V. I. Lenin

A New Revolutionary Workers' Association

First Published: Proletary, No. 4. June 17 (4), 19O5

Published: Published according to the text in Proletary

Source: Volume 8, pages 499-510, Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages

We have received the following leaflets of the Central Committee of the Russian

Liberation Union (R.L.U.), printed and distributed in Russia: (1) an unaddressed

appeal setting forth the aims and the nature of the R.L.U.; (2) an appeal to the

workers concerning the establishment of the R.L.U. Workers' Union, and (3) the

Rules of this Workers' Union. From these documents it is evident that “the

R.L.U. is not a party with a definite and specific programme, but rather an

association of all who desire the transfer of power from the autocracy to the

people by means of the armed uprising and through the convocation of a

Constituent Assembly” based on universal suffrage with all its democratic

aspects. “The urgent necessity," we read in the first appeal, “of achieving the

universal immediate objective, i.e., a Constituent Assembly, has given rise to

the R.L.U., which has made it its aim to unite all who strive for the political

freedom of Russia and to take practical steps to achieve the revolution. With

the achievement of this objective the R.L.U. will discontinue its activities and

entrust the protection of the people's representatives and of public safety to a

civil militia to be organised for the purpose."

The Rules of the Workers' Union consist of 43 clauses, and their aim is set

forth as follows: "(1) to organise combat groups for the armed uprising; (2) to

raise the necessary funds for arms and for literature of a strictly proletarian

nature." The organisation of the Workers' Union consists of four-stage bodies:

(1) groups of workers (mainly from one and the same workshop); (2) factory

councils; (3) district meetings; and (4) committees of the Workers' Union. All

higher bodies consist of elected representatives of the lower bodies, with two

exceptions: first, each committee of the Workers' Union contains a member of the

C.C. of the Russian Liberation Union; second, it is not specified whether this

C.C. is elected or whether it is subject to any control. All that is said on the

relations between the Workers' Union and the R.L.U. is: “Through us (the C.C. of

the R.L.U.) the Workers' Union will be connected with all the other workers' and

non-working-class associations." Not a word is mentioned about the organisation

of the R.L.U. itself and the relation of its C.C. to the R.L.U. as a whole. In

its appeal to the workers the C.C. of the R.L.U. sets forth its immediate task

as follows: "We shall work out a detailed plan of the uprising, tell you how to

form combat squads, teach you how to arm, and supply fire-arms. Lastly, we shall

unite the activities of all people scattered in all towns and places, who want

to free Russia from the yoke of the autocracy, and, when that unity has been

achieved, we will give the signal for the general uprising." Finally, we would

point out that the Rules of the Workers' Union (§4) say: “The appeal to form the

Workers' Union will be distributed at all the factories of St. Petersburg and

its environs."

From all this it is apparent that we have to do here with an attempt at an

“independent” non-party organisation of the armed popular uprising in general

and the uprising of the St. Petersburg workers in particular. We shall not dwell

here on the question to what extent this attempt is serious; that can be judged

conclusively only from its results and tentatively from private and secret

information about the R.L.U., but we have no such information. We wish to touch

therefore on the significance of this attempt in terms of principle and the

tactical and organisational tasks which it poses for Social-Democracy.

Without doubt, we are dealing here with weighty evidence pointing to the fact

that the question of the armed popular uprising is now looming large. It is a

question which practical workers as well as theoreticians have now raised. It is

posed, not as a conclusion drawn from a definite programme (as it was, for

instance, in Social-Democratic literature abroad in 1902),{a} but as a vital

issue of the practical movement today. It is not a question now of discussing

the problem, or even of preparing for the uprising in general, but of actually

carrying out the uprising. Manifestly, the whole course of events brings to the

fore the question of the uprising; the whole struggle for freedom has made

necessary such a decisive outcome. From this it is clear, by the way, how deeply

mistaken those Social-Democrats are who seek to prevent the Party from putting

this task on the order of the day.

