Tasks of the Russian Social Democrats

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tasks of the Russian Social Democrats


a pamphlet written by V. I. Lenin (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 2, pp. 433–70), explaining the basis for the orientation, forms, and practical methods pursued by Russian social democracy in the absence of a Marxist party in Russia, with only scattered workers’ circles and social democratic groups. It was written while Lenin was in exile in Siberia in late 1897 and first published in Geneva in 1898 (2nd ed., 1902; 3rd ed., 1905). The essay discloses the unity of the democratic and socialist tasks of the working class and demonstrates the need for the formation of a party that would serve as the advance guard of the proletariat. It gives a definition of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class as the “embryo of a revolutionary party based on the working-class movement, which leads the class struggle of the proletariat against capital and against the autocratic government” (ibid p. 460).

While observing that the theoretical principles of social democracy have been clarified in the literature of the movement, Lenin singles out as the most important activity practical work with the masses to prepare them for revolution. He indicates the forms of this work and gives precise definitions for each: propaganda consists in explaining to the workers the theories of scientific socialism, the nature of the social and economic system, of classes, and of the class struggle, and the historical task of social democracy and the Russian working class; agitation means that the Social Democrats take part in all the spontaneous manifestations of the working-class struggle against the capitalists, over the length of the working day, wages, working conditions, and other issues; and organization is the establishment of revolutionary workers’ circles and groups as the future components of a party.

Foreseeing that an economic and political crisis was to come in Russia, Lenin formulated the thesis that the proletariat would have hegemony in the coming revolution. He shows that among the numerous and varied forces opposed to absolutism, such as the bourgeoisie, the petite bourgeoisie of town and village, and the intelligentsia, only the working class is a thoroughly consistent enemy of autocracy, having an interest in its total elimination and incapable of making any compromises with reaction. Therefore, only the proletariat can be the leader of the democratic revolution and carry it through to victory. At the same time, Lenin emphasizes the importance of creating a united front against autocracy, the right and even the duty of the working class to enter into alliances with other classes and social strata while preserving its full independence on matters of principle. This essay immediately foreshadowed the exhaustive discussion of the ideological and organizational bases for the party presented in What Is To Be Done? and in the decisions of the Second Congress of the RSDLP.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.