In view of the above, the task that faces us is clear: we should strive to develop political self-consciousness among the mass of workers, to interest them in political freedom. But political self-consciousness does not only mean a change in the present political system but also a change in favour of the working class. Consequently, recognition of the opposition of interests must precede political class self-consciousness. The opposition of interests will be recognised when this opposition makes itself apparent in the life of the proletariat. It must make itself felt at every step, be constantly repeated to the worker and make itself felt in every detail. But is it enough just to feel this opposition for oneself, to promote one’s own interests first and foremost, and to bear them constantly in mind? Life often obscures simple and clear relationships and not infrequently it seems possible to explain the antagonism between the position of the owner and the workers purely by natural circumstances, which only confuse the worker. For instance, nothing is easier than bewildering the worker and proving to him that a reduction in the working day is impossible. Even the depressed state of trade in the particular branch of industry is cited in evidence; the impossibility of shortening the working day because of competition with other owners, small profits, the battle with large stores, and so on, are cited. These are precisely the arguments, even if they were incorrect or correct only for a particular case, that appear quite conclusive to the worker who has a limited understanding. Obviously, to feel and to understand the justice of their demands, and to promote them constantly and persistently, are far from one and the same thing. But to ensure that tricks and deceptions of various kinds do not deflect the workers from their just demands, these demands must be promoted constantly, and not only on important questions, but also—this is particularly important as preparatory work—on questions that appear very insignificant. Where petty demands are concerned, the owner will not confuse the workers in this way because the possibility of satisfying petty demands is obvious to everyone. It depends only on the particular owner and failure to satisfy a demand is easily explained to the workers as simply the unwillingness of the owner himself, and in this way the opposition of their interests to those of the owners are partially made plain. In this connection petty demands can more easily meet with success without particular persistence in the struggle for them, and this brings with it a faith in their own strength, it teaches the workers the practical concepts of struggle, it prepares and promotes individuals who were hitherto lost in the mass and gives to other workers an example of how to fight successfully with the owners. Even in the struggle for petty demands the workers must willy-nilly join together, convincing themselves in practice of the necessity for, and possibility of, unity. This practice is much more important in the education of the mass, and more convincing, than books about the same thing. In the struggle the relations between the opposing sides become acute and the owner appears in his true guise; it is only then that he throws off his mask as the paternal benefactor and reveals his genuine thoughts and aspirations. In this struggle the worker can clearly distinguish his friends from his enemies, can observe the solidarity of all the owners, the whole of the bourgeoisie in general—both big and petty bourgeoisie—against him, the worker. On the basis of the awakening that the struggle has produced, the worker is more inclined to accept the ideas that earlier seemed nonsensical to him.
This struggle for petty demands, provoked in particular by exploitation by one or several owners, is limited to the arena of one or a few workshops or factories. The struggle, which is in the majority of cases confined to a struggle only with the most immediate exploiter, who is not supported by the administration, must serve as the elementary school for the Russian proletariat, which has still not been lured into the class struggle; in the struggle it will be educated and strengthened and from it it will emerge prepared for the struggle for the more important demands even without the unity of the workers of several factories or the whole trade.
The first phase of the struggle for petty demands, towards which the worker is propelled by a calculation that is easily grasped—exploitation by the owner being easy to explain—demands from the workers a certain degree of energy and unanimity. In the second phase, when it is necessary to make common cause against the entire bourgeois class, which the government will immediately rush to help, a much greater degree of endurance, solidarity and courage will be required. Moreover, a certain level of consciousness will also be demanded, the ability to link one’s own interests with the interests of other workers in the same branch of production, sometimes even of another, but such consciousness can be developed only when the worker comes, through his own experience, to the conclusion that success in a particular struggle for the interests of workers in separate factories is not feasible. This very struggle with separate owners will develop in the working class a degree of stability and endurance, of unity, a sense of independence and class self-confidence, which it will need when it comes face to face with the inevitability of the class struggle in the proper meaning of the word. As it enters this stage, the workers’ movement will begin little by little to take on a political tinge. Indeed, as the workers advance a particular demand for significant change in the existing methods in a particular factory or in a whole branch of industry, so they join in a struggle in which the attitude towards them of not just one, not just a few owners, but of the whole of the upper classes and government will become clear to them. Conscious of the complete justice of their demand, the workers at first behave peacefully and with restraint, confident that everyone must be on their side, that everyone must sympathise with them. After all, this is all so simple, their demands are so clear, the oppression is so unjust! They send a deputation to the factory inspector. He will certainly help them, he is after all their defender, he knows all the laws, and the laws certainly speak in their favour … The inspector just pours a bucket of cold water over them … There is nothing about this in the laws; the factory owner stands on completely legal ground, I can do nothing … The door is closed in front of my nose … How is it that the laws did not intercede for us! It cannot be that our little father has not defended us! The inspector has been bribed by the factory owner, he is lying, lying insolently! … The workers try other ways: everywhere they meet refusal, sometimes accompanied by a threat which soon takes on a real form—the troops are sent to help the owners. The workers receive their first lesson in political science which says that right is on the side of the strong, that against the organised force of capital there must emerge a similarly organised force of labour. Broadening as they develop, enveloping whole areas of production instead of individual factories, with every step the movement conflicts ever more often with state power, the lessons of political wisdom become all the more frequent, and on each occasion their powerful moral is imprinted ever more deeply on the minds of the workers, class self-consciousness is formed, the understanding that everything the people strive for can only be achieved by the people themselves. The ground is prepared for political agitation. This agitation now finds a class, organised by life itself, with a strongly developed class egoism, with a consciousness of the community of interests of all workers and their opposition to the interests of all others. Then the alteration of the political system is only a question of time. One spark—and the accumulated combustible material will produce an explosion.
Thus the task of the Social Democrats is to conduct constant agitation among the factory workers on the basis of existing petty needs and demands. The struggle aroused by such agitation will train the workers to defend their own interests, increase their courage, give them confidence in their strength, a consciousness of the need for unity, and ultimately it will place before them the more important questions which demand solutions. Having been prepared in this way for the more serious struggle, the working class proceeds to the resolution of these vital questions, and agitation on the basis of these questions must have as its aim the formation of class self-consciousness. The class struggle in this more conscious form establishes the basis for political agitation, the aim of which will be to alter existing political conditions in favour of the working class. The subsequent programme of the Social Democrats is self-evident.