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Lenin and the socialist paper

June 4, 2004 | Page 8

"Learn, propagandize, organize" were the watchwords for the workers' newspaper that the Russian revolutionary Lenin was committed to publishing. PAUL D'AMATO explains.

WHEN Lenin became a socialist in Russia in the late 1890s, the movement was, in his phrase, "primitive," consisting of groups of isolated activists in various cities and towns. Each worked separately and with no real knowledge of the general picture of the movement--or with any means to develop a general, national perspective for taking on the police autocracy of Russia's Tsar.

Lenin became concerned with ending the "narrow" and "amateurish" character of the movement, which, he wrote in 1901, prevented workers in Russia from developing a "consciousness of their community of interests throughout Russia." It was not only a question of how to link together socialists in different cities, but how to take what were often local struggles of workers and unite them--with the aim of developing a force capable of posing a political challenge to Tsarism.

One of the key means for overcoming this localism, in Lenin's view, was the creation of an all-Russian newspaper. "The comrade's varying views on theoretical and practical problems are not openly discussed in a central newspaper," Lenin complained. A paper could help them elaborate "a common program" and devise "common tactics." Instead, "they are lost in narrow study-circle life," which leads to them exaggerating "local and chance peculiarities."

A national newspaper for Lenin, then, was not only a means to disseminate propaganda--ideas about the nature of capitalism, the way to overcome it and achieve socialism--but as a means to create a national organization of militants linked together by common experience.

The paper was, in Lenin's words, not only a "collective progagandist," but also a "collective agitator" and a "collective organizer." Our watchwords, Lenin argued, were "Learn, propagandize, organize--and the pivot of this activity can and must be only the organ of the Party."

In light of this, Lenin wanted a newspaper that aired differences and debates--that not only reported on local struggles, but also presented commentary on important political and theoretical questions facing the movement. "It is necessary," he wrote, "to combine all the concrete facts and manifestations of the working-class movement with the indicated questions; the light of theory must be cast upon every separate fact; propaganda on questions of politics and Party organization must be carried on among the broad masses of the working class; and these questions must be dealt with in the work of agitation."

Local agitational leaflets were narrow and insufficient, Lenin argued, dealing only with local questions. "We must try to create a higher form of agitation by means of the newspaper, which must contain a regular record of workers' grievances, workers' strikes and other forms of proletarian struggle, as well as all manifestations of political tyranny in the whole of Russia; which must draw definite conclusions from each of these manifestations in accordance with the ultimate aim of socialism and the political tasks of the Russian proletariat," he wrote.

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THIS CONCEPTION of the role of a newspaper as central propagandist, agitator and organizer was unique at that time in the world socialist movement.

The Socialist Party in the U.S., for example, had not a single official organ. Instead, it had hundreds of local and national publications, all of them linked to the party or its locals, but privately owned and run. Even in 1904, when the party had only 20,000 members, it had about 40 daily, weekly, and monthly papers and magazines. In 1912, when the party had more than 100,000 members, it boasted 323 publications.

These publications may have been more or less effective in winning converts--which in the Socialist Party primarily meant winning people to vote for socialist candidates. They carried various types of propaganda, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but they were not interventionist, activist, organizing and centralizing tools.

They were not intended to be--nor could they have been--publications aimed at guiding, practically and politically, the organization as a whole. They weren't intended to be forums for workers in the party to compare struggles and experiences in order to determine the next step in the struggle.

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AFTER THE defeat of the 1905 revolution in Russia and the beginning of a new workers' upsurge, the party began to issue a daily paper, Pravda, at the beginning of 1912. The paper had its ups and downs, but it very quickly became the backbone for a layer of several thousand militants inside Russia's most important factories.

Lenin's writings after the first six months of Pravda show that his views on the kind of paper needed for the socialist movement had developed. The importance of the paper wasn't just that it put socialist ideas across in a way accessible to workers, but that it was a paper bought by, read, written for and sold by workers. In other words, Lenin's Bolsheviks wanted not just to produce a paper directed at workers, but a workers' newspaper.

