Volume 23, No.3 - Fall 1977
Editor of this issue: Saulius Kuprys
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1977 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.



During the decade preceding the Revolution of 1905, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) struggled to adopt an urban-based ideology—Marxism, which preferred proletarian internationalism to the needs of a predominantly agricultural country undergoing a rapid national reawakening.* As a result, the Social Democrats could not and did not adhere to a doctrinaire version of Marxism in their attempt to create a socialist Lithuania. But neither did they succeed in formulating a consistent ideology applicable both to the nationally heterogeneous urban proletariat and the homogeneously Lithuanian countryside. Instead, the party purported to be the champion of the people's economic aspirations and national rights. Slogans emphasizing the LSDP's support for national liberation and economic reform attracted the peasantry, while in the multinational urban centers, the party stressed that the common revolutionary political and economic goals of the proletariat created an international brotherhood based on shared class interests.

The LSDP's tactical maneuverability reflected changes in the composition of the party's leadership, the influence of competing parties, and the relative political naiveté of the Lithuanian nation. Thus the Social Democrats' decision after 1900 to expand beyond the urban centers, into the countryside, was facilitated by their tactical flexibility but in turn required new ideological adjustments. The LSDP's strategy further enabled it to eliminate the competition of other socialist parties, with the exception of the Jewish Bund. Through its successful mobilization of the politically conscious segments of the Lithuanian population, the LSDP hastened the ideological differentiation of Lithuanian politics. With the emergence of Lithuanian political parties, which were to the right of the Social Democrats, the LSDP was no longer the only alternative to which the politically discontented could turn. The liberal intellectuals and clergy, radicalised by the Revolution of 1905 and resentful of the dominance of the LSDP, realized that only mass political parties could compete with the LSDP.

The LSDP successfully organized the urban proletariat and channeled he energies of the rural landless peasantry toward its political goals during the Revolution of 1905, but it could not forever gloss over the contradictions inherent in a Marxist party attempting to win popular support by democratic means in a predominantly agricultural country. Thus, after the Revolution of 1905 and the Great Assembly of Vilnius, the LSDP was fated to lose its unique position of preeminence. The Lithuanian Democratic Party (LDP) and the Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party (LCDP) established themselves as modern mass political parties representing the economic and ideological interests of an ever more politically discriminating society.

The Revolution of 1905 in the Countryside and the LSDP.

At the turn of the century the LSDP faced a dilemma. It could either remain a small, urban-based proletarian party that would have been identified by the peasants as a foreign (i.e., Polish, urban) element, or the party could risk its Marxist character by attempting to expand into the countryside. While for a time the party succeeded in masking its social and economic goals behind the nationalistic slogans it employed to win a rural constituency, after 1905 the party rapidly lost support in the countryside. The middle peasantry, which at first was attracted by the LSDP's activism and nationalism, soon turned to other nationalist parties that advocated more  moderate social and economic programs. The landless peasantry was interested not in national goals but in land ownership. This the LSDP could not promise because of its Marxist ideology. During 1905 two processes occurred in the countryside. First, the middle peasantry grew increasingly conservative and forsook the LSDP, and second while the LSDP successfully incited the landless peasants to strike for better economic conditions, they soon grew disillusioned with the Social Democrats and began looking toward the populist Lithuanian Peasants' Alliance for the satisfaction of their land hunger.

Once the LSDP had decided to build an organization in the countryside, it recruited those members of rural society who could most easily be politicized. Various craftsmen and tradesmen, such as tailors, cobblers, and tinkers, were attracted to the party. Traveling through villages, they spread socialist literature and found the middle peasantry sympathetic to the LSDP's nationalist slogans. Thus, paradoxically, instead of recruiting the landless laborers on the large estates, the LSDP found it easier to work with peasants owning small and medium-sized farms. These peasants, unlike the landless laborers, tended to be relatively well educated, culturally advanced, and interested in politics and the national movement. The well-to-do peasants could easily identify with the post-1900 Social Democrat leaders because many of them, though intellectuals, were also the sons of prosperous farmers. Another reason the LSDP was able to attract these peasants was because it presented itself as a dynamic organization and tried to organize at village level. Although the LSDP was incapable of establishing a nationwide chain of party groups, it did succeed in gaining a network of sympathizers.

These sympathizers were primarily attracted by the LSDP's bold calls for national freedom. Extreme national oppression dictated that the national movement in Lithuania play a leading role in the Revolution of 1905. The struggle for national rights supplanted economic and social issues. This situation served the LSDP's interests; it could emphasize unifying national slogans and play down divisive economic and social issues. In this and other respects, the revolution in Lithuania differed from the revolution in Russia. Also, since the ethnic Lithuanian proletariat was concentrated outside of Lithuania's borders, there were no close ties between the urban and rural workers.1 The urban workers, consequently, closely followed the revolution in Russia, while the peasants reacted to local events or purely Lithuanian phenomena, such as the Great Assembly of Vilnius.

