Lenin

On the "ISKRA"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lenin

ON THE "ISKRA"

"The spark will kindle a flame!"

[the motto of the "Iskra"]

 

Foundation

of Lenin's Bolshevik Newspaper

"ISKRA"

24th of December 1900

24th of December 2015

 

 

"ISKRA"

This first issue, No 1, was printed by German printers in Leipzig.

 

 

Meeting of Lenin with social democrats of the town Ufa on the edition of the All-Russian illegal marxist newspaper "Iskra"

 

 

At the beginning of 1900, Lenin and other members of the League of Struggle returned from their Siberian exile to Russia. Lenin conceived the idea of founding a big illegal Marxist newspaper on an all-Russian scale. The numerous small Marxist circles and organizations which already existed in Russia were not yet linked up. At a moment when, in the words of Comrade Stalin, "amateurishness and the parochial outlook of the circles were corroding the Party from top to bottom, when ideological confusion was the characteristic feature of the internal life of the Party," the creation of an illegal newspaper on an all-Russian scale was the chief task of the Russian revolutionary Marxists. Only such a newspaper could link up the disunited Marxist organizations and prepare the way for the creation of a real party.

    But such a newspaper could not be published in tsarist Russia owing to police persecution. Within a month or two at most the tsar's sleuths would get on its track and smash it. Lenin therefore decided to publish the newspaper abroad. There it was printed on very thin but durable paper and secretly smuggled into Russia. Some of the issues of Iskra were reprinted in Russia by secret printing plants in Baku, Kishinev and Siberia.

    In the autumn of 1900 Lenin went abroad to make arrangements with the comrades in the "Emancipation of Labour" group for the publication of a political newspaper on an all-Russian scale. The idea had been worked out by Lenin in all its details while he was in exile. On his way back from exile he had held a number of conferences on the subject in Ufa, Pskov, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Everywhere he made arrangements with the comrades about codes for secret correspondence, addresses to which literature could be sent, and so on, and discussed with them plans for the future struggle.

    The tsarist government scented a most dangerous enemy in Lenin. Zubatov, an officer of gendarmes in the tsarist Okhrana, expressed the opinion in a confidential report that "there is nobody bigger than Ulyanov [Lenin] in the revolution today," in view of which he considered it expedient to have Lenin assassinated.

    Abroad, Lenin came to an arrangement with the "Emancipation of Labour" group, namely, with Plekhanov, Axelrod and V. Zasulich, for the publication of Iskra under joint auspices. The whole plan of publication from beginning to end had been worked out by Lenin.

    The first issue of Iskra appeared abroad in December 1900. The title page bore the epigraph: "The Spark Will Kindle a Flame." These words were taken from the reply of the Decembrists to the poet Pushkin who had sent greetings to them in their place of exile in Siberia.

    And indeed, from the spark (Iskra ) started by Lenin there subsequently flamed up the great revolutionary conflagration in which the tsarist monarchy of the landed nobility, and the power of the bourgeoisie were reduced to ashes.

In order to unite and link together the separate Marxist organizations into a single party, Lenin put forward and carried out a plan for the founding of Iskra, the first newspaper of the revolutionary Marxists on an all-Russian scale.

    The principal opponents to the creation of a single political working class party at that period were the "Economists." They denied the necessity for such a party. They fostered the disunity and amateurish methods of the separate groups. It was against them that Lenin and the news paper Iskra organized by him directed their blows.

    The appearance of the first issues of Iskra (1900-01) marked a transition to a new period -- a period in which a single Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was really formed from the disconnected groups and circles.

History of the CPSU (B)

[short course]

 

 

 

Draft of a Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra[2] and Zarya[3]


Written in the spring of 1900
Lenin Collected Works, Volume 4, pages 320-330.

 

In undertaking the publication of two Social-Democratic organs—a scientific and political magazine and an all-Russian working-class newspaper—we consider it necessary to say a few words concerning our programme, the objects for which we are striving, and the understanding we have of our tasks.

We are passing through an extremely important period in the history of the Russian working-class movement and Russian Social-Democracy. All evidence goes to show that our movement has reached a critical stage. It has spread so widely and has brought forth so many strong shoots in the most diverse parts of Russia that it is now striving with unrestrained vigour to consolidate itself, assume a higher form, and develop a definite shape and organisation. Indeed, the past few years have been marked by an astonishingly rapid spread of Social-Democratic ideas among our intelligentsia; and meeting this trend in social ideas is the spontaneous, completely independent movement of the industrial proletariat, which is beginning to unite and struggle against its oppressors and is manifesting an eager striving for socialism. Study circles of workers and Social-Democratic intellectuals are springing up everywhere, local agitation leaflets are beginning to appear, the demand for Social- Democratic literature is increasing and is far outstripping the supply, and intensified government persecution is powerless to restrain the movement.

The prisons and places of exile are filled to overflowing. Hardly a month goes by without our hearing of socialists   “caught in dragnets” in all parts of Russia, of the capture of underground couriers, of the arrest of agitators, and the confiscation of literature and printing-presses; but the movement goes on and is growing, it is spreading to ever wider regions, it Is penetrating more and more deeply into the working class and is attracting public attention to an ever-increasing degree. The entire economic development of Russia and the history of social thought and of the revolutionary movement in Russia serve as a guarantee that the Social-Democratic working-class movement will grow and surmount all the obstacles that confront it.

The principal feature of our movement, which has be come particularly marked in recent times, is its state of disunity and its amateur character, if one may so express it. Local study circles spring up and function in almost complete isolation from circles in other districts and—what is particularly important—from circles that have functioned and now function simultaneously in the same districts. Traditions are not established and continuity is not maintained; local publications fully reflect this disunity and the lack of contact with what Russian Social-Democracy has already achieved. The present period, therefore, seems to us to be critical precisely for the reason that the movement is outgrowing this amateur stage and this disunity, is insistently demanding a transition to a higher, more united, better and more organised form, which we consider it our duty to promote. It goes without saying that at a certain stage of the movement, at its inception, this disunity is entirely inevitable; the absence of continuity is natural in view of the astonishingly rapid and universal growth of the movement after a long period of revolutionary calm. Undoubtedly, too, there will always be diversity in local conditions; there will always be differences in the conditions of the working class in one district as compared with those in another; and, lastly, there will always be the particular aspect in the points of view among the active local workers; this very diversity is evidence of the virility of the movement and of its sound growth. All this is true; yet disunity and lack of organisation are not a necessary consequence of this diversity. The maintenance of continuity and the unity of the movement do not by any means exclude diversity, but,   on the contrary, create for it a much broader arena and a freer field of action. In the present period of the movement, however, disunity is beginning to show a definitely harmful effect and is threatening to divert the movement to a false path: narrow practicalism, detached from the theoretical clarification of the movement as a whole, may destroy the contact between socialism and the revolutionary movement in Russia, on the one hand, and the spontaneous working-class movement, on the other. That this danger is not merely imaginary is proved by such literary productions as the Credo—which has already called forth legitimate protest and condemnation—and the Separate Supplement to “Rabochaya Mysl” (September 1899). That supplement has brought out most markedly, the trend that permeates the whole of Rabochaya Mysl; in it a particular trend in Russian Social-Democracy has begun to manifest itself, a trend that may cause real harm and that must be combated. And the Russian legal publications, with their parody of Marxism capable only of corrupting public consciousness, still further intensify the confusion and anarchy which have enabled the celebrated Bernstein (celebrated for his bankruptcy) to publish before the whole world the untruth that the majority of the Social-Democrats active in Russia support him.

