[The following was originally written in 1905 by Lenin as a set of directives to communists during and after the events of the revolution of 1905 that established the quasi-parliamentary system in Russia. This was a critical moment for revolutionaries in Russia, as it became apparent to Lenin that a larger storm was soon on the way, and if the Bolsheviks were to survive it, they had to act quickly and deliberately not only in political matters, but military ones as well. This document serves as a great historical reference for this transformation. As always, the following has been made available here for the purposes of education and discussion and does not imply endorsement on the part of the poster.]
- Independent military action.
- Leadership of the mass.
The contingents may be of any strength, beginning with two or three people.
They must arm themselves as best they can (rifles, revolvers, bombs, knives, knuckle-dusters, sticks, rags soaked in kerosene for starting fires, ropes or rope ladders, shovels for building barricades, pyroxylin cartridges, barbed wire, nails [against cavalry], etc., etc.). Under no circumstances should they wait for help from other sources, from above, from the outside; they must procure everything themselves.
As far as possible, the contingents should consist of people who either live near each other, or who meet frequently and regularly at definite hours (preferably people of both categories, for regular meetings may be interrupted by the uprising). They must arrange matters so as to be able to get together at the most critical moments,, when things may take the most unexpected turns. Therefore, each group must work out beforehand ways and means of joint action: signs in windows, etc., so as to find each other easily; previously agreed upon calls or whistles so that the comrades recognise one another in a crowd; previously arranged signals in the event of meetings at night, etc., etc. Any energetic person, with the aid of two or three comrades, could work out a whole series of such rules and methods, which should be drawn up, learned and practised beforehand. It must not be forgotten that the chances are 100 to lb that events will take us unawares, and that it will be necessary to come together under terribly difficult conditions.
Even without arms, the groups can play a most important part: 1) by leading the mass; 2) by attacking, whenever a favourable opportunity presents itself, policemen, stray Cossacks (as was the case in Moscow), etc., and seizing their arms; 3) by rescuing the arrested or injured, when there are only few police about; 4) by getting on to the roofs or upper storeys of houses, etc., and showering stones or pouring boiling water on the troops, etc. Given sufficient push, an organised and well-knit combat group constitutes a tremendous force. Under no circumstances should the formation of the group be abandoned or postponed on the plea of lack of arms.
As far as possible members of combat groups should have their duties assigned in advance, leaders or chiefs of groups being sometimes selected in this way. It would be unwise, of course, to play at conferring ranks, but the enormous importance of uniform leadership and rapid and determined action should not be forgotten. Determination and push are three-quarters of success.
As soon as the groups are formed—i.e., right now—they must get down to comprehensive work—not only theoretical, but most certainly practical work as well. By theoretical work we mean a study of military science, an acquaintance with military problems, the arrangement of lecture meetings on military questions, talks by military men (officers, non-commissioned officers, etc., etc., including also workers who have served in the army); the reading, discussion and assimilation of illegal pamphlets and newspaper articles on street fighting, etc., etc.
Practical work, we repeat, should be started at once. This falls into preparatory work and military operations. The preparatory work includes procuring all kinds of arms and ammunition, securing premises favourably located for street fighting (convenient for fighting from above, for storing bombs and stones, etc., or acids to be poured on the police, etc., etc.; also suitable for headquarters, for collecting information, for sheltering fugitives from the police, for use as hospitals, etc., etc.). Further, preliminary activity includes the immediate work of reconnaissance and gathering information—obtaining plans of prisons, police stations, ministries, etc., ascertaining the routine in government offices, banks, etc., and learning how they are guarded, endeavouring to establish contacts which could be of use (with employees in police departments, banks, courts, prisons, post- and telegraph-offices, etc.), ascertaining the where abouts of arsenals, of all the gunsmiths’ shops in the city, etc. There is a great deal of this sort of work to be done, and—what is more—it is work in which even those who are quite incapable of engaging in street fighting, even the very weak, women, youngsters, old people, and so on, can be of immense service. Efforts should be made immediately to get into combat groups absolutely all those who want to take part in the uprising, for there is no such person, nor can there be one, who, provided he desires to work, cannot be of immense value, even if he is unarmed and is personally incapable of fighting.