As in Russia, the dissatisfaction caused by the Russo-Japanese war in 1904 gave socialist agitators inflammatory propaganda material with which they could undermine the authority of the tsarist government. The LSDP called for an immediate end to the war, the overthrow of tsarist absolutism, the establishment of an autonomous Lithuania, and economic improvement for the workers.2 The LSDP encouraged reservists to ignore army mobilization orders. Only one third of the recruits mobilized in Lithuania showed up for induction in 1904.3

In 1905, the LSDP intensified its work in the countryside by sending agitators to stir up the peasants. The first half of 1905 was a period of feverish party work in the countryside. In order to adjust its program and tactics to the new revolutionary situation, the LSDP held its sixth party conference in Vilnius in August 1905. The party attempted to establish itself as the leading revolutionary force. The party manifesto issued on this occasion was politically revolutionary but socially and economically reformist. By pursuing such a policy, the LSDP could mobilize maximum support, emphasizing common national and political goals, which were to be realized immediately, while postponing major economic and social transformations, which tended to splinter society into hostile groups.4

The manifesto demanded an end to tsarist absolutism. An autonomous Lithuania was to rule itself democratically, by a legislature elected by a direct, secret, and universal franchise. But there would be no immediate change in the economic system. In the future legislature, the LSDP promised to fight for the economic welfare of the rural and urban workers. Ultimately, the legislature was to gradually nationalize, with compensation, the means of production. The manifesto ended by urging the population to cease paying taxes, to boycott government offices, to ignore the mobilization, and to rid the country of gendarmes and police spies by expelling them, using force if necessary. The people were also instructed to prepare for an armed uprising.

The political and social content of the manifesto was largely Menshevik, envisioning the replacement of tsarist autocracy with "bourgeois" democracy.5 The LSDP sought to phrase its revolutionary agitation primarily in political terms, demanding the substitution of democracy and national autonomy for autocracy and imperial centralization. The party did not advocate an immediate revolution in the land ownership; to advocate communal farming would have alienated the peasantry; to propose the subdivision of the estates into individual farmsteads would have destroyed the party's Marxist basis. Yet the party's strict allegiance to democracy made a Bolshevik "dictatorship of the proletariat" solution unacceptable. Therefore, the party organized strikes against the landowners.

It did not encourage the peasants to declare war against the gentry by seizing their estates. In contrast to the Russian Socialist Revolutionaries who advocated political terror, the LSDP believed that individual acts of terror detracted forces from the political revolution, which was, in fact, essential to the success of the Revolution. Here, the LSDP was following the tactics of the Russian Social Democrats and of the Socialists of the West. The call to prepare for an armed uprising, which diverged from Western Socialist strategy can be interpreted as a ploy to arouse the masses and intimidate the government. Furthermore, the party's refusal to combine its call for political revolution with a call for immediate revolutionary economic and social transformations may have influenced the peasantry to refrain from violence.6

The crux of the socio-economic issue was the land question. During the Revolution, the LSDP never strongly advertised its land program, both because there was much dissension in the party over it, and because the leadership was afraid of alienating peasants who owned or desired to own land privately. John Keep's observation regarding the Russian Social Democrats' problem with the land issue might equally be applicable to the LSDP,

How could one go in for satisfying the land hunger of the peasants without holding up the process of economic development, which in orthodox Marxist eyes was identified with the triumph of large-scale over small-scale farming?7

The LSDP could either abandon its Marxist ideology and support the peasants in their bid for land, or forsake its democratic principles and opt for the Bolshevik formula, or it could resign itself to the status of a small, urban party in a predominantly agricultural country.

The LSDP chose to hedge rather than to make a firm commitment. The party avoided the issue by employing vague slogans in its party literature concerning the land question and by organizing strikes against the large landholders for better economic conditions. The party stated that only a constitutional assembly could decide on such an important question as land ownership. In the 19.05 party platform, the LSDP only mentioned the land issue in Articles 12 and 28 of Section 1. Article 12 stated that the "seized state lands and forests would become the property of the Lithuanian people; attempts would be made to make the land easily available to individuals or organizations which would work the land with their own hands."8 Article 28 stated that "the country's legislative body would gradually nationalize, with compensation, such lands, industry, financial institutions, and communication facilities as society deemed necessary. The means of production would belong to the entire Lithuanian populace."9 When at the same time the Russian Bolsheviks were advocating the nationalization of all estates, the LSDP did not address itself directly to the question of the future status of the Lithuanian estate lands.10

Other parties and political groupings did not promote detailed land programs either. Therefore, the LSDP could have only lost support by carefully defining its position on the land question. As it was, the tactics of the LSDP preserved its solidarity and temporarily consolidated its position. The LSDP was able in 1905 to absorb the Lithuanian Social Democratic Labor Party, which had been formed by a group of radical socialists in 1904. And in 1906 it forced the Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna—PPS) to concede Lithuania to the LSDP.

The party's tactical successes in the countryside and political arena were matched by the results of its organizational work among the proletariat. It bore fruit in the well-organized strikes of 1905, which often gave rise to demands for political reform.

Following Bloody Sunday, many workers of Vilnius and Kaunas went on strike, January 11(24), 1905, to affirm their solidarity with the workers of St. Petersburg. The LSDP and the Bund led the workers demanding an end to the war, the overthrow of absolutism, autonomy for all nations, a democratic parliament in Vilnius for an autonomous Lithuania, and various social welfare benefits for the proletariat.11 February saw a series of strikes for better economic conditions in Vilnius.12

On October 14(27), 1905, the railroad workers of Vilnius went on strike. A general strike followed on October 17(30) to honor five workers killed by the army during an earlier demonstration.13 A second general strike was declared in Vilnius on December 9(22), after news of the Moscow workers' rebellion reached the city.