It is still premature to judge how deep the cleavage is, and how far the formation of a special trend is probable (at the moment we are not in the least inclined to answer these questions in the affirmative and we have not yet lost hope of our being able to work together), but it would be more harmful to close our eyes to the gravity of the situation than to exaggerate the cleavage, and we heartily welcome the resumption of literary activity on the part of the Emancipation of Labour group, and the struggle it has begun against the attempts to distort and vulgarise Social-Democracy.[4]

The following practical conclusion is to be drawn from the foregoing: we Russian Social-Democrats must unite and direct all our efforts towards the formation of a single, strong party, which must struggle under the banner of a revolutionary Social-Democratic programme, which must maintain the continuity of the movement and systematically support its organisation. This conclusion is not   a new one. The Russian Social-Democrats reached it two years ago when the representatives of the largest Social-Democratic organisations in Russia gathered at a congress in the spring of 1898, formed the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, published the Manifesto of the Party, and recognised Rabochaya Gazeta as the official Party organ. Regarding ourselves as members of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, we agree entirely with the fundamental ideas contained in the Manifesto and attach extreme importance to it as the open and public declaration of the aims towards which our Party should strive. Consequently, we, as members of the Party, present the question of our immediate and direct tasks as follows: What plan of activity must we adopt to revive the Party on the firmest possible basis? Some comrades (even some groups and organisations) are of the opinion that in order to achieve this we must resume the practice of electing the central Party body and instruct it to resume the publication of the Party organ.[5] We consider such a plan to be a false one or, at all events, a hazardous one. To establish and consolidate the Party means to establish and consolidate unity among all Russian Social-Democrats; such unity cannot be decreed, it cannot be brought about by a decision, say, of a meeting of representatives; it must be worked for. In the first place, it is necessary to develop a common Party literature—common, not only in the sense that it must serve the whole of the Russian movement rather than separate districts, that it must discuss the questions of the movement as a whole and assist the class-conscious proletarians in their struggle instead of dealing merely with local questions, but common also in the sense that it must unite all the available literary forces, that it must express all shades of opinion and views prevailing among Russian Social-Democrats, not as isolated workers, but as comrades united in the ranks of a single organisation by a common programme and a common struggle. Secondly, we must work to achieve an organisation especially for the purpose of establishing and maintaining contact among all the centres of the movement, of supplying complete and timely information about the movement, and of delivering our newspapers and periodicals regularly to all parts of Russia. Only when such an organisation has been founded,   only when a Russian socialist post has been established, will the Party possess a sound foundation, only then will it be come a real fact and, therefore, a mighty political force. We intend to devote our efforts to the first half of this task, i.e., to creating a common literature, since we regard this as the pressing demand of the movement today, and a necessary preliminary measure towards the resumption of Party activity.

The character of our task naturally determines the programme for conducting our publications. They must devote considerable space to theoretical questions, i.e., to the general theory of Social-Democracy and its application to Russian conditions. The urgent need to promote a wide discussion of these questions at the present time in particular is beyond all doubt and requires no further explanation after what has been said above. It goes without saying that questions of general theory are inseparably connected with the need to supply information about the history and the present state of the working-class movement in the West. Furthermore, we propose systematically to discuss all political questions—the Social-Democratic Labour Party must respond to all questions that arise in all spheres of our daily life, to all questions of home and foreign politics, and we must see to it that every Social-Democrat and every class-conscious worker has definite views on all important questions. Unless this condition is fulfilled, it will be impossible to carry on wide and systematic propaganda and agitation. The discussion of questions of theory and policy will be connected with the drafting of a Party programme, the necessity for which was recognised at the congress in 1898. In the near future we intend to publish a draft programme; a comprehensive discussion of it should provide sufficient material for the forthcoming congress that will have to adopt a programme.[6] A further vital task, in our opinion, is the discussion of questions of organisation and practical methods of conducting our work. The lack of continuity and the disunity, to which reference has been made above, have a particularly harmful effect upon the present state of Party discipline, organisation, and the technique of secrecy. It must be publicly and frankly owned that in this respect we Social-Democrats   lag behind the old workers in the Russian revolutionary movement and behind other organisations functioning in Russia, and we must exert all our efforts to come abreast of the tasks. The attraction of large numbers of working-class and intellectual young people to the movement, the increasing failures and the cunningness of governmental persecution make the propaganda of the principles and methods of Party organisation, discipline, and the technique of secrecy an urgent necessity.

Such propaganda, if supported by all the various groups and by all the more experienced comrades, can and must result in the training of young socialists and workers as able leaders of the revolutionary movement, capable of over coming all obstacles placed in the way of our work by the tyranny of the autocratic police state and capable of serving all the requirements of the working masses, who are spontaneously striving towards socialism and political struggle. Finally, one of the principal tasks arising out of the above-mentioned issues must be the analysis of this spontaneous movement (among the working masses, as well as among our intelligentsia). We must try to understand the social movement of the intelligentsia which marked the late nineties in Russia and combined various, and sometimes conflicting, tendencies. We must carefully study the conditions of the working class in all spheres of economic life, study the forms and conditions of the workers’ awakening, and of the struggles now setting in, in order that we may unite the Russian working-class movement and Marxist socialism, which has already begun to take root in Russian soil, into one integral whole, in order that we may combine the Russian revolutionary movement with the spontaneous upsurge of the masses of the people. Only when this contact has been established can a Social-Democratic working-class party be formed in Russia; for Social-Democracy does not exist merely to serve the spontaneous working-class movement (as some of our present-day “practical workers” are sometimes inclined to think), but to combine socialism with the working-class movement. And it is only this combination that will enable the Russian proletariat to fulfil its immediate political task—to liberate Russia from the tyranny of the autocracy.

The distribution of these themes and questions between the magazine and the newspaper will be determined exclusively by differences in the size and character of the two publications—the magazine should serve mainly for propaganda, the newspaper mainly for agitation. But all aspects of the movement should be reflected in both the magazine and the newspaper, and we wish particularly to emphasise our opposition to the view that a workers’ newspaper should devote its pages exclusively to matters that immediately and directly concern the spontaneous working-class movement, and leave everything pertaining to the theory of socialism, science, politics, questions of Party organisation, etc., to a periodical for the intelligentsia. On the contrary, it is necessary to combine all the concrete facts and manifestations of the working-class movement with the indicated questions; the light of theory must be cast upon every separate fact; propaganda on questions of politics and Party organisation must be carried on among the broad masses of the working class; and these questions must be dealt with in the work of agitation. The type of agitation which has hitherto prevailed almost without exception—agitation by means of locally published leaflets—is now inadequate; it is narrow, it deals only with local and mainly economic questions. We must try to create a higher form of agitation by means of the newspaper, which must contain a regular record of workers’ grievances, workers’ strikes, and other forms of proletarian struggle, as well as all manifestations of political tyranny in the whole of Russia; which must draw definite conclusions from each of these manifestations in accordance with the ultimate aim of socialism and the political tasks of the Russian proletariat. “Extend the bounds and broaden the content of our propagandist, agitational, and organisational activity”—this statement by P. B. Axelrod must serve as a slogan defining the activities of Russian Social-Democrats in the immediate future, and we adopt this slogan in the programme of our publications.

Here the question naturally arises: if the proposed publications are to serve the purpose of uniting all Russian Social-Democrats and mustering them into a single party, they must reflect all shades of opinion, all local specific features, and all the various practical methods. How can   we combine the varying points of view with the maintenance of a uniform editorial policy for these publications? Should these publications be merely a jumble of various views, or should they have an independent and quite definite tendency?

We hold to the second view and hope that an organ having a definite tendency will prove quite suitable (as we shall show below), both for the purpose of expressing various viewpoints; and for comradely polemics between contributors. Our views are in complete accord with the fundamental ideas of Marxism (as expressed in the Communist Manifesto, and in the programmes of Social-Democrats in Western Europe); we stand for the consistent development of these ideas in the spirit of Marx and Engels and emphatically reject the equivocating and opportunist corrections à la Bernstein which have now become so fashionable. As we see it, the task of Social-Democracy is to organise the class struggle of the proletariat, to promote that struggle, to point out its essential ultimate aim, and to analyse the conditions that determine the methods by which this struggle should be conduct ed. “The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.”[7] But while we do not separate Social-Democracy from the working-class movement, we must not forget that the task of the former is to represent the interests of this movement in all countries as a whole, that it must not blindly worship any particular phase of the movement at any particular time or place. We think that it is the duty of Social-Democracy to support every revolutionary movement against the existing political and social system, and we regard its aim to be the conquest of political power by the working class, the expropriation of the expropriators, and the establishment of a socialist society. We strongly repudiate every attempt to weaken or tone down the revolutionary character of Social Democracy, which is the party of social revolution, ruthlessly hostile to all classes standing for the present social system. We believe the historical task of Russian Social Democracy is, in particular, to overthrow the autocracy: Russian Social-Democracy is destined to become the vanguard fighter in the ranks of Russian democracy; it is destined to achieve the aim which the whole social development   of Russia sets before it and which it has inherited from the glorious fighters in the Russian revolutionary movement. Only by inseparably connecting the economic and political struggles, only by spreading political propaganda and agitation among wider and wider strata of the working class, can Social-Democracy fulfil its mission.

From this point of view (outlined here only in its general features, since it has been dealt with in greater detail and more thoroughly substantiated on many occasions by the Emancipation of Labour group, in the Manifesto of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party and in the “commentary” to the latter—the pamphlet, The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats[1] –and in The Working-Class Cause in Russia [a basis of the programme of Russian Social Democracy]), we shall deal with all theoretical and practical questions; and we shall try to connect all manifestations of the working-class movement and of democratic protest in Russia with these ideas.

