins in France. These revolutions were the midwives of history and opened the way for the capitalist transformation of European society. Frequently however, the aftershocks of these world-shaking revolutionary events only involved the transfer of power from one group of special interests to another in the new ruling class. This is most certainly evident if we compare the so-called Glorious Revolution of England in 1688 to Cromwell’s revolution some decades earlier. The Stuart monarchy restored by parliament in 1660 was turfed out unceremoniously for wanting its pre-Cromwellian power back, and was replaced by a new, tame bourgeois monarchy imported from Holland.

As the revolutionary Soviet economist Eugene Preobrazhensky wrote in The New Economics in 1926, the bourgeoisie did not come to be the ruling class without first creating the economic pre-conditions for its power. For centuries, the bourgeoisie were city traders and bankers subordinate to the feudal elite, but over time they grew stronger and began to undermine the economic independence of the aristocrats, who were ultimately unable to prevent the bourgeoisie from directly claiming power. Parliament was its preferred mechanism for rule in place of aristocratic or absolute despotism. This gradual piecemeal trajectory of the bourgeoisie’s rise to power influenced the character of its revolutions, which were essentially national and became more and more cowardly with time – looking over their shoulders in fear at their ostensible allies in the working class and poor peasantry. There were clear limits to the Liberty, Equality and Fraternity they were prepared to introduce, and compromise with the defeated aristocracy to hold down the workers and poor people of town and country became the norm. Thus we see even today that the UK which was the first country to undergo a bourgeois revolution continues to harbour a monarchy which is a relic of its pre-capitalist past and constantly reminds us of the limits of capitalism’s ability to effect profound social transformations.

The socialist revolution presents a striking contrast to the bourgeois revolutions of old. Where the bourgeois revolutions open the way for the transformation of society along capitalist lines, the socialist revolution opens the way for the transformation of society towards the communist mode of production, in which those who work and produce the wealth also own the means of producing it, and associate freely and equally to plan and distribute this production. The two kinds of revolution are similar in that a socialist revolution the current ruling class i.e the bourgeoisie in capitalist society, is overthrown by the oppressed class in capitalist society, i.e the proletariat.

The economic basis for the existence and organization of the proletariat is not created by the proletariat but by its class enemy, the bourgeoisie. Large scale mass production and monopoly capital lays the foundation for the unification and political organization of the proletariat on a national and international scale, as well as for a future socialist economy. What the proletariat does create of its own, is its own independent political organs and the organs of power with which to overthrow the bourgeois in power. Imperialism is clinging on to outworn and unmanageable social relations in an age of transition to socialism, making the imperialist epoch a period of crisis, war and revolution. The global contradiction of the instruments of socialism existing, yet not being in the hands of working people in power, gives the socialist revolution an unprecedented social explosivity and the economic stakes involved are unparalleled, and makes the political tasks of the proletariat that much more complex. All this gives our revolution a much clearer political and social character than the bourgeois revolutions preceding it. There can be no compromise between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie like there was a compromise between the monarchy and the republican bourgeoisie in England.

In the 20th century however, we have witnessed a peculiar development brought about by the historic twist of a bourgeoisie incapable of consummating the bourgeois-democratic transformation of society. In Russia these contradictions were resolved by the socialist revolution which carried out the bourgeois-democratic transformation of Russian society in its march to complete the socialist transformation. While we insist that this is the case, we must be very clear that much of the bourgeois-democratic transformation involved in this process was stopped or reversed by the Stalinist counter-revolution in the Soviet Union after the death of Lenin and the Stalinist bureaucracy’s takeover of the state.

Since the emergence of imperialism in the late 1800s, however, we have witnessed a twist in this historical development of the forces of social production. Conditions in the world economy have contrasted so starkly with conditions in individual countries that bourgeoisies in backward countries have not been able to bring about a bourgeois-democratic transformation of their society at the national level. In Russia these contradictions were resolved by the socialist revolution which implemented historically necessary bourgeois-democratic reforms in Russian society as an integral part of its drive to carry out the socialist transformation. The extremely contradictory character of this process means that although this conclusion is inescapable if we are to understand the phenomenon of the Soviet Union, it is far from self-evident, and we must be very clear that much of the progressive bourgeois-democratic content of the transformation of society was stopped or reversed by the Stalinist counter-revolution in the Soviet Union after the death of Lenin and the Stalinist bureaucracy’s takeover of the state.

The problem of understanding the challenges posed to the working class and its peasant allies by the incapacity of the bourgeoisie to bring about necessary democratic change was resolved by Leon Trotsky when he formulated the theory of Permanent Revolution in 1936. The theory makes it clear that the economic and political domination of the world by imperialism means that the bourgeoisie has lost its revolutionary potential and will never again be capable of leading let alone consummating a bourgeois-democratic revolution.

The implications of this conclusion are huge. It means that fundamental political, economic and social change will never ever be achieved by any political force under the leadership of a bourgeois political formation. Any working class party claiming otherwise is deceiving the class and leading it to inevitable failure, as did Stalinist Communist parties backing the leadership of bourgeois forces in Popular Fronts. This was demonstrated to catastrophic effect in China in the 1920s, where the Chinese CP supported the leadership of the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-Shek, and by the similarly suicidal policies of the Communist party in Indonesia in the mid-1960s.

Since the second world war there has been almost universal left-wing backing for bourgeois or petty-bourgeois nationalist leaderships in anti-colonial and anti-imperialist liberation struggles, and in complete accordance with the theory of Permanent Revolution the vast majority of these movements have led to little more than career opportunities for these leaderships coupled with continued poverty and oppression for the working class and peasant masses. The degeneration of these non-proletarian leaderships and their opportunist and superficial socialist masks has been sometimes slow and gradual, but always complete and counter-revolutionary. Two powerful examples of disastrous betrayals lauded as successes by left-wing forces refusing to accept the perspective of the Permanent Revolution are Nicaragua and most particularly South Africa. Just how criminally betrayed the working masses in South Africa have been by the bourgeois leadership of the ANC, including the fake saint Nelson Mandela, was illustrated just last month on 16 August 2012 by the Marikana massacre. Over 34 demonstrating miners were shot dead in cold blood, most of them in the back. This slaughter continues the tradition of bloody class repression in South Africa, and is the black bourgeoisie’s own Sharpeville massacre.

In the light of these developments, the historical tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution clearly fall upon the working class and its peasant allies, who are compelled to embrace the bourgeois revolution as part of the socialist revolution. The two historical transformations thus move together in sync rather than as two distinct processes. At the same time, however, the specific tasks of the combined revolution in each country vary widely since the social and economic preconditions are different from context to context.

In the context of pre-independent India i.e the time of the Empire of India, the over arching
objective of the Indian struggle was to achieve independence from British rule. Along with this, the prime social objective would have to be the abolition of monarchism in the princely states and a radical redistribution of land under the slogan of land to the tiller. Furthermore, a bourgeois-democratic revolution would aim to abolish all social impediments to capitalist accumulation and development, such as caste divisions and landlordism. So the question of whether 1947 constituted a revolutionary transformation of Indian society basically boils down to the question of whether these necessary aims of the bourgeois revolution were achieved.

The transfer of power from the British Monarchy to the Indian parliament began on 15 August when the rule of the monarch ended and India came under the leadership of the governor general. This was accompanied by the partition of the Indian sub-continent between the Indian republic and the republic of Pakistan. Alongside these two large divisions there existed a series of princely states with six of the largest states asserting their independence from both Pakistan and India. These six states were Balochistan, Kashmir, Tripura, Junagadh, Travancore and Hyderabad. Four of these six states were annexed to India, while Balochistan was annexed to Pakistan and Kashmir is still being contested.

Abolition of Monarchy and self-rule

The transfer of power mandated that the princely states had the choice of either acceding to India or Pakistan — asserting their independence was not an alternative. The formal completion of the transfer of power occurred on 26 January 1950 with the abolition of the post of governor general and with it the complete withdrawal of the rule of the British Monarchy. In parallel with this development was the absorption of approximately 500 princely states into the Indian republic along with the abolition of their respective monarchies. In compensation for abdicating their powers to India however, they were granted privy purses. The princely states which sought to make a stand against either India or Pakistan were crushed, and Hyderabad, Kashmir and Balochistan were made an example of what would happen to monarchs trying to stake their independence. The privy purse concessions were eventually abolished by Indira Gandhi in the 70s.

Abolition of landlordism and land reform

The social changes effected after 1947 included the complete abolition of absentee landlordism and of zamindari in India, along with a distorted and incoherent effort at land reform. Although they were incoherent and distorted, however, the land reforms did pave the way for the penetration of bourgeois land laws into the countryside and the large-scale destruction of petty production there. In this way they initiated the present proletarianization-led development of Indian capitalism, in which tens of millions of small independent farmers are driven into debt and destitution, lose their property (i.e. become proletarianized, owning nothing but their power of labour), and are forced to migrate into the slums of the bloated cities and join the reserve army of the unemployed. This process is universally but falsely referred to as ‘urbanization’, a term that completely conceals the historical class dynamics of what is taking place.