But the lack of closely knit party cells in the countryside seriously impeded the LSDP's attempts to coordinate the urban and rural revolutionary movements in Lithuania, differing as they did in many important respects. In contrast to the urban workers, who had had a decade's experience in party work and strike activity, the peasantry suddenly came into revolutionary activity, which reached a spontaneous crescendo in 1905-1906. The peasantry did not identify its interests with revolutionary happenings in the cities of either Russia or Lithuania. The countryside tended to erupt into revolutionary activity during the harvest season, when labor was in heavy demand, during the mobilization of recruits, and in response to government provocation. LSDP agitation was important in directing the revolutionary anger of the peasants against the tsarist political system.

However, during 1905, the well-to-do peasant became better acquainted with the LSDP program and grew frightened, both by the revolutionary activities of the landless peasantry and by the subsequent repression. 1905 was a watershed, speeding the political polarization of the countryside along economic lines.14

In response to this trend, the sixth party conference in 1905 declared that the LSDP would strive to organize the rural proletariat instead of the middle peasantry, whose support for the LSDP proved to be short-lived. The rural workers, incited by the LSDP agitators to strike for better economic conditions, followed the instructions of the LSDP and conducted the strikes in a peaceful manner, even though most strikes arose spontaneously. The LSDP encouraged the workers to continue to care for the livestock during the strike, counseling them to use economic terror only if the landlord called in the army or attempted to discharge the strike leaders. It was hoped that such tactics would limit repression and therefore embolden the peasants.

The striking peasants did not loot and burn estates as did the peasants of Central Russia or Latvia. The Lithuanian peasants largely limited themselves to economic and cultural demands. The political consciousness of the rural masses remained underdeveloped.15 However, during the Revolution of 1905, the countryside abolished the Russian administration and in many areas elected native villagers to administer local affairs. The Russian administration survived only in the larger towns. Acts of violence were few. Whether the moderation of the revolution in the countryside can be attributed to the LSDP or merely to the absence of anarchistic traditions among Lithuanian peasants is difficult to say. The fact that Lithuanian peasants struck during the harvest season, when landlords were willing to compromise and accede to their demands may have had a pacifying influence, whereas in Russia peasants struck after the harvest season and met stiff opposition, which encouraged violence. In Lithuania, strikes brought temporary economic improvement. During 1905 and 1906, approximately seventy percent of the strikes were successful, and wages rose considerably during 1906 even though many of the wage increases were later lost during the reaction in 1907. Because the peasants' behavior coincided with the LSDP's prescription for action, the appearance of a strong Social Democratic rural power base was created.

Strikes in the countryside acquainted the farm laborers with the socialists, who, for many rural workers, had previously been mystical creatures, famed as "levelers of society" but fiercely condemned by the local priest and landlord.17 The LSDP believed that the rural workers' political consciousness was very weak and correspondingly that they would be unable to comprehend radical political programs. Therefore, the LSDP instructed its agitators to advise the striking workers to keep their demands minimal,  believing that if the initial strikes were successful the peasants would gain confidence in themselves and would become more conscious of the latent force they possessed. Soon the LSDP was attempting to involve the peasants in its political program; the peasants readily took up the LSDP slogans.18 The most revolutionary aspect of the LSDP's agitation in the countryside was its call to overthrow the tsarist government by force, by ceasing to pay taxes, destroying liquor monopolies, evicting Russian administrators and police, closing down Russian-language schools, and by refusing induction into the army. In place of the tsarist administration, the peasants were to elect their own district governments, form a militia, and establish Lithuanian-language schools. The countryside responded enthusiastically, and soon the Russian administration largely collapsed in the rural areas. Of course, much of this activity was due to the spontaneous initiative of the peasant and cannot be credited to the LSDP. But since the LSDP was more forceful than any other party in attempting to direct the revolutionary energies of the peasantry and channelling them away from economic and social issues to national and political ideals, it could claim to be the peasants' legitimate representative. The peasants' revolutionary euphoria, however, was quickly destroyed by the reaction. The national and political goals of the LSDP had not been fulfilled, and the peasantry turned away from the LSDP to parties that advocated the peasants' main economic interest—the acquisition of land.

The Great Assembly of Vilnius

The Revolution of 1905 in Lithuania culminated in the Great Assembly of Vilnius which met December 4-5, 1905. The Assembly, which originally was referred to as the Lithuanian Conference, articulated the revolutionary demands of the Lithuanian people and served as a catalyst for the divergence of Lithuanian politics. Thus, while the resolutions of the Great Assembly of Vilnius were passed unanimously, immediately following the Assembly each political party drafted a manifesto, detailing its respective platform.