Although we carry out our literary work from the stand point of a definite tendency, we do not in the least intend to present all our views on partial questions as those of all Russian Social-Democrats; we do not deny that differences exist, nor shall we attempt to conceal or obliterate them. On the contrary, we desire our publications to become organs for the discussion of all questions by all Russian Social-Democrats of the most diverse shades of opinion. We do not reject polemics between comrades, but, on the contrary, are prepared to give them considerable space in our columns. Open polemics, conducted in full view of all Russian Social-Democrats and class-conscious workers, are necessary and desirable in order to clarify the depth of existing differences, in order to afford discussion of disputed questions from all angles, in order to combat the extremes into which representatives of various views, various localities, or various “specialities” of the revolutionary movement inevitably fall. Indeed, we regard one of the drawbacks of the present-day movement to be the absence of open polemics between avowedly differing views, the effort to conceal differences on fundamental questions.

Moreover, while recognising the Russian working class and Russian Social-Democracy as the vanguard in the struggle for democracy and for political liberty, we think it necessary to strive to make our publications general-democratic organs, not in the sense that we would for a single moment agree to forget the class antagonism between the proletariat and other classes, nor in the sense that we would consent to the slightest toning-down of the class struggle, but in the sense that we would bring forward and discuss all democratic questions, not confining ourselves merely to narrowly proletarian questions; in the sense that we would bring forward and discuss all instances and manifestations of political oppression, show the connection between the working-class movement and the political struggle in all its forms, attract all honest fighters against the autocracy, regardless of their views or the class they belong to, and induce them to support the working class as the only revolutionary force irrevocably hostile to absolutism. Consequently, although we appeal primarily to the Russian socialists and class-conscious workers, we do not appeal to them alone. We also call upon all who are oppressed by the present political system in Russia, on all who strive for the emancipation of the Russian people from their political slavery to support the publications which will be devoted to organising the working-class movement into a revolutionary political party; we place the columns of our publications at their disposal in order that they may expose all the abominations and crimes of the Russian autocracy. We make this appeal in the conviction that the banner of the political struggle raised by Russian Social-Democracy can and will become the banner of the whole people.

The tasks we set ourselves are extremely broad and all-embracing, and we would not have dared to take them up, were we not absolutely convinced from the whole of our past experience that these are the most urgent tasks of the whole movement, were we not assured of the sympathy and of promises of generous and constant support on the part of: 1. several organisations of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party and of separate groups of Russian Social-Democrats working in various towns; 2. the Emancipation of Labour group, which founded Russian Social-Democracy   and has always been in the lead of its theoreticians and literary representatives; 3. a number of persons who are unaffiliated with any organisation, but who sympathise with the Social-Democratic working-class movement, and have proved of no little service to it. We will exert every effort to carry out properly the part of the general revolutionary work which we have selected, and will do our best to bring every Russian comrade to regard our publications as his own, to which all groups would communicate every kind of information concerning the movement, in which they would express their views, indicate their needs for political literature, relate their experiences, and voice their opinions concerning Social-Democratic editions; in a word, the medium through which they would thereby share whatever contribution they make to the movement and whatever they draw from it. Only in this way will it be possible to establish a genuinely all-Russian Social-Democratic organ. Russian Social-Democracy is already finding itself constricted in the underground conditions in which the various groups and isolated study circles carry on their work. It is time to come out on the road of open advocacy of socialism, on the road of open political struggle. The establishment of an all-Russian organ of Social-Democracy must be the first step on this road.

 

______

Notes

[1] See present edition, Vol. 2, p. 323.—Ed.

[2] Iskra (The Spark) was the first all-Russian Illegal Marxist newspaper; it was founded by Lenin in 1900 and it played an important role in building the Marxist revolutionary party of the working class in Russia.

It was impossible to publish the revolutionary newspaper in Russia on account of police persecution, and, while still in exile in Siberia, Lenin evolved a plan for its publication abroad. When his exile ended (January 1900) Lenin immediately set about putting his plan into effect. In February, in St. Petersburg, he negotiated with Vera Zasulich (who had come from abroad illegally) on the participation of the Emancipation of Labour group in the publication of the newspaper. At the end of March and the beginning of April a conference was held—known as the Pskov Conference—with V. I. Lenin, L. Martov (Y. 0. Zederbaum), A. N. Potresov, S. I. Radchenko, and the ’legal Marxists” P. B. Struve and M. I. Tugan-Baranovsky participating, which discussed the draft declaration, drawn up by Lenin, of the Editorial Board of the all-Russian newspaper (Iskra) and the scientific and political   magazine (Zarya) on the programme and the aims of these publications. During the first half of 1900 Lenin travelled in a number of Russian cities (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Riga, Smolensk, Nizhni Novgorod, Ufa, Samara, Syzran) and established contact with Social-Democratic groups and individual Social-Democrats, obtaining their support for Iskra. In August 1900, when Lenin arrived in Switzerland, be and Potresov conferred with the Emancipation of Labour group on the programme and the aims of the newspaper and the magazine, on possible contributors, and on the editorial board and its location. The conference almost ended in failure (see pp. 333-49 of this volume), but an agreement was finally reached on all disputed questions.

The first issue of Lenin’s Iskra was published in Leipzig in December 1900; the ensuing issues were published in Munich; from July 1902 the paper was published in London, and from the spring of 1903 in Geneva. Considerable help in getting the newspaper going (the organisation of secret printing-presses, the acquisition of Russian type, etc.) was afforded by the German Social-Democrats Clara Zetkin, Adolf Braun, and others; by Julian Marchlewski, a Polish revolutionary residing in Munich at that time; and by Harry Quelch, one of the leaders of the English Social-Democratic Federation.

The Editorial Board of Iskra consisted of: V. I. Lenin, G. V. Plekhanov, L. Martov, P. B. Axelrod, A. N. Potresov, and V. I. Zasulich. The first secretary of the board was I. G. Smidovich-Leman; the post was then taken over, from the spring of 1901 by N.K. Krupskaya, who also conducted the correspondence between Iskra and the Russian Social-Democratic organisations. Lenin was in actuality editor-in-chief and the leading figure in Iskra, in which he published his articles on all basic questions of Party organisation and the class struggle of the proletariat in Russia, as well as on the most important events in world affairs.

Iskra became the centre for the unification of Party forces, for the gathering and training of Party workers. In a number of Russian cities (St. Petersburg, Moscow, Samara, and others) groups and committees of the R.S.D.L.P. were organised on Leninist Iskra lines and a conference of Iskra supporters held in Samara in January 1902 founded the Russian Iskra organisation. Iskra organisations grew up and worked under the direct leadership of Lenin’s disciples and comrades-in-arms: N. E. Bauman, I. V. Babushkin, S. I. Gusev, M. I. Kalinin, P. A. Krasikov, G. M. Krzhizhanovsky, F. V. Lengnik, P. N. Lepeshinsky, I. I. Radchenko, and others.

On the initiative and with the direct participation of Lenin, the Iskra Editorial Board drew up a draft programme of the Party (published in No. 21 of Iskra) and prepared the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P., held in July and August 1903. By the time the Congress was convened the majority of the local Social-Democratic organisations in Russia had adopted the Iskra position, approved its programme, organisational plan, and tactical line, and recognised the newspaper as their leading organ. A special   resolution of the Congress noted Iskra’s exceptional role in the struggle to build the Party and adopted the newspaper as the central organ of the R.S.D.L.P. The Congress approved an editorial board consisting of Lenin, Plekhanov, and Martov. Despite the Congress decision, Martov refused to participate, and Nos. 46-51 of Iskra were edited by Lenin and Plekhanov. Later Plekhanov went over to the Menshevik position and demanded that all the old Menshevik editors be included in the Editorial Board of Iskra, although they had been rejected by the Congress. Lenin could not agree to this and on October 19 (November 1), 1903, he resigned from the Iskra Editorial Board. He was co-opted to the Central Committee, from where he conducted a struggle against the Menshevik opportunists. Issue No. 52 of Iskra was edited by Plekhanov alone. On November 13 (26), 1903, Plekhanov, on his own initiative and in violation of the will of the Congress, co-opted all the old Menshevik editors to the Editorial Board. Beginning with issue No. 52, the Mensheviks turned Iskra into their own organ.

[3] Zarya (Dawn)—a Marxist scientific and political magazine published legally in Stuttgart in 1901-02 by the Iskra Editorial Board. Altogether four numbers (in three issues) appeared: No. 1—April 1901 (it actually appeared on March 23, New Style); No. 2-3—December 1901; and No. 4—August 1902.

[4] Lenin refers to the “Announcement on the Renewal of Publications of the Emancipation of Labour Group” published at the beginning of 1900 in Geneva, after the appearance of Lenin’s “A Protest by Russian Social-Democrats.” In their “Announcement” the Emancipation of Labour group supported Lenin’s appeal in the “Protest” for decisive struggle against opportunism in the ranks of Russian and international Social-Democracy.

