Modern History Sourcebook:
V.I. Lenin: Our Programme, 1899
This article was written in 1899, for the third number of the
Robochaia Gazeta, which however never appeared, owing to police
interference. The article is one of the earliest in which Lenin
clearly stated the policy of an independent party with a clear
revolutionary policy and free of opportunists.
International social democracy is at present going through a period
of theoretical vacillations. Up to the present the doctrines of
Marx and Engels were regarded as a firm foundation of revolutionary
theory--nowadays voices are raised everywhere declaring these
doctrines to be inadequate and antiquated. Anyone calling himself
a social-democrat and having the intention to publish a social-democratic
organ, must take up a definite attitude as regards this question,
which by no means concerns German social-democrats alone.
We base our faith entirely on Marx's theory; it was the first
to transform socialism from a Utopia into a science, to give this
science a firm foundation and to indicate the path which must
be trodden in order further to develop this science and to elaborate
it in all its details. It discovered the nature of present-day
capitalist economy and explained the way in which the employment
of workers-the purchase of labour power-the enslavement of millions
of those possessing no property by a handful of capitalists, by
the owners of the land, the factories, the mines, etc., is concealed.
It has shown how the whole development of modern capitalism is
advancing towards the large producer ousting the small one, and
is creating the prerequisites which make a socialist order of
society possible and necessary. It has taught us to see, under
the disguise of ossified habits, political intrigues, intricate
laws, cunning theories, the class struggle, the struggle between,
on the one hand, the various species of the possessing classes,
and, on the other hand, the mass possessing no property, the proletariat,
which leads all those who possess nothing. It has made clear what
is the real task of a revolutionary socialist party-not to set
up projects for the transformation of society, not to preach sermons
to the capitalists and their admirers about improving the position
of the workers, not the instigation of conspiracies, but the organisation
of the class struggle of the proletariat and the carrying on of
this struggle, the final aim of which is the seizure of political
power by the proletariat and the organisation of a socialist society.
We now ask: What new elements have the touting "renovators"
introduced into this theory, they who have attracted so much notice
in our day and have grouped themselves round the German socialist
Bernstein? Nothing, nothing at all; they have not advanced by
a single step the science which Marx and Engels adjured us to
develop; they have not taught the proletariat any new methods
of fighting; they are only marching backwards in that they adopt
the fragments of antiquated theories and are preaching to the
proletariat not the theory of struggle but the theory of submissiveness
- submissiveness to the bitterest enemies of the proletariat,
to the governments and bourgeois parties who never tire of finding
new methods of persecuting socialists, Plekhanov, one of the founders
and leaders of Russian social-democracy, was perfectly right when
he subjected to merciless criticism the latest "Criticism"
of Bernstein, whose views have now been rejected even by the representatives
of the German workers at the Party Congress in Hanover (October,
1899. - Ed.).
We know that on account of these words we shall be drenched with
a flood of accusations; they will cry out that we want to turn
the Socialist Party into a holy order of the "orthodox,"
who persecute the "heretics" for their aberrations from
the"true dogma," for any independent opinion, etc. We
know all these nonsensical phrases which have become the fashion
nowadays. Yet there is no shadow of truth in them, no iota of
sense. There can be no strong socialist party without a revolutionary
theory which unites all socialists, from which the socialist draw
their whole conviction, which they apply in their methods of fighting
and working. To defend a theory of this kind, of the truth of
which one is completely convinced, against unfounded attacks and
against attempts to debase it, does not mean being an enemy of
criticism in general. We by no means regard the theory of Marx
as perfect and inviolable; on the contrary, we are convinced that
this theory has only laid the foundation stones of that science
on which the socialists must continue to build in every direction,
unless they wish to be left behind by life. We believe that it
is particularly necessary for Russian socialist to work our the
Marxist theory independently, for this theory only gives general
precepts, the details of which must be applied in England otherwise
than in France, in France otherwise than in Germany, and in Germany
otherwise than in Russia. For this reason we will willingly devote
space in our paper to articles about theoretical questions, and
we call upon all comrades openly to discuss the matters in dispute.
What are the main questions which arise in applying the common
programme of all social-democrats to Russia?