The originators of the Great Assembly of Vilnius were members of the older generation of nationalists, the most prominent of whom was Dr. Jonas Basanavičius (1851-1927), who was to preside over the Assembly. Dr. Basanavičius was later called the Patriarch of the Lithuanian nation, having founded the first Lithuanian-language newspaper Aušra (The Dawn, 1883-1886). He emphasized the cultural aspect of the national movement and had devoted most of his life to research in the ethnology and history of his nation.19

Having spent twenty-five years abroad, mainly in Bulgaria, Dr. Basanavičius returned to Lithuania in early 1905. Confident of the popularity of his name and feeling more knowledgeable than other leaders due to his scholarly work and familiarity with European cultures, Dr. Basanavičius had reason to believe that he would play an important role in the future history of his country.20 In Vilnius, he conferred with other activists and discussed the course of the revolution. Although Dr. Basanavičius maintained close relations with the editors (Democrats) of Vilniaus Žinios (News of Vilnius), the first legal Lithuanian daily, he was careful to remain clear of party squabbles.

Jonas Kriaučiūnas, the principal editor of Vilniaus Žinios, first broached the idea of calling a conference to evaluate the revolutionary situation in Lithuania. He and other editors of Vilniaus Žinios formed a conference-organizing committee. It was to include members of all political ideologies, and Dr. Basanavičius was to be chairman. However, the Social Democrats and "left" Democrats declined to participate in the organizing committee. The Social Democrats, then in the forefront of the revolutionary movement, thought that the planned conference, which originally was to have been largely academic in content, would be a relatively minor event in the course of the revolution. The Social Democrats also realized that in an academic conference, the LSDP would be relegated to a minor role.21

The absence of the leftists nevertheless did not deter the conference organizers. On November 11, 1905, Vilniaus Žinios called upon each parish to send at least one delegate to the conference. It was explained that the conference was to formulate the demands of the Lithuanian people.22

The two thousand delegates who arrived far exceeded the estimates of the organizers. While mainly intellectuals had been expected, the majority of the delegates were peasants who regarded the Assembly as the constitutional assembly for which the Socialists and others had been agitating for years. The astounding number of delegates, including some Social Democrats, convinced the Social Democratic leadership to participate in the Assembly. The LSDP now attempted to correct its tactical mistake by requesting a strong voice in the Assembly and by proselytizing among the delegates.23

The night before the Assembly was to convene, the Lithuanians of Vilnius entertained the delegates with a play. Following the play, a number of Social Democrats attempted to organize a revolutionary meeting. However, according to J. Gabrys, a "right" Democrat, most of the delegates left the hall.24 The Social Democrats were desperately seeking to radicalize the politically inexperienced delegates. Because the LSDP had refused to participate in the organization of the conference, it had not encouraged Socialists to attend. The LSDP, without a sizeable contingent of Social Democratic delegates, was thus forced to depend on a small number of speakers to influence conference proceedings.25

The following morning, the Great Assembly of Vilnius convened. Immediately, the Social Democrats called for the formation of a new presidium. The original presidium was to have consisted of Dr. Basanavičius as chairman, J. Vileišis as vice-chairman, L. Gira, P. Klimavičius, and ]. Gabrys as secretaries. The Social Democrats claimed that the conservative presidium, chaired by a man who had been out of touch with developments in Lithuania for twenty-five years, would prevent the Assembly from realizing its revolutionary potential. J. Gabrys countered by accusing the Social Democrats of attempting to seize control of the Assembly .26 Finally, a compromise was reached by creating a presidium with a rotating chairmanship, which was to be made up of one representative from each political party or grouping. S. Kairys represented the Social Democrats, A. Smetona (future president of Lithuania) the Democrats, J. Stankūnas, the farmers, Father P. Bučys, the Catholic faction. S. Kairys, due to his energy and rhetorical abilities presided over the more unruly sessions.

Having achieved a reorganization of the presidium, the Social Democrats continued their efforts to radicalize the Assembly by working to change the Assembly's program so that it would reflect the revolutionary situation in Lithuania. Dr. Basanavičius had originally planned to devote a large portion of the program to academic discussions regarding Lithuania's history, the ethnic relationship between Lithuanians and Latvians, etc. His aim was "to elevate the Lithuanian people to a high degree of national consciousness by relating the present to the nation's past."27

The Social Democrats, on the other hand, strove to politicize the delegates by focusing the Assembly's discussions on the revolutionary situation. J. Vileišis, a well-respected national figure, supported the Social Democrats in this effort. The program of the Assembly, consequently, was sharply modified. First, the delegates were to report what was taking place in their localities, then the revolutionary situation as a whole was to be evaluated, followed by a discussion of the land question and the educational system. The Social Democrats considered the reorganization of the presidium and the transformation of the program to be great victories. They felt that these changes gave the Assembly a definite political character and determined the future course of the discussions.28

The peasant delegates spoke first. Since the call to the Assembly had been worded ambiguously, the delegates had only a vague understanding of what role they were to play. Many of the peasant delegates had assumed that the Assembly would have the authority to distribute land and resolve legal disputes. Therefore, many of the peasant delegates who spoke presented the specific problems of their village or even of their own household. The speeches were repetitive and seemed interminable. The peasants' universal complaint was the shortage of land, aggravated by disputes over rights to forest products and common pastures. The delegates also expressed discontent over high taxes, the absence of Lithuanian-language schools and the arbitrary conduct of the Russian administration.  29