[5] By groups and organisations Lenin means the Social-Democrats grouped round the newspaper Yashny Rabochy (Southern Worker), the Bond, and the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad, the leadership of which had been transferred from the Emancipation of Labour group to the “young” supporters of “economism.” These organisations planned to call the Second Congress of the Party in Smolensk in the spring of 1900. The circumstances surrounding the preparation for the Congress are discussed in Chapter 5 of Lenin’s What Is to Be Done? (see present edition, Vol. 5).

[6] Lenin refers to “A Draft Programme of Our Party” which he wrote at the end of 1899 for No. 3 of Rabochaya Gazeta that never came to be published (see present volume, pp. 227-54). A draft programme of the Party was elaborated for the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P., on Lenin’s suggestion, by the Editorial Board of Iskra and Zarya and was printed in Iskra, No 21, on June 1, 1902; it was adopted by the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. in August 1903.

[7] Lenin quotes the basic postulate of the “General Rules of the International Working Men’s Association” (First International) drawn up by Karl Marx (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1956, p. 386.




 

How the “Spark” Was Nearly Extinguished[1]


Written beginning of September 1900
Lenin Collected Works, Volume 4, pages 331-349.

 

I first went to Zurich. I arrived alone without having seen Arsenyev (Potresov). P. B. Axelrod met me in Zurich with open arms and I spent two days in a heart-to-heart talk with him. The conversation was as between friends who had not seen each other for a long time; we spoke about anything and everything, in no particular order, and not at all in the manner of a business discussion. Indeed, in regard to practical matters, there is not much that Axelrod mitsprechen kann,[2] but it was quite evident that he gravitated towards G. V. Plekhanov, from the manner in which he insisted on setting up the printing-press for the magazine in Geneva. Generally speaking, Axelrod was very “flattering” (excuse the expression), he said that our enterprise meant everything to them, that it meant their revival, that “we” would now be able to counteract Plekhanov’s extremism. I took particular note of the last remark, and the entire subsequent “history” has proved that those were words of especial significance.

I went to Geneva. Arsenyev warned me to be particularly cautious with Plekhanov, who was terribly wrought up over the split[9] and very suspicious. My conversation with him did indeed show that he really was suspicious, distrustful, and rechthaberisch to the nec plus ultra.[3] I tried to observe caution and avoided all “sore” points, but the constant restraint that I had to place on myself could not but greatly   affect my mood. From time to time little “frictions” arose in the form of sharp retorts on the part of Plekhanov to any remark that might even in the least degree cool down or soothe the passions that had been aroused (by the split). There was also “friction” over questions concerning the tactics of the magazine, Plekhanov throughout displaying complete intolerance, an inability or an unwillingness to understand other people’s arguments, and, to employ the correct term, insincerity. We declared that we must make every possible allowance for Struve, that we ourselves bore some guilt for his development, since we, including Plekhanov, had failed to protest when protest was necessary (1895, 1897). Plekhanov absolutely refused to admit even the slightest guilt, employing transparently worthless arguments by which he dodged the issue without clarifying it. This diplomacy in the course of comradely conversations between future co-editors was extremely unpleasant. Why the self-deception with the pretence that he, Plekhanov, had in 1895 been “ordered [??] not to shoot” (at Struve) and that he was accustomed to doing as he was ordered (really!)?[10] Why the self-deception with the assertion that in 1897 (when Struve wrote in Novoye Slovo that his object was to refute one of the fundamental theses of Marxism) he had not opposed it, because he never could (and never would) conceive of polemics between collaborators[11] in one and the same magazine? This insincerity was extremely irritating, the more so by the fact that in the discussion Plekhanov sought to make it appear that we did not desire to carry on a ruthless fight against Struve, that we desired to “reconcile everything,” etc. A heated discussion arose over the question of polemics in general in columns of the magazine. Plekhanov was opposed and refused to listen to our arguments. He displayed a hatred towards “the Union-Abroad people” that bordered on the indecent (suspecting them of espionage, accusing them of being swindlers and rogues, and asserting that he would not hesitate to “shoot” such “traitors,” etc.). The remotest suggestion that he went to extremes (for example, my allusion to the publication, of private letters[12] and to the imprudence of such a procedure) roused him to a high pitch of excitement and manifest irritability. It became evident that he and we were becoming increasingly disgruntled.   But with him it expressed itself, among other things, in the following: We had a draft prepared of an editorial declaration (“In the Name of the Editorial Board”),[4] in which we explained the aims and the programme of the publications. This was written in an “opportunist” spirit (from Plekhanov’s point of view)—polemics between members of the staff were to be permitted, the tone was modest, allowance was made for the possibility of a peaceful ending of the controversy with the “economists,” etc. The declaration laid stress on our belonging to the Party and on our desire to work for its unification. Plekhanov had read this declaration together with Arsenyev and Zasulich before my arrival; he had read it and raised no objection to the content. He had merely expressed a desire to improve the style, to elevate the tone, without changing the trend of the ideas. A. N. Potresov had left the declaration with him for this purpose. When I arrived,Plekhanov did not say a word to me about the matter, but when I visited him a few days later, he returned the declaration to me with an air of—Here you are, in the presence of witnesses, I return it to you intact; you see I have not lost it. I inquired why he had not made the suggested changes. He replied evasively that it could be done later, that it would not take long and was not worth doing at the time. I took the declaration, made the changes myself (it was a rough draft outlined when I was still in Russia), and read it a second time to Plekhanov (in the presence of Vera Zasulich), this time asking him point-blank to take the thing and correct it. Again he resorted to evasions and turned the job over to Vera Zasulich who was sitting beside him (an altogether strange suggestion, since we had never requested her to work on the statement, besides which, she could not have made the corrections, i.e., have “elevated” the tone and given the declaration the character of a manifesto).

