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the first illegal Marxist political newspaper distributed throughout Russia; founded by Lenin in 1900. According to the plan devised by Lenin during his exile at the village of Shu-shenskoe between 1899 and 1900, the newspaper was to help overcome the ideological disorder, organizational fragmentation, and amateurism that prevailed in the activities of the Russian Social Democrats at that time, to free the Russian Social Democrats from the influence of opportunist elements such as the Economists, to give purposefulness to the spontaneous workers’ movement, and to rally the local Social Democratic organizations and groups around the principles of revolutionary Marxism. Lenin intended to make Iskra the organizer of a Marxist revolutionary party of the Russian working class that would be capable of carrying out the historic tasks facing it.

When his term in exile ended on Jan. 29, 1900, Lenin visited Ufa, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Syzran’, Podol’sk, Riga, and Smolensk in order to establish contacts with Social Democrats and to acquaint them with his plans. In April 1900 a conference was held in Pskov. Among those who attended were L. Martov, A. N. Potresov, and P. B. Struve. The conference approved Lenin’s Draft Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra and Zaria. After the conference Lenin did a great deal of work to organize a comprehensive network of correspondents for the projected newspaper. In July 1900 he began negotiations in Switzerland with the Emancipation of Labor group, with whom he had decided to collaborate in publishing the newspaper.

The members of the editorial board of the newspaper were Lenin, G. V. Plekhanov, L. Martov, P. B. Aksel’rod, V. I. Zasu-lich, and A. N. Potresov. At first the secretary of Iskra was I. G. Smidovich-Leman, but in April 1901 the post was assumed by N. K. Krupskaia. Lenin both inspired and directed the newspaper. He wrote the articles on the most important questions concerning building a party and organizing the revolutionary movement. Between 1900 and 1903 more than 50 of his articles were published in Iskra. Lenin set the ideological and political tone of the paper, laid out each issue, edited the articles, found contributors, and dealt with the problems of transporting the newspaper into Russia.

Munich was chosen as the place of residence of the editorial board. The first issue was dated December 1900. The type had been set and the pages printed in Leipzig by December 11 (24). In mid-1901, Iskra began to come out monthly, and in 1902, every two weeks. The average run was 8,000 copies, but the circulation of some issues was as high as 10,000. When foreign agents of the tsarist secret police got wind of the newspaper, the editorial board was moved from Munich to London in April 1902 and to Geneva in 1903. In addition to Iskra, the editorial board published the magazine Zaria and issued more than 50 books, pamphlets, and leaflets over a period of three years. The Russian editorial board of Iskra received a great deal of help in organizing the publication of the newspaper from the German Social Democrats Clara Zetkin and Adolf Braun, the Polish revolutionary Julian Marchlewski, and the British Social Democrat Harry Quelch.

To assist the editorial board three groups were initially formed within Russia: the southern group in Poltava, the northern group in Pskov, and the eastern group in Ufa. The three groups received and distributed the newspaper and other literature, raised funds, sent reports on events in Russia, organized secret meeting places, and established links with workers, individual Social Democrats, and various organizations. Later, a supporting center was organized in Moscow, and Iskra groups were established in Kiev, Baku, Kishinev, and other cities. Printed on very thin paper, Iskra was sent into Russia by several routes: through the Scandinavian countries to Arkhangel’sk, through Königsberg to Kaunas, through L’vov to Kiev, through Rumania and Bulgaria to Odessa, through Alexandria to Kherson, through Marseille to Batumi, and from Vienna through Tabriz to Baku. Copies were transported in suitcases with false bottoms, the bindings of books, and waterproof bags and barrels that were dropped over the sides of ships in Russian ports and retrieved by local Iskra supporters.

Three underground printing presses were organized in Kishinev, Uman’, and Baku (the so-called Nina press). They reprinted as many as 10,000–12,000 copies of certain issues of the newspaper and excerpts from it. The editorial board established contact with almost 100 towns and settlements, and small Iskra groups were founded in many Russian cities. The 44 issues published before the Second Congress of the RSDLP contained approximately 500 news stories from workers in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the central and southern industrial regions. Iskra’s regular features were “From the Party,” “From Our Public Life,” “Chronicle of the Workers’ Movement and Letters From Factories and Plants,” “From the Village,” “International Review,” and “Mailbox.”

Iskra expressed the revolutionary goals of the new historical epoch. Its motto was taken from the Decembrists’ reply to the poet Pushkin: “From the spark a flame will be kindled.” Elucidating all facets of life in Russia, the newspaper helped the workers, peasants, and progressive intellectuals to orient themselves properly toward the events taking place in the country, and it promoted a militant revolutionary spirit. With its exposes of the autocratic system, Iskra became the tribune of all the people. It defended revolutionary Marxist theory against the opportunism of Bernstein’s theories and Economism, steadfastly and consistently brought socialist consciousness to the proletarian masses, and conducted a principled struggle against bourgeois liberalism and the petit bourgeois ideology of the SR’s (Socialist Revolutionaries). Iskra paid serious attention to party work among the peasants and soldiers, struggled against nationalism, national discord, national oppression, and colonialism, and ardently preached the ideas of proletarian internationalism. The newspaper supported and promoted progressive democratic culture and established ties between the revolution and progressive literature. It paid considerable attention to major international events, especially in the international workers’ and national liberation movements.