At times, the Assembly threatened to degenerate into a series of recriminations as the peasant delegates' accusations and proposals divided along economic lines. The independent farmers deplored high taxes and cultural restrictions, while the small land-holder or landless peasant doggedly demanded land, covetously eyeing the estate lands. But soon, the delegates realized that they had a greater responsibility than merely advocating personal or parochial concerns. Thus, on the afternoon of the first day, the Assembly began discussing the political situation.30

The political session focused on calls for Lithuanian autonomy. To limit discussion, the Assembly decided to allow only two members from each political grouping to speak. The Social Democrats, represented by S. Kairys, called upon the Assembly to propose and pass concrete radical political resolutions, so that the delegates would not return home empty-handed. The Socialists, furthermore, called for an armed struggle with the tsarist government. Kairys remembered subsequently that such radical proposals had received the most applause. The Assembly was drifting toward the left. Father Bučys argued, however, that the tsarist regime must be opposed by peaceful means. As the session was ending, close to midnight, A. Domaševičius, ignoring parliamentary procedure stepped onto the podium and in fiery language urged the delegates to join the masses in their revolutionary struggle. The presidium promised to prepare a political resolution that was to be voted on the next day, and the Assembly adjourned.31

During the morning of the following day, the delegates argued over the land question. Originally, two representatives each from the farm laborers, landless peasants, and small-land-holders were to speak. The debate raged on, however, as over thirty delegates expounded their opinions. The majority desired that all the land be nationalized and parceled out to those who would work the land with their families. Others proposed that the land ought to belong to the entire working people of Lithuania. The party leaders did not strongly advocate a specific solution to the land question.32 It was obvious that if a specific land proposal would be adopted, the unanimity of the Assembly could not be preserved. The land question provoked the strongest passions, affecting the delegates' material interests and political and moral beliefs. When the delegates asked why no specific resolution regarding the land issue had been proposed by the Assembly, S. Kairys explained that such an intricate question would only be decided by a constitutional assembly, democratically elected by a free Lithuania. It can be inferred, however, that the party leaders were content to have the explosive land controversy defused by omitting it from the final set of resolutions.

The discussions concerning the educational system did not generate heated debates. The delegates agreed that public Lithuanian-language schools should replace Russian-language schools.

During the evening of December 5, 1905, the resolutions 33 of the Great Assembly of Vilnius were passed unanimously. The Assembly declared the tsarist government to be the nation's "irreconcilable enemy." It called upon Lithuanians to topple tsarist autocracy by joining other nationalities in the Russian empire that were revolting. An autonomous, democratic Lithuania, in federation with neighboring nations, was to be established. In order to achieve this goal, the Assembly sanctioned strikes as a legitimate form of resistance but did not advocate armed revolt. The people, meanwhile, were to refuse to pay taxes, close liquor monopolies, boycott Russian-language schools and courts and ignore military induction orders.

The resolutions of the Great Assembly of Vilnius represented a victory for Lithuanian nationalists. The adopted program was revolutionary only in a political and national sense. Social and economic issues were avoided in order to preserve unanimity and because the Assembly had no means by which to enforce its decisions. Yet because it was a demonstration of national unity, the Great Assembly of Vilnius was itself rather weak, No party wished to be accused of dividing the nation; party leaders were therefore willing to compromise. Since the mass of delegates did not demonstrate a very high level of political consciousness, the party leaders, having composed and agreed upon the resolutions, manipulated the Assembly to accept them. The slogans of "Autonomy for Lithuania" and "Down with Tsarist Autocracy," while finding genuine support among the delegates, served as distractions from unresolved social and economic issues. The peasants, who had expected the Assembly to grant them land, returned home disappointed; nevertheless, a new sense of unity and accomplishment swept the land and encouraged the people to continue their struggle against the tsarist government. In many rural areas, the resolutions of the Assembly were executed as law. The Russian administration and police were ousted, liquor monopolies were closed, and Russian teachers were evicted.

The Assembly not only had the immediate effect of accelerating the destruction of the Russian administration in the countryside, but also had a profound impact on the future development of Lithuanian politics. During the Assembly, the mass of delegates were exposed to a variety of political ideologies, many for the first time. Party leaders had had the opportunity to address a national audience. The Assembly hastened the political evolution of the Lithuanian nation. The bold tactics of the Social Democrats, who endeavored to win the delegates over to a radical revolutionary program, galvanized the more conservative Lithuanian activists to adapt themselves to mass party tactics by emulating the Social Democrats. Immediately following the Assembly, each party more clearly defined its program and sought out the widest support possible. The LDP, thus, formally sanctioned the formation of the Lithuanian Peasants' Alliance, the clerical delegates laid the foundations for the Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party, and the LSDP strove to maintain its status as the leading revolutionary party.