Thus matters went on until the conference (the conference of the entire Emancipation of Labour group: Plekhanov, Axelrod, and Zasulich, and we two, our third man being absent[13]). Finally Axelrod arrived and the conference began. On the question of our attitude towards the Jewish Union (the Bund), Plekhanov displayed extreme intolerance and   openly declared it to be an organisation of exploiters who exploit the Russians and not a Social-Democratic organisation. He said that our aim was to eject this Bund from the Party, that the Jews are all chauvinists and nationalists, that a Russian party should be Russian and should not render itself into “captivity” to the “brood of vipers,” etc. None of our objections to these indecent speeches had any result and Plekhanov stuck to his ideas to the full, saying that we simply did not know enough about the Jews, that we had no real experience in dealing with Jews. No resolution on this question was adopted. We read the “declaration” together at the conference. Plekhanov’s behaviour was very odd. He remained silent, he suggested no changes, he did not take a stand against the idea in the declaration that polemics be permitted, and in general seemed to withdraw, precisely to withdraw. He did not wish to participate, and only casually threw in a venomous, malicious remark to the effect that he (meaning they, i.e., the Emancipation of Labour group of which he is dictator), of course, would have written a different sort of declaration. This remark, uttered in passing, after a sentence in connection with a different matter, struck me as being particularly repellent; a conference of co-editors is in session and one of them (who has been twice asked to submit his own draft or to suggest changes to ours) suggests no emendations, but sarcastically observes that he, of course, would not have written so (in so timid, modest, and opportunistic a manner, he wished to say). This showed clearly enough that normal relations did not exist between him and us. Subsequently—let me pass over the less important issues of the conference—the question of our attitude towards Bobo[14] and M. I. Tugan-Baranovsky came up. We were in favour of a conditional invitation(we were inevitably driven to this by the bitterness Plekhanov displayed; we wanted him to see that we desired a different attitude. His incredible bitterness drove one instinctively, as it were, to protest and to defend his opponents. Zasulich aptly remarked that Plekhanov always argued in a manner that aroused his readers’ sympathy for his opponent). Very coldly and drily Plekhanov declared that he completely disagreed, and he demonstratively remained silent throughout the whole of our fairly protracted conversation with Axelrod and Zasulich,   who were not disinclined to agree with us. The whole morning passed in what might be called a very tense atmosphere. It became clear beyond doubt that Plekhanov was presenting an ultimatum to us—to choose between him and those “rogues.” Seeing that things were coming to such a pass, Arsenyev and I agreed to give way and at the very opening of the evening session declared that “on the insistence of Plekhanov” we had withdrawn our proposal. This declaration met with silence (as if it were a matter of course that we could do nothing else but give way!). This “ultimatum atmosphere” (as Arsenyev later described it) greatly irritated us—Plekhanov’s desire to have unlimited power was obvious. A little before that, in a private conversation about Bobo (when Plekhanov, Arsenyev, Zasulich, and I were taking an evening walk in the woods), Plekhanov, after a heated discussion, said, laying his hand on my shoulders, “But, gentlemen, I am not putting any conditions; we shall discuss all this together at the conference and together we will decide.” I was touched by this at the time. But at the conference the very opposite happened; Plekhanov stood aside from the comradely discussion, maintained an angry silence, and by his silence obviously “put conditions.” To me it seemed to be a sharp display of insincerity (although I did not at the moment formulate my impressions so clearly), while Arsenyev declared outright: “I will never forgive him this concession!” Saturday came. I do not remember exactly what we spoke about that day, but in the evening, when we were all walking together, a fresh conflict flared up. Plekhanov proposed that a certain person (as yet unpublished in our literature, but in whom he claims to see philosophical talent; the person is unknown to me, except for a blind worship of Plekhanov) be assigned the writing of an article on a philosophical subject. Plekhanov went on to say: “I shall advise the person to begin the article with a remark against Kautsky somewhat as follows—a fine fellow, indeed! has already become a ’critic’ and publishes philosophic articles by ’critics’ in Neue Zeit, [15] but does not give full scope to ’Marxists’ [read: Plekhanov].” Arsenyev, on hearing the proposal for a sharp attack upon Kautsky (who had been invited to contribute to the magazine), became indignant and heatedly opposed it on the grounds that it was uncalled for. Plekhanov became puffed up and irate, I   seconded Arsenyev, Axelrod and Zasulich remained silent. Half an hour later, Plekhanov departed (we had accompanied him to the steamer), in the final moments he had sat in silence, his brow black as a cloud. As soon as he left us, we felt as though a weight had been lifted from us all, and the discussion proceeded in a “friendly spirit.” The next day, Sunday (today is September 2, Sunday. It happened only a week ago!!! But to me it seems like a year! How remote the thing has become!), we arranged to meet, not in our cottage, but at Plekhanov’s. We came to the place, Arsenyev arriving first, I later. Plekhanov had sent Axelrod and Zasulich to inform Arsenyev that he declined to be co-editor, desiring to be just a contributor. Axelrod left, and Zasulich, quite put out and confused, murmured to Arsenyev: “Georg is displeased, he declines....” I entered. The door was opened for me by Plekhanov, who offered me his hand with a rather queer smile and then walked out. I stepped into the room and found Zasulich and Arsenyev sitting there, their faces wearing a strange expression. “Well, ladies and gentlemen,” said I, “how goes it?” Plekhanov entered and invited us into his room. There he stated that it would be better if he were a contributor, an ordinary contributor, for otherwise there would be continual friction, that evidently his views on things differed from ours, that he understood and respected our, Party, point of view, but could not share it. Better, therefore, that we be the editors and he a contributor. We were amazed to hear this, positively amazed, and began to argue against the idea. Thereupon Plekhanov said: “Well, if we are to be together, how shall we vote; how many votes are there?” “Six.” “Six is not a practical number.” “Well, let Georg have two votes,” suggested Zasulich, “otherwise he will always be alone—two votes on questions of tactics.” We agreed to that. Upon that Plekhanov took the reins of management in his hands and with the air of editor-in-chief began apportioning departments among those present and assigning articles to this one and that in a tone that brooked no objection. We sat there as if we had been ducked; mechanically we agreed to everything, unable as yet to comprehend what had taken place. We realised that we had been made fools of; that our remarks were becoming more and more halting; that Plekhanov “waved them aside” (not refuting   them but waving them aside) more and more easily and carelessly; that “the new system” was de facto tantamount to his complete domination; and that Plekhanov understood this perfectly, not hesitating to domineer over us without ceremony. We realised that we had been fooled and utterly defeated, but were as yet unable to get a full grasp of our position. Yet no sooner did we find ourselves alone, no sooner had we left the steamer and were on our way to the cottage, than the lid flew off and we broke out in a wild and furious tirade against Plekhanov.

But before relating the substance of this tirade and what it led to, I shall go back a bit. Why did the idea of Plekhanov’s complete domination (quite apart from the form it assumed) rouse us to such indignation? Previously we had thought that we would be the editors, and they—close collaborators. I had proposed (back in Russia) that the matter be formally submitted in this manner, but Arsenyev had objected to a formal proposition and suggested that we go about it “in a friendly way” (which would achieve the same result), to which I agreed. But both of us were in accord on the point that we were to be the editors, because the “old ones” were extremely intolerant, in addition to the fact that they would not be able to perform painstakingly the drudgery of editorial work. These were the only considerations that guided us, for we were quite ready to accept their ideological guidance. The conversations I had had in Geneva with those of Plekhanov’s younger comrades and adherents closest to him (members of the Sotsial-Demokrat group,[16] long-standing adherents of Plekhanov, active Party workers, not working men, but simple, industrious people entirely devoted to Plekhanov) —these conversations strengthened my conviction (and Arsenyev’s) that this was exactly how we should arrange the matter. Those adherents had told us without equivocation that it was desirable to have the editorial office in Germany, where we would be more independent of Plekhanov, and that to allow the old ones to have practical control of the editorial work would bring about terrible delays, if not the collapse of the entire enterprise. For the very same reasons, Arsenyev was unconditionally in favour of Germany.

I broke off my description of how the “Spark” was nearly extinguished at the point where we were returning home on   the evening of Sunday, August 26 (New Style). As soon as we found ourselves alone, after leaving the steamer, we broke out into a flood of angry expressions. Our pent-up feelings got the better of us; the charged atmosphere burst into a storm. Up and down our little village we paced far into the night; it was quite dark, there was a rumbling of thunder, and constant flashes of lightning rent the air. We walked along, bursting with indignation. I remember that Arsenyev began by declaring that as far as he was concerned his personal relations with Plekhanov were broken off once and for all, never to be restored. He would maintain business relations with him, but as for personal relations—fertig.[5] Plekhanov’s behaviour had been insulting to such a degree that one could not help suspecting him of harbouring “unclean” thoughts about us (i.e., that he regarded us as Streber[6] ). He trampled us underfoot, etc. I fully supported these charges. My “infatuation” with Plekhanov disappeared as if by magic, and I felt offended and embittered to an unbelievable degree. Never, never in my life, had I regarded any other man with such sincere respect and veneration, never had I stood before any man so “humbly” and never before had I been so brutally “kicked.” That’s what it was, we had actually been kicked. We had been scared like little children, scared by the grown-ups threatening to leave us to ourselves, and when we funked (the shame of it!) we were brushed aside with an incredible unceremoniousness. We now realised very clearly that Plekhanov had simply laid a trap for us that morning when he declined to act as a co-editor; it had been a deliberate chess move, a snare for guileless “pigeons.” There could be no doubt whatever about that, for, had Plekhanov sincerely feared to act as a co-editor because he would be a stumbling-block and might rouse useless friction between us, he would not a moment later have revealed (and brutally revealed) the fact that his co-editorship was absolutely the equivalent of his sole editorship. And since a man with whom we desired to co-operate closely and establish most intimate relations, resorted to chess moves in dealing with comrades, there could be no doubt that this man   was bad, yes, bad, inspired by petty motives of personal vanity and conceit—an insincere man. This discovery—and it was indeed a discovery—struck us like a thunderbolt; for up to that moment both of us had stood in admiration of Plekhanov, and, as we do with a loved one, we had forgiven him everything; we had closed our eyes to all his short comings; we had tried hard to persuade ourselves that those shortcomings were really non-existent, that they were petty things that bothered only people who had no proper regard for principles. Yet we ourselves had been taught practically that those “petty” shortcomings were capable of repelling the most devoted friends, that no appreciation of his theoretical correctness could make us forget his repelling traits. Our indignation knew no bounds. Our ideal had been destroyed; gloatingly we trampled it underfoot like a dethroned god. There was no end to the charges we hurled against him. It cannot go on like this, we decided. We do not wish, we will not, we cannot work together with him under such conditions. Good-bye, magazine! We will throw everything up and return to Russia, where we will start all over again, right from the very beginning, and confine ourselves to the newspaper. We refuse to be pawns in the hands of that man; he does not understand, and cannot maintain comradely relations. We did not dare undertake the editorship ourselves; besides, it would be positively repulsive to do so now, for it would appear as though we really coveted the editor’s post, that we really were Streber, careerists, and that we, too, were inspired by motives of vanity, though in a smaller way.... It is difficult to-describe adequately what our feelings were that night—such mixed, heavy, confused feelings. It was a real drama; the complete abandonment of the thing which for years we had tended like a favourite child, and with which we had inseparably linked the whole of our life’s work. And all because we had formerly been infatuated with Plekhanov. Had we not been so infatuated, had we regarded him more dispassionately, more level-headedly, had we studied him more objectively, our conduct towards him would have been different and we would not have suffered such disaster, in the literal sense of the word, we would not have received such a “moral ducking,” as Arsenyev correctly expressed it. We had received the most bitter lesson of our lives, a   painfully bitter, painfully brutal lesson. Young comrades “court” an elder comrade out of the great love they bear for him—and suddenly he injects into this love an atmosphere of intrigue, compelling them to feel, not as younger brothers, but as fools to be led by the nose, as pawns to be moved about at will, and, still worse, as clumsy Streber who must be thoroughly frightened and quashed! An enamoured youth receives from the object of his love a bitter lesson— to regard all persons “without sentiment,” to keep a stone in one’s sling. Many more words of an equally bitter nature did we utter that night. The suddenness of the disaster naturally caused us to magnify it, but, in the main, the bitter words we uttered were true. Blinded by our love, we had actually behaved like slaves, and it is humiliating to be a slave. Our sense of having been wronged was magnified a hundredfold by the fact that “he” himself had opened our eyes to our humiliation....

