J. V. Stalin
Original publication: marxists.org
Editing: Roderic Day

Bolsheviks and Mensheviks (1905)

19 minutes | English | The Soviet Union

These are excerpts from J. V. Stalin’s pamphlet Briefly About the Disagreements in the Party, written at the end of April 1905 in reply to articles by N. Jordania: “Majority or Minority?” in the Social-Democrat, “What Is a Party?” in Mogzauri, and others. News of the appearance of this pamphlet soon reached the Bolshevik centre abroad. [1]

On July 18, 1905, N. K. Krupskaya wrote to the Caucasian Union Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. requesting that copies of the pamphlet be sent to the centre. The pamphlet was widely circulated among the Bolshevik organisations in Transcaucasia. [2] From it the advanced workers learned of the disagreements within the Party and of the stand taken by the Bolsheviks headed by V. I. Lenin. The pamphlet was printed at the underground printing press of the Caucasian Union of the R.S.D.L.P. in Avlabar in May 1905 in the Georgian language, and in June it was printed in the Russian and Armenian languages, each in 1500-2000 copies.

Note: Stalin’s ellipses from the original are left unadorned (…), whereas ellipses introduced by RS are encased in square braces ([…]).

The “majority” and “minority” first came into being at the Second Party Congress (1903). That was the congress at which our scattered forces were to have united in one powerful party. We Party workers placed great hopes in that congress. “At last!” — we exclaimed joyfully — “we, too, shall be united in one party, we, too, shall be able to work according to a single plan!” It goes without saying that we had been active before that, but our activities were scattered and unorganised. It goes without saying that we had made attempts to unite before that; it was for this purpose that we convened the First Party Congress (1898), and it even looked as if we had “united,” but this unity existed in name only: the Party still remained split up into separate groups; our forces still remained scattered and had yet to be united. And so the Second Party Congress was to have mustered our scattered forces and united them in one whole. We were to have formed a united party.

Actually it turned out, however, that our hopes had been to some degree premature. The congress failed to give us a single and indivisible party; it merely laid the foundation for such a party. The congress did, however, clearly reveal to us that there are two trends within the Party: the Iskra trend, and the trend of its opponents.


Iskra started publication in December 1900. That was the time when a crisis began in Russian industry. The industrial boom, which was accompanied by a number of economic strikes (1896-98), gradually gave way to a crisis. The crisis grew more acute day by day and became an obstacle to economic strikes. In spite of that, the working-class movement hewed a path for itself and made progress; the individual streams merged in a single flood; the movement acquired a class aspect and gradually took the path of the political struggle. The working-class movement grew with astonishing rapidity. … But there was no sign of an advanced detachment, no Social-Democracy which would have introduced socialist consciousness into the movement, would have combined it with socialism, and, thereby, would have lent the proletarian struggle a Social-Democratic character.

What did the “Social-Democrats” of that time (they were called “Economists”) do? They burned incense to the spontaneous movement and light-heartedly reiterated: socialist consciousness is not so very necessary for the working-class movement, which can very well reach its goal without it; the main thing is the movement. The movement is everything — consciousness is a mere trifle. A movement without socialism — that was what they were striving for.


On the one hand, the working-class movement grew and stood in need of a guiding advanced detachment; on the other hand, “Social-Democracy,” represented by the “Economists,” instead of taking the lead of the movement, abnegated itself and dragged at the tail of the movement.

It was necessary to proclaim for all to hear the idea that a spontaneous working-class movement without socialism means groping in the dark, and, even if it ever does lead to the goal, who knows how long it will take, and at what cost in suffering; that, consequently, socialist consciousness is of enormous importance for the working-class movement.

It was also necessary to proclaim that it is the duty of the vehicle of this consciousness, Social-Democracy, to imbue the working-class movement with socialist consciousness; to be always at the head of the movement and not to be a mere observer of the spontaneous working-class movement, not to drag at its tail.

It was also necessary to express the idea that it is the direct duty of Russian Social-Democracy to muster the separate advanced detachments of the proletariat, to unite them in one party, and thereby to put an end to disunity in the Party once and for all.