Prior to the Assembly, the LDP had tended to regard LSDP activities as a sign of growing national vitality. After 1905, the LDP clearly saw the LSDP as its chief competitor and acted accordingly. S. Kairys believes that the formation of the LPA saved the LDP from political extinction. The LPA, led by young radicals, vowed to work among the small-land-holders and landless peasantry, advocating a radical land program. Thus began the Lithuanian populist movement. The influence of the Russian populist organization, "Krestianski Soiuz," can be discerned in the LPA program.34

The approximately fifty clerical delegates also met following the Assembly and proposed to found the LCDP. Many of the priests had been truly frightened by the specter of "godless" Social Democrats exercising such influence over the delegates. The church hierarchy, however, refused to sanction open political conflict with the tsarist government. But the clerical delegates to the Great Assembly of Vilnius possessed sufficient political acumen to support the resolutions calling for autonomy.35

On December 6, 1905, the Social Democrats, together with about 180 Assembly delegates, adopted a resolution emphasizing the role of a united proletariat as the leading element in the revolution. In contrast to the peaceful nature of the Assembly's resolutions, the Social Democrats called on the people to raise an armed revolt and to organize "revolutionary committees" to lead the armed struggle.36 The Social Democrats emphatically desired to remain the leading revolutionary force in Lithuania.

The Social Democrats' desire to instigate an armed uprising, however, was tempered by the moderates. During the Assembly, the LSDP maintained its reputation as being the most radical and active party. Even though its attempt to turn the Assembly into a revolutionary body failed, the Social Democrats, nevertheless, did much to politicize and radicalize the Assembly, and their success was reflected in the resolutions calling for autonomy and the dismantling of the Russian administration.

Although in 1906-1907, the Revolution succumbed to the reaction, the dramatic events of December 1905 disoriented the provincial government and forced it to make concessions. The political maturity demonstrated by the Great Assembly of Vilnius impressed Governor-General Frese. On December 6, 1905, he announced his order granting Lithuanians the right to teach in their own language in grammar schools, to appoint Lithuanian Catholic teachers in primary schools, to elect township secretaries on the condition that they subsequently be approved by the government, and to use the Lithuanian language in internal township correspondence.37 These concessions, together with the small size of the urban working class and the example of the Moscow workers' rebellion's brutal suppression, may explain the failure of "soviets" to appear following the LSDP's call for an armed uprising.

The relatively peaceful course of the revolution in Lithuania, however, did not persuade the Russian central government to pursue conciliatory policies. When the government learned that the Great Assembly of Vilnius had been allowed to convene and that Governor General Frese had made concessions to the revolutionary movement, he was promptly recalled.38 In 1906-1907 punitive expeditions by the Russian army brutally repressed the remnants of the Revolution in Lithuania and reestablished Russian control.

The National Question

The national question figured prominently in the history of the LSDP. It led to internal divisions but also gave the party greater appeal than Marxist proletarian ism would have engendered in a predominantly agrarian society. The tensions created within the LSDP by its policy of combining Marxism and nationalism, however, were never completely resolved. The uneasy balance between these two ideologies can be traced by dividing the LSDP's national policy into roughly two periods: first, 1896-1900 when proletarian internationalism was preeminent, and second, from 1900 on, when Lithuanian nationalism became an integral part of the party's ideology. From its inception in 1896 the LSDP could not ignore the national question: its ideological competitors had organized themselves along national divisions, and its own membership was nationally heterogeneous. The LSDP firmly rejected the romantic nationalism then prevalent among the emerging Lithuanian intelligentsia. The Social Democrats accepted the Marxist contention that nationalism itself possessed no innate virtues; nationality would have no place in the future socialist state.39 Therefore, the revolutionary national traditions of the Polish aristocracy were also viewed as reactionary, unsuccessful responses to the russification policies of the tsarist government. In opposition to this notion of nationalism, the LSDP supported a concept of nationalism that emphasized the proletariat's right to develop its potential free of national oppression. Both the chauvinistic Polish and the Russian nationalism could only divide the working class and impede its cultural progress and would therefore hinder the development of proletarian consciousness. The LSDP, consequently, believed that all workers shared common interests and belonged to an international brotherhood. While Lithuanian nationalists saw cultural repression as the foremost evil of the tsarist government, the Social Democrats considered that tsarist policies created unjust social and economic conditions, which were aggravated by national oppression.40 Therefore, the abolition of an unjust economic and political system, capitalism and tsarism, would also abolish national oppression. It followed that the progressive development of the workers' movement would give the idea of a Lithuanian political entity a firm basis. The growth of the workers' movement and the realization of Lithuanian autonomy would complement one another.41 The achievement of a socialist, politically autonomous Lithuania would serve as a step toward the achievement of the Utopian future in which national differences would become superfluous.

In 1896, the LSDP formulated its national policy, proposing the establishment of an "independent, democratic republic, consisting of Lithuania, Poland, and other countries based on a loose federation."42 "Further paragraphs indicated that the federation was to include Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Byelorussia, and the Ukraine. In short, it was to be a federation without Russia. "43 The Social Democrats theorized that the independence of individual nations must precede their union in a multi-national state so that the federation would be voluntary in nature.