Further,revolutionary army groups should under no circumstances confine themselves to preparatory work alone, but should begin military action as soon as possible so as to 1) train their fighting forces; 2) reconnoitre the enemy’s vulnerable spots; 3) inflict partial defeats on the enemy; 4) rescue prisoners (the arrested); 5) procure arms; 6) obtain funds for the uprising (confiscation of government funds), and so on and so forth. The groups can and should immediately take advantage of every opportunity for active work, and must by no means put matters off until a general uprising, because fitness for the uprising cannot be acquired except by training under fire.
All extremes, of course, are bad. All that is good and useful, if carried to extremes, may become—and beyond a certain limit is bound to become—bad and injurious. Disorderly, unorganised and petty terrorist acts may, if carried to extremes, only scatter and squander our forces. That is a fact, which, of course, should not be forgotten. On the other hand, under no circumstances should it be forgotten that a slogan calling for an uprising has already been issued, that the uprising has already begun. To launch attacks under favourable circumstances is not only every revolutionary’s right, but his plain duty. The killing of spies, policemen, gendarmes, the blowing up of police stations, the liberation of prisoners, the seizure of government funds for the needs of the uprising—such operations are already being carried out wherever insurrection is rife, in Poland and in the Caucasus, and every detachment of the revolutionary army must be ready to start such operations at a moment’s notice. Each group should remember that if it allows a favourable opportunity for such an operation to slip by today, it will be guilty of unpardonable inactivity, of passivity—and such an offence is the greatest crime a revolutionary can commit at a time of insurrection, the greatest disgrace that can befall anyone who is striving for liberty in deed, and not in word alone.
As for the composition of these combat groups, the following may be said. Experience will show how many members are desirable in each group, and how their duties should be distributed. Each group must itself begin to acquire this experience, without waiting for instructions from outside. The local revolutionary organisation should, of course, be asked to send a revolutionary with military experience to deliver lectures, conduct discussions and give advice, but if such a person is not available it is absolutely incumbent upon the group to do this work itself.
As regards Party divisions, it is natural that members of the same Party will prefer to belong to the same group. But there should be no hard and fast rule debarring members of other parties from joining. It is precisely here that we must put into practice the alliance, the working agreement (without any merging of parties, of course), between the socialist proletariat and revolutionary democracy. Who ever wants to fight for liberty and proves in fact his readiness to do so may be regarded as a revolutionary democrat, and we must strive to carry on with such people the work of preparing for the uprising (provided, of course, the given person or group is quite trustworthy). All other “democrats” should be emphatically rejected as quasi-democrats, as liberal windbags who must not be relied on at all, and whom it would be criminal for a revolutionary to trust.
It is, of course, desirable for combat groups to unite their activities. It would be extremely useful to work out the forms and terms of joint action. Under no circumstances, however, should this be carried to the extreme of inventing complex plans and general schemes, or of postponing practical work for the sake of pedantic concoctions, etc. The uprising will inevitably take place under circumstances in which the unorganised elements will outnumber the organised thousands of times over; there will inevitably be cases when it will be necessary to take immediate action, right then and there, in twos or even singly—and one must be prepared to act on ones s own initiative, and at one’s own risk. All delays, disputes, procrastination and indecision spell ruin to the cause of the uprising. Supreme determination, maximum energy, immediate utilisation of each suitable moment, immediate stimulation of the revolutionary ardour of the mass and the direction of this ardour to more vigorous and the most determined action—such is the prime duty of a revolutionary.
The fight against the Black Hundreds is an excellent type of military action, which will train the soldiers of the revolutionary army, give them their baptism of fire, and at the same time be of tremendous benefit to the revolution. Revolutionary army groups must at once find out who organises the Black Hundreds and where and how they are organised, and then, without confining themselves to propaganda (which is useful, but inadequate) they must act with armed force, beat up and kill the members of the Black-Hundred gangs, blow up their headquarters, etc., etc.