St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working

St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class

 

a citywide Social Democratic political organization in St. Petersburg that represented the embryonic form of the revolutionary proletarian party in Russia. It was organized by V. I. Lenin in 1895.

By the mid-1890’s, the rapid development of capitalism and the growth of the proletariat in Russia engendered a mass workers’ movement. Russian Social Democracy was faced with the task of exercising practical leadership in the class struggle of the proletariat. In order to bring together socialism and the workers’ movement, it was essential to amalgamate the uncoordinated Marxist circles and groups into a single Social Democratic organization. Lenin set about accomplishing this historic task as soon as he began his work in St. Petersburg. He joined a student Marxist circle, the “old men,” which included A. A. Vaneev, P. K. Zaporozhets, A. L. Malchenko, G. B. Krasin, G. M. Krzhizhanovskii, S. I. Radchenko, M. A. Sil’vin, and V. V. Starkov, and soon became its leader. Lenin established ties with workers’ political groups and with the workers’ schools that held classes on Sunday evenings. He became acquainted with such progressive St. Petersburg worker-revolutionaries as I. V. Babushkin, B. I. Zinov’ev, V. A. Kniazev, V. A. Shelgunov, and I. I. Iakovlev, and he started the ideological and theoretical struggle against liberal populism and legal Marxism, which were hostile to the Social Democratic movement.

In the autumn of 1894, Lenin proposed a plan for the transition from narrow propaganda work within the circles to broad economic and political agitation among the working masses. The implementation of this plan began with the printing of leaflets during the strikes at the Semiannikov Factory in December 1894 and at the Port of St. Petersburg in February 1895. Lenin firmly opposed those who sought to limit the workers’ movement to economic struggle alone. Such trade-unionist tendencies had appeared among “the youths,” a group consisting of the engineering student I. V. Chernyshev’s circle and K. M. Takhtarev’s circle of medical students. Lenin viewed the unification of the economic and political struggles of the proletariat as a necessity. In his view, it was imperative to educate the workers regarding the necessity first of overthrowing the autocracy and then of effecting the socialist revolution. The Marxists of St. Petersburg sent Lenin abroad (April-September 1895) to establish ties with the Emancipation of Labor group and study the European Social Democratic movement. In Switzerland he reached an agreement with G. V. Plekhanov concerning the publication of the collection The Worker and the smuggling of illegal literature into Russia.

The theoretical, propagandistic, and organizational activities of Lenin and his comrades-in-arms between 1893 and 1895 paved the way for the unification of the Marxists of St. Petersburg in a single organization. This took place in November 1895, and in the following month the organization was named the League of Struggle. The league was headed by the Central Organizational Group, whose members were Lenin, Vaneev, Zaporozhets, Krzhizhanovskii, N. K. Krupskaia, Malchenko, Z. P. Nevzorov, S. P. Nevzorov, la. P. Ponomarev, Radchenko, Sil’vin, Starkov, and A. A. Iakubova. These were later joined by L. Martov, S. A. Gofman, la. M. Liakhovskii, and V. M. Treniukhin.

The League of Struggle was a centralized conspiratorial organization that relied on the support of a mass workers’ movement; ties were maintained with more than 70 mills and factories. The central leadership acted as a citywide committee, with Lenin, Krzhizhanovskii, Starkov, Vaneev, and Martov as members. Three district groups, each of which included a member of the central leadership, served as district committees. The Zarechnaia Group covered Vasil’evskii Island and the St. Petersburg and Vyborg districts. The Neva Group covered Shlissel’burg and the Neva gates, and the Narva and Moscow Group covered the Obvodnoi Canal and the Narva and Moscow gates. The central leadership and the district groups were linked with 20–30 workers’ circles through district organizers, who included Babushkin, P. S. Gribakin, Zinov’ev, Kniazev, N. G. Poletaev, Shelgunov, and Iakovlev.

The League of Struggle exercised direct leadership over the strike struggle in St. Petersburg, putting out more than 70 leaflets, in which concrete economic demands were joined with political slogans. Establishing communications with the Social Democrats of Moscow, Kiev, Vilnius, Nizhny Novgorod, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Nikolaev, Ekaterinoslav, and elsewhere, the league functioned as a Social Democratic center on a national scale. The first issue of the illegal Social Democratic newspaper Rabochee delo, which had articles by Lenin, was ready by early December 1895. Acting on a denunciation by a provocateur, the police arrested 57 members of the league on the night of December 8 (20)-9(21). Among those arrested were Lenin, Zaporozhets, Krzhizhanovskii, Starkov, Shelgunov and Vaneev, who had a completed issue of the paper in his possession when captured. A serious blow had been inflicted, but the league did not cease its activities. Sil’vin, Radchenko, Liakhovskii, and Martov joined the new central leadership. On Jan. 5 (17), 1896, there were new arrests. Liakhovskii, Martov, Babushkin, and Ponomarev were among those arrested. While in prison, Lenin maintained contact with those members of the league who were still active and at large, giving them advice and writing leaflets.

Leaflets prepared by the league contributed to strikes, of which there were many in St. Petersburg in 1896. Some 13 leaflets were printed during the largest strike, which involved about 30,000 textile workers. There were 2,000 copies made of one of these leaflets, “The Workers’ Holiday of May 1,” which was written by Lenin and distributed at 40 enterprises. The league was destroyed as an effective force when approximately 30 more members, including Krupskaia, Sil’vin, and F. V. Lengnik, were arrested in August 1896. In all, 251 people, 170 of them workers, were arrested and interrogated in the case of the League of Struggle. In February 1897, by imperial command, 22 people were exiled to Eastern Siberia and Arkhangel’sk and Vologda provinces, and many were banished from St. Petersburg under police surveillance.

The “youths” (Takhtarev and others) who came to lead the League of Struggle were influenced by Bernsteinism and legal Marxism and strove to limit the workers’ movement to economic struggle alone. This tendency shortly developed into the opportunist trend known as economism. Although the league lost its leadership of the Russian Social Democratic movement, its name was employed by various St. Petersburg economist groups up to 1904, when the last of these groups ceased to exist.

The historical service performed by the League of Struggle was the initiation of the process of uniting scientific socialism and the workers’ movement. This opened a new, proletarian stage in the Russian revolutionary movement. Under the influence of the St. Petersburg league, similar leagues were formed in Ekaterinoslav and Kiev in 1897. Russian Social Democracy, in the form of the St. Petersburg league, was represented at the Fourth Congress of the Second International (1896) by Plekhanov and at the Zürich International Congress on Legislation for the Protection of Labor (1897) by P. B. Aksel’rod and V. I. Zasulich. The league trained many worker-revolutionaries. It also trained party workers who took part in the first Congress of the RSDLP (1898) and helped distribute Iskra. These party workers later organized the Second Congress of the RSDLP (1903), where the process of creating a revolutionary Marxist proletarian party, begun by the Leninist League of Struggle, was completed.

REFERENCES

Lenin, V. I. “K rabochim i rabotnitsam fabriki Torntona.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 2
Lenin, V. I. “Zadachi russkikh sotsial-demokratov.” Ibid. (See also the Reference Volume, part 1, p. 649.)
Listovki Peterburgskogo “Soiuza bor’by za osvobozhdenie rabochego klassa,” 1895–1897 gg. Moscow, 1934.
Pervyi s”ezd RSDRP, Mart 1898 g: Dokumenty i materialy. Moscow, 1958.
Istoriia KPSS, vol. 1. Moscow, 1964.
Kostin, A. F. Lenin—sozdatel’ partii novogo tipa (1894–1904 gg.). Moscow, 1970.

M. I. KUZNETSOV

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