Dr. Grinius recalled that Moravskis confided to him that the 1896 LSDP program, which opted for political independence in federation with neighboring nations, was sharply criticized by other socialist parties as being a bourgeois ploy. Because of this criticism and the influence of orthodox Lithuanian Marxists, the party platform was later modified.44As Sabaliūnas has written:

The second LSDP congress, held in 1897, no longer excluded Russia from possible membership in a future federal state. The outbreak of the first large-scale strikes in Russian cities in 1896-1897, thought to be an indication of a growing revolutionary movement there, and concessions to the so-called internationalists within the party were probably the main reasons for the change in the program. However, until 1905 most of the party decision-makers adhered with more or less firmness to the original plan contained in the program of the preceding year.45

External criticism and internal dissent concerning the national issue encouraged the Lithuanian Social Democrats to look abroad for possible models. The example of the democratic, federal Swiss republic, in which three or four nationalities lived together peacefully, became popular. The writings of the Austrian Social Democrats who had developed a sophisticated theory of national autonomy were avidly read and discussed as well.46

While foreign models presented various alternatives, the LSDP's revolutionary strategy largely influenced its concept of the function of nationalism. Since the LSDP envisioned a prolonged struggle to realize its goals, it could not employ a specific nationalism, as did the PPS with Polish nationalism, to gain support of the ethnically mixed urban working class.47

While the LSDP was considerably more internationalist in its outlook than the PPS, other socialist parties continually accused the LSDP of nationalism. A desire to check the influence of the LSDP rather than a wish to defend Marxist Orthodoxy motivated other socialist parties to criticize the LSDP's separatist policy. The formation of an independent Lithuanian socialist party followed the general trend in Eastern Europe, which saw the socialist movement splinter into its national components. The Polish and Russian socialists, however, hoped to arrest this trend by preventing neighboring nations from seeking their own separate political identities.48

The year 1900 marked the major dividing point in the history of the LSDP's national policy. As we have seen, until 1900 the LSDP had been Lithuanian in name only. The workers of Vilnius had been largely Poles or Polish-speaking Lithuanians. The Bund had organized the Jewish workers. But the fact that it was the LSDP and not the PPS or the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (Socjaldemokracija Krolestwa Polskiego i Litwy—SDKPiL) that organized the workers in Vilnius proves that its policies of economic and proletarian internationalism were successful among workers whose primary concern was their standard of living and whose national identification and linguistic allegiance were very often not synonymous.

During the period from 1900 to 1905, the LSDP continued its pre-1900 policy of advocating the establishment of an independent Lithuanian political entity federated with neighboring nations. The leadership, however, formulated new reasons to support this political program. First of all, the pre-1900 LSDP was influenced, as Moravskis himself later admitted, by the PPS's separatist demands, the roots of which lay in the cultural and political legacy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Memories of independent political traditions, reinforced by romantic and revolutionary literature and by memories of the Revolts of 1831 and 1863, kept separatist sentiments alive.

Second, socialist literature depicted Russia as a backward country that stood in the way of progress. Russia's backwardness was reflected in her general economic development as well as in the development of her revolutionary movement. The LSDP maintained that while it should support the Russian revolutionary movement, it should not rely on it.49

Third, as Lithuanian Marxist theoreticians became more sophisticated, they generally agreed with the Menshevik contention that the fall of the tsarist government would be followed by a "bourgeois" democracy. The LSDP, influenced by Marxist ideology and national prejudices, believed that a constitutional Russia would continue to pursue a policy of Russification and national oppression.50 The determined centralism of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP), furthermore, intensified the LSDP's distrust of any unitary scheme as a solution to the national problem.

The LSDP resolutely continued to propose the creation of an autonomous Lithuania and naturally sought to ensure that it would enjoy preeminence in this proposed state. It did not allow Marxist dogma to seriously impede its unorthodox enlistment of the politically conscious, though nonproletar-ian, segments of Lithuanian society. In order to broaden its base beyond the slowly growing urban centers, the LSDP began to recruit party sympathizers in the countryside. Since the party could not attract a rural constituency by preaching Marx's tenet that under socialism land would be nationalized and worked in common, the LSDP emphasized its nationalistic slogans. It appears that some Social Democrats favored pursuing an unscrupulous and opportunistic policy of employing nationalism to mask the party's ultimate social and economic goals. But others merely found it impossible to consciously solve the dilemma of building a Marxist revolutionary party in an agrarian country. They simply preferred to believe that the party's aims and the people's aspirations and welfare coincided. The tensions generated by the desire to remain faithful to Marxist ideology and democracy while building a wide-based party structure continued to plague the LSDP.

J. Gabrys remembered encountering peasants who had been enlisted by V. Kapsukas-Mickevičius into his socialist Draugas (The Friend) association. They had no conception of socialist economics or property relations. After hearing Gabrys explain that socialism entailed the abolition of private property, the peasants deserted Draugas en masse and joined the Lithuanian Peasants' Alliance.51 The LSDP's relative reticence regarding the land question underscored the difficulties inherent in a Marxist party organizing peasants and rural laborers. The party relied on its activism and national slogans to attract support in the countryside, while making vague promises that the victory of socialism would bring economic and social improvement for the economically hard-pressed.

The student of history can perhaps best discern the contradictions within the LSDP by examining its role in the Great Assembly of Vilnius. As the events at the Assembly showed, since the LSDP could not win the support of the peasants by means of Marxist ideology, it was forced to rely on its dynamic image and on nationalist appeals. Because the LSDP continued to believe in Marx's analysis that "bourgeois democracy" would follow "feudalism," it was careful not to jeopardize its possible future electoral popularity by advertising Marxist economics. Instead, by accentuating political and national goals during the Assembly and revolution, the LSDP could remain faithful to Marxism and yet hope to retain its rural support. Nationalism had become the dominant ideology in Lithuania, and if the LSDP had not identified itself with Lithuanian national aspirations, other parties would have been able to accuse the Social Democrats of representing the interests of a single class rather than those of the entire nation.

