Volume 21, No.1 - Spring 1975
Editors of this issue: Antanas Klimas, Thomas Remeikis, Bronius Vaskelis
Copyright © 1975 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

FROM A LITHUANIAN ARCHIVE Correspondence and Conversations*

University of Wisconsin — Madison

When I was first delving into the history of Lithuanian independence, I had the good fortune of meeting a number of persons who had lived through the events of the early 20th century. Many of them became good friends, and as I have heard of the death of one or another, the thought has occurred to me to publish some of the statements which they made to me. J do this now in a sense of gratitude for their contributions both to my understanding of Lithuanian affairs and also to my general education as a historian.

As a graduate student, I chose to begin my studies with the Lithuanian national movement of the 19th century. In order to learn about the Soda! Democrats in Lithuania, I wrote to Dr. Pijus Grigaitis, editor of Naujienos in Chicago. Grigaitis responded that he could help me but little and referred me to Dr. J. Kaminskas (Steponas Kairys). Kairys (1878-1964), an engineer by training, became a Social Democrat in 1900 and from 1901 to 1944 was a member of the Central Committee of the LSDP. As a member of the Lithuanian Taryba in 1917-1918, he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence of February 16, 1918.

On the basis of Dr. Grigaitis' introduction, Dr. Kaminskas and I had a brief correspondence on the history of Lithuanian Social Democracy. Kaminskas wrote his first letter to me in English, answering questions which I had posed concerning the work and the popular following of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party and that party's connections with the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP). I have made no corrections in the text.


403 Stanhope Street 
Brooklyn 37, N.Y. 
Tel. GLenmore 6-9424 
March 30, 1954

Mr. Alfred Erich Senn
321 Furnald Hall
Columbia University
New York 27, N. Y.

Dear Mr. Senn,

Dr. Pijus Grigaitis referred to me your letter of March 10, 1954. I am trying here to answer your questions to the best of my knowledge and I would be glad to supply you with any additional information should you need so. As my command of English is very insufficient, it would be very convenient if I could communicate with you in some other language — Lithuanian, Russian, German.

(1) The Lithuanian Social Democrat Party (LSDP) was founded at the constituent meeting in Vilnius on May 1st, 1896. At the same time, the Party program was adopted in the political part of which the LSDP declared that they will seek the independent Lithuania federated with her neighbors — Latvians, Whiteruthenians, and Ukrainians.

The RSDLP was founded in 1898. At no time, neither before 1905 nor later, did the LSDP constitute a part of the RSDLP. The main reason was the "secession" tendency of the LSDP while the RSDLP always stood for an undivided Russia.

(2) Prior to 1915, when the Russian administration withdrew from Lithuania during the World War I, the LSDP had its party , organizations in the Vilnius, Kaunas, and Suvalkai administrative districts (gubernyia), while the RSDLP during the same time had only one organization of some significance in Vilnius. Having a strong party organization in Vilnius, the LSDP from 1901 on developed its activity and spread it to all larger towns of Lithuania (Ukmergė, Panevėžys, Mažeikiai, Marijampolė, Vilkaviškis). The LSDP organized throughout Lithuania its party country branches where, besides, the farm-hands and country craftsmen, participated also young revolutionary-minded farmers. The sympathy of the Lithuanian farmers towards the LSDP was caught because of the political - revolutionary character of the party, its propaganda against the Czar's Russia, and its organized fight for independent and democratic Lithuania. In Lithuania under the Czar's regime, where farmers carried a heavy economic burden and were persecuted because of national and religious reasons, the LSDP found a favorable ground for its activity and ideas. During the elections to the 2nd Duma — the elections to the First Duma were boycotted by the LSDP — the LSDP, though weakened at that time by relentless reactionary persecution, was still able to send to the Duma five Social Democrats out of six seats: four from rural and one from the urban population.

(3) The LSDP participated in the Elections to the Third Duma. Pranas Kuzma was a deputy of the LSDP elected in Kaunas. His ties with the RSDLP were of no organizatory character. P. Kuzma cooperated with the Russian Social Democrats faction, where also belonged many delegates with no party affiliations, as well as some national social-democrat parties, i.e., Georgian Social Democrats.

(4) Except for the political part, the program of the LSDP was closes to Russian "Mensheviks." Only a smallest part of the LSDP joined the Communist Party after the 1917 Revolution.