Economic independence

Later on, the nationalization of leading banks under the pretext of ‘social control’ and the ‘Indianization’ of foreign owned companies ensured the security of nascent Indian capital against the forces of foreign capital and gave local capital a dominant role within the territories of the Indian republic. All of these changes took place in the first 3 decades after 1947 and under the political leadership of the Congress party which was the preferred political choice for the Indian bourgeoisie.

Given these changes, it seems that the Indian bourgeoisie through its foremost political representative the Indian Congress party was able to achieve most of its natural bourgeois goals. But such a view only scratches the surface of things without regard to the forces working under the surface.

Beneath the surface

Apologists of the Indian bourgeoisie argue for the ‘strength’ and ‘civility’ of these ‘gradual and peaceful’ changes, and put India on a pedestal as an inspiring example for other countries. Equally superficial apologists on the left try to use India’s historical successes, such as the successful eviction of the British and the social and political transformations that secured some basic bourgeois-democratic needs, to debunk the theory of Permanent Revolution. These views are not only unhistorical, but are outright reactionary and a million miles from the struggles of the oppressed masses, the working class and the poor peasantry against capitalism and imperialism.

All the progressive social transformations which have taken place in India from 1900 to the present have been achieved by the force of class struggle both within India and outside it. The Congress party for its part, was not formed with the aim of liberating India from colonial bondage but simply to act as a steam valve and mediator between the struggling Indian masses and the British imperialists. Up to the first world war their methods never moved beyond prayer and petition against the British. Only later do we see an economically burgeoning Indian bourgeoisie becoming bold enough to demand Tanganyika in East Africa as an exclusive colony under its administration. Along with this, we see the emergence of an organized proletariat in India along with large scale mass production, and the social impact of the Russian revolution which brought about profound changes in land relations and provided the inspiration for democratic struggles world wide.

The rising tide of class struggle forced the Indian Congress party to take a much more radical stance against the British, kicked forward by the actions of revolutionary communists like Bhagat Singh. The radicalization of peasant struggles and the emergence of a strong working class movement saw the growth of the Indian Communist party (CPI) and later on the emergence of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India (BLPI) which peaked in 1946. All of this compelled the British safety valve which was the Congress party to orient itself much more towards the masses so that the Indian bourgeoisie and its British patrons would not be harmed in their propertied interests. Simultaneously however, the strengthening Indian bourgeoisie also demanded their pound of flesh from the British. The British were willing to grant any concession to the Indian bourgeoisie and its political representative the Congress party because of its formidable ability to pacify the Indian working class and peasantry. For its own part the Congress party, which cared chiefly for landed interests in India, didn’t hesitate to hijack the power of the peasant and proletarian struggles emerging in India to pressurize the British. The unsurpassed pacifier Gandhi was the supreme manifestation of this parasitical politics (as the other saintly Congress hero, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, has been in our own period).

Despite their best efforts the Congress party could not hold back the rising tide of class struggle which at its core demanded the immediate and realization of the overarching objectives of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, namely:

1)national liberation from colonial rule,
2)comprehensive land reform,
3)the eradication of landlordism, and
4)the abolition of the princely states and their monarchies.

Three major upsurges helped pave the way for the accomplishment of these goals between 1940 and 1947. The first of these was the Quit India movement which mobilized the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie primarily in Northern and Eastern India, in which large tracts of land were forcibly appropriated by the landless and poor farmers from the clutches of the rural elite. Following this was the formation of the Indian National Army by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the student led mobilizations in Bengal, which attacked the militarist foundations of the British empire. Finally, the peak of class struggle saw the naval uprising in 1946 in all major ports of the Indian empire, with a mass mobilization of workers, students and peasants across the sub-continent.

By this time, the British had lost the loyalty of the Congress party and the Indian bourgeoisie it represented, which had grown bold enough to go on its own. The Congress party for its part was on the verge of losing the support it among the peasants and students that Gandhi and his protege Nehru had so painstakingly built up. Although practically all bourgeois political formations in India sided with the British against the mutiny, it was only the Congress party actively colluded with the British in crushing the uprising in Bombay. Of course this ‘service’ would not come free.

The Congress however, were more afraid of a prospect which worried the British imperialists as much as it did them. What if the Indian masses were to rise up and expropriate the capitalist system itself? What if a socialist revolution accompanied the inevitable democratic revolution? The entire Asian continent would become non-capitalist if expropriations in China were followed by the once-Imperial Indian subcontinent.

The theory of Permanent Revolution has been confirmed time and again when bourgeois democratic revolutions have gone hand in hand with the socialist revolution in the absence of a revolutionary bourgeoisie. However, in the post world war period we have witnessed the peculiar development of deformed and deflected revolutions. This in itself is not beyond the understanding of revolutionary Marxism. Lenin in Two tactics of Social Democracy had foreseen the possibility of such a deformed revolution occurring in Russia, should the forces of the revolutionary working class and peasantry be inadequate to secure a complete victory over capitalism. In context of the permanent revolution this would imply that a Socialist revolution though initiated in the mould of a bourgeois-democratic revolution, would be halted midway by a compromise with reactionary elements in society preventing its further transition from the democratic to the Socialist level. Either that or, a healthy socialist revolution would be deformed by absence of worker’s democracy and the whole revolutionary process would become subjected to the rigid control of a counter-revolutionary bureaucratic clique ruling from the top.

Thus, depending on the objective situation a Socialist revolution may take place and yet be deformed. The result of such a deformed revolution would be a compromise with reactionary elements which would leave important democratic needs of the bourgeois revolution unsatisfied. However, even a deformed revolution would achieve some progressive goals and blunt the edge of the socialist revolution. A similar kind of situation holds in China, where a successful yet deformed socialist revolution leaves many of the fundamental needs of the socialist revolution unsatisfied, but still presents a formidable obstacle to the full counter-revolutionary world programme of imperialism.

In India’s case, the indigenous bourgeoisie was faced with a working class on the cusp of a revolutionary mobilization and its erstwhile British Imperialist protectors in retreat, and had to compromise with reaction to both stifle the revolution and ensure the very survival of India as a capitalist state. Likewise, the forces of British imperialism felt directly threatened by the rising tide of revolution across Asia and were ready to defend the social system of capitalism in the world’s largest continent at any price. Having lost their political hold over India, the British were forced to salvage whatever they could to preserve the remnants of an imperialist economic presence in the continent. So the two leading forces of reaction, the British and the Congress, schemed with minor bourgeois leaders like Jinnah of the Muslim League to bring about a partition of the sub-continent. This would constituted a deep enough compromise with the objective of complete anti-colonial emancipation to destroy the revolutionary process unfolding in the sub-continent and in Asia and to preserve their respective positions. This despicably divisive compromise created the republic of India and the republic of Pakistan at an untold cost in human suffering and backwardness for more than half a century to come. And into the bargain they blessed 500 or so princely states and their rotten monarchies, like so many pieces of dung scattered over the marble floor of a shopping mall.

The Indian bourgeoisie was more adept at securing its interests than its less capable counterparts in the chopped up political botchery of Pakistan. Following the withdrawal of British rule, most of the princely states were absorbed into the Indian republic and their monarchies abolished. This was because the Indian bourgeoisie was feeling the strength of the masses and felt compelled to make a series of concessions to the working class and peasantry in the form of industrial welfare, the nationalization of core industries, and the abolition of landlordism and of the monarchies in the princely states.

However, the core demands of a democratic revolution either remained untouched or were implemented in a deformed manner. Thus, land reforms were implemented but in a zigzag and piecemeal way leaving most of the peasant population destitute and pauperized while encouraging the fragmentation of land holding, a development which created one of the principal sources of primitive capitalist accumulation in the Indian republic. At the same time, independent India gave rise to a new land-owning bourgeoisie who made the most of the penetration of capitalist land laws into the countryside to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor peasantry. For the same reason, caste divisions were allowed to persist, notwithstanding their formal abolition in the Constitution. Thus, the Indian bourgeoisie left pre-capitalist fetters in place where they served its political goal of keeping power, while it removed them where it felt they hobbled its own freedom of movement. As was the case with the annexation of Goa.

To sum up, we must emphasize very strongly once more that the social and political strength which enabled the Indian bourgeoisie to complete certain elementary tasks of the bourgeois revolution was not its own. The strength surging through modern India does not belong to the bourgeoisie, which falsely lays claim to it, but to the bourgeoisie’s bitterest enemy the working class and its ally the poor peasantry.

In Pakistan, deliberately truncated at birth, some partial concessions were made to the peasantry in East Bengal (renamed East Pakistan after 1947) in the form of the abolition of Zamindari. Bourgeois-democratic reform stopped here, however. A powerful and influential semi-feudal elite was alarmed at the rapid progress India made in abolishing feudal relics, and huddled around the military institution in that country. The anachronistic and medieval leadership of the country found shelter under the auspices of a rising US imperialism, just like Saudi Arabia, and joined CENTCOM after the Kashmir war. This empowered the pre-capitalist elite and stunted the development of the capitalists of Pakistan as they took over less capital from the British than their Indian counterparts, and were correspondingly less powerful. After partition most of the industrialized and resource-rich provinces lay in India as did most of Britain’s military industries and Imperial infrastructure. India inherited naval power, which Pakistan did not have. All of these factors worked to cripple Pakistan, whose semi-feudal elite were horrified by the class struggle taking place worldwide and did whatever they could get away with to remain in power. The Pakistani bourgeoisie tagged along as willing running dogs to this militarist class of rulers, while acting as a safety valve to vent out peasant and petty bourgeois frustration from time to time. India simply exacerbated Pakistan’s hopeless situation and sped its absorption into British and American imperialism. This is still the case today. The mechanism of Partition continues to operate, with all its devastating consequences for the working people of the subcontinent.