Lenin was very careful to emphasize the importance of regular financial contributions by workers for Pravda--because without them, the paper could not be published. Thus, after six months of publication, he ran a lengthy article, spread over several issues, about the significance of the fact that 504 workers' groups had given donations--far more than any other paper on the Russian left--to support Pravda.

But there was more to it than that. As he wrote: "From the point of view of the initiative and energy of the workers themselves, it is much more important to have 100 rubles collected by, say, 30 groups of workers than 1,000 rubles collected by some dozens of 'sympathizers.' A newspaper founded on the basis of five-kopek pieces collected by small factory circles of workers is a far more dependable, solid and serious undertaking (both financially and, most important of all, from the standpoint of the development of the workers' democratic movement) than a newspaper founded with tens and hundreds of rubles contributed by sympathizing intellectuals."

For Lenin, even something so simple as reports in Pravda listing the collections at workers' meetings for different causes and struggles had an important role to play beyond merely providing information. "As they look through the reports on workers' collections in connection with letters from factory and office workers in all parts of Russia," he wrote, "Pravda readers, most of whom are dispersed and separated from one another by the severe external conditions of Russian life, gain some idea how the proletarians of various trades and various localities are fighting, how they are awakening to the defense of working-class democracy."

It was the whole package--reports of collections, workers' letters about workplace conditions or about police brutality, reports on strikes, election campaigns and demonstrations--that could come together in the paper to create a general picture of the movement and where it needed to go. True to this commitment, Pravda received and published thousands of letters and reports from workers around the country.

Lenin's view of the role of the revolutionary newspaper can be summed up this way: "The workers' newspaper is a workers' forum."

Who stands to gain?

By Lenin, from Pravda, April 11, 1913

There is a latin tag cui prodest? Meaning "who stands to gain?" When it is not immediately apparent which political or social groups, forces or alignments advocate certain proposals, measures, etc., one should always ask: "Who stands to gain?"

It is not important who directly advocates a particular policy, since under the present noble system of capitalism, any money-bag can always "hire," buy or enlist any number of lawyers, writers and even parliamentary deputies, professors, parsons and the like to defend any views. We live in an age of commerce, when the bourgeoisie have no scruples about trading in honor or conscience. There are also simpletons who out of stupidity or force of habit defend views prevalent in certain bourgeois circles.

Yes, indeed! In politics, it is not so important who directly advocates particular views. What is important is who stands to gain from these views, proposals, measures.

For instance, "Europe"--the states that call themselves "civilized"--are now engaged in a mad armaments hurdle-race. In thousands of ways, in thousands of newspapers, from thousands of pulpits, they shout and clamor about patriotism, culture, native land, peace, and progress--and all in order to justify new expenditures of tens and hundreds of millions of rubles for all manner of weapons of destruction--for guns, dreadnoughts, etc. "Ladies and gentlemen," one feels like saying about all these phrases mouthed by patriots, so-called. "Put no faith in phrase-mongering, it is better to see who stands to gain!"...

A short while ago, the renowned British firm Armstrong, Whitworth & Co. published its annual balance sheet. The firm is engaged mainly in the manufacture of armaments of various kinds. A profit was shown of �877,000--about 8 million rubles--and a dividend of 12.5 percent was declared! About 900,000 rubles were set aside as reserve capital, and so on and so forth. That's where the millions and milliards squeezed out of the workers and peasants for armaments go. Dividends of 12.5 percent mean that capital is doubled in eight years. And this is in addition to all kinds of fees to directors, etc.

Armstrong in Britian, Krupp in Germany, Creusot in France, Cockerill in Belgium--how many of them are there in all the "civilized" countries? And the countless host of contractors? These are the ones who stand to gain from the whipping up of chauvinism, from the chatter about the defense of culture (with weapons destructive of culture) and so forth!

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