Furthermore, the attempt we have considered proves that the

revolutionary-democratic movement in Russia has made a great stride forward. A

long time back, in issue No. 7 of Vperyod,{b} we pointed out the emergence of

this new group among the forces, parties, and organisations hostile to the

autocracy. We pointed out that the very nature of the revolution taking place in

Russia, namely, the bourgeois-democratic revolution, inevitably increased and

multiplied, and would continue to increase and multiply, the most diverse

militant elements who expressed the interests of the most diverse sections of

the people, who were prepared for decisive struggle and were passionately

devoted to the cause of freedom and prepared to sacrifice their all for that

cause, but who did not and could not grasp either the historic significance or

the class content of the revolution that was taking place. The rapid growth of

these social elements is highly characteristic of an epoch in which the whole

people is oppressed by the autocracy and in which the direct political struggle

has not yet succeeded in clearly demarcating the classes and creating clearly

defined parties understandable to the broad masses. All these undissociated and

undefined elements form the cadres of the revolutionary democrats. Their

militant significance for the democratic revolution is very great. Their

non-party, indefinite position is, on the one hand, symptomatic of the fact that

the intermediate sections of the population are rising to desperate struggle and

revolt—the sections that have least of all merged with either of the two hostile

classes in capitalist society, the sections of the peasantry, the petty

bourgeoisie, etc. On the other hand, the fact that these non-party

revolutionaries have set out upon the revolutionary path is a pledge that the

utterly backward sections of the people, those farthest re moved from class

definiteness, will now be more easily, quickly, and broadly aroused and drawn

into the struggle. Formerly only the intelligentsia in Russia was revolutionary.

Later the urban proletariat turned revolutionary. Today a considerable number of

other social elements, deeply rooted in the people” and closely linked with the

masses, are turning revolutionary against the autocracy. The active

participation of these elements is essential to the cause of the popular

uprising. Their militant significance, we repeat, is very great. But their

political significance for the proletarian movement may sometimes be small, if

not actually negative. These elements are simply revolutionary and simply

democratic because association with the one definite class which has cut loose

from the ruling bourgeoisie, viz., the proletariat, is alien to them. By

fighting for freedom with out close connection with the proletarian struggle for

socialism, they play a role that objectively amounts to promoting the interests

of the bourgeoisie. They who serve the cause of freedom in general without

serving the specific cause of proletarian utilisation of this freedom, the cause

of turning the freedom to account in the proletarian struggle for socialism,

are, in the final analysis, plainly and simply, fighters for the interests of

the bourgeoisie. We do not in the least belittle the heroism of these people. We

certainly do not belittle their tremendous role in the struggle for freedom. But

we do not cease to maintain with the utmost emphasis that their activity does

not yet in the least guarantee that the fruits of victory, the fruits of

freedom, will be utilised in the interest of the proletariat, of socialism. They

who stand outside the parties thereby serve the interests of the ruling party,

albeit unwittingly and against their will. They who struggle for freedom outside

the parties thereby serve the interests of the force that will inevitably rule

when freedom is won, viz., the interests of the bourgeoisie. For this reason we

called the non-party organisation of the uprising “independent” in inverted

commas. Actually, non-partyism, with its appearance of independence, implies

utter lack of independence and utter dependence on the ruling party. Actually,

the just plain revolutionaries, the just plain democrats are no more than the

vanguard of the bourgeois-democratic movement, and sometimes merely its

auxiliary force, even its cannon-fodder.

We pass now from these general theses to a more detailed examination of the

documents in hand. “Let us abandon for a time party disputes and differences on

points of principle," exclaims the C.C. of the R.L.U. in its first call, “let us

rally into a mighty whole, into the Russian Liberation Union, and give our

strength, our funds, and our knowledge to the people in its great struggle with

the common enemy, the autocracy. Until the Constituent Assembly is held, we must

all go along together. Only the Constituent Assembly can bring political

freedom, without which a proper struggle of the parties is inconceivable." Any

worker who is at all class-conscious knows full well that the people struggling

against the autocracy consists of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The

bourgeoisie is very keen on freedom, it is making a great stir about it, writing

in the press and addressing meetings against the autocracy. Yet is there a

person so naive who does not understand that the bourgeoisie will never give up

private ownership of the land and of capital, but, on the contrary, will fight

to the last ditch to retain it against the encroachment of the workers? For the

worker to abandon differences on questions of principle with the bourgeoisie,

alongside which he is fighting the autocracy, is tantamount to abandoning

socialism, to abandoning the idea of socialism, and the preparatory work for

socialism. For the worker, in short, it means abandoning the idea of his

economic emancipation, the emancipation of the working people from poverty and

oppression. All over the world the bourgeoisie struggled for freedom, which it

won largely with the hands of the workers, only thereafter to launch a furious

struggle against socialism. Therefore, the appeal to sink differences is a

bourgeois appeal. Under the guise of non partyism the C.C. of the R.L.U. is

feeding the workers with bourgeois phrases, instilling into them bourgeois

ideas, demoralising their socialist consciousness with bourgeois exhalations.

