Critical assessments

V.I. Lenin


‘The Tasks of Russian Social-Democrats’ [1898]

Lenin Collected Works. Volume 2. Moscow: Progress, 1972, 339-340.

[…] [W]e cannot refrain from mentioning P. L. Lavrov’s article, “Programme questions” (pp. 19-22), which vividly reveals the different conception of the political struggle entertained by the old-style Narodovoltsi. “…Here,” writes P. L. Lavrov, speaking of the relation of the Narodnaya Volya programme to the Social-Democratic programme, “one thing and one thing alone is material, viz., is it possible to organise a strong workers’ party under the autocracy and to do so apart from the organisation of a revolutionary party directed against the autocracy?” (p. 21, col. 2); also a little before that (in col. 1): “…to organise a Russian workers’ party while autocracy reigns without at the same time organising a revolutionary party against this autocracy.” We cannot at all understand these distinctions which seem to be of such cardinal importance to P. L. Lavrov. What is the meaning of “a workers’ party apart from a revolutionary party against the autocracy”?? Is not a workers’ party itself a revolutionary party? Is it not directed against the autocracy? This queer idea is explained in the following passage in P. L. Lavrov’s article: “A Russian workers’ party will have to be organised under the rule of the autocracy with all its charms. If the Social-Democrats succeeded in doing this without at the same time organising a political conspiracy against the autocracy, with all that goes with such a conspiracy, then, of course, their political programme would be a fit and proper programme for Russian socialists, since the emancipation of the workers by the efforts of the workers themselves would be accomplished. But this is very doubtful, if not impossible” (p. 21, col. 1). So that’s the point! To the Narodovoltsi, the term political struggle is synonymous with the term political conspiracy! It must be confessed that in these words P. L. Lavrov has managed to bring out in bold relief the fundamental difference between the tactics in the political struggle adopted by the Narodovoltsi and by the Social-Democrats. Blanquist conspiratorial traditions are fearfully strong among the former, so much so that they cannot conceive of political struggle except in the form of political conspiracy. The Social-Democrats, however, are not guilty of such a narrow outlook; they do not believe in conspiracies; they think that the period of conspiracies has long passed away, that to reduce political struggle to conspiracy means, on the one hand, immensely restricting its scope, and, on the other hand, choosing the most unsuitable methods of struggle. […]

‘A Protest by Russian Social-Democrats’ [1899]

LCW. Vol. 4, Moscow: Progress, 1972, 177.

[…] The conviction that the class struggle must necessarily combine the political and the economic struggle into one integral whole has entered into the flesh and blood of international Social-Democracy. The experience of history has, furthermore, incontrovertibly proved that absence of freedom, or restriction of the political rights of the proletariat, always make it necessary to put the political struggle in the forefront.

Still less can there be any suggestion of a serious change in the attitude of the workers’ party towards the other opposition parties. In this respect, too, Marxism has mapped out the correct line, which is equally remote from exaggerating the importance of politics, from conspiracy (Blanquism, etc.), and from decrying politics or reducing it to opportunist, reformist social tinkering (anarchism, utopian and petty- bourgeois socialism, state socialism, professorial socialism, etc.). The proletariat must strive to form independent political workers’ parties, the main aim of which must be the capture of political power by the proletariat for the purpose of organising socialist society. […]

‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back’ [1904]

 LCW. Vol. 7. Moscow: Progress, 1977, 379, 381.

Q. The New Iskra. Opportunism In Questions Of Organisation

[…] Comrade Axelrod’s other allusion—to the “Jacobins”—is still more revealing. Comrade Axelrod is probably aware that the division of present-day Social-Democracy into revolutionary and opportunist has long since given rise—and not only in Russia—to “historical parallels with the era of the great French Revolution”. Comrade Axelrod is probably aware that the Girondists of present-day Social-Democracy everywhere and always resort to the terms “Jacobinism”, “Blanquism”, and so on to describe their opponents. […]

How clumsily Comrade Axelrod defends himself against the “false accusation of opportunism” that at our Party Congress was openly levelled at the majority of the Emancipation of Labour group! By taking up the hackneyed Bernsteinian refrain about Jacobinism, Blanquism, and so on, he defends himself in a manner that only bears out the accusation! He shouts about the menace of the radical intellectuals in order to drown out his own speeches at the Party Congress, which were full of concern for these intellectuals.