All of Iskra’s activity was aimed at building a revolutionary party of the proletariat. After a heated polemic between Lenin and Plekhanov, the editorial board drafted a Marxist program (published in June 1902) and party rules. The Bureau of the Russian Iskra organization was established in Samara in January 1902. Iskra assumed the task of winning over the Social Democratic committees and organizations, of which there were as many as 50 at that time. The newspaper became the ideological and organizational center for the Russian Marxists and for the labor movement in the Russian Empire. Around the newspaper a network of agents was formed, who distributed Iskra throughout the country, sent news reports to the editorial board, and organized Iskra support groups. Later, the Iskra agents made up the nucleus of the Bolshevik Party.

In the spring of 1902, Iskra began making preparations for the Second Congress of the RSDLP. The congress, which was held in the summer of 1903, adopted a special resolution that recognized the newspaper’s exceptional role in the struggle to build the party and declared it the central organ of the RSDLP. A new editorial board consisting of Lenin, Plekhanov, and Martov was elected by the congress. Martov, who insisted that the original six editors be retained, refused to serve on the new board. Issues number 46–51 were edited by Lenin and Plekhanov. On October 18 (31), Plekhanov came out in favor of peace with the opportunists and demanded that all the former editors of Iskra be coopted to the newly elected editorial board. Because he could not agree to such a violation of the will of the congress, Lenin announced his resignation from the board on October 19 (November 1). Issue number 52 was edited by Plekhanov alone, who unilaterally coopted all the former editors to the editorial board on November 13 (26). Thus, with its 53rd issue, Iskra ceased to be a militant organ of revolutionary Marxism and became instead the newspaper of the Menshevik opportunists. The paper ceased publication in October 1905 with issue number 112.

In December 1904 the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, founded the newspaper Vpered, which revived the revolutionary traditions of Iskra. Lenin wrote: “Bolshevism ran the old Iskra for three years, from 1900 to 1903, and emerged as an integral trend for the struggle with Menshevism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 19, p. 103). According to Lenin, “in the historical conditions that prevailed in Russia between 1900 and 1905, no organization other than Iskra could have created the Social Democratic Labor Party we now have” (ibid., vol. 16, p. 103). Iskra’s struggle for a new type of party was of vital importance for the entire international labor movement and for the creation of a truly revolutionary Marxist proletarian party in Russia.


Iskra. nos. 1–52, December 1900-November 1903, fascs. 1–7. Leningrad, 1925–29. Complete text edited with a preface by P. Lepeshinskii and an introductory article by N. Krupskaia.


Lenin, V. I. “Proekt zaiavleniia redaktsii Iskry i Zari.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 4.
Lenin, V. I. “Kak chut’ ne potukhla IskraV Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Zaiavlenie redaktsii Iskry.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Nasushchnye zadachi nashego dvizheniia.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “S chego nachat’?” Ibid., vol. 5.
Krupskaia, N. K. Vospominaniia o Lenine. Moscow, 1957.
Volin, M. Leninskaia “Iskra” (1900–1903). Moscow, 1964.
Stepanov, V. N. Lenin iRusskaia organizatsiia “Iskry” 1900–1903. Moscow, 1968.
Istoriia KPSS, vol. 1. Moscow, 1964.
Leninskaia “Iskra”:Ksemidesiatiletiiusodnia vykhodapervogonomera. Moscow, 1970. (Bibliography, pp. 241–43.)




(The Spark), a weekly Russian satirical magazine published in St. Petersburg from 1859 to 1873.

The editors of the magazine were V. S. Kurochkin and N. A. Stepanov (the latter left the editorial staff in 1864). The regular contributors included N. S. Kurochkin, D. D. Minaev, G. Z. Eliseev, and G. I. Uspenskii, and less frequently, N. A. Dobro-liubov, A. I. Herzen, N. A. Nekrasov, M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin, and A. N. Ostrovskii. Iskra took revolutionary democratic positions opposing serfdom and liberalism. It was suppressed by the government for its “harmful tendency.”


Poety “Iskry, “vols. 1–2. (Introduction by I. G. IampoPskii.) Leningrad, 1955.
Lebedeva, G. M. Satiricheskiizhurnal “Iskra.” Moscow, 1959.
Iampol’skii, I. Satiricheskaia zhurnalistika 1860-x godov. Moscow, 1964.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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