Only the enemies of socialism, the liberal bourgeois, the Osvobozhdeniye gentry,

can be consciously in sympathy with the idea of the workers and the bourgeois

sinking their differences for a time, and only revolutionary democrats like the

Socialists-Revolutionaries, who care little about socialism, can unconsciously

be in sympathy with it The workers should fight for freedom, without even for a

minute abandoning the idea of socialism, without ceasing to work for its

realisation, to prepare the forces and the organisation for the achievement of


The C.C. of the R.L.U. says: “As far as our attitude to wards the existing

parties and organisations is concerned, we, the Central Committee of the R.L.U.,

declare that we foresee no possibility of the appearance of fundamental

differences with the Social-Democratic parties, since the principle of the Union

does not contradict their programmes" .... These words show the extent to which

the C.C. of the R.L.U. misunderstands socialism. The C.C. does not even foresee

the possibility of the appearance of differences with Social-Democracy, whereas

we have shown that a fundamental difference exists! The C.C. sees no

contradiction between the principle of the Union and the programme of

Social-Democracy, whereas we have shown that this contradiction is as profound

as the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Our radical

disagreement with the R.L.U. arises precisely from the fact that it passes

socialism over in silence. Any political trend that passes socialism over in

silence is radically opposed to the Social-Democratic programme.

The quoted passage shows that the R.L.U. is in sympathy with Social-Democracy.

Knowing nothing about the R.L.U. beyond the leaflet it has issued, we are not

yet in a position to judge the sincerity of that sympathy. At any rate, mere

Platonic sympathy cannot satisfy us, mere Platonic love is not enough. We want

more than sympathy, we want to be understood and we want our programme to be

shared by those who would not like their ideas to contradict this programme. The

Russian Liberation Union speaks of its task of “widely distributing among the

workers literature advocating a strictly proletarian ideology” (our italics).

These are very good words, but words are not enough. And if these fine words

contradict the deeds, no amount of sincerity will save their authors in actual

deeds from becoming carriers of bourgeois ideas into the working class. Let us

consider the matter: what does this “strictly proletarian ideology” actually

mean? Who is going to judge whether it is strictly proletarian? Can the problem

conceivably be solved by “abandoning for a time party disputes and differences

on points of principle"? Would it not then first be necessary to “abandon for a

time” the distribution of literature among the workers?

The C.C. of the R.L.U. once more launches the slogan of the “independent

activity” of the workers. Our Party has often witnessed attempts to call into

life a special trend in Social-Democracy under the banner of this notorious

slogan. Thus it was with the “Economists” in the past, thus it is now with the

Mensheviks or the new-Iskrists. Ever and always it turned out that this slogan

(whether those who released it were conscious of it or not) only suited the

purpose of elements who least appreciated the consistency of principle and the

idea-content of the movement. We need only see the new use to which this old

slogan has been put: we see before our eyes a fusion of the appeal to

“independent activity” in assessing a “strictly proletarian ideology” with the

“independently active” repetition of anti-proletarian, bourgeois phrases, with

the advocacy of the bourgeois idea of non-partyism. We would answer the C.C. of

the R.L.U.: there is only one strictly proletarian ideology, and that is

Marxism. A strictly proletarian programme and strictly proletarian tactics are

the programme and the tactics of international revolutionary Social-Democracy.

This is borne out, among other things, by proletarian experience, by the

experience of the proletarian movement throughout the world, from Germany to

America, from England to Italy. It is over half a century since this movement

first emerged upon the broad political scene in 1848; the parties of the

proletariat formed and grew into vast armies; they experienced a number of

revolutions, underwent all kinds of trials, passed through deviations to both

the Right and the Left, and waged a struggle with opportunism and with

anarchism. This entire gigantic experience serves to confirm the Marxist

ideology and the Social-Democratic programme. It is a pledge that even those

workers who are now following the lead of the R.L.U. will, in the mass,

inevitably and unavoidably come to Social-DemOcracy!

