Lenin : Guerrilla Warfare − 1905
Proletary, No. 5, September 30, 1906
The question of guerrilla action is one that greatly interests our Party and the mass of the workers. We have dealt with this question in passing several times, and now we propose to give the more complete statement of our views we have promised.
Let us begin from the beginning. What are the fundamental demands which every Marxist should make of an examination of the question of forms of struggle ?
In the first place, Marxism differs from all primitive forms of socialism by not binding the movement to any one particular form of struggle.
It recognises the most varied forms of struggle ; and it does not “concoct” them, but only generalises, organises, gives conscious expression to those forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which arise of themselves in the course of the movement.
Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an attentive attitude to the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, as the class-consciousness of the masses grows, as economic and political crises become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defence and attack.
Marxism, therefore, positively does not reject any form of struggle. Under no circumstances does Marxism confine itself to the forms of struggle possible and in existence at the given moment only, recognising as it does that new forms of struggle, unknown to the participants of the given period, inevitably arise as the given social situation, changes.
In this respect Marxism learns, if we may so express it, from mass practice, and makes no claim what ever to teach the masses forms of struggle invented by “systematisers” in the seclusion of their studies.
We know—said Kautsky, for instance, when examining the forms of social revolution—that the coming crisis will introduce new forms of struggle that we are now unable to foresee.
In the second place, Marxism demands an absolutely historical examination of the question of the forms of struggle. To treat this question apart from the concrete historical situation betrays a failure to understand the rudiments of dialectical materialism.
At different stages of economic evolution, depending on differences in political, national-cultural, living and other conditions, different forms of struggle come to the fore and become the principal forms of struggle ; and in connection with this, the secondary, auxiliary forms of struggle undergo change in their turn.
To attempt to answer yes or no to the question whether any particular means of struggle should be used, without making a detailed examination of the concrete situation of the given movement at the given stage of its development, means completely to abandon the Marxist position.
These are the two principal theoretical propositions by which we must be guided.
The history of Marxism in Western Europe provides an infinite number of examples corroborating what has been said. European Social-Democracy at the present time regards parliamentarism and the trade union movement as the principal forms of struggle ; it recognised insurrection in the past, and is quite prepared to recognise it, should conditions change, in the future—despite the opinion of bourgeois liberals like the Russian Cadets and the Bezzaglavtsi.
[Bezzaglavtsi—a semi-Cadet, semi-Menshevik group of the Russian bourgeois intelligentsia (S. N. Prokopovich, Y. D. Kuskova, V. Y. Bogucharsky, V. V. Portugalov, V. V. Khizhnyakov, and others), formed in the period of the incipient decline of the 1905-07 revolution.
The group derived its name from the political weekly magazine Bez Zaglavia (Without a Title) published in St. Petersburg in January-May 1906 under the editorship of Prokopovich ; later the Bezzaglavtsi were grouped around the Left-Cadet news paper Tovarishch (Comrade).
Under cover of their formal non-partisanship, the Bezzaglavtsipropagated the ideas of bourgeois liberalism and opportunism and supported the revisionists of Russian and international Social-Democracy.]
Social-Democracy in the seventies rejected the general strike as a social panacea, as a means of overthrowing the bourgeoisie at one stroke by non-political means—but Social-Democracy fully recognises the mass political strike (especially after the experience of Russia in 1905) as one of the methods of struggle essential under certain conditions.
Social-Democracy recognised street barricade fighting in the forties, rejected it for definite reasons at the end of the nineteenth century, and expressed complete readiness to revise the latter view and to admit the expediency of barricade fighting after the experience of Moscow, which, in the words of K. Kautsky, initiated new tactics of barricade fighting.
Having established the general Marxist propositions, let us turn to the Russian revolution. Let us recall the historical development of the forms of struggle it produced.