These “dreadful words”—Jacobinism and the rest—are expressive of opportunism and nothing else. A Jacobin who wholly identifies himself with the organisation of the proletariat—a proletariat conscious of its class interests—is a revolutionary Social-Democrat. A Girondist who sighs after professors and high-school students, who is afraid of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and who yearns for the absolute value of democratic demands is an opportunist. It is only opportunists who can still detect a danger in conspiratorial organisations today, when the idea of confining the political struggle to conspiracy has been refuted thousands of times in the press and has long been refuted and swept aside by the realities of life, and when the cardinal importance of mass political agitation has been elucidated and reiterated to the point of nausea. The real basis of this fear of conspiracy, of Blanquism, is not any feature to be found in the practical movement (as Bernstein and Co. have long, and vainly, been trying to make out), but the Girondist timidity of the bourgeois intellectual, whose mentality so often shows itself among the Social-Democrats of today. Nothing could be more comical than these laborious efforts of the new Iskra to utter a new word of warning (uttered hundreds of times before) against the tactics of the French conspirator revolutionaries of the forties and sixties (No. 62, editorial). In the next issue of Iskra, the Girondists of present-day Social-Democracy will no doubt show us a group of French conspirators of the forties for whom the importance of political agitation among the working masses, the importance of the labour press as the principal means by which the party influences the class, was an elementary truth they had learned and assimilated long ago. […]

‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Reply by N. Lenin to Rosa Luxemburg’ [1904]

LCW. Vol. 7. Moscow: Progress, 1977, 473-474.

[…] Comrade Luxemburg says that in my view “the Central Committee is the only active nucleus of the Party”. Actually that is not so. I have never advocated any such view. On the contrary, my opponents (the Second Party Congress minority) charged in their writings that I did not sufficiently uphold the independence of the Central Committee, that I made it too subordinate to the editorial board of the Central Organ and the Party Council, bodies located abroad. To these charges I replied in my book that when the Party majority had the upper hand in the Party Council, the latter never made any attempt to interfere with the Central Committee’s independence, but that when the Party council became a weapon of the minority, this did immediately hap pen. Comrade Rosa Luxemburg says that there are no two opinions among the Russian Social-Democrats as to the need for a united party, and that the whole controversy is over the degree of centralisation. Actually that is not so. If Comrade Luxemburg had taken the trouble to acquaint her self with the resolutions of the many local Party committees that constitute the majority, she would readily have seen (which incidentally is also clear from my book) that our controversy has principally been over whether the Central Committee and Central Organ should represent the trend of   the majority of the Party Congress, or whether they should not. About this “ultra-centralist” and “purely Blanquist” demand the worthy comrade says not a word, she prefers to declaim against mechanical subordination of the part to the whole, against slavish submission, blind obedience, and other such bogeys. […]

Plan of a Lecture on the Commune’ [1905]

LCW. Vol. 8. Moscow: Progress, 1977, 207.

[…] 9. Trends in the Commune: (a) Blanquists. In November 1880 Blanqui in Ni Dieu ni maître condemns the theory of the class struggle and the separation of the interests of the proletariat and those of the nation. (Weill, 229) (draws no line between the workers and the revolutionary bourgeoisie). (b) Proudhonists (Mutualists) “organisation of barter and credit”.

Revolutionary instinct of the working class asserts itself despite fallacious theories. […]

‘Petty Bourgeois and Proletarian Socialism’ [1905]

LCW. Vol. 9. Moscow: Progress, 1977, 438.

Of the various socialist doctrines, Marxism is now predominant in Europe, the struggle for the achievement of a socialist order being almost entirely waged as a struggle of the working class under the guidance of the Social-Democratic parties. This complete predominance of proletarian socialism grounded in the teachings of Marxism was not achieved all at once, but only after a long struggle against all sorts of outworn doctrines, petty-bourgeois socialism, anarchism, and so on. Some thirty years ago, Marxism was not predominant even in Germany, where the prevailing views of the time were in fact transitional, mixed and eclectic, lying between petty-bourgeois and proletarian socialism. The most widespread doctrines among advanced workers in the Romance countries, in France, Spain and Belgium, were Proudhonism, Blanquism and anarchism, which obviously expressed the viewpoint of the petty bourgeois, not of the proletarian. […]

‘The Congress Summed Up’ [1906]

LCW. Vol. 10. Moscow: Progress, 1978, 392-393.

“There are signs,” writes Rech today, “that the brilliant success of the opposition has revived old illusions that seemed to have been buried, and threatens to turn the revolutionary movement back to the path of Blanquism, from which the reasonable ’Minority’ of the Russian Social-Democratic Party made such strenuous efforts to divert it after the unsuccessful ’armed uprising’ last December.”

This is a valuable admission which the Russian workers would do well to ponder over. Why does the bourgeoisie insult certain Social-Democrats by slapping them on the back and calling them reasonable? Because they have made strenuous efforts to divert the movement from the path of Blanquism, from the “December” path. Is it true that the December struggle was a manifestation of Blanquism? No, it is not. Blanquism is a theory which repudiates the class struggle. Blanquism expects that mankind will be emancipated from wage slavery, not by the proletarian class struggle, but through a conspiracy hatched by a small minority of intellectuals. Was there such a conspiracy, or anything like one, in December? No, there was not. It was the class move ment of vast masses of the proletariat who resorted to the purely proletarian weapon of struggle, the strike, and won over to its side the masses of semi-proletarians (railwaymen, post-office employees, etc.), peasants (in the South, the Caucasus, the Baltic Provinces) and town petty bourgeoisie (Moscow), who had never before been seen on the Russian political scene. The bourgeoisie wants, by using the bogy of “Blanquism”, to belittle, discredit and slander the people’s struggle for power. The bourgeoisie stands to gain if the proletarians and peasants fight only for concessions from the old regime.