It is now clear what the dynamics of 1947 truly were. The revolutionary process in India was born and grew not because of the bourgeoisie but in spite of it. The bourgeoisie was forced to take up a radical position and come closer to the line of revolution simply to save its own skin. This was an act of betrayal in which they had the fullest connivance of British imperialism acting behind the scenes to destroy the Indian revolution, and in a larger context to stop the Asian revolution from reaching India. The Indian bourgeoisie usurped power from the poor peasants and workers it pretended to represent, and has since then been wielding power with their manufactured consent. But to manufacture and keep this consent they had to make concessions. These led to some of the major changes demanded by the bourgeois revolution, but also prevented a complete combined revolution. At the same time a huge portion of the Indian subcontinent in Pakistan was thrown open to foreign imperialism and left perennially hostage to semi-feudal relics from the past. In other words, Indian independence in 1947 appears in many ways to be a deformed Socialist revolution, stunted at the democratic level. It has allowed the Indian bourgeoisie to become obscenely rich, and to bask in wealth and power nationally and internationally, while the masses of South Asia who create all its wealth languish in desperate poverty and crushing backwardness.

On the 84th death anniversary of Comrade Lenin

On the 84th anniversary of Comrade Lenin’s demise we the new wave are reprinting a set of three articles on Lenin written by Comrade Trotsky between 1920 and the time of his death in 1924.


Nationalism in Lenin

[ – Leon Trotsky ]

LENIN’S internationalism needs no recommendation. Its distinguishing mark is the irreconcilable break, in the first days of the world war, with that falsification of internationalism that prevailed in the Second International. The official leaders of “Socialism,” from the parliamentary tribune, by abstract arguments in the spirit of the old Cosmopolites, brought the interests of the fatherland into harmony with the interests of humanity. In practice this led, as we know, to the support of the rapacious fatherland through the proletariat.

Lenin’s internationalism is by no means a form of reconciliation of Nationalism and Internationalism in words but a form of international revolutionary action. The territory of the earth inhabited by so-called civilized man is looked upon as a coherent field of combat on which the separate peoples and classes wage gigantic warfare against each other. No single question of importance can be forced into a national frame. Visible and invisible threads connect this question with dozens of phenomena at all ends of the world. In his appreciation of international factors and powers Lenin is freer than most people from national prejudices.

Marx was of the opinion that the philosophers had declared the world satisfactory and believed it to be his task to transform it. But he, the prophet of genius, had not lived to see it. The transformation of the old world is now in full swing and Lenin is its first worker. His internationalism is a practical appreciation of historical events and a practical adaptation to their course on an international scale and for international aims. Russia and her fate are only one element in this great historical struggle upon whose outcome the fate of humanity depends.

Lenin’s internationalism needs no recommendation. Withal Lenin himself is national to a high degree. He is deeply rooted in the new Russian history, makes it his own, gives it its most pregnant expression, and thereby reaches the height of international action and international influence.

At first the characterization of Lenin as “national” may seem surprising, and yet it is, fundamentally considered, a matter of course. To be able to direct such a revolution, without precedent in the history of peoples, as is now taking place in Russia, it is most evidently necessary to have an indissoluble organic connection with the main strength of popular life, a connection which springs from the deepest roots.

Lenin embodies in himself the Russian proletariat, a youthful class, that politically is scarcely older than Lenin himself, withal a deeply national class, for the whole past development of Russia is bound up with it, in it lies Russia’s entire future, with it lives and dies the Russian nation. Lack of routine and example, of falseness and convention, moreover, firmness of thought and boldness of action, a boldness that never degenerates into want of understanding, characterize the Russian proletariat and also Lenin.

The nature of the Russian proletariat, that has actually made it the most important power in the international revolution, had been prepared beforehand by the course of Russian national history, by the barbaric cruelty of the most absolute of states, the insignificance of the privileged classes, the feverish development of capitalism in the dregs of exchange, the deterioration of the Russian bourgeoisie and their ideology, the degeneration of their politics. Our “Third Estate” knew neither a reformation nor a great revolution and could not know them. So the revolutionary problems of the proletariat assumed a more comprehensive character. Our historical past knows neither a Luther, nor a Thomas Münzer, neither a Mirabeau nor a Danton, nor a Robespierre. For that very reason the Russian proletariat has its Lenin. What was lacking in tradition was gained in revolutionary energy.

Lenin reflects in himself the Russian workman’s class, not only in its political present but also in its rustic past which is so recent. This man, who is indisputably the leader of the proletariat, not only outwardly resembles a peasant, but has also something about him which is strongly suggestive of a peasant. Facing Smolny stands the statue of the other hero of the proletariat of the world: Marx on a pedestal in a black frock coat. To be sure, this is a trifle, but it is quite impossible to imagine Lenin in a black frock coat. In some pictures Marx is represented in a broad shirt front on which a monocle dangles.

That Marx was not inclined to coquetry is clear to all who have an idea of the Marxian spirit. But Marx grew up on a different basis of national culture, lived in a different atmosphere, as did also the leading personalities of the German workman’s class, with their roots reaching back, not to the village, but to the corporation guilds and the complicated city culture of the middle ages.

Marx’s style also, which is rich and beautiful, in which strength and flexibility, anger and irony, harshness and elegance are combined, betrays the literary and ethical strata of all the past German socialistic literature since the reformation and even before. Lenin’s literary and oratorical style is extremely simple, ascetic, as is his whole nature. But this strong asceticism has not a shade of moral preaching about it. This is not a principle, no thought-out system and assuredly no affectation, but is simply the outward expression of inward concentration of strength for action. It is an economic peasant-like reality on a very large scale.

The entire Marx is contained in the Communistic Manifesto, in the foreword to his Critique, in Capital. Even if he had not been the founder of the First International he would always remain what he is. Lenin, on the other hand, expands at once into revolutionary action. His works as a scholar mean only a preparation for action. If he had never published a single book in the past he would still appear in history what he now is: the leader of the proletarian revolution, the founder of the Third International.

A clear, scholarly system – materialistic dialectics #8211; was necessary, to be able to renounce deeds of this kind that devolved upon Lenin; it was necessary but not sufficient. Here was needed that mysterious creative power that we call intuition: the ability to grasp appearances correctly at once, to distinguish the essential and important from the unessential and insignificant, to imagine the missing parts of a picture, to weigh well the thoughts of others and above all of the enemy, to put all this into a united whole and the moment the “formula” for it comes to his mind, to deal the blow. This is intuition to action. On the one side it corresponds with what we call penetration.

When Lenin, his left eye closed, receives by radio the parliamentary speech of a leader of imperialistic history or the expected diplomatic note, a web of bloodthirsty reserve and political cant, he resembles a damnably proud moujik who won’t be imposed upon. This is the high-powered peasant cunning, which amounts almost to genius, equipped with the latest acquisitions of a scholarly mind.

The young Russian proletariat is able to accomplish what only he accomplishes who has plowed up the heavy sod of the peasantry to its depths. Our whole national past has prepared this fact. But just because the proletariat came into power through the course of events has our revolution suddenly and radically been able to overcome the national narrowness and provincial backwardness; Soviet Russia became not only the place of refuge of the Communistic International, but also the living embodiment of its program and methods.

By unknown paths, not yet explored by science, on which the personality of man acquires its form, Lenin has taken from nationalism all that he needed for the greatest revolutionary action in the history of humanity. Just because the social revolution, that has long had its international theoretical expression, found for the first time in Lenin its national embodiment, he became, in the true sense of the word, the revolutionary leader of the proletariat of the world.



Lenin Dead

Tiflis Station, January 22nd, 1924


Lenin is no more. We have lost Lenin. The dark laws that govern the work of the arteries have destroyed his life. Medicine has proved itself powerless to accomplish what was passionately hoped for, what millions of human hearts demanded.

How many, unhesitatingly, would have sacrifice their own blood to the last drop to revive, to renew the work of the arteries of the great leader, Lenin Ilyich, the unique, who cannot be replaced. But no miracle occurred where science was powerless. And now Lenin is no more. These words descend upon our consciousness like gigantic rocks falling to the sea. Is it credible, can it be thought of?

The consciousness of the workers of the whole world cannot grasp this fact; for the enemy is still very strong, the way is long, and the great work, the greatest of history, is unfinished; for the working class of the world needed Lenin as perhaps no one in the history of the world has yet been needed.

The second attack of illness, which was more severe than the first, lasted more than ten months. The arteries “played” constantly, according to the bitter expression of the physicians. It was a terrible play with the life of Lenin. Improvement could be expected, almost complete recovery, but also catastrophe. We all expected recovery, but catastrophe happened. The breathing center of the brain refused to function and stifled the center of that mind of great genius.

