Building the Party Study Guide


Tony Cliff’s book Building the Party: Lenin 1893-1914 traces both Lenin’s early political development and the birth of the Bolshevik party in Russia.  This study series breaks the book into 5 sections with questions for each section.

Session One: Lenin Becomes a Marxist

Readings:

  • Chapter 1: Lenin Becomes a Marxist
  • Chapter 2: From the Marxist Study Circle to Industrial Action
  • Chapter 3: Towards the Building of the Party

Questions:

  1. Who were the Narodniks (populists) and what was their vision of social change in Russia?
  2. On what grounds did Lenin and the Russian Marxists break with Narodism?
  3. What were some problems with the early workers’ study circles?
  4. Define the difference between agitation and propaganda.
  5. What was “economism”?

Session Two: The Birth of Bolshevism

Readings:

  • Chapter 4: What is to be Done?
  • Chapter 5: The 1903 Congress: Bolshevism is Born
  • Chapter 6: Fighting the Liberals

Supplementary reading:

Questions:

  1. How did Lenin define “class consciousness” in What is to be Done?
  2. Why was Lenin so intent on producing an “all-Russian” newspaper?
  3. When Lenin argued for the need for “professional revolutionaries,” what did he mean?
  4. On what grounds was there a split in 1903 between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks? Was it just a sectarian squabble?
  5. Why did Lenin emphasize the question of building a strong organization so much at this time?
  6. What was Lenin’s attitude to liberalism and how did it differ from Plekhanov’s and Axelrod’s?

Session Three: The 1905 Revolution

Readings:

  • Chapter 7: The 1905 Revolution
  • Chapter 8: “Open the Gates of the Party”
  • Chapter 9: Lenin on Armed Insurrection
  • Chapter 10: The Argument for a Revolutionary Provisional Government
  • Chapter 11: The Muzhik in Rebellion
  • Chapter 12: The Great Dress Rehearsal

Questions:

  1. Why did Lenin criticize the Russian Bolshevik’s attitude toward the Soviet?
  2. In 1903 Lenin argued for a tight-knit organization of revolutionaries, whereas in 1905 he said “open the gates of the party.” What made him change his views?
  3. Explain the differences between Lenin’s and the Menshevik’s views on armed insurrection.
  4. Both the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks agreed on the bourgeois nature of the revolution. How did they differ on their views of the revolution? Define what Trotsky meant by “permanent revolution”?
  5. Why was the “peasant question” so important in Russia? Could Russian peasants have led the revolution rather than workers?
  6. Evaluate this statement: Lenin felt that the party should teach the masses, but that the masses had nothing to teach to the party.

Session Four: The Period of Reaction and Decline

Readings:

  • Chapter 13: Dark Reaction Victorious
  • Chapter 14: Strategy and Tactics
  • Chapter 15: Semi-Unity with the Mensheviks
  • Chapter 16: Lenin Expels the Ultra-Lefts

Questions:

  1. What was the impact of the defeat of the 1905 Revolution on the workers’ movement? On the Bolsheviks?
  2. During the revolution Lenin was for boycotting the Duma (the Russian parliament). Afterward, he changed his mind. Why?
  3. What does it mean to say that Marxist theory is a “guide to action”?
  4. What did Lenin mean by “seizing the key link”?
  5. When Lenin spoke of “discipline,” did he mean blind obedience?
  6. Define “ultra-leftism.”

Session Five: The Rising Revolutionary Movement

Readings:

  • Chapter 17: The Final Split with the Mensheviks
  • Chapter 18: The Rising Revolutionary Wave
  • Chapter 19: Pravda
  • Chapter 20: The Bolshevik Party Becomes a Mass Party

Questions:

  1. Why did Lenin fight those who wanted a legal party?
  2. The conciliators wanted unity between all the socialist factions. Why did Lenin oppose them?
  3. Describe two ways in which the Bolsheviks were able to grow in size and influence when the workers’ movement began to revive in 1912.
  4. What does it mean to say that Pravda was a “workers’ newspaper”?
  5. Does the last chapter on the growth of the party contradict the traditional view that the Bolsheviks were a party of elite professional revolutionaries?