To quote further from the Appeal: “Being largely a practical organisation, the

R.L.U. is at one in its activity also with the Party of the

Socialists-Revolutionaries, inasmuch as we are united with it by a common

method—armed struggle against the autocracy, and a common aim—the con vocation

of a Constituent Assembly on democratic lines...." After what has been said we

are not surprised, of course, at this rapprochement of the revolutionary

democrats with the Socialists-Revolutionaries. While stressing the practical

nature of its organisation in the cited passage of the Appeal and limiting its

solidarity with the Socialists-Revolutionaries ("inasmuch as") to common grounds

of method and immediate aim, the R.L.U. obviously abstains for the present from

determining the relationship between the “principles” of the

Socialists-Revolutionaries and those of a “strictly proletarian ideology”. Such

an abstention would be a very bad recommendation for a Social-Democrat, but a

very good one for a revolutionary democrat. Unfortunately, however, the ensuing

sentence in the Appeal shows what a non-party” stand may lead to.... “We have

nothing against even the Osvobozhdeniye League," says the C.C. of the R.L.U.,

“notwithstanding the radical difference in our political convictions, provided,

of course, that it brings itself to realise the inevitability of the armed

uprising if a Constituent Assembly is to be convened."

In the first place, we would remark in this connection that if the R.L.U.

differs radically only with the political views of the Osvobozhdeniye League, we

can infer that it does not differ with its economic programme, in which case it

explicitly renounces socialism and fully subscribes to the views of the

revolutionary bourgeois democrats! This deduction, of course, is at variance

with the R.L.U.'s sympathies for a “strictly proletarian ideology”, but the

essence of a “non-party” stand consists precisely in the fact that it engenders

endless and hopeless contradictions.

Secondly, what exactly is the radical difference between the political views of

the R.L.U. and the Osvobozhdeniye League? The R.L.U. has just rapped its own

knuckles; it has spoken of “going along together to a Constituent Assembly” and

“abandoning for a time party disputes and differences on points of

principle"(obviously, until the Constituent Assembly is convened), and now,

before the Constituent Assembly, it precipitates a dispute and expresses its

disagreement with the Osvobozhdeniye League, which adopted in its programme the

convocation of a popular Constituent Assembly on democratic lines! How does it

happen that the R.L.U., while expressing a desire to “propagandise its political

convictions”, manages to say nothing on the content of those convictions? Is the

R.L.U. a republican organisation, as distinct from the Osvobozhdeniye League,

which is monarchist? Do the political convictions of the R.L.U. include, say,

the abolition of the standing army and its replacement by the arming of the

people? the demand for the complete disestablishment of the Church? the complete

abolition of indirect taxes, etc.? In its desire to simplify and ease things by

abandoning party disputes and fundamental differences, the R.L.U. has actually

complicated and made things more difficult by the utter vagueness of its


Thirdly, how are we to know whether the Osvobozhdeniye League will fulfil the

condition which the R.L.U. has set it, whether it will “bring itself to realise

the inevitability of the armed uprising"? Are we to wait for its official

announcement on that score? But the Osvobozhdeniye League refuses to say

anything about the methods by which its programme is to be carried out. It gives

its members full scope both in the choice of those methods and in the matter of

modifying the programme itself. It considers itself to be a part of the

“Constitutional-Democratic” (read constitutional-monarchist) party, whose other

part forms the Zemstvo grouping which refuses to commit itself to any programme

or to any tactics whatever. This being the case, what does the condition set to

the Osvobozhdeniye League by the R.L.U. amount to? Further, who does not know

that the Osvobozhdeniye adherents do not commit themselves to any definite

programme or tactical line, in order to be completely free in certain cases to

declare themselves (especially unofficially) both for terrorism and for the up

rising? Hence, we arrive at the indubitable conclusion that influential members

and even influential groups of the League will experience no difficulty in

joining, should they wish to do so, the R.L.U. and in occupying key positions

therein. Given the R.L.U.'s non-party position, quite a number of circumstances

beyond its control (large financial resources, social connections, etc.) will

favour such an outcome. This outcome would mean the conversion of the armed

fighting squads of the people into an instrument of the liberal bourgeoisie, the

subjection of the workers' up rising to its interests. It would mean the

political exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie in the Russian

democratic revolution. In the event of such an outcome the bourgeoisie would

furnish the money to arm the proletariat, taking care to divert the proletariat

from socialism by preaching common-party interests, to weaken its ties with

Social-Democracy, and thus to render its own chances most favour able for using

the workers as its tool and for depriving them of the possibilities to advance

their own, “party”, proletarian interests in the revolution.