Finally, we returned to our respective rooms to go to bed, firmly determined to express our indignation to Plekhanov on the following day, to give up the magazine and go away, retain only the newspaper, and publish the material for the magazine in pamphlet form. The cause would not suffer by this, we thought, and we would avoid having intimate dealings with “that man.”

Next morning I woke up earlier than usual. I was awakened by footsteps on the stairs and the voice of Axelrod who was knocking at Arsenyev’s door. I heard Arsenyev call out in reply and open the door—I heard all this and wondered whether he would have pluck enough to come out with everything immediately. Better to speak out at once, indeed better, than to drag the thing out! I washed and dressed and went to Arsenyev’s room, where I found him at his toilet. Axelrod was sitting in the armchair, his face wearing a somewhat strained expression. “Listen, Comrade X,” said Arsenyev turning to me, “I have told Axelrod of our decision to go back to Russia, and of our conviction that things can not be run like this.” I fully concurred with this, of course, and supported Arsenyev’s statement. We related everything to Axelrod, quite frankly, so much so that Arsenyev even spoke of our suspicion that Plekhanov regarded us as Streber. Axelrod half-sympathised with us generally, shook his head   sadly, and appeared to be greatly perturbed, confused, put out. But hearing this last remark, he began to protest and to shout that our accusation was unfounded; that Plekhanov had many shortcomings, but not this one; that in this matter it was not he who was unjust to us, but we who were unjust to him; that until then he had been prepared to say to Plekhanov, “See what a mess you have made, now clear it up yourself, I wash my hands of the matter,” but he could no longer say this, seeing that we were also unjust. His assurances made little impression upon us, as may be imagined, and poor Axelrod looked pitiful when he finally realised that we were firm in our decision.

We went out together to warn Vera Zasulich. It was to be expected that she would take the news of the “break” (for it did certainly look like a break) very badly. “I fear,” Arsenyev had said to me the previous evening, “I do seriously fear that she will commit suicide....”

I shall never forget the mood in which we three went out that morning. “It’s like going to a funeral,” I thought to myself. And indeed we walked as in a funeral procession—silent, with downcast eyes, oppressed to the extreme by the absurdness, the preposterousness, and the senselessness of our loss. As though a curse had descended upon us! Every thing had been proceeding smoothly after so many misfortunes and failures, when suddenly, a whirlwind—and the end, the whole thing shattered again. I could hardly bring myself to believe it (as one cannot bring oneself to believe the death of a near one)—could it be I, the fervent worshipper of Plekhanov, who was now filled with bitter thoughts about him, who was walking along with clenched teeth and a devilish chill at the heart, intending to hurl cold and bitter words at him and almost to announce the “breaking-off of our relations”? Was this but a hideous dream, or was it reality?

The impression clung to us even during our conversation with Zasulich. She did not display any strong emotion, but she was obviously deeply depressed and she asked us, almost implored us, could we not go back on our decision, could we not try—perhaps it was not so terrible, after all, and it would be possible to set things to rights once we were at work; during the work the repellent features of his character   would not be so apparent.... It was extremely painful to listen to the sincere pleadings of this woman, weak before Plekhanov, but absolutely sincere and passionately loyal to the cause, who bore the yoke of Plekhanovism with the “heroism of a slave” (Arsenyev’s expression). It was, indeed, so painful that at times I thought I would burst into tears.... Words of pity, despair, etc., easily move one to tears at a funeral....

We left Axelrod and Zasulich. We lunched, dispatched letters to Germany saying that we were coming and that they were to stop the machine; we had even sent a telegram about the matter (prior to our conversation with Plekhanov!!), and neither, of us doubted for a moment that we had done right.

After lunch, at the appointed hour, we again went to the house of Axelrod and Zasulich, where Plekhanov was due to be by now. As we approached, the three of them came out to meet us. We greeted each other in silence. Plekhanov tried to start an extraneous conversation (we had asked Axelrod and Zasulich to warn him of our intention, so that he would know all about it), we returned to the room and sat down. Arsenyev began to speak—drily, briefly, and with restraint. He said that we despaired of the possibility of carrying on with relations such as they had developed on the previous evening; that we had decided to return to Russia to consult the comrades there, since we no longer dared to decide the matter ourselves, and that for the time being we would have to abandon the idea of publishing the magazine. Plekhanov was very calm and restrained, and apparently had complete command of himself; he did not show a trace of the nervousness betrayed by Axelrod and Zasulich (he had been in bigger battles than this! we thought to ourselves, gazing at him in fury). He inquired what it was all about. “We are in an atmosphere of ultimatums,” replied Arsenyev, and he expounded the idea at greater length. “Were you afraid that after the first issue I would go on strike before we got out the second?" asked Plekhanov aggressively. He thought we would not dare to say a thing like that. But I too was calm and cool, as I replied: “Is that very much different from what Arsenyev said? Isn’t that what he said?” Plekhanov seemed to bristle under the words. He had not expected such a dry tone and direct accusation.

“Well, if you have decided to leave, what is there to discuss?” he said. “I have nothing to say, my position is a very curious one. All you do is talk of impressions and nothing else. You have the impression that I am a bad man. I cannot help that.”

“We may be to blame,” I said, desiring to turn the conversation away from this “impossible” subject, “for having rushed across in this headlong manner without first sounding the ford.”

“Not at all,” replied Plekhanov. “To speak quite frankly, you are to blame (perhaps Arsenyev’s state of nervousness may have had something to do with it) for attaching too much importance to impressions to which no importance whatever should have been attached.” After a moment’s silence we said that we could confine ourselves to publishing pamphlets for the time being. Plekhanov angrily retorted: “I haven’t thought about pamphlets and am not thinking of them. Don’t count on me. I shall not sit idle with my arms folded if you go away. I may take up some other enterprise before you return.”

Nothing so much lowered Plekhanov in my eyes as this statement when later I recalled it and turned it over in my mind. This was such a crude threat and such a badly calculated attempt to intimidate us, that it simply “finished” Plekhanov as far as we were concerned and exposed his “policy” towards us: give them a good scare and that will suffice....

But we did not pay the slightest attention to his threat. I simply pressed my lips tight in silence: very well, if this is how you would have it, then à la guerre comme à la guerre[7] ; but you must be a fool if you cannot see that we have changed, that we have undergone a transformation overnight.

Perceiving that his threats were ineffective, Plekhanov tried another manoeuvre—for what else can it be called, when a few moments later he stated that the break with us would spell for him complete abandonment of political activity, that he would give up political work and devote himself to science, to purely scientific literature, for if he could not   work with us, it meant that he would not be able to work with anybody.... Having found threats to be unavailing, he tried flattery! But coming as that did alter threats, it could only produce a feeling of revulsion.... The conversation was very brief and nothing came of it. Seeing this, Plekhanov switched the conversation to Russian atrocities in China, but he was almost the only one who spoke and very soon we parted company.

Our conversation with Axelrod and Zasulich after Plekhanov’s departure was neither interesting nor important; Axelrod wriggled and tried to prove that Plekhanov was also crushed and that the sin would be on our heads if we left in this manner, etc., etc. In a tête-à-tête with Arsenyev, Zasulich confessed that “Georg” was always like that. She confessed to her “slavish heroism,” but admitted that it would “teach him a lesson” if we went away.

We spent the rest of the evening in a state of idleness and depression.

On the next day, Tuesday, August 28 (New Style), we were due to leave for Geneva, and from there to proceed to Germany. Early in the morning, I was awakened by Arsenyev (a late riser usually). I was surprised. He said that he had slept badly and that he had thought of a last possible scheme by which the matter could somehow be adjusted so that a serious Party enterprise might not be ruined by spoiled personal relations. We would publish a collection, since we had the material ready and had established contact with the printing-house. We would publish this collection under the present undefined editorial relations and see what happened; from this it would be just as easy to pass on to the publication of a magazine as to the publication of pamphlets. If Plekhanov remained stubborn, then, to the devil with him, we would know that we had done all we could.... And thus it was decided.