The Right Social-Democrats use the word “Blanquism” merely as a rhetorical device in their polemics. The bourgeoisie converts this word into a weapon against the proletariat: “Workers, be reasonable! Fight for the extension of the powers of the Cadet Duma! Pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the bourgeoisie, but don’t dare to think of such madness, anarchism, Blanquism, as fighting for complete power for the people!” […]

‘The Duma and the People’ [1906]

LCW. Vol. 10. Moscow: Progress, 1978, 398.

[…] Ponder deeply over the significance of this fear of a “high minded” bourgeois radical lest the Duma become the play thing of popular passions, the plaything of the crowd! These wretched people realise that they cannot be the vehicle of popular passion, the leader of the people, and so they blame the people for their own impotence and backwardness, contemptuously refer to it as the crowd, and disdainfully refuse to serve as a “plaything”. And yet all the freedom that still exists in Russia was won only by the “crowd”, only by the people, who heroically came out into the street, who made countless sacrifices in the fight, and who with their deeds supported the great watchword: freedom or death. All these actions of the people were the actions of the crowd. The whole new era in Russia was won, and is being maintained, only by popular passion.

But you, the party of words about “people’s freedom”, you dread popular passion, you are afraid of the crowd. And yet you have the effrontery to accuse the “crowd” of being indifferent! You, sceptics by nature, sceptics in your entire programme, sceptics in all your half-hearted tactics, describe the people’s disbelief in your phrases as “scepticism”! Your political horizon does not stretch further than the question: will the people support the Duma?

We put the question the other way round. Are the Cadets in the Duma supporting the people? Or are they trailing in the wake of the people? Will these sceptics support the people when it “does” again what it has already done for the cause of freedom? Or will they put spokes in its wheel, damp down its energy, accuse it of anarchism and Blanquism, the spontaneity of folly and the folly of spontaneity? […]

The Bolshevik Resolution on the State Duma’ [1906]

LCW. Vol. 10. Moscow: Progress, 1978, 401.

In publishing this draft resolution, we invite the impartial reader to say whether this draft provides any excuse for playing with words like “anarchism”, “Blanquism”, etc. Furthermore, which resolution has been justified by experience: the one adopted by the Congress, or this one? Is it not clear now that none but indirect use can be made of the Duma? Is it not clear now which of these two resolutions more directly meets genuine revolutionary democracy, and more correctly appraises “Cadetism” as it has manifested itself in practice, in the Duma?

How Comrade Plekhanov Argues About Social-Democratic Tactics’ [1906]

LCW. Vol. 10. Moscow: Progress, 1978, 465-466, 467-468.

[…] Take Comrade Plekhanov’s arguments about “true socialism” in Germany in the 1840s. What was the essence of this “true socialism”? First, incomprehension of the class struggle and the significance of political liberty. Second, inability to see the relative importance of the different strata of the bourgeoisie in the political struggle then being waged. Is it not ridiculous for Comrade Plekhanov to accuse us   of this, when it is he, at the head of the Mensheviks, who is obscuring the fundamental—because of present conditions—difference between the Cadet oppositionist bourgeoisie and the revolutionary-democratic bourgeoisie?

This accusation that there is an affinity between the Bolsheviks and “true socialism” in any case deserves a good laugh. Just think of it. We have always heard a chorus of accusation that we were too inflexible and ossified, too adamant. And yet our opponents call us “Blanquists”, “anarchists” and “true socialists”. The Blanquists are conspirators (they have never been in favour of the general strike), they exaggerate the importance of revolutionary government. The anarchists completely repudiate all government, revolutionary or otherwise, and as against the strict organisation of the Blanquists, they advocate complete licence to disorganise. The “true socialists” are something like peaceful Lavrovists, semi-uplifters, non-revolutionaries, heroes of abstruse thought and abstract sermonising. The Mensheviks could not have found a better stick with which to beat themselves than these mutually exclusive accusations against the Bolsheviks. Our best answer to their charges is to point to this confusion in the Mensheviks’ minds.

We, on the other hand, have always said, and say, that the Mensheviks constitute the Social-Democratic Right wing, inclining towards opportunism, i.e., towards forgetting the permanent, important and fundamental interests of the proletariat for the sake of momentary interests, for the sake of seeming possibilities of “adjusting” oneself to momentary moods, situations and relations. […]

Comrade Plekhanov says that as far back as 1903 (Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.) he, in controversy with the then Right wing of the Party (Akimov, Martynov and others), urged that it was necessary to support every opposition movement against the autocracy. Marx held the same opinion in 1847. And Plekhanov wants to assure his readers that the Bolsheviks have forgotten this axiom.

Comrade Plekhanov is mistaken. The general thesis that oppositions must be supported is not rejected by those who answer the concrete question whether a particular section of the opposition and revolutionary bourgeoisie should be supported at a given moment. The mistake Comrade Plekhanov makes is, first, that he substitutes an abstract consideration for a concrete historical question. And secondly, his views on bourgeois democracy in Russia are totally unhistorical. He forgets that the position of the different strata of these bourgeois democrats changes as the revolution advances. The higher the revolution rises, the faster do the least revolutionary strata of the bourgeoisie desert it. Those who do not understand this cannot explain any thing at all in the course of the bourgeois revolution.

