G.V. Plekhanov

Programme of the Social-Democratic Emancipation of Labour Group


Written: 1884
Source:Georgi Plekhanov: Selected Philosopohical Works, Vol I.
Publisher: Progress Publishers, 1974
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org in 2000

The Emancipation of Labour group sets itself the aim of spreading socialist ideas in Russia and working out the elements for organising a Russian workers’ socialist party.

The essence of its outlook can be expressed in the following few propositions: [1]

I. The economic emancipation of the working class will be achieved only by the transfer to collective ownership by the working people of all means and products of production and the organisation of all the functions of social and economic life in accordance with the requirements of society.

II. The modern development of technology in civilised societies not only provides the material possibility for such an organisation but makes it necessary and inevitable for solving the contradictions which hinder the quiet and all-round development of those societies.

III. This radical economic revolution will entail most fundamental changes in the entire constitution of social and international relationships.

Eliminating the class struggle by destroying the classes themselves; making the economic struggle of individuals impossible and unnecessary by abolishing commodity production and the competition connected with it; briefly, putting an end to the struggle for existence between individuals, classes and whole societies, it renders unnecessary all those social organs which have developed as the weapons of that struggle during the many centuries it has been proceeding.

Without falling into utopian fantasies about the social and international organisation of the future, we can already now foretell the abolition of the most important of the organs of chronic struggle inside society, namely, the state, as a political organisation opposed to society and safeguarding mainly the interests of its ruling section. In exactly the same way we can already now foresee the international character of the impending economic revolution. The contemporary development of international exchange of products necessitates the participation of all civilised societies in this revolution.

That is why the socialist parties in all countries acknowledge the international character of the present-day working-class movement and proclaim the principle of international solidarity of producers.

The Emancipation of Labour group also acknowledges the great principles of the former International Working Men’s Association and the identity of interests among the working people of the whole civilised world.

IV. Introducing consciousness where there now reigns blind economic necessity, replacing the present mastery of the product over the producer by that of the producer over the product, the socialist revolution simplifies all social relationships and gives them a purpose, at the same time providing each citizen with the real possibility of participating directly in the discussion and decision of all social matters.

This direct participation of citizens in the management of all social matters presupposes the abolition of the modern system of political representation and its replacement by direct popular legislation.

In their present-day struggle, the socialists must bear in mind this necessary political reform and aim at its realisation by all means in their power.

This is all the more necessary as the political self-education and the rule of the working class are a necessary preliminary condition of its economic emancipation. Only a completely democratic state can carry out the economic revolution which conforms to the interests of the producers and demands their intelligent participation in the organisation and regulation of production.

At present the working class in the advanced countries is becoming increasingly clear on the necessity of the social and political revolution referred to and is organising into a special labour party which is hostile to all parties of exploiters.

Being accomplished according to the principles of the International Working Men’s Association, this organisation, however, has mainly in view the achievement by the workers of political domination within each of the respective states. “The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.”

This introduces an element of variety into the programmes socialist parties in the different states, compelling each of them to conform to the social conditions in its country.

It goes without saying that the practical tasks, and consequently the programmes of the socialists, are bound to be more original and complicated in countries where capitalist production has not yet become dominant and where the working masses are oppressed under a double yoke – that of rising capitalism and that of obsolescent patriarchal economy.

In those countries, the socialists must at the same time organise the workers for the struggle against the bourgeoisie and wage war against the survivals of old pre-bourgeois social relationships, which are harmful both to the development of the working class and to the welfare of the whole people.

That is precisely the position of the Russian socialists. The working population of Russia is oppressed directly by the whole burden of the enormous police-despotic state and at the same time suffers all the miseries inherent in the epoch of capitalist accumulation and in places – in our industrial centres – it suffers from the oppression of capitalist production which is not as yet limited by any decisive intervention of the state or by the organised resistance of the workers themselves. Present-day Russia is suffering – as Marx once said of the West European continent – not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from insufficiency of that development.

One of the most harmful consequences of this backward state of production was and still is the underdevelopment of the middle class, which, in our country, is incapable of taking the initiative in the struggle against absolutism.

That is why the socialist intelligentsia has been obliged to head the present-day emancipation movement, whose immediate task must be to set up free political institutions in our country, the socialists on their side being under the obligation to provide the working class with the possibility to take an active and fruitful part in the future political life of Russia.