We went out to inform Axelrod and Zasulich and met them on the way; they were coming to see us. They, of course, readily agreed and Axelrod undertook the task of negotiating with Plekhanov and of obtaining his consent.

We arrived at Geneva and had our last interview with Plekhanov. He adopted a tone which might have suggested that all that had happened was a sad misunderstanding due to   nervousness. He inquired sympathetically after Arsenyev’s health, and nearly embraced him—the latter almost gave a jump. Plekhanov agreed to the publication of a collection. We said that in regard to the editorial arrangements, three variations were possible: 1) we to be the editors, and he a contributor; 2) all of us to be the editors; 3) he to be the editor, and we contributors; that we would discuss all three alternatives in Russia, draw up a plan, and bring it back with us. Plekhanov declared that he absolutely rejected the third variant, that he insisted emphatically that this arrangement be definitely excluded, and that he agreed to the first two. We therefore decided that for the time being, until we submitted our proposal for the new editorial regime, the old system was to remain in force (the six of us to act as co-editors, with Plekhanov apportioned two votes).

Plekhanov then expressed the desire to know precisely what it was that we were dissatisfied with. I remarked that perhaps it would be better to pay more attention to the future rather than to the past. But he insisted that the question be gone into and clarified. A conversation started in which only Plekhanov and I took part, Arsenyev and Axelrod remaining silent. The conversation was carried on rather calmly, even very calmly. Plekhanov said he had noticed that Arsenyev was irritated by his refusal concerning Struve; I remarked that he, on the contrary, had laid down conditions to us, notwithstanding his statement, previously made during our conversation in the woods, that he would impose no conditions. Plekhanov defended himself, saying that he had been silent, not because he was laying down conditions, but because the question was clear as far as he was concerned. I urged the necessity for permitting polemics and the necessity for voting among ourselves. Plekhanov agreed to the latter, but added that voting, of course, was permissible on partial questions, but impossible on fundamental questions. I objected by saying that it would not always be easy to distinguish between fundamental and partial questions, and that it was precisely in drawing such distinctions that the co-editors would have to take a vote. Plekhanov was stubborn. He said that this was a matter of conscience, that the distinction between fundamental and partial questions was perfectly clear, and that there would   be no occasion for taking a vote. And so we got stuck in this dispute as to whether voting should be permitted among the editors on the question of defining what were fundamental and what were partial questions, and we could make no progress. Plekhanov displayed all his dexterity, the brilliance of his examples, smiles, jests, and citations, which compelled us to laugh in spite of ourselves; but he evaded the question without definitely saying “no.” I became convinced that he positively could not concede the point; that he could not abandon his “individualism” and his “ultimatums,” since he would never agree to take a vote on such questions but would present ultimatums.

That evening I departed without again meeting any of the members of the Emancipation of Labour group. We had agreed among ourselves not to relate what had passed to any one except our most intimate friends. We decided to keep up appearances and not give our opponents cause for triumph. Outwardly it was as though nothing had happened; the apparatus must continue to work as it had worked till then, but within a chord had broken, and instead of splendid personal relations, dry, business-like relations prevailed, with a constant reckoning according to the principle: si vis pacem, para bellum.[8]

It will be of interest, however, to mention a conversation I had that same evening with an intimate friend and adherent of Plekhanov, a member of the Sotsial-Demokrat group. I mentioned no word to him about what had occurred; I told him that, we had arranged to publish a magazine, that the articles had been decided on—it was time to set to work. I discussed with him the practical ways of arranging the work. He gave stress to the opinion that the old ones were absolutely incapable of doing editorial work. I discussed with him the “three variations” and asked him directly which in his opinion was the best. Without hesitation, he answered—the first (we to be the editors, they the contributors), but in all probability, he thought, the magazine would be Plekhanov’s and the newspaper ours.

As the affair became more and more remote, we began to think of it more calmly, and became convinced that it was   entirely unreasonable to give up the enterprise, that we had for the time being no ground for fearing to undertake the editorship (of the collection), but that indeed it was necessary for us to undertake it, for there was absolutely no other way of making the apparatus work properly, and of preventing the project from being ruined by the disruptive “propensities” of Plekhanov.

By the time we arrived at N.,[17] on September 4 or 5, we had drawn up the plan of the formal relations between us (I had begun to write i1 en route, on the train). That plan made us the editors and them the contributors, with the right to vote on all editorial questions. It was decided to discuss this plan with Yegor (Martov), and then to submit it to them.

Hopes were beginning to rise that the “Spark” would be rekindled.

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Notes

[1] A play of words on the title of the newspaper Iskra meaning spark.—Ed.

[2] Can contribute.—Ed.

[3] Holding himself to be right to the nth degree.—Ed.

[4] See p. 320 of this’ volume.—Ed.

[5] Finished.—Ed.

[6] Careerists.—Ed.

[7] If it’s war, then the way of war!—Ed.

[8] If you desire peace, prepare for war.—Ed.

[9] The split in the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad, referred to in this passage, occurred at the Second Congress of the Union in April 1900. At the First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P., the Union was recognised as the representative of the Party abroad; the majority of its members, however, adopted the “economist” position, on account of which the Emancipation of Labour group and their supporters left the Congress, broke off relations with the Union, and formed an independent organisation of Russian Social-Democrats abroad under the name of Russian Revolutionary Organisation Sotsial-Demokrat.

[10] By saying that he had been “ordered” not “to shoot” at P. B. Struve in 1895 (in this case he is hinting at A. N. Potresov), G. V. Plekhanov was trying to justify his conciliatory attitude towards the revisionist position of the “legal Marxists.” Lenin considered Plekhanov’s behaviour to be incorrect, because he not only failed to criticise the bourgeois-liberal views of Struve but took the latter under his protection.

[11] Lenin is apparently referring to Struve’s article, “Again on Free Will and Necessity,” published in 1897 in issue No.8 of the magazine Novoye Slovo (New Word). In this article Strove declared himself openly against the Marxist theory of the proletarian revolution. On June 27 (July 9), 1899, Lenin wrote to Potresov: “One thing I do not understand—how could Kamensky (Plekhanov.— Ed.) leave unanswered the articles by Struve and Bulgakov against Engels in Novoye Slovo! Can you explain this to me?”

[12] This passage refers to Vademecum, a collection of articles and documents for the Rabocheye Dyelo Editorial Board (1900) in which Plekhanov published, among other documents, three private letters from Z. M. Kopelson of the Bond and from an “economist” leader, Y. D. Kuskova.

[13] “Our third man” was L. Martov (Y. O. Zederbaum) who was in the South of Russia at the time Lenin and Potresov conducted their negotiations with the Emancipation of Labour group and who did not go abroad until March 1901.

[14] Bobo—P. B. Struve.

[15] Die Neue Zeit (New Times)—theoretical publication of German Social-Democracy. Appeared in Stuttgart from 1883 to 1923. Several articles by Frederick Engels appeared in its columns between 1885 and 1895. Engels frequently offered points of advice to the   editors of Die Neue Zeit and severely criticised them for departing from Marxism. In the late 1890s, after Engels’ death, the journal, which expounded Kautskian views, made a practice of publishing articles by revisionists. During the First World War (1914—18) the publication adopted a Centrist position and actually supported the social-chauvinists.

[16] These were former members of the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad who, after the split at the Second Congress of the Union, in April 1900, broke with the opportunist majority and united with the Emancipation of Labour group to form the Sotsial Demokrat group.

[17] N.— the city of Nuremberg which Lenin visited on his way from Geneva to Munich after the conference between the Iskra and the Emancipation of Labour groups.


 


 

Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra

In the Name of the Editorial Board


Written in September 1900
Lenin Collected Works, Volume 4, pages 351-356.

 

In undertaking the publication of a political newspaper, Iskra, we consider it necessary to say a few words concerning the objects for which we are striving and the understanding we have of our tasks.

We are passing through an extremely important period in the history of the Russian working-class movement and Russian Social-Democracy. The past few years have been marked by an astonishingly rapid spread of Social-Democratic ideas among our intelligentsia, and meeting this trend in social ideas is an independent movement of the industrial proletariat, which is beginning to unite and struggle against its oppressors, and to strive eagerly towards socialism. Study circles of workers and Social-Democratic intellectuals are springing up everywhere, local agitation leaflets are being widely distributed, the demand for Social-Democratic literature is increasing and is far outstripping the supply, and intensified government persecution is powerless to restrain the movement. The prisons and places of exile are filled to overflowing. Hardly a month goes by without our hearing of socialists “caught in dragnets” in all parts of Russia, of the capture of underground couriers, of the confiscation of literature and printing-presses. But the movement is growing, it is spreading to ever wider regions, it is penetrating more and more deeply into the working class and is attracting public attention to an ever-increasing degree. The entire economic development of Russia and the history of social thought and of the revolutionary movement in Russia serve   as a guarantee that the Social-Democratic working-class movement will grow and will, in the end, surmount all the obstacles that confront it.