Yours very sincerely, 
J. Kaminskas

In pursuing the correspondence, I chose to write in Russian, since my written Lithuanian, to say the least, was chaotic. In a letter of April S, 1954, I questioned Dr. Kaminskas about the relationship of the LSDP with the other Social Democrat groups in Lithuania — The Polish Socialist Party (PPS), Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL), the RSDLP and the Jewish Bund. "Were there any conflicts," I asked. "I ask this because I found articles in a journal, Zhizn', concerning a dispute between the PPS and the LSDP in 1902. I would also like to know what were the publications of the LSDP." The rest of Dr. Kaminskas' letters to me were written in Russian, and I have translated them into English.


403 Stanhope Street 
Brooklyn 37, N.Y.

Dear Mr. A. E. Senn,

I will attempt to answer as best I can the questions you presented in your letter of 3.4.54.

1. During the entire period of our party's activity in Lithuania under the Tsarist regime, its relations to other socialist organizations working parallel with us were regulated according to two principles: a. the struggle against the Tsarist regime, and b. the community of socialist ideals. We were divided in our postitive political program and, in the relationship of our party to the PPS, in disputed territorial questions. Despite the "struggle" for influence among the working masses, this competition did not take sharp forms, and relations almost always remained at worst tolerable and at best correct or friendly. There was a gradation in the relationships.

a. Relationship of the LSDP to the PPS

The question of territory always divided us with the PPS. The PPS stood for an indivisible Poland, and it never wanted to recognize the right of the LSDP to work among persons speaking Polish. The LSDP moreover, having from its very beginning organized in Vilnius, always conducted work among workers and artisans in Polish, Lithuanian, and once in Yiddish. The LSDP always understood the territory of independent Lithuania as approximately within those boundaries which were recognized as Lithuanian by the treaty of 1920 with the USSR. Our dispute with the PPS ended in 1907 after the Cracow congress at which the PPS subsidiary organization, Polska Partja Socialistyczna na Litwie (PPSnaL) entered into our party, including its organizations in Grodno and Bialystok in the LSDP. The dispute which you cited was surely on the question of recognizing the right of the LSDP to work among the Polish-speaking proletariat.

b. Relationship to the Bund

These were always correct and friendly. There were no disputed questions and the line of demarcation in party work went according to the national principle. Only after the inclusion of the PPSnaL in the LSDP did our party try one time to conduct work also among the Jewish workers, but without great success.

c. Relationship to the RSDLP

The political program of the LSDP divided us. As I already informed you earlier, the RSDLP had its own organization in Lithuania only in Vilnius. Relations were correct, although we also "struggled" for predominance. It was characteristic of these relations that the five Social Democrats elected to the Second Duma from the Kaunas guberniia, all candidates of the LSDP, entered into the general All-Russian SD fraction, maintaining for themselves full independence on questions of the political future of Lithuania.

d. Relationship to the SDKPiL

Just the same as to the RSDLP. This party organization was made up — and only in Vilnius — almost exclusively of intellectuals.

Newspapers published by the LSDP

In 1896 No. 1 of Robotnik Litewski, in Polish, appeared. In the same year, No. 1 of Lietuvos Darbininkas, in Lithuanian. No. 2 of both publications came out in 1898 Nos. 3-6 in 1899. In 1899 Echo Žycia Robotniczego Litwy was published. In 1901 the organ of the LSDP, Darbininkų Balsas, began to come out regularly. It was published illegally in Tilsit until 1906. The popular-agitational Darbininkas began to appear in 1904. After the raising of the prohibition on publishing Lithuanian books in Lithuanian script in 1904, the party published weekly newspapers in Vilniui in sequence as the censor shut them down, and beginning with 1906: Naujoji Gadynė, Skardas, Žarija concluded its existence in 1908. During the same period the party published at first Echo and later Topor in Polish. With the advent of severe reaction, beginning in 1907, the publication of a newspaper with a clear party tendency became impossible. With these facts I conclude my answer to the questions which you raised.

With best wishes, 
J. Kaminskas

On April 20 I inquired about the Social Democratic publications Naujoji Gadyne and Skardas, questioning the number of copies printed of each. Figures which I had found seemed very large. Citing Mykolas Biržiška's Lietuvių Tautos Kelias (Los Angeles, 1952), volume 2, page 119, I also questioned him about Vincas Mickievičius-Kapsukas's party faction, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Workers' Party, and also about a reference to a "Workers' Union of Lithuania," which I had found mentioned in a Soviet book. (For an account of the evolution of Social Democracy in Lithuania, see Leonas Sabaliūnas, "Social Democracy in Tsarist Lithuania, 1893-1904," Slavic Review, vol. 31, 1972, pp. 823 - 42.