First there were the economic strikes of workers (1896-1900), then the political demonstrations of workers and students (1901-02), peasant revolts (1902), the beginning of mass political strikes variously combined with demonstrations (Rostov 1902, the strikes in the summer of 1903, January 9, 1905), the all-Russian political strike accompanied by local cases of barricade fighting (October 1905), mass barricade fighting and armed uprising (1905, December), the peaceful parliamentary struggle (April-June 1906), partial military revolts (June 1905-July 1906) and partial peasant revolts (autumn 1905-autumn 1906).
Such is the state of affairs in the autumn of 1906 as concerns forms of struggle in general. The “retaliatory” form of struggle adopted by the autocracy is the Black-Hundred pogrom, from Kishinev in the spring of 1903 to Sedlets in the autumn of 1906.
All through this period the organisation of Black-Hundred pogroms and the beating up of Jews, students, revolutionaries and class-conscious workers continued to progress and perfect itself, combining the violence of Black-Hundred troops with the violence of hired ruffians, going as far as the use of artillery in villages and towns and merging with punitive expeditions, punitive trains and so forth.
Such is the principal background of the picture. Against this background there stands out—unquestionably as something partial, secondary and auxiliary —the phenomenon to the study and assessment of which the present article is devoted.
What is this phenomenon ? What are its forms ? What are its causes ? When did it arise and how far has it spread ? What is its significance in the general course of the revolution ? What is its relation to the struggle of the working class organised and led by Social-Democracy ?
Such are the questions which we must now proceed to examine after having sketched the general background of the picture.
The phenomenon in which we are interested is the armed struggle. It is conducted by individuals and by small groups.
Same belong to revolutionary organisations, while others (the majority in certain parts of Russia) do not belong to any revolutionary organisation.
Armed struggle pursues two different aims, which must be strictly distinguished : in the first place, this struggle aims at assassinating individuals, chiefs and subordinates in the army and police ; in the second place, it aims at the confiscation of monetary funds both from the government and from private persons.
The confiscated funds go partly into the treasury of the Party, partly for the special purpose of arming and preparing for an uprising, and partly for the maintenance of persons en gaged in the struggle we are describing.
The big expropriations (such as the Caucasian, involving over 200,000 rubles, and the Moscow, involving 575,000 rubles) went in fact first and foremost to revolutionary parties—small expropriations go mostly, and sometimes entirely, to the maintenance of the “expropriators”.
This form of struggle undoubtedly be came widely developed and extensive only in 1900, i.e., after the December uprising.
The intensification of the political crisis to the point of an armed struggle and, in particular, the intensification of poverty, hunger and unemployment in town and country, was one of the important causes of the struggle we are describing.
This form of struggle was adopted as the preferable and even exclusive form of social struggle by the vagabond elements of the population, the lumpen proletariat and anarchist groups. Declaration of martial law, mobilisation of fresh troops, Black-Hundred pogroms (Sedlets), and military courts must be regarded as the “retaliatory” form of struggle adopted by the autocracy.
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.
The example of the Letts clearly demonstrates how incorrect, unscientific and unhistorical is the practice so very common among us of analysing guerrilla warfare without reference to the circumstances of an uprising.
These circumstances must be borne in mind, we must reflect on the peculiar features of an intermediate period between big acts of insurrection, we must realise what forms of struggle inevitably arise under such circumstances, and not try to shirk the issue by a collection of words learned by rote, such as are used equally by the Cadets and the Novoye Vremya-ites : anarchism, robbery, hooliganism !
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, butunorganised, 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 ofmilitary 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.
It is said that guerrilla warfare brings the class-conscious proletarians into close association with degraded, drunken riff-raff.
That is true. But it only means that the party of the proletariat can never regard guerrilla warfare as the only, or even as the chief, method of struggle ; it means that this method must be subordinated to other methods, that it must be commensurate with the chief methods of warfare, and must be ennobled by the enlightening and organising influence of socialism.
And without this latter condition, all, positively all, methods of struggle in bourgeois society bring the proletariat into close association with the various non-proletarian strata above and below it and, if left to the spontaneous course of events, become frayed, corrupted and prostituted.
