Stalin’s implicit criticism of Lenin

During the wave of counter-revolutionary measures at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the RSDLP (Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party) was facing a crisis. Arrests, exile, repressive government measures, decline in membership, loss of organisational unity – all these led to profound threats to the viability of the party itself. Conferences were held to deal with the matter, and those in exile attempted to publish newspapers to keep a fragmented party together. In one of his sharpest early pieces, ‘The Party Crisis and Our Tasks,’ Stalin takes aim at such measures, saying they are far from adequate. Implicit here is a criticism of Lenin, especially since Stalin mentions two of the newspapers edited by Lenin, Proletary and Sotsial-Demokrat. Here is the relevant text:

And so, how can the isolated local organisations be linked up with one another, how can they be linked up in a single well-knit Party, living a common life?

One might think that the general Party conferences that are sometimes arranged would solve the problem, would unite the organisations; or that Proletary, Golos and Sotsial-Demokrat,which are published abroad, would, in the long run, rally and unite the Party. There can be no doubt that both the first and the second are of no little importance in linking up the organisations. At any rate, the conferences and the organs that are published abroad have been until now the only means of linking up the isolated organisations. But in the first place, conferences, arranged very rarely at that, can link up the organisations only for a time and, therefore, not as durably as is required in general: in the intervals between conferences the connections are broken and the old amateurish methods continue as before. Secondly, as regards the organs that are published abroad, apart from the fact that they reach Russia in extremely limited quantities, they naturally lag behind the course of Party life in Russia, are unable to note in time and comment on the questions that excite the workers and, therefore, cannot link our local organisations together by permanent ties. The facts show that since the London Congress, the Party has succeeded in organising two conferences [the third and fourth conferences of the RSDLP, held in 1907] and in printing scores of issues of the organs published abroad; and yet the work of uniting our organisations in a genuine Party, the work of overcoming the crisis, has made scarcely any headway.

Hence, conferences and organs published abroad, while extremely important for uniting the Party, are, nevertheless, inadequate for overcoming the crisis, for permanently uniting the local organisations.

Evidently, a radical measure is needed.

The only radical measure can be the publication of an all-Russian newspaper, a newspaper that will serve as the centre of Party activity and be published in Russia…

That is why we emphasise the necessity of precisely an all-Russian newspaper (and not one published abroad), and precisely a leading newspaper (and not simply a popular one).

(Collected Works, vol. 2, pp. 158-60)

Lenin was, of course, in political exile outside Russia, while Stalin remained inside. Again and again, he was arrested, escaped, arrested again and sent into Siberian exile. Despite his immense admiration for Lenin, on this matter at least, Stalin felt and could argue from experience that someone on the ground was better placed to unite a fractured party and publish a leading newspaper that would be in touch with what was happening.


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