J. V. Stalin
Original publication: marxists.org

Two Letters From Kutais (1904)

These are Stalin’s two “Letters from Kutais” from 1904, found in the correspondence of V. I. Lenin and N. K. Krupskaya. The originals in Georgian have not been discovered.

1903 was the year that the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (R.S.D.L.P.) split into Menshevik and Bolshevik factions over questions of procedure and goals. [1] Revolutionaries against the Russian Empire were faced with the question of how to react to this split. Joseph Stalin was then 26 years old, and over the period of September-October 1904 he corresponded with a comrade living in Leipzig (Germany) within the community of Bolshevik exiles (Mikhail Davitashvili).

Stalin requested revolutionary literary material while expressing his views about the factional crisis. Due to his enthusiasm, his two letters were translated and forwarded to Lenin. Lenin, in his reply, called Stalin a “fiery Colchian.” [2] [3]


First Letter

What we need here now is Iskra (although it has no sparks, we need it: at all events it contains news, the devil take it, and we must thoroughly know the enemy), beginning with No. 63. [4] We very much need Bonch-Bruyevich’s publications: The Fight for the Congress, To the Party (isn’t this the Declaration of the 22?), [5] Our Misunderstandings, On the Quintessence of Socialism and On Strikes by Ryadovoi (if issued), Lenin’s pamphlet against Rosa and Kautsky, [6] the minutes of the Congress of the League, [7] One Step Forward (this can be put aside if you can’t send it now). [8] We need everything new that’s published, from simple declarations to large pamphlets, which in any way deals with the struggle now going on within the Party.

I have read Galyorka’s pamphlet Down With Bonapartism. It’s not bad. It would have been better had he struck harder and deeper with his hammer. His jocular tone and “pleas for mercy” rob his blows of strength and weight, and spoil the reader’s impression. These defects are all the more glaring for the reason that the author evidently understands our position well, and explains and elaborates certain questions excellently. A man who takes up our position must speak with a firm and determined voice. In this respect Lenin is a real mountain eagle.

I have also read Plekhanov’s articles in which he analyses What Is To Be Done?[9] This man has either gone quite off his head, or else is moved by hatred and enmity. I think both causes operate. I think that Plekhanov has fallen behind the new problems. He imagines he has the old opponents before him, and he goes on repeating in the old way: “social consciousness is determined by social being,” “ideas do not drop from the skies.” As if Lenin said that Marx’s socialism would have been possible under slavery and serfdom. Even schoolboys know now that “ideas do not drop from the skies.” The point is, however, that we are now faced with quite a different issue. We assimilated this general formula long ago and the time has now come to analyse this general problem. What interests us now is how separate ideas are worked up into a system of ideas (the theory of socialism), how separate ideas, and hints of ideas, link up into one harmonious system — the theory of socialism, and who works and links them up. Do the masses give their leaders a programme and the principles underlying the programme, or do the leaders give these to the masses? If the masses themselves and their spontaneous movement give us the theory of socialism, then there is no need to take the trouble to safeguard the masses from the pernicious influence of revisionism, terrorism, Zubatovism and anarchism: “the spontaneous movement engenders socialism from itself.” If the spontaneous movement does not engender the theory of socialism from itself (don’t forget that Lenin is discussing the theory of socialism), then the latter is engendered outside of the spontaneous movement, from the observations and study of the spontaneous movement by men who are equipped with up-to-date knowledge. Hence, the theory of socialism is worked out “quite independently of the growth of the spontaneous movement,” in spite of that movement in fact, and is then introduced into that movement from outside, correcting it in conformity with its content, i.e., in conformity with the objective requirements of the proletarian class struggle.

The conclusion (practical deduction) to be drawn from this is as follows: we must raise the proletariat to a consciousness of its true class interests, to a consciousness of the socialist ideal, and not break this ideal up into small change, or adjust it to the spontaneous movement. Lenin has laid down the theoretical basis on which this practical deduction is built. It is enough to accept this theoretical premise and no opportunism will get anywhere near you. Herein lies the significance of Lenin’s idea. I call it Lenin’s, because nobody in Russian literature has expressed it with such clarity as Lenin. Plekhanov believes that he is still living in the nineties, and he goes on chewing what has already been chewed eighteen times over — twice two make four. And he is not ashamed of having talked himself into repeating Martynov’s ideas. … [10]

You are wrong in thinking that the situation is hopeless — only the Kutais Committee wavered, but I succeeded in convincing them, and after that they began to swear by Bolshevism. [11] It was not difficult to convince them: thanks to the Declaration, and after fresh news was received, there could be no further doubt about the two-faced policy of the Central Committee. It will break its neck, the local and Russian comrades will see to that.