We have already said that the essence of this programme consists
in the organisation of the class struggle of the proletariat and
in carrying on this struggle, the final aim of which is the seizure
of political power by the proletariat and the construction of
a socialist society. The class struggle of the proletariat is
divided into: the economic fight (the fight against individual
capitalist, or against the individual groups of capitalists by
the improvement of the position of the workers) and the political
fight (the fight against the Government for the extension of the
rights of the people, i.e., for democracy, and for the expansion
of the political power of the proletariat). Some Russian social-democrats
(among them apparently those who conduct the paper Rabochaia Mysl)
regard the economic fight as incomparable more important and almost
go so far as to postpone the political fight to a more or less
distant future. This standpoint is quite wrong. All social-democrats
are unanimous in believing that it is necessary to carry on an
agitation among the workers on this basis, i.e., to help the workers
in their daily fight against the employers, to direct their attention
to all kinds and all cases of chicanery, and in this way to make
clear to them the necessity of unity. To forget the political
for the economic fight would, however, mean a digression from
the most important principle of international social-democracy;
it would mean forgetting what the whole history of the Labour
movement has taught us. Fanatical adherents of the bourgeoisie
and of the government which serves it, have indeed repeatedly
tried to organise purely economic unions of workers and thus to
deflect them from the "politics" of socialism. It is
quite possible that the Russian Government will also be clever
enough to do something of the kind, as it has always endeavored
to throw some largesse or other sham presents to the people in
order to prevent them becoming conscious that they are oppressed
and are without rights.
No economic fight can give the workers a permanent improvement
of their situation, it cannot, indeed, be carried on a large scale
unless the workers have the free right to call meetings, to join
in unions, to have their own newspapers and to send their representatives
to the National Assembly as do the workers in Germany and all
European countries (with the exception of Turkey and Russia).
In order, however, to obtain these rights, a political fight must
be carried on. In Russia, not only the workers but all the citizens
are deprived of political rights. Russia is an absolute monarchy.
The Tsar alone promulgates laws, nominates officials and controls
them. For this reason it seems as though in Russia the Tsar and
the Tsarist Government were dependent on no class and cared for
all equally. In reality, however, all the officials are chosen
exclusively from the possessing class, and all are subject to
the influence of the large capitalists who obtain whatever they
want - the Ministers dance to the tune the large capitalists play.
The Russian worker is bower under a double yoke; he is robbed
and plundered by the capitalists and the landowners, and, lest
he should fight against them, he is bound hand and foot by the
police, his mouth is gagged and any attempt to defend the rights
of the people is followed by persecution. Any strike against a
capitalist results in the military and police being let loose
on the workers. Every economic fight of necessity turns into a
political fight, and social-democracy must indissolubly combine
the economic with the political fight into a united class struggle
of the proletariat.
The first and chief aim of such a fight must be the conquest of
political rights, the conquest of political freedom. Since the
workers of St. Petersburg alone have succeeded, in spite of the
inadequate support given them by the socialists, in obtaining
concessions from the Government within a short time - the passing
of a law for shortening the hours of work - the whole working
class, led by a united "Russian Social-Democratic Labour
Party," will be able, through obstinate fighting, to obtain
incomparably more important concessions.
The Russian working class will see its way to carrying on an economic
and political fight alone, even if no other class comes to its
help. The workers are not alone, however, in the political fight.
The fact that the people is absolutely without rights and the
unbridled arbitrary rule of the officials rouses the indignation
of all who have any pretensions to honesty and educations, who
cannot reconcile themselves with the persecution of all free speech
and all free thought; it rouses the indignation of the persecuted
Poles, Finns, Jews, Russian sects, it rouses the indignation of
small traders, of the industrialists, the peasants, of all who
can nowhere find protection against the chicanery of the officials
and the police. All these groups of the population are incapable
of carrying on an obstinate political fight alone; if, however,
the working class raises the banner of a fight of this kind it
will be supported on all sides. Russian social-democracy will
place itself at the head of all fights for the rights of the people,
of all fights for democracy, and then it will be invincible.
These are our fundamental ideas which we shall develop systematically
and from every point of view in our paper.
We are convinced that in this way we shall tread the path which
has been indicated by the "Russian Social-Democratic Labour
Party" in its "Manifesto."
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(c)Paul Halsall April1998