It was precisely these tasks that Iskra proceeded to formulate. [3]

This is what it said in its programmatic article (see Iskra, No. 1): “Social-Democracy is the combination of the working-class movement and socialism.” [4] In other words, the movement without socialism, or socialism standing aloof from the movement, is an undesirable state of affairs which Social-Democracy must combat. But as the “Economists-Rabocheye Delo-ists” worshipped the spontaneous movement, and as they belittled the importance of socialism, Iskra stated: “Isolated from Social-Democracy, the working-class movement becomes petty and inevitably becomes bourgeois.” [5] Consequently, it is the duty of Social-Democracy “to point out to this movement its ultimate aim and its political tasks, and to safeguard its political and ideological independence.” [6]

What are the duties of Russian Social-Democracy? “From this condition,” continues Iskra, “emerges the task which the Russian Social-Democracy is called upon to fulfil — to imbue the masses of the proletariat with the ideas of socialism and political consciousness, and to organise a revolutionary party inseparably connected with the spontaneous working-class movement.” [7] In other words, it must always be at the head of the movement, and its paramount duty is to unite the Social-Democratic forces of the working-class movement in one party.


It is said that in some countries the working class itself worked out the socialist ideology (scientific socialism) and will itself work it out in other countries too, and that, therefore, it is unnecessary to introduce socialist consciousness into the working-class movement from without. But this is a profound mistake. To be able to work out the theory of scientific socialism one must stand at the head of science, one must be armed with scientific knowledge and be able deeply to investigate the laws of historical development. But the working class, while it remains a working class, is unable to ride the locomotive of science, to advance it and investigate scientifically the laws of history; it lacks both the time and the means for that. Scientific socialism, says Karl Kautsky,

can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. … The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia. [Kautsky’s italics.] It was in the minds of individual members of that stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians. … [8]

Accordingly, Lenin says:

[T]here could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. By their social status the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia. [9]

Lenin continues,

This does not mean, of course, that the workers have no part in creating such an ideology. They take part, however, not as workers, but as socialist theoreticians, as Proudhons and Weitlings; in other words, they take part only when they are able, and to the extent that they are able, more or less, to acquire the knowledge of their age and develop that knowledge. [10]

We can picture all this to ourselves approximately as follows. There is a capitalist system. There are workers and masters. Between them a struggle is raging. So far there are no signs whatever of scientific socialism. Scientific socialism was not even thought of anywhere when the workers were already waging their struggle. … Yes, the workers are fighting. But they are fighting separately against their masters; they come into collision with their local authorities; here they go out on strike, there they hold meetings and demonstrations; here they demand rights from the government, there they proclaim a boycott; some talk about the political struggle, others about the economic struggle, and so forth. But that does not mean that the workers possess Social-Democratic consciousness; it does not mean that the aim of their movement is to overthrow the capitalist system, that they are as sure of the overthrow of capitalism and of the establishment of the socialist system as they are of the inevitable rising of the sun, that they regard their conquest of political power (the dictatorship of the proletariat) as an essential means for achieving the victory of socialism, etc.

Meanwhile science develops. The working-class movement gradually attracts its attention. Most scientists arrive at the opinion that the working-class movement is a revolt of troublemakers whom it would be a good thing to bring to their senses with the aid of the whip. Others believe that it is the duty of the rich to throw some crumbs to the poor, i.e., that the working-class movement is a movement of paupers whose object is to obtain alms. And out of a thousand scientists perhaps only one may prove to be a man who approaches the working-class movement scientifically, scientifically investigates the whole of social life, watches the conflict of classes, listens closely to the murmuring of the working class and, finally, proves scientifically that the capitalist system is by no means eternal, that it is just as transient as feudalism was, and that it must inevitably be superseded by its negation, the socialist system, which can be established only by the proletariat by means of a social revolution. In short, scientific socialism is elaborated.

It goes without saying that if there were no capitalism and the class struggle there would be no scientific socialism. But it is also true that these few, for example Marx and Engels, would not have worked out scientific socialism had they not possessed scientific knowledge.

What is scientific socialism without the working-class movement? A compass which, if left unused, will only grow rusty and then will have to be thrown overboard. What is the working-class movement without socialism? A ship without a compass which will reach the other shore in any case, but would reach it much sooner and with less danger if it had a compass.

Combine the two and you will get a splendid vessel, which will speed straight towards the other shore and reach its haven unharmed. Combine the working-class movement with socialism and you will get a Social-Democratic movement which will speed straight towards the “promised land.”

And so, it is the duty of Social-Democracy (and not only of Social-Democratic intellectuals) to combine socialism with the working-class movement, to imbue the movement with socialist consciousness and thereby lend the spontaneous working-class movement a Social-Democratic character.