And now Vladimir Ilyich is no more. The party is orphaned. The workmen’s class is orphaned. This was the very feeling aroused by the news of the death of our teacher and leader.

How shall we advance, shall we find the way, shall we not go astray? For Lenin, comrades, is no longer with us!

Lenin is no more, but Leninism endures. The immortal in Lenin, his doctrine, his work, his method, his example, lives in us, lives in the party that he founded, lives in the first workmen’s State whose head he was and which he guided.

Our hearts are now so overcome with grief, because all of us, thanks to the great favor of history, were born contemporaries of Lenin, worked with him, and learned from him. Our party is Leninism in practice, our party is the collective leader of the workers. In each of us lives a small part of Lenin, which is the best part of each of us.

How shall we continue? With the lamp of Leninism in our hands. Shall we find the way? – With the collective mind, with the collective will of the party we shall find it!

And tomorrow, and the day after, for a week, a month, we shall ask, Is Lenin really dead? For his death will long seem to us an improbable, an impossible, a terrible arbitrariness of nature.

May the pain we feel, that stabs our hearts each time we think that Lenin is no more, be for each of us an admonition, a warning, an appeal: Your responsibility is increased. Be worthy of the leader who trained you!

In grief, sorrow, and affliction we bind our ranks and hearts together; we unite more closely for new struggles. Comrades, brothers, Lenin is no longer with us. Farewell, Ilyich! Farewell, Leader!



Lenin Before October


[-Leon Trotsky ]

That Lenin arrived in Petersburg and had come out against the war and against the Provisional Government at workers’ meetings, I learned from American newspapers at Amherst, a concentration camp for German prisoners in Canada. The interned German sailors began to take an immediate interest in Lenin, whose name they had come across for the first time in the news dispatches. These were all men avidly waiting for the war to end; it would open for them the gates of this prison camp. They listened with utmost attention to every voice raised against the war. Up to this time they had known of Liebknecht. But they had been told time and again that Liebknecht was a paid agent of the Entente. Now they learned of Lenin. They learned from me of Zimmerwald and Kienthal. Lenin’s anti-war speeches won many of them over to Liebknecht.

In my passage across Finland I was able for the first time to obtain current Russian newspapers and in them found dispatches reporting the entry of Tseretelli, Skobelev and other “socialists” into the Provisional Government. The situation was thus made perfectly clear. With Lenin’s April 4 Theses I acquainted myself on the second or third day after reaching Petersburg. These theses were just what the revolution ordered. Lenin’s article, The First Stage of the First Revolution, which he had sent much earlier Irom Switzerland, I read in Pravda much later.

Even today one may, as one should study most attentively, and therewith profit politically from these early and extremely shadow-like issues of Pravda. Against the background of, its columns in which the revolution was being simulated, Lenin’s Letter From Afar stands out with all of its concentrated force. Completely calm and theoretico-expository in tone, this article resembles a huge, tightly coiled spring of steel, which was presently destined to unwind and, as it expanded, to encompass the entire content of the revolution.

Bolsheviks and “Internationalists” in 1917

I arranged with Comrade Kamenev, on one of the first days after my arrival, for a visit with the editorial board of Pravda. Our first meeting must have taken place on May 5 or May 6. I told Lenin that there was nothing separating me from his April Theses and from the entire course followed by the Party since his arrival; and that I was personally faced with the choice of immediately entering the Party organization “as an individual,” or of trying to bring along with me the best section of those who stood for unity in the [Mezhrayontsy – Inter-District] organizations in Petersburg. This organization numbered about 1,000 workers and contained many precious revolutionary forces: Uritsky, Lunacharsky, Joffe, Vladimirov, Manuilsky, Karakhan, Yurenev, Posern, Litkens, and others. Antonov-Ovseyenko had by that time already joined the Party; so did Sokolnikov, I believe. Lenin did not express himself categorically in favor of either course. He found it necessary, above everything else, to acquaint himself more intimately with the situation and the men. Lenin did not exclude collaboration, of one sort or another, with Martov and generally with the section of Menshevik-Internationalists just returned from abroad. Along with this it was necessary to see how the mutual relations among and with the “Internationalists” would turn out in practice. In view of our tacit agreement, I, for my part, did not try to force the natural development of events. We had one and the same policy. At meetings of workers and soldiers I used, from the first day of my arrival, the formula of “We Bolsheviks and Internationalists,” and inasmuch as the constant repetition of this conjunction “and” kept burdening my speech, I soon abbreviated it to: “We Bolshevik-Internationalists.” The merger politically thus preceded the organizational fusion. [1]

Lenin’s Effect on the Reformists

I visited Pravda’s editorial staff two or three times, at the most critical moments before the July days. In these initial meetings, and more so, after the July days, Lenin gave the impression of most intense concentration, and awe-inspiring inner composure – all this under an outer shell of complete calm and “prosaic” simplicity. Kerenskyism in those days appeared all-powerful. Bolshevism was regarded as an “insignificant little handful.” The Party itself was not as yet cognizant of the power it would generate on the morrow. And at the same time Lenin confidently led the Party toward its supreme tasks …

Lenin’s speeches at the First Soviet Congress (June 1917) aroused anxious bepuzzlement among the SR-Menshevik majority. They sensed dimly that this man was taking aim at some long-range target. But to discern this target was beyond them. And these little citizens of the revolution kept asking themselves: “Who is he? What is he? Simply a maniac? Or is this an historical projectile of explosive force never known before?”

Lenin’s speech at the Soviet Congress where he argued the necessity of clapping 50 or so capitalists in jail was, if you like, not an “oratorical” success. It was nonetheless of exceptional significance. Comparatively few Bolsheviks in the audience gave the speaker a brief applause as he left the platform with the look of a man who had not spoken everything he had in mind, nor perhaps, had at all said what he wanted to say in a way he should have liked to … But just the same, a breath of the unusual swept over the hall. It was the breath of the future, felt momentarily by everyone, as bewildered looks accompanied this mnn, so commonplace and yet so enigmatic.

Who is he? What is he? After all, did not Plekhanov in his paper say that Lenin’s first speech on the revolutionary soil of Petersburg was the raving of a man in fever? After all were not the delegates, elected by the masses, in their large majority members of the SRs and the Mensheviks? After all, did not Lenin’s views evoke sharp antagonism among the Bolsheviks themselves?

An Apparent Contradiction

On the one hand, Lenin demanded a complete break not only with bourgeois liberalism but also with every variety of defensism. Inside his own Party he organized a struggle against these “old Bolsheviks, who,” as Lenin said, “had already, more than once played a melancholy role in the history of our Party, and who are now thoughtlessly repeating a formula learned by heart instead of studying the peculiarities of the new, living reality.” (Lenin, Collected Works, First Russian edition, vol. XIV, part 1, p. 28.) From a superficial point of view Lenin was thereby weakening his own Party. And, at the same time, he declared, on the other hand, at the Soviet Congress: “It is not true that there is no party in Russia which is ready today to take upon itself the whole power: there is such a party. Our Party.”

Isn’t there, after all, a monumental contradiction between the position of a “propaganda circle” which differentiates itself from everybody else, and this public claim to assume power over this entire vast country, so shaken to its foundations? And so the Soviet Congress did not understand in the least what this strange man wanted, nor what he hoped for, this ice-cold fanatic, writing little articles for a little newspaper. And there was laughter – when at the Soviet Congress, Lenin declared with beautiful simplicity, which was taken for simplemindedness by authentic simpletons: “Our Party is ready to assume power, the whole power.” “You may laugh all you want to,” said Lenin. He knew that he who laughs last, laughs best. Lenin loved this French saying, because he was firmly determined to have the last laugh. And he went on calmly to prove that it was necessary, as a beginning, to clap in jail 50 to 100 of the biggest millionaires and to proclaim to the people that we regard all capitalists as bandits and that Tereschenko was no better than Miliukov, only a bit more foolish. Terrible, astounding, deadly-simple ideas! And this representative of a small section of the Soviet Congress, a tiny minority which, from time to time applauded him discreetly, told the whole Congress: “Are you afraid of assuming power? Not we. We are ready to take it.” In answer there naturally came – laughter. Laughter which at that moment was almost condescending, but somewhat troubled, just the same

“Put More of a Squeeze on the Bourgeoisie”

And for his second speech Lenin selected the dreadfully simple words from some peasant’s letter to the effect that it is necessary to put more of a squeeze on the bourgeoisie so as to make it burst at all the seams; then the war would come to an end. But that if we did not put such strong pressure on the bourgeoisie, everything would go to pot. And this simple, naive quotation – is this the whole program? Mow can this fail to puzzle? And again there comes a trickle of laughter, condescending and troubled. And, in fact, these words “put more of a squeeze on the bourgeoisie” do not carry much weight, taken abstractly as the program of a propaganda group. However, the puzzled audience failed to understand that Lenin had faultlessly overheard the growing squeeze of history upon the bourgeoisie and knew that as a consequence of this squeeze the bourgeoisie would inescapably “burst in all its seams.”