We will take two examples to illustrate the foregoing.

In 1847 Marx supported the most timid opposition of the German bourgeoisie to the German government. In 1848, he ruthlessly, furiously denounced and lashed the extremely radical German Cadets—much more to the left than our Cadets—who were carrying on “constructive work” in the Frankfurt Parliament, assuring the world that this constructive work was of the greatest agitational importance, and being unable to understand that the struggle for real power was inevitable. Had Marx been false to himself? Had he changed his mind? Had he slipped into Blanquism (as the Bernsteinians and the German liberal professors think)? Not in the least. The revolution had advanced. Not only the German “Shipovites” of 1847, but the German “Cadets” of 1848 as well had fallen behind. As the true guardian of the interests of the advanced class, Marx ruthlessly   flayed the stragglers, particularly the more influential among them. […]

The Political Crisis and the Bankruptcy of Opportunist Tactics’ [1906]

LCW. Vol. 11. Moscow: Progress, 1972, 165.

[…] Lastly, take the question of a provisional revolutionary government. For eighteen months our Mensheviks, headed by Plekhanov, have been arguing that Social-Democrats cannot participate in such a government jointly with bourgeois revolutionaries, and that it is Blanquism, Jacobinism, and all the other mortal sins to issue a slogan in favour of establishing a provisional revolutionary government. […]

Vacillating Tactics’ [1906]

LCW. Vol. 11. Moscow: Progress, 1972, 183.

[…] In conclusion, we must add that Plekhanov naturally has a passing “thrust” at the Bolsheviks: they are “Blanquists”, because they boycott the Duma, and “frivolous”, because, he alleges, they were unaware (until enlightened by Comrade Plekhanov in No. 6 of his Dnevnik) that it was necessary to increase activities among the troops. We think it sufficient just to mention these thrusts; they are not worth answering. If Comrade Plekhanov imagines that by his present tactics he is strengthening the Menshevik wing in our Party and weakening the Bolsheviks, we have no objection to leaving him in this state of blissful delusion.

Guerrilla Warfare’ [1906]

LCW. Vol. 11. Moscow: Progress, 1972, 216-221.


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

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

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

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

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

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

What we have said about disorganisation also applies to demoralisation. It is not guerrilla warfare which demoralises, but unorganised, irregular, non-party guerrilla acts. We shall not rid ourselves one least bit of this most unquestionable demoralisation by condemning and cursing guerrilla actions, for condemnation and curses are absolutely incapable of putting a stop to a phenomenon which has been engendered by profound economic and political causes. It may be objected that if we are incapable of putting a stop to an abnormal and demoralising phenomenon, this is no reason why the Party should adopt abnormal and demoralising methods of struggle. But such an objection would be a purely bourgeois-liberal and not a Marxist objection, because a Marxist cannot regard civil war, or guerrilla warfare, which is one of its forms, as abnormal and demoralising in general. A Marxist bases himself on the class struggle, and not social peace. In certain periods of acute economic and political crises the class struggle ripens into a direct civil war, i.e., into an armed struggle between two sections of the people. In such periods a Marxist is obliged to take the stand of   civil war. Any moral condemnation of civil war would be absolutely impermissible from the standpoint of Marxism.

In a period of civil war the ideal party of the proletariat is a fighting party. This is absolutely incontrovertible. We are quite prepared to grant that it is possible to argue and prove the inexpediency from the standpoint of civil war of particular forms of civil war at any particular moment. We fully admit criticism of diverse forms of civil war from the standpoint of military expediency and absolutely agree that in this question it is the Social-Democratic practical workers in each particular locality who must have the final say. But we absolutely demand in the name of the principles of Marxism that an analysis of the conditions of civil war should not be evaded by hackneyed and stereo typed talk about anarchism, Blanquism and terrorism, and that senseless methods of guerrilla activity adopted by some organisation or other of the Polish Socialist Party at some moment or other should not be used as a bogey when discussing the question of the participation of the Social-Democratic Party as such in guerrilla warfare in general.

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

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

The Crisis of Menshevism’ [1906]

LCW. Vol. 11. Moscow: Progress, 1972, 345-346.