The first means to achieve this aim must be agitation for a democratic constitution guaranteeing:

1. The right to vote and to be elected to the Legislative Assembly as well as to the provincial and communal self-government bodies for every citizen who has not been sentenced by court to deprivation of political rights [2] for certain shameful activities strictly specified by law.

2. A money payment fixed by law for the representatives of the people, which will allow them to be elected from the poorest classes of the population.

3. Inviolability of the person and home of citizens.

4. Unlimited freedom of conscience, speech, the press, assembly and association.

5. Freedom of movement and of employment.

6. Complete equality of all citizens irrespective of religion and racial origin. [3]

7. The replacement of the standing army by general arming of the people.

8. A revision of all our civil and criminal legislation, the abolition of division according to estates and of punishments incompatible with human dignity.

But this aim will not be achieved, the political initiative of the workers will be unthinkable, if the fall of absolutism finds them completely unprepared and unorganised.

That is why the socialist intelligentsia has the obligation to organise the workers and prepare them as far as possible for the struggle against the present-day system of government as well as against the future bourgeois parties.

The intelligentsia must immediately set to work to organise the workers in our industrial centres, as the foremost representatives of the whole working population of Russia, in secret groups with links between them and a definite social and political programme corresponding to the present-day needs of the entire class of producers in Russia and the basic tasks of socialism.

Understanding that the details of such a programme can be worked out only in the future and by the working class itself when it is called on to participate in the political life of the country and is united in its own party, the Emancipation of Labour group presumes that the main points of the economic section of the workers’ programme must be the demands:

1. Of a radical revision of our agrarian relations, i.e., the conditions for the redemption of the land and its allotment to peasant communes. Of the right to renounce allotments and leave the commune for those peasants who find this convenient for themselves, etc.

2. Of the abolition of the present system of dues and the institution of a progressive taxation system.

3. Of the legislative regulation of relations between workers (in town and country) and employers, and the organisation of the appropriate inspection with representation of the workers.

4. Of state assistance for production associations organised in all possible branches of agriculture, the mining and manufacturing industries (by peasants, miners, factory and plant workers, craftsmen, etc.).

The Emancipation of Labour group is convinced that not only the success but even the mere possibility of such a purposeful movement of the Russian working class depends in a large degree upon the work referred to above being done by the intelligentsia among the working class.

But the group assumes that the intelligentsia themselves must as a preliminary step adopt the standpoint of modern scientific socialism, adhering to the Narodnaya Volya traditions only inasmuch as they are not opposed to its principles.

In view of this, the Emancipation of Labour Group sets itself the aim of spreading modern socialism in Russia and preparing the working class for a conscious social and political movement; to this aim it devotes all its energies, calling upon our revolutionary youth for help and collaboration.

Pursuing this aim by all means in its power, the Emancipation of Labour group at the same time recognises the necessity for terrorist struggle against the absolute government and differs from the Narodnaya Volya party only on the question of the so-called seizure of power by the revolutionary party and of the tasks of the immediate activity of the socialists among the working class.

The Emancipation of Labour group does not in the least ignore the peasantry, which constitutes an enormous portion of Russia’s working population. But it assumes that the work of the intelligentsia, especially under present-day conditions of the social and political struggle, must be aimed first of all at the most developed part of this population, which consists of the industrial workers. Having secured the powerful support of this section, the socialist intelligentsia will have far greater hope of success in extending their action to the peasantry as well, especially if they have by that time won freedom of agitation and propaganda. Incidentally, it goes without saying that the distribution of the forces of our socialists will have to be changed if an independent revolutionary movement becomes manifest among the peasantry, and that even at present people who are in direct touch with the peasantry could, by their work among them, render an important service to the socialist movement in Russia. The Emancipation of Labour group, far from rejecting such people, will exert all its efforts to agree with them on the basic propositions of the programme.

Geneva, 1884



[1] We by no means regard the programme which we submit to the judgement of the comrades as something finished and complete, not subject to partial changes or additions. On the contrary, we are ready to introduce into it any kind of corrections provided they do not contradict the basic concepts of scientific socialism and that they correspond to the practical conclusions following from these concepts concerning the work of the socialists in Russia.

[2] Such actions may include, for example, bribing at elections, outrageous repression of workers by employers, etc.

[3] This point is logically included in 4, which requires, among other things, complete freedom of conscience; but we consider it necessary to set it in relief in view of the fact that there are in our country whole sections of the population, for instance the Jews, who do not even enjoy the wretched “rights” made available to other “residents”.


Last updated on 19.7.2004