It was not without reason that Lenin had explained to Citizen Maklakov (a Russian liberal) in May that “the ‘country’ of workers, peasant-poor, and poorest peasants is a thousand times farther to the Left than the Chernovs and Tseretellis” and “a hundred times farther to the Left than our own Party.” Therein is the fountain-source of Lenin’s tactics. Through the newly-fresh, but already quite turgid, democratic pellicle, he had deeply probed this “country of workers, peasant-poor, and poorest peasants.” And it showed itself ready to carry out the greatest of revolutions. But the country was not yet able to express this, its readiness in political terms. Those parties which continued to speak in the name of workers and peasants, were deceiving them. Our Party was as yet not known at all to millions of workers and peasants; they had not yet discovered it as the articulator of all their aspirations, and at the same time our Party did not as yet understand its own potential dynamism and was in consequence a “hundred times” to the Right of the workers and peasants. It was necessary to level off the one with the other.

It was necessary for the many-millioned masses to discover the Party, and for the Party to discover the many-millioned masses. It was necessary not to rush too far ahead, but also urgent not to lag behind. It was necessary to keep on explaining patiently and persistently. What had to be explained were very simple things: “Down With the Ten Capitalist Ministers!” The Mensheviks refuse? So be it. Down with the Mensheviks! They laugh? There is a season for everything … He laughs best who laughs last.

Sverdlov and His Role

I recall proposing a motion to the effect that the Soviet Congress place first on its agenda the question of the offensive then being prepared at the front against the Germans. Lenin approved of this idea, but evidently wanted to discuss it first with other members of the Central Committee. To the first session of the Soviet Congress, Comrade Kamenev brought a draft Bolshevik declaration on this offensive, hastily sketched by Lenin. I do not know if this document has been preserved. The text – I no longer recall the reasons for it – proved unsuited for the Congress, so far as both the Bolshevik and Internationalist deputations were concerned. Among those who objected to the text was also Posern, whom we had chosen to bring the matter up on the floor. I hastily drafted another text which was used. The organizational side of presenting this declaration was, if I am not mistaken, in the hands of Sverdlov, whom I met for the first time during this Soviet Congress. He was chairman of the Bolshevik Soviet fraction.

Although short and slight of build, which gave the impression of poor health, Sverdlov’s figure was notable, emanating quiet strength. Me presided quietly and smoothly, without any noise or backfire, just like a perfectly functioning motor. The secret was not, naturally, in the art of presiding 6ut in this, that Sverdlov was thoroughly acquainted with the composition of the gathering and knew exactly what he wanted. Every session was preceded by his conferring with individual delegates, by interrogations, here and there by admonitions. Even before a session convened, Sverdlov had a general idea of the lines it would follow. But even without preliminary conferences, he knew better than anybody else just what the attitude of this or that worker would be toward the issue under discussion. The number of comrades of whose political horizon he had a clear conception was very large considering the size of our Party at the time. Me was a born organizer and arranger. Every political question presented itself to him first of all in its specific organizational form, as a question of reciprocal relations between individuals and groupings inside our Party; and of reciprocal relations between the Party as a whole and the masses. Into algebraic formulas he instantly and almost automatically introduced arithmetical numbers. So far as revolutionary action was concerned, he thereby furnished a most important verification of political formulas.

Lenin’s Evaluation of Opponents

Following the cancellation of the June 10 demonstration, when the atmosphere of the First Soviet Congress became white-hot, with Tseretelli threatening to disarm the Petersburg workers, I along with Comrade Kamenev went to Pravda’s editorial offices; and there after a brief exchange of views, I drafted at Lenin’s suggestion an address of the Bolshevik Central Committee to the Executive Committee of the Soviet Congress.

At this meeting Lenin made a few remarks concerning Tseretelli, while commenting upon Tseretelli’s speech (on June 11): “He was once a revolutionist; how many years he spent in prison! And now this complete renunciation of his own past.” There was nothing political in these words; they were spoken not for political effect, but came simply as the product of a fleeting reflection upon the sad fate of a former prominent revolutionist. Lenin’s voice was tinged with regret, with umbrage, but he spoke laconically and dryly, for nothing was so repugnant to him as the slightest hint of sentimentality and psychological slobbering.

On the 4th or 5th of July, as I recall, I met Lenin (along with Zinoviev?) in the Tauride Palace. Our offensive had been beaten back. Among the ruling circles malignant rancor against the Bolsheviks had reached its peak. “Now they will shoot us down,” said Lenin. “It is the most advantageous moment for them.” His basic thought was to sound retreat and go underground to the extent that this might prove necessary. It was one of the abrupt turns of Lenin’s strategy, based as always on a swift appraisal of the situation. Later, in the days of the Third Congress of the Communist International, Vladimir Ilyich happened to say: “In July we did many foolish things.” He was referring here to the premature military action, to the over-aggressive forms of the July demonstration, neither of which corresponded at the time to our forces on the national scale. All the more remarkable was the sober resoluteness with which on July 4-5 he weighed the situation not only from the side of the revolution but also that of the counterrevolution, and came to the conclusion that “for them” it was just the time to shoot us down. Fortunately, our enemies still lacked both such consistency and resolution. They confined themselves to the chemical concoctions of Pereversev (the then Minister of Justice). It is quite likely, though, that had they succeeded in the first days following the July demonstration to lay their hands on Lenin, they, that is, their officer clique, would have treated Lenin exactly as less than two years later, the German officers dealt with Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.

Facing Savage Attacks of Reaction

There was no definitive decision made at the foregoing meeting to hide or to go underground. Kornilovism was gathering momentum gradually. Personally, I put in public appearances for two or three days and spoke at some Party and organizational conferences on the topic: What to do? The savage attack upon the Bolsheviks seemed insurmountable. The Mensheviks labored might and main to extract maximum profit from a situation that had been created not without their own personal intervention.

Once I had to speak, I recall, in the library of the Tauride Palace, at some meeting of trade union representatives. There were altogether a score or so present, that is, the top union leadership. The Mensheviks dominated. I argued for the necessity of the trade unions to protest against the charge that the Bolsheviks were in any way tied up with German militarism. My recollections of this meeting are hazy, but I do remember quite exactly two or three joyfully malignant faces, verily pleading that their ears be boxed …

The reign of terror meanwhile intensified. Arrests went on. A few days were spent by me, in hiding, at Comrade Larin’s home. Then I began going out again, made my appearance at the Tauride Palace and was shortly imprisoned. My release came already in the days of the Kornilov monstrosity and of the incipient Bolshevik flood-tide. By this time we had succeeded in consummating the entry of the pro-unity (Inter-District) tendency into the Bolshevik Party. Sverdlov suggested that I meet with Lenin who was then still in hiding. I no longer recall who guided me to the hide-out in a worker’s flat (was it not Rakhia perhaps?) where I met Vladimir llyich. Also present was Kalinin, whom V.I. (Lenin) kept questioning in my presence concerning the mood of the workers; whether they were ready for a fight, whether they would go to the end, whether it was possible to take power, and so on.

Lenin’s Mood at the Turn of the Tide

What was Lenin’s frame of mind at the time? If one were to characterize it in a couple words, one would have to say that it was a mood of restrained impatience and deep anxiety. He saw clearly that the moment was nearing when everything would have to be poised on a razor’s edge and at the same time it seemed to him, and not without good reason, that among the top Party circles all the necessary conclusions were not being drawn. The conduct of the Central Committee he regarded as too passive and dilatory. Lenin did not consider it possible to return openly to work, because he justifiably feared that his arrest would consolidate and even strengthen the dilatory mood among the Party chiefs, and this would unavoidably lead to letting slip of an exceptional revolutionary situation … This was the reason why Lenin’s vigilance in these days and weeks reached its climax, as did his pouncing upon every sign of “Fabian strategy,” every intimation of dilatoriness and indecision. He demanded an immediate start toward correctly organized conspiratorial work: Let us catch the enemy by surprise and wrest the power – and then we shall see. This, however, provides a subject for a more detailed and independent study.

The future biographer of Lenin will have to treat with and pay the utmost attention to the very fact of Lenin’s return to Russia, and his coming in touch with the mass of the people. Except for a brief interlude in 1905, Lenin had spent more than a decade and a half in foreign exile. All this while, his sense of reality, his sensitivity to the living, toiling human being did not become enfeebled. but had, on the contrary, grown stronger owing to the activity of his theoretical thought and his creative imagination. From sporadic, chance meetings and observations he caught on the wing and recreated the likeness of the whole. Nonetheless he had lived an exile’s life during that period of his life when he completely matured for his coming historical role. He arrived in Petersburg with fully finished revolutionary generalizations, in which was summed up his entire life’s socio-theoretical and practical experience.

Hardly did he set foot on Russian soil, than he issued the slogan of the socialist revolution. But this marked only the beginning of the verification, by the living experience of the awakened toiling masses of Russia, of everything that Lenin had accumulated, thought out to the end, and made his own. Lenin’s formulas withstood the test. More than this, only here in Russia, in Petersburg, did these formulas become filled with day-to-day, invincible concreteness and thereby with insuperable power. It was now no longer necessary to recreate a panoramic likeness of the whole by way of reconstructing it from separate, more or less accidental specimens. The whole made itself known, speaking with all the tongues of the revolution. And here Lenin showed, and perhaps felt fully for the first time himself, to what measure he possessed the ability to hear the still chaotic voice of the awakening masses. With what profound organic contempt did he watch the mouse-play of the leading parties of the February revolution, these waves of “mighty” public opinion which ricocheted from one newspaper to the next; with the same contempt he watched anli noted the myopia, the narcissism, the noisy loquacity, in brief – Official, February Russia.