[…] Look deeper into his structure of “passive” revolution. Undoubtedly, there may be long periods of preparation for a new upsurge, a new onslaught, or new forms of struggle. But don’t be doctrinaire, gentlemen; consider what this “constant ferment” in the countryside means in addition to the “minor struggles”, the “punitive expeditions” and the change in the personnel of the police force and troops! Why, you do not understand what you yourselves are saying. The situation you describe is nothing more nor less than protract ed guerrilla warfare, interspersed with a series of outbursts of revolt in the army of increasing magnitude and unity. You keep on using angry and abusive language about the “guerrilla fighters”, “anarchists”, “anarcho-Blanquist-Bolsheviks”, and so forth, yet you yourselves depict the revolution as the Bolsheviks do! Change in the personnel of the army, its remanning with “recruits from the discontented rural population”. What does this mean? Can this “discontent” of the rural population clothed a sailors’ jackets and soldiers’ uniforms fail to come to the surface? Can it fail to manifest itself when there is “constant ferment” in the soldiers’ native villages, when “minor struggles” on one side and “punitive expeditions” on the other are raging in the country? And can we, in this period of Black-Hundred pogroms, government violence and police outrages, conceive of any other manifestation of this discontent among the soldiers than military revolts? […]

Preface to the Russian Translation of Karl Marx’s Letters to Dr. Kugelmann’ [1907]

LCW. Vol. 12. Moscow: Progress, 1977, 110-111.

[…] Marx knew how to warn the leaders against a premature rising. But his attitude towards the heaven-storming proletariat was that of a practical adviser, of a participant in the struggle of the masses, who were raising the whole movement to a higher level in spite of the false theories and mistakes of Blanqui and Proudhon. […]

Against Boycott’ [1907]

LCW. Vol. 13. Moscow: Progress, 1978, 23. [Cf. ‘On Compromises’ [1917], LCW. Vol. 25. Moscow: Progress, 1974, 309; ‘Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder’ [1920], LCW. Vol. 31. Moscow: Progress, 1974, 66-67.]

[…] Marxism’s attitude towards the zigzag path of history is essentially the same as its attitude towards compromise. Every zigzag turn in history is a compromise, a compromise between the old, which is no longer strong enough to completely negate the new, and the new, which is not yet strong enough to completely overthrow the old. Marxism does not altogether reject compromises. Marxism considers it necessary to make use of them, but that does not in the least prevent Marxism, as a living and operating historical force, from fighting energetically against compromises. Not to understand this seeming contradiction is not to know the rudiments of Marxism.

Engels once expressed the Marxist attitude to compromises very vividly, clearly, and concisely in an article on the manifesto of the Blanquist fugitives of the Commune (1874). These Blanquists wrote in their manifesto that they accepted no compromises whatever. Engels ridiculed this manifesto. It was not, he said, a question of rejecting compromises to which circumstances condemn us (or to which circumstances compel us—I must beg the reader’s pardon for being obliged to quote from memory, as I am unable to check with the original text). It was a question of clearly realising the true revolutionary aims of the proletariat and of being able to pursue them through all and every circumstances, zigzags, and compromises. […]

Lessons of the Commune’ [1908]

LCW. Vol. 13. Moscow: Progress, 1978, 475.

After the coup d état, which marked the end of the revolution of 4848, France fell under the yoke of the Napoleonic regime for a period of 18 years. This regime brought upon the country not only economic ruin but national humiliation. In rising against the old regime the proletariat under took two tasks—one of them national and the other of a class character—the liberation of France from the German invasion and the socialist emancipation of the workers from capitalism. This union of two tasks forms a unique feature of the Commune.

The bourgeoisie had formed a “government of national defence” and the proletariat had to fight for national independence under its leadership. Actually, it was a government of “national betrayal” which saw its mission in fighting the Paris proletariat. But the proletariat, blinded by patriotic illusions, did not perceive this. The patriotic idea had its origin in the Great Revolution of the eighteenth century; it swayed the minds of the socialists of the Commune; and Blanqui, for example, undoubtedly a revolutionary and an ardent supporter of socialism, could find no better title for his newspaper than the bourgeois cry: “The country is in danger!”

Combining contradictory tasks—patriotism and socialism—was the fatal mistake of the French socialists. […]

The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion’ [1909]

LCW. Vol. 15. Moscow: Progress, 1977, 403.

[…] At the same time Engels frequently condemned the efforts of people who desired to be “more left” or “more revolutionary” than the Social-Democrats, to introduce into the programme of the workers’ party an explicit proclamation of atheism, in the sense of declaring war on religion. Commenting in 1874 on the famous manifesto of the Blanquist fugitive Communards who were living in exile in London, Engels called their vociferous proclamation of war on religion a piece of stupidity, and stated that such a declaration of war was the best way to revive interest in religion and to prevent it from really dying out. Engels blamed the Blanquists for being unable to understand that only the class struggle of the working masses could, by comprehensively drawing the widest strata of the proletariat into conscious and revolutionary social practice, really free the oppressed masses from the yoke of religion, whereas to proclaim that war on religion was a political task of the workers’ party was just anarchistic phrase-mongering. […]

The Historical Meaning of the Inner-Party Struggle in Russia’ [1910]

LCW. Vol. 16. Moscow: Progress, 1977, 374, 379.

