Liberation of Labour

In 1883 George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Vera Zasulich and Lev Deich to form the Liberation of Labour group. This group argued that it would be impossible to overthrow Russia's authoritarian government and replace it with peasant communes. They believed that a socialist revolution would only come with the development of a revolutionary industrial workers’ party. Peter Lavrov disagreed with this approach. He pointed out that almost 90% of the Russian population and that a revolutionary vanguard would create a dictatorship: "Whenever a dictatorship succeeded in establishing itself it had to spend more time and effort in retaining its power and defending it against its rivals than upon the realization of its programme, with the aid of that power. The abolition of dictatorship assumed by a party can only be dreamed about before the usurpation takes place. In the struggle of parties for power, in the class of open or concealed ambitions, every moment furnishes an added reason and necessity for maintaining the dictatorship, creates a new excuse for not relinquishing it. A dictatorship can be wrested from the dictators only by a new revolution."

The Liberation of Labour published Rabochee Delo (Worker's Cause). George Plekhanov also wrote several books where he explained the philosophy of the group. This included Socialism and the Political Struggle (1883), Our Differences (1884) and On the Development of the Monist View of History (1895), George Plekhanov argued that a successful Marxist revolution could only take place after the development of capitalism. According to Plekhanov, it was the industrial proletariat who would bring about a socialist revolution.

Plekhanov was strongly opposed to the political views of people such as Sergei Nechaev and Peter Tkachev, who argued that it would be possible for a small group of dedicated revolutionaries to seize power from the Tsar. Plekhanov warned that if this happened, you would replace one authoritarian regime with another. That a "socialist caste" would take control who impose a system of "patriarchal authoritarian communism".

The Liberation of Labour group was eventually absorbed into the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) that was formed by Russian revolutionaries in 1898.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) David Shub was a member of the Social Democratic Labour Party and was a loyal supporter of George Plekhanov.

A split occurred in the Land and Freedom group in 1879, when an executive committee was set up to organize terrorist acts. A small faction, headed by George Plekhanov, rejected the policy of terrorism and became known as the Black Repartition.

The larger group called itself the People's Will. Both believed that the Russian peasant was by nature strongly inclined to Socialism. Contrary to the Marxist notion that only the industrial working class could bring Socialism, they believed that in Russia the peasant could play the same role as the industrial proletariat in other countries. But the People's Will believed that Socialism could not be realized for some time; the immediate goal was the expropriation of the estates in favour of the peasantry and the establishment of civil liberty.

On Sunday 13th March 1881, Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by members of the People's Will.

(2) Elizabeth Kovalskaia, was a member of Land and Liberty. In 1879 she joined George Plekhanov in the Black Repartition group.

I recall a very stormy meeting about the printing press which Black Repartition held in one of its conspiratorial apartments. Maria Krylova, who had been serving as the proprietress of Land and Liberty's printing operation, emphatically refused to let the People's Will have the press - she was even prepared to use arms against them, if they took any aggressive actions to get it. George Plekhanov was also strongly opposed to giving up the press, but at the same time, in his characteristic manner, he wittily and venomously ridiculed Krylova's plan for "armed resistance".