Attuned to the Rumbling of Revolution

Behind this scene, set with democratic decorations, he heard the rumbling of events of an entirely different order. Whenever skeptics used to call his attention to all the great difficulties in the way, to the mobilization of bourgeois public opinion, the existence of the elemental petty-bourgeois mass, he would set his jaws, and his prominent cheekbones would jut out more angularly than ever. This was a sign that he was holding himself back from telling these skeptics, clearly and pointedly, what he really thought of them. He saw and understood the obstacles no less than others did, but he apprehended. lucidly, tangibly, nay, physically those titanic forces accumulated by history that were now ripping into the open in order to cast aside all the obstacles. He saw, he heard and apprehended, before all the Russian worker, whose class had grown in numbers, who had not yet forgotten the experience of 1905, who had behind him the school of war, who had passed through its illusions as well as through the tinsel and lie of defensism, and who was ready now for the greatest of sacrifices, and for exertions never seen before.

Lenin physically felt the soldier, stunned by three years of hellish slaughter – meaningless, aimless – and now, awakened by the thunder of the revolution, preparing to pay back for all these meaningless sacrifices, all those humiliations and cuffs on the ear by way of an explosion of raging hate that spares nothing. Lenin heard the mouzhik, who still dragged the century-old chains of serfdom, and who now thanks to the upheaval caused by the war, sensed for the first time the possibility of settling accounts, terribly, ruthlessly, with the oppressors, the slaveholders, the gentry, the nobility. The Mouzhik was still helplessly milling around hesitating to choose between Chernov’s bunkology and his own “measures,” i.e., the great agrarian mutiny. The soldier still kept shifting from one foot to the other, seeking for pathways in between patriotism and frantic desertion. The workers still listened, but already mistrustfully and semi-hostilely, to the last tirades of Tseretelli. Already the steam gurgled impatiently in the boilers of Kronstadt warships.

The sailor, combining in his person the razor-edged hate of the workers and the muffled bear-like wrath of the mouzhik; the sailor, seared by the flames of the horrible slaughter, was already dumping overboard all those who in his eyes personified the various species of feudalistic, bureaucratic and military oppression. The February revolution was about to jump the track and roll over the embankment.

The rags and patches of Czarist legality were gathered up by the Compromisist saviors, smoothed out, sewn together and converted into the thin pellicle of democratic legality. But underneath it, everything gurgled and seethed, all the wrongs of the past sought for outlets; hatred toward the cop on the beat, toward the police captain, the district inspector, the chief of police, the police commissioner, the registrar, the manufacturer, the usurer, the landowner, the parasite, the lily-handed one, the reviler, the face-slapper – this hatred prepared a revolutionary eruption, greatest on record.

It was this that Lenin heard and saw; it was this that he felt physically with invincible clarity, with absolute conviction, when, after a long absence, he came in touch with this land seized by paroxysms of the revolution.

Grime-Covered Workers in Ballerina’s Palace

“You little fools, you petty braggarts, you dolts, you think that history is made in drawing rooms where upstart democrats rub elbows with titled liberals; where yesterday’s nonentites from among provincial lawyers hastily learn the art of bowing and kissing little hands of illustrious ladies? You little fools! You little braggarts! You dolts! History is being made in the trenches where, intoxicated by the nightmarish fumes of war, the soldier plants his bayonet in an officer’s belly and then rides the freight-train tops, deserting to his native village there to let the red cock loose over the manor house. Does this barbarism offend your souls? Don’t burn yourselves out with anger. History has this to say to you: You are welcome to all I have … These are merely the end-products of everything that had gone before. You seriously imagine that history is made in your Contact Commissions? Nonsense, infant prattle. Delusions! Cretinism! History, for your information, has this time chosen as its trial laboratory the palace of Kshesinskaia, the dancer, former mistress of a former Czar. And from here, from this structure-symbol of Old Russia, history is preparing to liquidate your entire Petersburgish-Czaristic, bureaucratico-noble, landlord-bourgeois rot and indecency. Hither, to this palace of a former Imperial ballerina, are streaming grime-covered factory delegates, greyish, pock-marked and lice-ridden foot-messengers from the trenches, and from here they spread all over the land the new, prophetic words.”

The Ministers-in-Woe of the revolution met in council after council on how to restore this palace to its lawful owner. Bourgeois, SRist, Menshevist papers bared in rage their rotten teeth because Lenin, from Kshesinskaia’s balcony, broadcast the slogans of the socialist revolution. But these belated efforts were to no avail. They added neither to Lenin’s hate of Old Russia, nor to his will to settle accounts with it. The first as well as the second had already approached its limit. On Kshesinskaia’s balcony, stood the same Lenin who two months later was to hide in a haystack, and who, within a few weeks, was to assume the post of Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars.

Party Moods and the Masses

Seeing all this, Lenin also saw that inside the Party itself there existed a conservative resistance – at first not so much political as psychological in character – to that great leap which had to be made. Lenin watched with anxiety the widening lack of correspondence between the moods of a section of Party chiefs and the millions of workers. He was not satisfied for a moment with the formal adoption of the armed-uprising formula by the Central Committee, he knew the difficulties of transition from word to deed. With all the force and resources at his command he strove to subject the Party to the pressure of the masses and the Party’s Central Committee to the pressure of its rank and file. He summoned individual comrades to his place of refuge, gathered reports, checked them, arranged for cross-interrogations, and in every conceivable way, from below, from deep inside, by circuitous paths and in every criss-cross way, he sped his slogans into the Party in order to confront the top Party circles with the need to act and go the limit.

Unbounded Faith in Masses

To form a correct estimate of Lenin’s conduct in this period, it is essential to establish one thing, namely: that he had unbounded faith in the desire and ability of the masses to accomplish the revolution; but he did not have the same confidence in regard to the Party staff. And at the same time Lenin understood with a clarity beyond all clarity that there was not a minute to lose. A revolutionary situation cannot be arbitrarily preserved, like a vegetable, until the moment when the Party is ready to make use of it. We have seen a similar experience recently in Germany. Not so long ago we had to listen to a view that if we had not taken power in October, we would have done so two or three months later. A gross delusion! Had we not taken power in October, we would not have taken it at all. Our strength prior to October lay in the uninterrupted flow of the masses to us, the influx of those who believed that this Party would do what the rest had failed to do. If the masses had perceived any vacillation on our part at this moment, any delay, any discrepancy between our word and our deed, then in the course of the next two or three months, the masses would have ebbed away from us, just as they previously did from the SRs and the Mensheviks. The bourgeoisie would have gained a breathing spell and would have used it to conclude a peace. The relation of forces could have changed drastically, and the proletarian overturn would have been postponed to an indefinite future. It was just this that Lenin understood, apprehended and felt. From this sprang his alarm, his mistrust and his fierce pressure which proved to be the salvation of the revolution.

Inner-Party Disagreements Flare

The inner-party disagreements which flared stormily in the October days, had already manifested themselves in a preliminary way during several prior stages of the revolution. The first collision, the most principled one but still calmly theoretical in tone, arose immediately upon Lenin’s arrival. It was the conflict over his (April 4) theses. The second muffled clash occurred in connection with the armed demonstration of April 20. The third – around the projected armed demonstration of June 10. The “moderates” held that Lenin wanted to foist an armed demonstration upon them with a view toward an uprising.

The next and much sharper conflict flared up in connection with the July days. The differences broke into the press. A further stage in the development of this internal struggle was reached on the question of the Pre-Parliament. This time in the Party’s parliamentary fraction two groupings collided breast to breast. Were any minutes taken of this session? Were these minutes preserved? I do not know. But these debates are unquestionably of extraordinary interest. Two tendencies were delineated quite clearly: the one, in favor of taking power; the other, in favor of playing an oppositional role in the Constituent Assembly. The partisans of boycotting the Pre-Parliament were in the minority, but it was a minority almost as large as the majority. To these debates in the fraction and the decision adopted by it (in favor of participating in the Pre-Parliament) Lenin, from his hide-out, reacted swiftly by way of a letter to the Central Committee. This letter, in which Lenin declared himself, in more than vigorous terms, in solidarity with the boycotters of the “Buligynite Duma” of Kerensky-Tseretelli, I have been unable to locate in the second part of Volume XIV of Lenin’s Collected Works. (The Buligyn Duma was convened by the Czar in 1905 in order to try to head off the then unfolding revolution.) Has this extremely valuable document been preserved?

Probings and Reconnoiterings

The differences reached their highest tension immediately before the October stage, when under discussion was the final adoption of the course toward the uprising and the setting of a date for it. And finally, even after the October 25 overturn, the differences grew sharp in the extreme over the question of a government in coalition with the other socialist parties.