[…] The subject indicated by the above title is dealt with in articles by Trotsky and Martov in Nos. 50 and 51 of Neue Zeit. Martov expounds Menshevik views. Trotsky follows in the wake of the Mensheviks, taking cover behind particularly sonorous phrases. Martov sums up the “Russian experience” by saying: “Blanquist and anarchist lack of culture triumphed over Marxist culture” (read: Bolshevism over Menshevism). “Russian Social-Democracy spoke too zealously in Russian”, in contrast to the “general European” methods of tactics. […]

[…] It is easy to understand why the class interests of the bourgeoisie compel the liberals to try to persuade the workers that their role in the revolution is “limited”, that the struggle of trends is caused by the intelligentsia, and not by profound economic contradictions, that the workers’ party must be “not the leader in the struggle for emancipation, but a class party”. This is the formula that the Golosist liquidators advanced quite recently (Levitsky in Nasha Zarya) and which the liberals have approved. They use the term. “class party” in the Brentano-Sombart sense: concern yourself only with your own class and abandon “Blanquist dreams” of leading all the revolutionary elements of the people in a struggle against tsarism and treacherous liberalism.

The Collapse of the Second International’ [1915]

LCW. Vol. 21. Moscow: Progress, 1974, 222.


[…] Struve’s Critical Notesappeared in 1894, and during the past twenty years Russian Social-Democrats have become thoroughly familiar with this habit of the enlightened Russian bourgeois of advancing their ideas and advocating their desires under the cloak of a “Marxism” purged of revolutionary content. Struvism is not merely a Russian, but, as recent events clearly prove, an international striving on the part of the bourgeois theoreticians to kill Marxism with “kindness”, to crush it in their embraces, kill it with a feigned acceptance of “all” the “truly scientific” aspects and elements of Marxism except its “agitational”, “demagogic”, “Blanquist-utopian” aspect. In other words, they take from Marxism all that is acceptable to the liberal bourgeoisie, including the struggle for reforms, the class struggle (without the proletarian dictatorship), the “general” recognition of “socialist ideals” and the substitution of a “new order” for capitalism; they cast aside “only” the living soul of Marxism, “only” its revolutionary content. […]

The Dual Power’ [April 1917]

LCW. Vol. 24. Moscow: Progress, 1974, 40.

[…] To become a power the class-conscious workers must win the majority to their side. As long as no violence is used against the people there is no other road to power. We are not Blanquists, we do not stand for the seizure of power by a minority. We are Marxists, we stand for proletarian class struggle against petty-bourgeois intoxication, against chauvinism-defencism, phrase-mongering and dependence on the bourgeoisie. […]

Letters on Tactics’ [April 1917]

LCW. Vol. 24. Moscow: Progress, 1974, 48-49.

[…] In my theses, I absolutely ensured myself against skipping over the peasant movement, which has not outlived itself, or the petty-bourgeois movement in general, against any playing at “seizure of power” by a workers’ government, against any kind of Blanquist adventurism; for I pointedly   referred to the experience of the Paris Commune. And this experience, as we know, and as Marx proved at length in 1871 and Engels in 1891, absolutely excludes Blanquism, absolutely ensures the direct, immediate and unquestionable rule of the majority and the activity of the masses only to the extent that the majority itself acts consciously.

In the theses, I very definitely reduced the question to one of a struggle for influence within the Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’, Peasants’, and Soldiers’ Deputies.To leave no shadow of doubt on this score, I twice emphasised in the theses the need for patient and persistent “explanatory” work “adapted to the practical needs of the masses”.

Ignorant persons or renegades from Marxism, like Mr. Plekhanov, may shout about anarchism, Blanquism, and so forth. But those who want to think and learn cannot fail to understand that Blanquism means the seizure of power by a minority, whereas the Soviets are admittedly the direct and immediate organisation of the majority of the people. Work confined to a struggle for influence within these Soviets cannot, simply cannot, stray into the swamp of Blanquism. Nor can it stray into the swamp of anarchism, for anarchism denies the need for a state and state power in the period of transition from the rule of the bourgeoisie to the rule of the proletariat, whereas I, with a precision that precludes any possibility of misinterpretation, advocate the need for a state in this period, although, in accordance with Marx and the lessons of the Paris Commune, I advocate not the usual parliamentary bourgeois state, but a state without a standing army, without a police opposed to the people, without an officialdom placed above the people. […]

The Petrograd City Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. (Bolsheviks)’ [April 1917]

LCW. Vol. 24. Moscow: Progress, 1974, 145.

Report on the Present Situation and the Attitude Towards the Provisional Government

[…] What is the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies? Its class meaning is direct power. We do not have complete political liberty, of course. But nowhere else is there such freedom as exists in Russia today. “Down with war” does not mean flinging the bayonet away. It means the transfer of power to another class. Everything must now be focused on making that clear. Blanquism was a striving to seize power with the backing of a minority. With us it is quite different. We are still a minority and realise the need for winning a majority. Unlike the anarchists, we need the state for the transition to socialism. The Paris Commune furnished an example of a state of the Soviet type, an example of direct power wielded by the organised and armed workers, an example of the dictatorship of workers and peasants. […]

Lessons of the Crisis’ [May 1917]

LCW. Vol. 24. Moscow: Progress, 1974, 216.