Second Letter

I am late with this letter, don’t be angry. I have been busy all the time. All that you sent I have received (Minutes of the League; Our Misunderstandings by Galyorka and Ryadovoi; Sotsial-Demokrat, No 1; Iskra, the last issues). I liked Ryadovoi’s idea (“A Conclusion”). The article against Rosa Luxemburg is also good. These ladies and gentlemen — Rosa, Kautsky, Plekhanov, Axelrod, Vera Zasulich and the others, being old acquaintances, have evidently worked out some kind of family tradition. They cannot “betray” one another; they defend one another as the members of a clan in a patriarchal tribe used to defend one another without going into the guilt or innocence of the kinsman. It is this family feeling, this feeling of “kinship” that has prevented Rosa from studying the crisis in the Party objectively (of course, there are other reasons, for example, inadequate knowledge of the facts, foreign spectacles, etc.). Incidentally, this explains certain unseemly actions on the part of Plekhanov, Kautsky and others.

Everybody here likes Bonch’s publications as masterly expositions of the Bolsheviks’ position. Galyorka would have done well if he had dealt with the substance of Plekhanov’s articles (Iskra, Nos. 70, 71). The fundamental idea in Galyorka’s articles is that Plekhanov once said one thing and is now saying another, that he is contradicting himself. How very important! As if this were new! This is not the first time he is contradicting himself. He may even be proud of it and regard himself as the living embodiment of the “dialectical process.” It goes without saying that inconsistency is a blotch on the political physiognomy of a “leader,” and it (the blotch) should undoubtedly be noted. But that is not what we are discussing (in Nos. 70, 71); we are discussing an important question of theory (the question of the relation between being and consciousness) and of tactics (the relation between the led and the leaders).

In my opinion, Galyorka should have shown that Plekhanov’s theoretical war against Lenin is quixotic to the utmost degree, tilting at windmills, for in his pamphlet Lenin, with the utmost consistency, adheres to K. Marx’s proposition concerning the origin of consciousness. And Plekhanov’s war on the question of tactics is a manifestation of utter confusion, characteristic of the “individual” who is passing over to the camp of the opportunists. Had Plekhanov formulated the question clearly, for example, in the following shape: “Who formulates the programme, the leaders or the led?”; or “Who raises whom to an understanding of the programme, the leaders the led, or vice versa?”; or “Perhaps it is undesirable that the leaders should raise the masses to an understanding of the programme, tactics and principles of organisation?” The simplicity and tautology of these questions provide their own solution, and had Plekhanov put them to himself as clearly as this, he, perhaps, would have been deterred from his intention and would not have come out against Lenin with such fireworks. But since Plekhanov did not do that, i.e., since he confused the issue with phrases about “heroes and the mob,” he digressed in the direction of tactical opportunism. To confuse the issue is characteristic of opportunists.

Had Galyorka dealt with the substance of these and similar questions he would have done much better, in my opinion. Perhaps you will say that this is Lenin’s business; but I cannot agree with this, because the views of Lenin that are criticised are not Lenin’s private property, and their misinterpretation is a matter that concerns other members of the Party no less than Lenin. Lenin, of course, could perform this task better than anybody else. …

We already have resolutions in favour of Bonch’s publications. Perhaps we shall have the money too. You have probably read the resolutions “in favour of peace” in No. 74 of Iskra. The resolutions passed by the Imeretia-Mingrelia and Baku Committees were not mentioned, because they said nothing about “confidence” in the C.C. The September resolutions, as I wrote you, insistently demanded the convocation of the congress. We shall see what happens, i.e., we shall see what the results of the meetings of the Party Council show. Have you received the six rubles? You will receive some more within the next few days. Don’t forget to send with that fellow the pamphlet A Letter to a Comrade [12] — many here have not yet read it. Send also the next number of the Sotsial-Demokrat.

Kostrov has sent us another letter in which he talks about the spiritual and the material (one would think he was talking about cotton material). That ass doesn’t realise that his audience are not the readers of Kvali. What does he care about organisational questions?

A new issue (the 7th) of Proletariatis Brdzola [The Proletarian Struggle] has appeared. [13] Incidentally, it contains an article of mine against organisational and political federalism. [14] I’ll send you a copy if I can.

[1] For an overview of this situation, see J. V. Stalin’s “Briefly About Disagreements in the Party” (May 1905). [web] 

[2] D. Suliashvili, Reminiscences About Stalin. Magazine Mnatobi, No. 9, 1935, p. 163, in Georgian. 

[3] “Colchis” is an ancient Greco-Roman name for Georgia. 

[4] Iskra [Spark] was at the time under Menshevik control. 

[5] V. I. Lenin, “To the Party” (February 1904). [web] 

[6] V. I. Lenin, “(Reply by N. Lenin to Rosa Luxemburg) One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” (September 1904). [web] 

[7] “Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party” (1903) [web] 

[8] V. I. Lenin, One Step Forward: The Crisis in Our Party (May 1904). [web] 

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

[10] Plekhanov was an important and respected Marxist whose theoretical work Lenin had often praised, but the Bolsheviks increasingly came to see him as a conservative. — R. D. 

[11] Kutais is a city in Stalin’s home country of Georgia. — R. D. 

[12] V. I. Lenin, “A Letter to a Comrade on Our Organisational Tasks” (1902). [web] 

[13] Proletariatis Brdzola was the third largest illegal Bolshevik newspaper (after Vperyod and Proletary) and consistently advocated the ideological, organisational and tactical principles of the Marxist party. 

[14] J. V. Stalin, “The Social-Democratic View on the National Question” (September 1904). [web]