It would be interesting in the maximum degree to reconstruct, down to the last detail, Lenin’s role on the eve of April 20, on the eve of June 10, and of the July days. “We did many foolish things in July,” Lenin used to say later in private conversations and, as I recall, he repeated it at a conference with the German delegation on the March events in Germany in 1921. Of what did these “foolish things” consist? Of vigorous, or rather over-vigorous probings; of active, or rather much too active reconnoiterings. Without such reconnoiterings, from time to time, we could have fallen behind the masses. But on the other hand, as everybody knows, an active reconnoitering action may sometimes pass involuntarily into a general battle. This was almost the case in July. But the signal for retreat was given in plenty of time. And in those days the enemy lacked the courage to force matters to a showdown. And it was by no means accidental that this courage was lacking. Kerenskyism is half-and-half by its very nature; and this cowardly Kerenskyism tended to paralyze Kornilovism all the more, the more Kerenskyism itself stood in fear of Kornilovism.

April 1924



Lenin on Guerrilla warfare

– V. I Lenin

( The text was originally written in 1906 in the context of the raging guerrilla warfare in the Russian countryside. This was Lenin’s position on the same which we believe to be the correct and more consistent revolutionary Marxist position on the issue of Guerrilla warfare. Seen in the Indian context this text assumes a more profound importance in the light of the intensifying guerrilla warfare lead by the Naxalites in East and Central India ) .

The question of guerrilla action is one that greatly interests our Party and the mass of the workers. We have dealt with this question in passing several times, and now we propose to give the more complete statement of our views we have promised.


Let begin from the beginning. What are the fundamental demands which every Marxist should make of an examination of the question of forms of struggle? In the first place, Marxism differs from all primitive forms of socialism by not binding the movement to any one particular form of struggle. It recognises the most varied forms of struggle; and it does not “concoct” them, but only generalises, organises, gives conscious expression to those forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which arise of themselves in the course of the movement. Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an attentive attitude to the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, as the class-consciousness of the masses grows, as economic and political crises become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defence and attack. Marxism, therefore, positively does not reject any form of struggle. Under no circumstances does Marxism confine itself to the forms of struggle possible and in existence at the given moment only, recognising as it does that new forms of struggle, unknown to the participants of the given period, inevitably arise as the given social situation, changes. In this respect Marxism learns, if we may so express it, from mass practice, and makes no claim what ever to teach the masses forms of struggle invented by “systematisers” in the seclusion of their studies. We know—said Kautsky, for instance, when examining the forms of social revolution—that the coming crisis will introduce new forms of struggle that we are now unable to foresee.

In the second place, Marxism demands an absolutely historical examination of the question of the forms of struggle. To treat this question apart from the concrete historical situation betrays a failure to understand the rudiments of dialectical materialism. At different stages of economic evolution, depending on differences in political, national-cultural, living and other conditions, different forms of struggle come to the fore and become the principal forms of struggle; and in connection with this, the secondary, auxiliary forms of struggle undergo change in their ·turn. To attempt to answer yes or no to the question whether any particular means of struggle should be used, without making a detailed examination of the concrete situation of the given movement at the given stage of its development, means completely to abandon the Marxist position.

These are the two principal theoretical propositions by which we must be guided. The history of Marxism in Western Europe provides an infinite number of examples corroborating what has been said. European Social-Democracy at the present time regards parliamentarism and the trade union movement as the principal forms of struggle; it recognised insurrection in the past, and is quite prepared to recognise it, should conditions change, in the future—despite the opinion of bourgeois liberals like the Russian Cadets and the Bezzaglavtsi. Social-Democracy in the seventies rejected the general strike as a social panacea, as a means of overthrowing the bourgeoisie at one stroke by non-political means—but Social-Democracy fully recognises the mass political strike (especially after the experience of Russia in 1905) as one of the methods of struggle essential under certain conditions. Social-Democracy recognised street barricade fighting in the forties, rejected it for definite reasons at the end of the nineteenth century, and expressed complete readiness to revise the latter view and to admit the expediency of barricade fighting after the experience of Moscow, which, in the words of K. Kautsky, initiated new tactics of barricade fighting.


Having established the general Marxist propositions, let us turn to the Russian revolution. Let us recall the historical development of the forms of struggle it produced. First there were the economic strikes of workers (1896-1900), then the political demonstrations of workers and students (1901-02), peasant revolts (1902), the beginning of mass political strikes variously combined with demonstrations (Rostov 1902, the strikes in the summer of 1903, January 9, 1905), the all-Russian political strike accompanied by local cases of barricade fighting (October 1905), mass barricade fighting and armed uprising (1905, December), the peaceful parliamentary struggle (April-June 1906), partial military revolts (June 1905-July 1906) and partial peasant revolts (autumn 1905-autumn 1906).

Such is the state of affairs in the autumn of 1906 as concerns forms of struggle in general. The “retaliatory” form of struggle adopted by the autocracy is the Black-Hundred pogrom, from Kishinev in the spring of 1903 to Sedlets in the autumn of 1906. All through this period the organisation of Black-Hundred pogroms and the beating up of Jews, students, revolutionaries and class-conscious workers continued to progress and perfect itself, combining the violence of Black-Hundred troops with the violence of hired ruffians, going as far as the use of artillery in villages and towns and merging with punitive expeditions, punitive trains and so forth.

Such is the principal background of the picture. Against this background there stands out—unquestionably as something partial, secondary and auxiliary —the phenomenon to the study and assessment of which the present article is devoted. What is this phenomenon? What are its forms? What are its causes? When did it arise and how far has it spread? What is its significance in the general course of the revolution? What is its relation to the struggle of the working class organised and led by Social-Democracy? Such are the questions which we must now proceed to examine after having sketched the general background of the picture.

The phenomenon in which we are interested is the armed struggle. It is conducted by individuals and by small groups. Same belong to revolutionary organisations, while others (the majority in certain parts of Russia) do not belong to any revolutionary organisation. Armed struggle pursues two different aims, which must be strictly distinguished: in the first place, this struggle aims at assassinating individuals, chiefs and subordinates in the army and police; in the second place, it aims at the confiscation of monetary funds both from the government and from private persons. The confiscated funds go partly into the treasury of the Party, partly for the special purpose of arming and preparing for an uprising, and partly for the maintenance of persons en gaged in the struggle we are describing. The big expropriations (such as the Caucasian, involving over 200,000 rubles, and the Moscow, involving 575,000 rubles) went in fact first and foremost to revolutionary parties—small expropriations go mostly, and sometimes entirely, to the maintenance of the “expropriators”. This form of struggle undoubtedly be came widely developed and extensive only in 1900, i.e., after the December uprising. The intensification of the political crisis to the point of an armed struggle and, in particular, the intensification of poverty, hunger and unemployment in town and country, was one of the important causes of the struggle we are describing. This form of struggle was adopted as the preferable and even exclusive form of social struggle by the vagabond elements of the population, the lumpen proletariat and anarchist groups. Declaration of martial law, mobilisation of fresh troops, Black-Hundred pogroms (Sedlets), and military courts must be regarded as the “retaliatory” form of struggle adopted by the autocracy.

The usual appraisal of the struggle we are describing is that it is anarchism, Blanquism, the old terrorism, the acts of individuals isolated from the masses, which demoralise the workers, repel wide strata of the population, disorganise the movement and injure the revolution. Examples in support of this appraisal can easily be found in the events reported every day in the newspapers.

But are such examples convincing? In order to test this, let us take a locality where the form of struggle we are examining is most developed—the Lettish Territory. This is the way Novoye Vremya (in its issues of September 9 and 12) complains of the activities of the Lettish Social-Democrats. The Lettish Social-Democratic Labour Party (a section of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party) regularly issues its paper in 30,000 copies. The announcement columns publish lists of spies whom it is the duty of every decent person to exterminate. People who assist the police are proclaimed “enemies of the revolution”, liable to execution and, moreover, to confiscation of property. The public is instructed to give money to the Social-Democratic Party only against signed and stamped receipt. In the Party’s latest report, showing a total income of 48,000 rubles for the year, there figures a sum of 5,600 rubles contributed by the Libau branch for arms which was obtained by expropriation. Naturally, Novoye Vremya rages and fumes against this “revolutionary law”, against this “terror government”.

Nobody will be so bold as to call these activities of the Lettish Social-Democrats anarchism, Blanquism or terrorism. But why? Because here we have a clear connection between the new form of struggle and the uprising which broke out in December and which is again brewing. This connection is not so perceptible in the case of Russia as a whole, but it exists. The fact that “guerrilla” warfare became wide spread precisely after December, and its connection with the accentuation not only of the economic crisis but also of the political crisis is beyond dispute. The old Russian terrorism was an affair of the intellectual conspirator; today as a general rule guerrilla warfare is waged by the worker combatant, or simply by the unemployed worker. Blanquism and anarchism easily occur to the minds of people who have a weakness for stereotype; but under the circumstances of an uprising, which are so apparent in the Lettish Territory, the inappropriateness of such trite labels is only too obvious.

The example of the Letts clearly demonstrates how incorrect, unscientific and unhistorical is the practice so very common among us of analysing guerrilla warfare without reference to the circumstances of an uprising. These circumstances must be borne in mind, we must reflect on the peculiar features of an intermediate period between big acts of insurrection, we must realise what forms of struggle inevitably arise under such circumstances, and not try to shirk the issue by a collection of words learned by rote, such as are used equally by the Cadets and the Novoye Vremya-ites: anarchism, robbery, hooliganism!