[…] The lesson is clear, comrade workers! There is no time to be lost. The first crisis will be followed by others. You must devote all your efforts to enlightening the backward, to making extensive, comradely and direct contact (not only by meetings) with every regiment and with every group of working people who have not had their eyes opened yet! All your efforts must be devoted to consolidating your own ranks, to organising the workers from the bottom upwards, including every district, every factory, every quarter of the capital and its suburbs! Do not be misled by those of the petty bourgeoisie ’who “compromise” with the capitalists, by the defencists and by the “supporters”, nor by individuals who are inclined to be in a hurry and to shout “Down with the Provisional Government!” before the majority of the people are solidly united. The crisis cannot be over come by violence practised by individuals against individuals, by the local action of small groups of armed people, by Blanquist attempts to “seize power”, to “arrest” the Provisional Government, etc.

Today’s task is to explain more precisely, more clearly, more widely the proletariat’s policy, its way of terminating the war. Rally more resolutely, more widely, wherever you can, to the ranks and columns of the proletariat! Rally round your Soviets; and within them endeavour to rally behind you a majority by comradely persuasion and by reelection of individual members!

How a Simple Question Can be Confused’ [May 1917]

LCW. Vol. 24. Moscow: Progress, 1974, 217.

Commenting on the resolution of the Central Committee of April 20 concerning the necessity of transferring power to the revolutionary proletariat “with the support of the majority of the people”, today’s Dyen writes:

“Very simple, then what’s the hitch? Instead of passing resolutions, come and take the power.”

We have here a typical example of the methods used by the bourgeois press. People pretend not to understand the simplest thing, and ensure themselves—on paper—an easy victory. Anybody who says “take the power” should not have to think long to realise that an attempt to do so without as yet having the backing of the majority of the people would be adventurism or Blanquism (Pravda has made a special point of warning against this in the clearest, most unmistakable and unequivocal terms).

There is a degree of freedom now in Russia that enables the will of the majority to be gauged by the make-up of the Soviets. Therefore, to make a serious, not a Blanquist, bid for power, the proletarian party must fight for influence within the Soviets. […]

The Seventh (April) All-Russia Conference of the R.S.D.L.P.(B)’ [1917]

LCW. Vol. 24. Moscow: Progress, 1974, 236, 263.

Report on the Current Situation, April 24 (May 7)

[…] Some may ask: Have we not gone back on our own principles? We were advocating the conversion of the imperialist war into a civil war, and now we are contradicting ourselves. But the first civil war in Russia has come to an end; we are now advancing towards the second war—the war between imperialism and the armed people. In this transitional period, as long as the armed force is in the hands of the soldiers, as long as Milyukov and Guchkov have not yet resorted to violence, this civil war, so far as we are concerned, turns into peaceful, prolonged, and patient class propaganda. To speak of civil war before people have come to realise the need for it is undoubtedly to lapse into Blanquism. We are for civil war, but only for civil war waged by a politically conscious class. He can be overthrown who is known to the people as an oppressor. There are no oppressors in Russia at present; it is the soldiers and not the capitalists who now have the guns and rifles; the capitalists are getting what they want now not by force but by deception, and to shout about violence now is senseless. One must be able to uphold the Marxist point of view, which says that this conversion of imperialist war into a civil war should be based on objective, and not subjective, conditions. For the time being we withdraw that slogan, but only for the time being. It is the   soldiers and the workers who possess the arms now, not the capitalists. So long as the government has not started war, our propaganda remains peaceful. […]

Speech in Favour of the Resolution of the War, April 27 (May 10)

The last words express the specific feature that sharply distinguishes Russia from the other Western capitalist countries and from all capitalist democratic republics. For it cannot be said of those countries that the trustfulness of the unenlightened masses there is the chief cause of the prolongation of the war. The masses there are now in the iron grip of military discipline. The more democratic the republic, the stronger discipline is, since law in a republic rests on “the will of the people”. Owing to the revolution there is no such discipline in Russia. The masses freely elect representatives to the Soviets, which is something that does not exist now anywhere else in the world. But the masses have unreasoning trust, and are therefore used for the purposes of the struggle. So far we can do nothing but explain. Our explanations must deal with the immediate revolutionary tasks and methods of action. When the masses are free, any attempts to act in the name of a minority, without explaining things to the masses, would be senseless Blanquism, mere adventurism. Only by winning over the masses, if they can be won, can we lay a solid foundation for the victory of the proletarian class struggle. […]

The State and Revolution’ [1917]

LCW. Vol. 25. Moscow: Progress, 1974, 482-483.

Chapter VI: The Vulgarisation of Marxism by Opportunists

[…] Bernstein, in his Premises of Socialism, of Herostratean fame, accuses Marxism of “Blanquism” (an accusation since repeated thousands of times by the opportunists and liberal bourgeoisie in Russia against the revolutionary Marxists, the Bolsheviks). In this connection Bernstein dwells particularly on Marx’ s The Civil War in France, and tries, quite unsuccessfully, as we have seen, to identify Marx’ s views on the lessons of the Commune with those of Proudhon. Bernstein pays particular attention to the conclusion which Marx emphasized in his 1872 preface to the Communist Manifesto, namely, that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes”.

This statement “pleased” Bernstein so much that he used it no less than three times in his book, interpreting it in the most distorted, opportunist way.