Strikes, if left to the spontaneous course of events, become corrupted into “alliances”—agreements between the workers and the masters against the consumers.
Parliament becomes corrupted into a brothel, where a gang of bourgeois politicians barter wholesale and retail “national freedom”, “liberalism”, “democracy”, republicanism, anti-clericalism, socialism and all other wares in demand.
A newspaper becomes corrupted into a public pimp, into a means of corrupting the masses, of pandering to the low instincts of the mob, and so on and so forth. Social-Democracy knows of no universal methods of struggle, such as would shut off the proletariat by a Chinese wall from the strata standing slightly above or slightly below it.
At different periods Social-Democracy applies different methods, always qualifying the choice of them by strictly defined ideological and organisational conditions.
[Lenin precises here in a note : The Bolshevik Social-Democrats are often accused of a frivolous passion for guerrilla actions. It would therefore not be amiss to recall that in the draft resolution on guerrilla actions (Partiiniye Izvestia, No. 2, and Lenin’s report on the Congress),the section of the Bolsheviks who defend guerrilla actions suggested the following conditions for their recognition : “expropriations” of private property were not to he permitted under any circumstances ; “expropriations” of government property were not to he recommended hut only allowed, provided that they were controlled by the Party and their proceeds used for the needs of an uprising.
Guerrilla acts in the form of terrorism were to he recommended against brutal government officials and active members of the Black Hundreds, hut on condition that 1) the sentiments of the masses he taken into account ; 2) the conditions of the working-class movement in the given locality he reckoned with, and 3) care be taken that the forces of the proletariat should not be frittered away.
The practical difference between this draft and the resolution which was adopted at the Unity Congress lies exclusively in the fact that “expropriations” of government property are not allowed.—Lenin]
The forms of struggle in the Russian revolution are distinguished by their colossal variety compared with the bourgeois revolutions in Europe. Kautsky partly foretold this in 1902 when he said that the future revolution (with the exception perhaps of Russia, he added) might be not so much a struggle of the people against the government as a struggle between two sections of the people.
In Russia we undoubtedly see a wider development of this latter struggle than in the bourgeois revolutions in the West.
The enemies of our revolution among the people are few in number, but as the struggle grows more acute they become more and more organised and receive the support of the reactionary strata of the bourgeoisie.
It is therefore absolutely natural and inevitable that in such a period, a period of nation-wide political strikes, an uprising cannot assume the old form of individual acts restricted to a very short time and to a very small area.
It is absolutely natural and inevitable that the uprising should assume the higher and more complex form of a prolonged civil war embracing the whole country, i.e., an armed struggle between two sections of the people. Such a war cannot be conceived otherwise than as a series of a few big engagements at comparatively long intervals and a large number of small encounters during these intervals.
That being so—and it is undoubtedly so—the Social-Democrats must absolutely make it their duty to create organisations best adapted to lead the masses in these big engagements and, as far as possible, in these small encounters as well.
In a period when the class struggle has become accentuated to the point of civil war, Social-Democrats must make it their duty not only to participate but also to play the leading role in this civil war.
The Social-Democrats must train and prepare their organisations to be really able to act as a belligerent side which does not miss a single opportunity of inflicting damage on the enemy’s forces.
This is a difficult task, there is no denying. It cannot be accomplished at once. Just as the whole people are being retrained and are learning to fight in the course of the civil war, so our organisations must be trained, must be reconstructed in conformity with the lessons of experience to be equal to this task.
We have not the slightest intention of foisting on practical workers any artificial form of struggle, or even of deciding from our armchair what part any particular form of guerrilla warfare should play in the general course of the civil war in Russia.
We are far from the thought of regarding a concrete assessment of particular guerrilla actions as indicative of a trendin Social-Democracy.
But we do regard it as our duty to help as far as possible to arrive at a correct theoretical assessment of the new forms of struggle engendered by practical life.
We do regard it as our duty relentlessly to combat stereotypes and prejudices which hamper the class-conscious workers in correctly presenting a new and difficult problem and in correctly approaching its solution.