On the other hand, the principal feature of our movement, which has become particularly marked in recent times, is its state of disunity and its amateur character, if one may so express it. Local study circles spring up and function independently of one another and—what is particularly important—of circles that have functioned and still function in the same districts. Traditions are not established and continuity is not maintained; local publications fully reflect this disunity and the lack of contact with what Russian Social-Democracy has already achieved.

Such a state of disunity is not in keeping with the demands posed by the movement in its present strength and breadth, and creates, in our opinion, a critical moment in its development. The need for consolidation and for a definite form and organisation is felt with irresistible force in the movement itself; yet among Social-Democrats active in the practical field this need for a transition to a higher form of the movement is not everywhere realised. On the contrary, among wide circles an ideological wavering is to be seen, an infatuation with the fashionable “criticism of Marxism” and with “Bernsteinism,” the spread of the views of the so-called “economist” trend, and what is inseparably connected with it—an effort to keep the movement at its lower level, to push into the background the task of forming a revolutionary party that heads the struggle of the entire people. It is a fact that such an ideological wavering is to be observed among Russian Social-Democrats; that narrow practicalism, detached from the theoretical clarification of the movement as a whole, threatens to divert the movement to a false path. No one who has direct knowledge of the state of affairs in the majority of our organisations has any doubt whatever on that score. Moreover, literary productions exist which confirm this. It is sufficient to mention the Credo, which has already called forth legitimate protest; the Separate Supplement to “Rabochaya Mysl” (September 1899), which brought out so markedly the trend that permeates the whole of Rabochaya Mysl; and, finally, the manifesto of the St. Petersburg Self-Emancipation of   the Working Class group,[1] also drawn up in the spirit of “economism.” And completely untrue are the assertions of Rabocheye Dyelo to the effect that the Credo merely represents the opinions of individuals, that the trend represented by Rabochaya Mysl expresses merely the confusion of mind and the tactlessness of its editors, and not a special tendency in the progress of the Russian working-class movement.

Simultaneously with this, the works of authors whom the reading public has hitherto, with more or less reason, regarded as prominent representatives of “legal” Marxism are increasingly revealing a change of views in a direction approximating that of bourgeois apologetics. As a result of all this, we have the confusion and anarchy which has enabled the ex-Marxist, or, more precisely, the ex-socialist, Bernstein, in recounting his successes, to declare, unchallenged, in the press that the majority of Social-Democrats active in Russia are his followers.

We do not desire to exaggerate the gravity of the situation, but it would be immeasurably more harmful to close our eyes to it. For this reason we heartily welcome the decision of the Emancipation of Labour group to resume its literary activity and begin a systematic struggle against the attempts to distort and vulgarise Social-Democracy.

The following practical conclusion is to be drawn from the foregoing: we Russian Social-Democrats must unite and direct all our efforts towards the formation of a strong party which must struggle under the single banner of revolutionary Social-Democracy. This is precisely the task laid down by the congress in 1898 at which the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party was formed, and which published its Manifesto.

We regard ourselves as members of this. Party; we agree entirely with the fundamental ideas contained in the Manifesto and attach extreme importance to it as a public declaration of its aims. Consequently, we, as members of the Party, present the question of our immediate and direct tasks as follows: What plan of activity must we adopt to revive the Party on the firmest possible basis?

The reply usually made to this question is that it is necessary to elect anew a central Party body and instruct it to   resume the publication of the Party organ. But, in the period of confusion through which we are now passing, such a simple method is hardly expedient.

To establish and consolidate the Party means to establish and consolidate unity among all Russian Social-Democrats, and, for the reasons indicated above, such unity can not be decreed, it cannot be brought about by a decision, say, of a meeting of representatives; it must be worked for. In the first place, it is necessary to work for solid ideological unity which should eliminate discordance and confusion that—let us be frank!—reign among Russian Social-Democrats at the present time. This ideological unity must be consolidated by a Party programme. Secondly, we must work to achieve an organisation especially for the purpose of establishing and maintaining contact among all the centres of the movement, of supplying complete and timely information about the movement, and of delivering our newspapers and periodicals regularly to all parts of Russia. Only when such an organisation has been founded, only when a Russian socialist post has been established, will the Party possess a sound foundation and become a real fact, and, therefore, a mighty political force. We intend to devote our efforts to the first half of this task, i.e., to creating a common literature, consistent in principle and capable of ideologically uniting revolutionary Social-Democracy, since we regard this as the pressing demand of the movement today and a necessary preliminary measure towards the resumption of Party activity.

As we have said, the ideological unity of Russian Social-Democrats has still to be created, and to this end it is, in our opinion, necessary to have an open and all-embracing discussion of the fundamental questions of principle and tactics raised by the present-day “economists,” Bernsteinians, and “critics.” Before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation. Otherwise, our unity will be purely fictitious, it will conceal the prevailing confusion and binder its radical elimination. It is understandable, therefore, that we do not intend to make our publication a mere storehouse of various views. On the contrary, we shall conduct it in the spirit of a strictly defined tendency. This tendency can   be expressed by the word Marxism, and there is hardly need to add that we stand for the consistent development of the ideas of Marx and Engels and emphatically reject the equivocating, vague, and opportunist “corrections” for which Eduard Bernstein, P. Struve, and many others have set the fashion. But although we shall discuss all questions from our own definite point of view, we shall give space in our columns to polemics between comrades. Open polemics, conducted in full view of all Russian Social-Democrats and class-conscious workers, are necessary and desirable in order to clarify the depth of existing differences, in order to afford discussion of disputed questions from all angles, in order to combat the extremes into which representatives, not only of various views, but even of various localities, or various “specialities” of the revolutionary movement, inevitably fall. Indeed, as noted above, we regard one of the drawbacks of the present-day movement to be the absence of open polemics between avowedly differing views, the effort to conceal differences on fundamental questions.

We shall not enumerate in detail all questions and points of subject-matter included in the programme of our publication, for this programme derives automatically from the general conception of what a political newspaper, published under present conditions, should be.

We will exert our efforts to bring every Russian comrade to regard our publication as his own, to which all groups would communicate every kind of information concerning the movement, in which they would relate their experiences, express their views, indicate their needs for political literature, and voice their opinions concerning Social-Democratic editions: in a word, they would thereby share whatever contribution they make to the movement and whatever they draw from it. Only in this way will it be possible to establish a genuinely all-Russian Social-Democratic organ. Only such a publication will be capable of leading the movement on to the high road of political struggle. “Extend the bounds and broaden the content of our propagandist, agitational, and organisational activity”—these words of P. B. Axelrod must serve as a slogan defining the activities of Russian Social Democrats in the immediate future, and we adopt this slogan in the programme of our publication.

We appeal not only to socialists and class-conscious workers, we also call upon all who are oppressed by the present political system; we place the columns of our publications at their disposal in order that they may expose all the abominations of the Russian autocracy.

Those who regard Social-Democracy as an organisation serving exclusively the spontaneous struggle of the proletariat may be content with merely local agitation and working-class literature “pure and simple.” We do not understand Social-Democracy in this way; we regard it as a revolutionary party, inseparably connected with the working-class movement and directed against absolutism. Only when organised in such a party will the proletariat—the most revolutionary class in Russia today—be in a position to fulfil the historical task that confronts it—to unite under its banner all the democratic elements in the country and to crown the tenacious struggle in which so many generations have fallen with the final triumph over the hated regime.

*     *
*

The size of the newspaper will range from one to two printed signatures.

In view of the conditions under which the Russian under ground press has to work, there will be no regular date of publication.

We have been promised contributions by a number of prominent representatives of international Social-Democracy, the close co-operation of the Emancipation of Labour group (G. V. Plekhanov, P. B. Axelrod, and V. I. Zasulich), and the support of several organisations of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, as well as of separate groups of Russian Social-Democrats.


_____

Notes


[1] The Self-Emancipation of the Working Class group was a small circle of “economists” that came into being in St. Petersburg in the autumn of 1898 and existed for a few months only. The group issued a manifesto announcing its aims (printed in the magazine Nakanune [On the Eve], published in London), its rules, and several proclamations addressed to workers.

Lenin criticised the views of this group in Chapter 2 of his book, What Is to Be Done? (see present edition, Vol. 5).