As we have seen, Marx meant that the working-class must smash, break, shatter (Sprengung, explosion—the expression used by Engels) the whole state machine. But according to Bernstein it would appear as though Marx in these words warned the working class against excessive revolutionary zeal when seizing power.

A cruder more hideous distortion of Marx’ s idea cannot be imagined. […]

Marxism and Insurrection’ [September 1917]

LCW. Vol. 26. Moscow: Progress, 1977, 22-23.

One of the most vicious and probably most widespread distortions of Marxism resorted to by the dominant “socialist” parties is the opportunist lie that preparation for insurrection, and generally the treatment of insurrection as an art, is “Blanquism”.

Bernstein, the leader of opportunism, has already earned himself unfortunate fame by accusing Marxism of Blanquism, and when our present-day opportunists cry Blanquism they do not improve on or “enrich” the meagre “ideas” of Bernstein one little bit.

Marxists are accused of Blanquism for treating insurrection as an art! Can there be a more flagrant perversion of the truth, when not a single Marxist will deny that it was Marx who expressed himself on this score in the most definite, precise and categorical manner, referring to insurrection specifically as an art, saying that it must be treated as an art, that you must win the first success and then proceed from success to success, never ceasing the offensive against the enemy, taking advantage of his confusion, etc., etc.?

To be successful, insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon the advanced class. That is the first point. Insurrection must rely upon a revolutionary upsurge of the people. That is the second point. Insurrection must rely upon that turning-point in the history of the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemy and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest. That is the third point. And these three conditions for raising the question of insurrection distinguish Marxism from Blanquism.

Once these conditions exist, however, to refuse to treat insurrection as an art is a betrayal of Marxism and a betrayal of the revolution. […]

Letter to Comrades’ [October 1917]

LCW. Vol. 26. Moscow: Progress, 1977, 212-213.

“On the other hand, the Marxist party cannot reduce the question of an uprising to that of a military conspiracy. …”

Marxism is an extremely profound and many-sided doctrine. It is, therefore, no wonder that scraps of quotations from Marx—especially when the quotations are made inappropriately—can always be found among the “arguments” of those who break with Marxism. Military conspiracy is Blanquism, if it is organised not by a party of a definite class, if its organisers have not analysed the political moment in general and the international situation in particular, if the party has not on its side the sympathy of the majority of the people, as proved by objective facts, if the development of revolutionary events has not brought about a practical refutation of the conciliatory illusions of the petty bourgeoisie, if the majority of the Soviet-type organs of revolutionary struggle that have been recognised as authoritative or have shown themselves to be such in practice have not been won over, if there has not matured a sentiment in the army (if in war-time) against the government that protracts the unjust war against the will of the whole people, if the slogans of the uprising (like “All power to the Soviets” “Land to the peasants”, or “Immediate offer of a democratic peace to all the belligerent nations, with an immediate abrogation of all secret treaties and secret diplomacy”, etc.) have not become widely known and popular, if the advanced workers are not sure of the desperate situation of the masses and of the support of the countryside, a support proved by a serious peasant movement or by an uprising against the landowners and the government that defends the landowners, if the country’s economic situation inspires earnest hopes for a favourable solution of the crisis by peaceable and parliamentary means.

This is probably enough.

In my pamphlet entitled: Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? (I hope it will appear in a day or two), there is a quotation from Marx which really bears upon the question of insurrection and which enumerates the features of insurrection as an “art”.

I am ready to wager that if we were to propose to all those chatterers in Russia who are now shouting against a military conspiracy, to open their mouths and explain the difference between the “art” of an insurrection and a military conspiracy that deserves condemnation, they would either repeat what was quoted above or would cover themselves, with shame and would call forth the general ridicule of the workers. Why not try, my dear would-be Marxists! Sing us a song against “military conspiracy”!

Report on the Results of the Seventh (April) All-Russia Conference of the R.S.L.P.(B) at a Meeting of the Petrograd Organisation’ [May 1917]

LCW. Vol. 41. Moscow: Progress, 1977, 433.

[…] Hence, our task is patiently to explain to the workers and peasants that everything—the end of the war, land for the peasants, and real struggle against the capitalists, not in words, but in deeds—will be secured only when the whole people comes to realise not from books, but from its own experience that only full power for the workers and peasants, only the power of the Soviets of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies can help to start a resolute struggle for peace, for land and for socialism.

You cannot disregard the people. Only dreamers and plotters believed that a minority could impose their will on a majority. That was what the French revolutionary Blanqui thought, and he was wrong. When the majority of the people refuse, because they do not yet understand, to take power into their own hands, the minority, however revolutionary and clever, cannot impose their desire on the majority of the people.

From this flow our actions.

We Bolsheviks must patiently and perseveringly explain our views to the workers and peasants. Each of us must forget our old view of our work, each, without waiting for the arrival of an agitator, a propagandist, a more knowledgeable comrade who will explain everything—each of us must become all in one: agitator, propagandist and Party organiser.

That is the only way we can get the people to understand our doctrine, to think over their experience and really take power into their own hands.