It is said that guerrilla acts disorganise our work. Let us apply this argument to the situation that has existed since December 1905, to the period of Black-Hundred pogroms and martial law. What disorganises the movement more in such a period: the absence of resistance or organised guerrilla warfare? Compare the centre of Russia with her western borders, with Poland and the Lettish Territory. It is unquestionable that guerrilla warfare is far more widespread and far more developed in the western border regions. And it is equally unquestionable that the revolutionary movement in general, and the Social-Democratic movement in particular, are more disorganised in central Russia than in the western border regions. Of course, it would not enter our heads to conclude from this that the Polish and Lettish Social-Democratic movements are less disorganised thanks to guerrilla warfare. No. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that guerrilla warfare is not to blame for the state of disorganisation of the Social-Democratic working-class movement in Russia in 1906.

Allusion is often made in this respect to the peculiarities of national conditions. But this allusion very clearly betrays the weakness of the current argument. If it is a matter of national conditions then it is not a matter of anarchism, Blanquism or terrorism—sins that are common to Russia as a whole and even to the Russians especially—but of something else. Analyse this something else concretely, gentle men! You will then find that national oppression or antagonism explain nothing, because they have always existed in the western border regions, whereas guerrilla warfare has been engendered only by the present historical period. There are many places where there is national oppression and antagonism, but no guerrilla struggle, which sometimes develops where there is no national oppression whatever. A concrete analysis of the question will show that it is not a matter of national oppression, but of conditions of insurrection. Guerrilla warfare is an inevitable form of struggle at a time when the mass movement has actually reached the point of an uprising and when fairly large intervals occur between the “big engagements” in the civil war.

It is not guerrilla actions which disorganise the movement, but the weakness of a party which is incapable of taking such actions under its control. That is why the anathemas which we Russians usually hurl against guerrilla actions go hand in hand with secret, casual, unorganised guerrilla actions which really do disorganise the Party. Being in capable of understanding what historical conditions give rise to this struggle, we are incapable of neutralising its deleterious aspects. Yet the struggle is going on. It is engendered by powerful economic and political causes. It is not in our power to eliminate these causes or to eliminate this struggle. Our complaints against guerrilla warfare are complaints against our Party weakness in the matter of an uprising.

What we have said about disorganisation also applies to demoralisation. It is not guerrilla warfare which demoralises, but unorganised, irregular, non-party guerrilla acts. We shall not rid ourselves one least bit of this most unquestionable demoralisation by condemning and cursing guerrilla actions, for condemnation and curses are absolutely incapable of putting a stop to a phenomenon which has been engendered by profound economic and political causes. It may be objected that if we are incapable of putting a stop to an abnormal and demoralising phenomenon, this is no reason why the Party should adopt abnormal and demoralising methods of struggle. But such an objection would be a purely bourgeois-liberal and not a Marxist objection, because a Marxist cannot regard civil war, or guerrilla warfare, which is one of its forms, as abnormal and demoralising in general. A Marxist bases himself on the class struggle, and not social peace. In certain periods of acute economic and political crises the class struggle ripens into a direct civil war, i.e., into an armed struggle between two sections of the people. In such periods a Marxist is obliged to take the stand of civil war. Any moral condemnation of civil war would be absolutely impermissible from the standpoint of Marxism.
In a period of civil war the ideal party of the proletariat is a fighting party. This is absolutely incontrovertible. We are quite prepared to grant that it is possible to argue and prove the inexpediency from the standpoint of civil war of particular forms of civil war at any particular moment. We fully admit criticism of diverse forms of civil war from the standpoint of military expediency and absolutely agree that in this question it is the Social-Democratic practical workers in each particular locality who must have the final say. But we absolutely demand in the name of the principles of Marxism that an analysis of the conditions of civil war should not be evaded by hackneyed and stereo typed talk about anarchism, Blanquism and terrorism, and that senseless methods of guerrilla activity adopted by some organisation or other of the Polish Socialist Party at some moment or other should not be used as a bogey when discussing the question of the participation of the Social-Democratic Party as such in guerrilla warfare in general.

The argument that guerrilla warfare disorganises the movement must be regarded critically. Every new form of struggle, accompanied as it is by new dangers and new sacrifices, inevitably “disorganises” organisations which are unprepared for this new form of struggle. Our old propagandist circles were disorganised by recourse to methods of agitation. Our committees were subsequently disorganised by recourse to demonstrations. Every military action in any war to a certain extent disorganises the ranks of the fighters. But this does not mean that one must not fight. It means that one must learn to fight. That is all.

When I see Social-Democrats proudly and smugly declaring “we are not anarchists, thieves, robbers, we are superior to all this, we reject guerrilla warfare”,—I ask myself: Do these people realise what they are saying? Armed clashes and conflicts between the Black-Hundred government and the population are taking place all over the country. This is an absolutely inevitable phenomenon at the present stage of development of the revolution. The population is spontaneously and in an unorganised way—and for that very reason often in unfortunate and undesirable forms—reacting to this phenomenon also by armed conflicts and attacks. I can under stand us refraining from Party leadership of this spontaneous struggle in a particular place or at a particular time because of the weakness and unpreparedness of our organisation. I realise that this question must be settled by the local practical workers, and that the remoulding of weak and unprepared organisations is no easy matter. But when I see a Social-Democratic theoretician or publicist not displaying regret over this unpreparedness, but rather a proud smugness and a self-exalted tendency to repeat phrases learned by rote in early youth about anarchism, Blanquism and terrorism, I am hurt by this degradation of the most revolutionary doctrine in the world.

It is said that guerrilla warfare brings the class-conscious proletarians into close association with degraded, drunken riff-raff. That is true. But it only means that the party of the proletariat can never regard guerrilla warfare as the only, or even as the chief, method of struggle; it means that this method must be subordinated to other methods, that it must be commensurate with the chief methods of warfare, and must be ennobled by the enlightening and organising influence of socialism. And without this latter condition, all, positively all, methods of struggle in bourgeois society bring the proletariat into close association with the various non-proletarian strata above and below it and, if left to the spontaneous course of events, become frayed, corrupted and prostituted. Strikes, if left to the spontaneous course of events, become corrupted into “alliances”—agreements between the workers and the masters against the consumers. Parliament becomes corrupted into a brothel, where a gang of bourgeois politicians barter wholesale and retail “national freedom”, “liberalism”, “democracy”, republicanism, anti-clericalism, socialism and all other wares in demand. A newspaper becomes corrupted into a public pimp, into a means of corrupting the masses, of pandering to the low instincts of the mob, and so on and so forth. Social-Democracy knows of no universal methods of struggle, such as would shut off the proletariat by a Chinese wall from the strata standing slightly above or slightly below it. At different periods Social-Democracy applies different methods, always qualifying the choice of them by strictly defined ideological and organisational conditions.


The forms of struggle in the Russian revolution are distinguished by their colossal variety compared with the bourgeois revolutions in Europe. Kautsky partly foretold this in 1902 when he said that the future revolution (with the exception perhaps of Russia, he added) might be not so much a struggle of the people against the government as a struggle between two sections of the people. In Russia we undoubtedly see a wider development of this latter struggle than in the bourgeois revolutions in the West. The enemies of our revolution among the people are few in number, but as the struggle grows more acute they become more and more organised and receive the support of the reactionary strata of the bourgeoisie. It is therefore absolutely natural and inevitable that in such a period, a period of nation-wide political strikes, an uprising cannot assume the old form of individual acts restricted to a very short time and to a very small area. It is absolutely natural and inevitable that the uprising should assume the higher and more complex form of a prolonged civil war embracing the whole country, i.e., an armed struggle between two sections of the people. Such a war cannot be conceived otherwise than as a series of a few big engagements at comparatively long intervals and a large number of small encounters during these intervals. That being so—and it is undoubtedly so—the Social-Democrats must absolutely make it their duty to create organisations best adapted to lead the masses in these big engagements and, as far as possible, in these small encounters as well. In a period when the class struggle has become accentuated to the point of civil war, Social-Democrats must make it their duty not only to participate but also to play the leading role in this civil war. The Social-Democrats must train and prepare their organisations to be really able to act as a belligerent side which does not miss a single opportunity of inflicting damage on the enemy’s forces.

This is a difficult task, there is no denying. It cannot be accomplished at once. Just as the whole people are being retrained and are learning to fight in the course of the civil war, so our organisations must be trained, must be reconstructed in conformity with the lessons of experience to be equal to this task.

We have not the slightest intention of foisting on practical workers any artificial form of struggle, or even of deciding from our armchair what part any particular form of guerrilla warfare should play in the general course of the civil war in Russia. We are far from the thought of regarding a concrete assessment of particular guerrilla actions as indicative of a trend in Social-Democracy. But we do regard it as our duty to help as far as possible to arrive at a correct theoretical assessment of the new forms of struggle engendered by practical life. We do regard it as our duty relentlessly to combat stereotypes and prejudices which hamper the class-conscious workers in correctly presenting a new and difficult problem and in correctly approaching its solution.