That is what Lenin says.


If you are interested to hear the opinion of other representatives of the “majority,” here is what one of them, Comrade Gorin, said at the Second Party Congress:

What would the situation be if the proletariat were left to itself? It would be like the situation that existed on the eve of the bourgeois revolution. The bourgeois revolutionaries possessed no scientific theory. And yet, the bourgeois system arose. Even without ideologists the proletariat would, of course, eventually work towards social revolution, but only in an instinctive way. … The proletariat would put socialism into effect instinctively, but it would not have any theory of socialism. The process would be slow and more painful than if it were helped along by revolutionary ideologists who set a definite aim and foresee what we are moving towards. [11]


Here is what Marx and Engels say in their Manifesto:

The Communists [i.e., Social-Democrats — J. S.], therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement. [12]

Yes, the ideologists “push forward,” they see much farther than the “great mass of the proletariat,” and this is the whole point. The ideologists push forward, and it is precisely for this reason that the idea, socialist consciousness, is of such great importance for the movement.

[The theoreticians who represent the petty bourgeoisie] are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically. This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent. [13]

What idea does Marx propound in the above-quoted proposition? Only that the theoretician of a given class cannot create an ideal, the elements of which do not exist in life; that he can only indicate the elements of the future and on that basis theoretically create an ideal which the given class reaches practically. The difference is that the theoretician runs ahead of the class and indicates the embryo of the future before the class does. That is what is meant by “arriving at something theoretically.”

It had to be proved that ideas do not drop from the skies, but are engendered by life itself. Marx and Engels entered the historical arena and magnificently accomplished this task. They proved that social life is the source of ideas and, therefore, that the life of society is the foundation on which social consciousness is built. Thereby, they dug the grave of idealism and cleared the road for materialism.

Certain semi-Marxists interpreted this as meaning that consciousness, ideas, are of very little importance in life.

The great importance of ideas had to be proved. And so Engels came forward and, in his letters (1891-94), emphasised that while it is true that ideas do not drop from the skies but are engendered by life itself, yet once born, ideas acquire great importance, for they unite men, organise them, and put their impress upon the social life which has engendered them — ideas are of great importance in historical progress.

“This is not Marxism but the betrayal of Marxism,” shouted Bernstein and his ilk. The Marxists only laughed.

There were semi-Marxists in Russia — the “Economists.” They asserted that, since ideas are engendered by social life, socialist consciousness is of little importance for the working-class movement.

It had to be proved that socialist consciousness is of great importance for the working-class movement, that without it the movement would be aimless trade-unionist wandering, and nobody could say when the proletariat would rid itself of it and reach the social revolution.

And Iskra appeared and magnificently accomplished this task. The book What Is To Be Done? appeared, in which Lenin emphasised the great importance of socialist consciousness. The Party “majority” was formed and firmly took this path.

But here the little Bernsteins come out and begin to shout: This “fundamentally contradicts Marxism”! But do you, little “Economists,” know what Marxism is?


[1] See also Stalin’s two “Letters from Kutais” (1904), in which he privately explains to a comrade these views and requests the material that he uses to construct this essay. [web] — R. D. 

[2] Transcaucasia was at the time a bastion of Menshevik power. — R. D. 

[3] The editorial board of Iskra [The Spark] then consisted of six members: Plekhanov, Axelrod, Zasulich, Martov, Starover [A. N. Potresov.] and Lenin. 

[4] V. I. Lenin, “The Urgent Tasks of Our Movement” (1900), Iskra No. 1. [web] 

[5] V. I. Lenin, “The Urgent Tasks of Our Movement” (1900), Iskra No. 1. [web] 

[6] V. I. Lenin, “The Urgent Tasks of Our Movement” (1900), Iskra No. 1. [web] 

[7] V. I. Lenin, “The Urgent Tasks of Our Movement” (1900), Iskra No. 1. [web] 

[8] Karl Kautsky, Neue Zeit [New Times], 1901-01, No. 3, p. 79. Quoted by Lenin in What Is To Be Done?

[9] V. I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done? (1901). [web] 

[10] V. I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done? (1901). [web] 

[11] Ninth Session of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Second Congress (1903). [web] 

[12] Karl Marx and Friedrich Englels, The Communist Manifesto (1848), Ch. 2. [web] 

[13] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte (1852), Ch. 3. [web]