* *


The tactical tasks, which the appearance of this new union sets before the

Social-Democrats, follow naturally from what has been said above. Whether this

particular union, the R.L.U., especially its C.C., subject to no control and

answerable to no one, merits confidence, we cannot say. We shall not dwell on

the C.C. of the R.L.U., but on the R.L.U. Workers' Union, and not so much on

this particular workers' union as on workers' unions of this type in general.

Similar unions”, organisations, groups, and circles in varying forms, under

varying names, and of varying sizes, are today springing up all over Russia. The

whole policy of the autocracy, which compels the people to resort to arms and

prepare for the uprising, inevitably stimulates the organisation of such groups.

The motley, often accidental, nature of their social composition, with its

indeterminate class character, in con junction with an extremely limited scope

of effective Social-Democratic work, inevitably lends these groups the character

of common-party revolutionary-democratic groups. The practical attitude of the

Social-Democrats towards them is one of our Party's most pressing problems.

We must, in the first place, decidedly use all means to make the

Social-Democratic standpoint clear to the members of these groups, especially to

the workers, without vagueness or reservation in the slightest, that the

proletariat must organise definitely on a party basis and definitely in the

Social-Democratic Party, if it does not wish to be politically exploited by the

bourgeoisie. It would he sheer pedantry for us simply to dismiss these groups,

or to “over look” their formation and their tremendous importance for the

struggle for freedom. It would be unpardonable doctrinairism for the

Social-Democrats to adopt a snobbish or contemptuous attitude towards the

“common-party” workers belonging to such groups. We should like in particular to

warn all members of the Party against such mistakes, which are possible as a

result of the revival of Economism of rueful memory and a narrow, tail-ist

interpretation of our tasks in the ranks of Social-Democracy. Every effort

should be made to effect a mutual exchange of assistance between these groups

and the organisations of our Party for the purpose of arming the greatest

possible number of workers. There should be an extremely discreet, tactful, and

comradely attitude towards the workers, who are ready to die for freedom, who

are organising and arming for the fight, who are in complete sympathy with the

proletarian struggle, and who are yet divided from us by the lack of a

Social-Democratic world outlook, by anti-Marxist prejudices, and by survivals of

superannuated revolutionary views. Nothing is easier than the method of

immediately breaking with such otherwise-minded workers or of simply keeping

aloof from them; nor is there anything more stupid than such a method. We should

remember that Social-Democracy's strength lies in the unity of the broad masses

of the proletariat, and that such unity, owing to the splitting, disuniting, and

dulling conditions of capitalism, is not achieved with immediacy, but only at

the cost of persistent effort and tremendous patience. We should remember the

experiences of our European comrades, who consider it their duty to show an

attitude of comradely concern even towards the workers who are members of the

Catholic unions and try not to antagonise them by treating their religious and

political prejudices with contempt, but persistently, tactfully, and patiently

make use of every act of the political and economic struggle in order to

enlighten them and bring them closer to the class conscious proletariat on the

ground of common struggle. How much more careful should our attitude be towards

the worker-revolutionaries, who are prepared to fight for freedom but are still

strangers to Social-Democracy! We repeat: no concealment of Social-Democratic

views, but no slighting of the revolutionary groups that do not share these

views. So long as these groups have not officially joined any non

Social-Democratic party, we are entitled, nay, obligated to regard them as

associated with the R.S.D.L.P. Thus, too, we should regard the Workers' Union of

the Russian Liberation Union. We should make every effort to introduce the

members of this union to socialist literature and conduct propaganda of our

views by word of mouth at all meetings of all the branches of this union. Even

in the free countries of Europe the idea that all proletarians can be made

class-conscious Social-Democrats under capitalism is considered utopian. But

neither in Europe nor in Russia is the idea of the Social-Democrats' leading

influence upon the mass of the proletariat considered utopian. The thing is to

learn how to exercise this influence, to remember that our best ally in

educating the unenlightened workers will be our enemies, the government and the

bourgeoisie; then we shall be sure that, at the decisive moment, the whole

working-class mass will respond to the call of Social-Democracy!


{a} See present edition, Vol. 5, p. 515.—Ed.

{b} See pp. 164-65 of this volume.—Ed.