Dear Mr. Senn,

I reply very briefly to your letter of 20.4.54. 1. The figures of 4600 copies for Naujoji Gadyne and 3400 copies for Skardas, designated in your letter, represent the editions of each of the named weeklies. Not having at hand the necessary figures, I cannot verify the numbers as cited, but what you gave corresponds closely to fact. In their time our newspapers were very popular.

2. In 1903 a group of gymnasists at the Mitau gymnasium — V. Požėla, Kapsukas-Mickevičius, J. Šlepetis, J. Paknys — formed an organization of s-d youth "Draugas." In 1904 this organization changed its name to "Lietuvių Socialdemokratų Darbininkų Partija." This organization in essence remained an intellectual group and had one or two party groups in a Lithuanian village in the then Suvalki gubernia near the Prussian frontier. In 1904 (or 1905) the "LSDPartija" joined the LSDP. Darbininkas, published earlier by the LSDPartija, continued to exist for a while after the merger.

3. During the time of my participation in the activity of the LSDP, the organization "Workers' Union of Lithuania" did not exist. Whether it existed earlier, I cannot say.

I am interested as to whether you can use sources in Lithuanian for your work, and if so, which and where?

With my memoirs, which for the moment include the period of my childhood and youth, including the period of attending gymnasium, it is necessary to wait a while.

With best wishes, 
J. Kaminskas

Kairys' memoir, Lietuva Budo, appeared in 1957. On the same day as he wrote the above letter, Kairys sent me a second note:


Dear Mr. Senn,

In a book by Z. Angarietis (a Lithuanian Communist), Lietuvos revoliucinio judėjimo ir darbininkų kovos istorija, there is a note that in 1895, K. Zalewski, differing with Moravskis and A. Domaševičius in his views for preparing the organization of the LSDP organized the "Zwiazek robotniczy na Litwie" (workers' Union of Lithuania). This organization was similar to the PPS in its work and lasted only a very short time. It had, of course, nothing to do with Kapsukas.

J. Kaminskas 


On April 25 I offered a brief summary of my major sources, mostly at the library of the University of Pennsylvania, and then I posed yet another question: "Why was there such a difference in 1917 between the policies of the Social Democrats in Lithuania and in Petrograd? It seems that in Lithuania the Social Democrats participated in the work of the Taryba, but in Russia, according to Šapoka, they opposed Lithuanian meetings." To this I added, "I think that this is my last question."



Dear Mr. Senn,

In answer to your "last" question, I can report the following:

In Lithuania the slogan of the independence of Lithuania was confirmed by the Vilna conference of "Representatives" of Lithuania, convened in the fall of 1917 during the German occupation. That same conference elected the National Council (Tautos Taryba) as the representative organ of the country. The slogan of the independence of Lithuania was adopted as an expression of the will of the Lithuanian people. The Social Democrats wholeheartedly supported the slogan.

When the question of the political future of Lithuania arose at the Petrograd congress of Lithuanian refugees, the left wing of the congress (Social Democrats, Populists, and liberals [Santarvė] ) took the point of view that the question of the future of the land should be legally decided by the Lithuanian people themselves and specifically in the form of a democratically elected Constituent Assembly of Lithuania. The left wing voted for the rights of the Constituent Assembly, not prejudging its decisions, although in essence the left was also for full independence. As regards the Social Democrats, this followed already from the fact that the LSDP first put into its political program the slogan of the struggle for independence, and it consistently propagated this slogan in its activity, only at times not listing it in the minimum program.

Mr. Šapoka in discussing this question in his history of Lithuania — and not only in this instance — did not fail to add something to the party capital of his sympathizers. You can find a more full discussion of this moment in the new book Mykolas Sleževičius, beginning with page 58.

I will not be angry with you if you pose further questions to me.

With best wishes, 
J. Kaminskas

The book on Sleževičius, consisting of essays by J. Butėnas, M. Mackevičius, and others, was published in Chicago in 1954. With this, my correspondence with Dr. Kaminskas came to an end. Occupied with examinations, I had to conclude this piece of research.


* Editorial Note. Prof. Alfred Erich Senn is a noted scholar of modern Lithuanian history. Among his many studies, two monographs deserve a special recognition: The Emergence of Modern Lithuania (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959) and The Great Powers. Lithuania and the Vilna Question, 1920-1928 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1966). In the course of his research, Prof. Senn communicated with a number of important participants in Lithuanian politics. He has agreed to share with our readers some of the materials in his personal archives, which we think are valuable contributions to the history of modern Lithuania. This is a first of several installments.