A. Senn stated that in Lithuania, "the stratification of rival national ideas along lines of social cleavage served to intensify the conflict between the two."52 Since the majority of the large landholders in Lithuania were either Poles or Polonized Lithuanians, while the administration was Russian, LSDP nationalistic slogans served to reinforce the Marxist doctrine of class struggle. During 1905, the strikes of the estate laborers and the agrarian movement in general merged with the movement for national liberation.53

Thus, while nationalism was used to further party interests, and for the most part overshadowed economic issues, the nationalism of the 5DP was not exclusive. The Polish-speaking workers of the cities continued to support the LSDP. The party, furthermore, promised to guarantee the national and religious rights of minorities in Lithuania. Although the LSDP qualified its adoption of Lithuanian nationalism by emphasizing the economic basis of proletarian interests, the party leadership never satisfactorily resolved the theoretical or practical problems created by this curious union of nationalism and Marxism. Thus, while in the Great Assembly of Vilnius the LSDP identified itself completely with the position of the Lithuanian nationalists, in 1906 it changed its name from the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party to the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania in order to stress its territorial rather than national character. The LSDP could never become completely nationalist, nor could it abandon its conception of collective land ownership. Hence its support in the countryside was to prove ephemeral.


The most salient question concerning the LSDP's history between 1896 and 1905 centers on the party's adoption of Lithuanian nationalism as an integral part of its ideology and its decision to base itself in the countryside after 1900. Did the Social Democrats pursue an opportunistic policy of employing nationalistic slogans in order to obscure their ultimate social and economic goals? Or were the Social Democrats genuinely committed to Lithuanian national aspirations? These questions are difficult to answer for they require the interpretation of intentions rather than results.

The party leadership between 1896 and 1900 fought to establish itself among the workers, while competing with other socialist parties. These formative years firmly entrenched the LSDP in the urban centers. Its success was all the more remarkable since it, not the PPS, won the allegiance of the Polish speaking workers.

The arrests of 1900 brought a new group of conscious Lithuanians to the forefront of the LSDP. Thus, the evolution of the LSDP was marked by the sharp dividing point of 1900 rather than by continuous development. The post-1900 leaders' peasant backgrounds, uneasiness about the continue-ing competition of other socialist parties and the realization that the urban proletariat was destined to remain a distinct minority in Lithuania for the foreseeable future led them to turn to the countryside. Thus, opportunism played a definite role in the LSDP's history. The Social Democrats succumbed to the natural tendency to seek expansion and insurance against competitors by widening their political base.

Once the LSDP decided to establish itself in the countryside, it was forced to modify its ideology to attract peasants who would not have found Marxist economics or proletarian internationalism appealing. National slogans and political reform, however, could and did attract the peasantry. But a modicum of education and national and political consciousness was required to understand and value even national, political liberation. Thus, the LSDP made its strongest effort to recruit the middle peasantry which was better educated and more culturally advanced. The landless rural proletarians, largely ignorant, could have only been attracted by promises of individual land ownership, which would have contradicted the basic principles of Marxism. Thus, paradoxically, a Marxist party, in order to expand beyond small urban ghettos, was forced to rely on nationalism and prosperous peasants.

The party's reluctance to advertise its land program prominently reveals the party's recognition of the contradiction intrinsic in a Marxist party's bid to win support in an overwhelmingly agrarian society. It appears that at this time, the party was determined not to sacrifice its democratic principles. Instead the LSDP increasingly favored the reformist socialism then coming into vogue in Western Europe. S. Kairys reminisced that the Social Democrats at that time blindly believed in the magical powers of democracy and imagined a democratic Lithuania to be without blemishes. A democratic parliament would open the doors to a Lithuania ruled by the working class, which would implement the 1905 party platform. Faith in democracy served to gloss over contradictions between theory and practice. In fact, the Social Democrats paid relatively little attention to theory. The neglect of theory can be seen both as a result of tactical opportunism and as facilitating the adoption of tactical flexibility.

The LSDP leaders did not distinguish themselves as erudite Marxist theoreticians. While party leaders were acquainted with German, Polish emigre and Russian socialist writings, the cultivation of Marxist theory received little priority. The Communist manifesto was only translated into Lithuanian in 1904.54 The party newspaper, Darbininkų balsas, addressed itself to the proletariat. The party did not have a theoretical journal, although some party members had advocated the establishment of such a publication. Lack of funds and editorial expertise, however, made such an undertaking impossible. The absence of émigré party intellectuals served to minimize polemical disputes. Unlike many Russian socialists who lived in exile and therefore could only engage in theoretical speculation, LSDP members were involved in direct party work. The LSDP dogmatically affirmed only the necessity for the abolition of tsarist absolutism and the establishment of a democratic, autonomous Lithuania.

The demand for an autonomous Lithuania was an outgrowth of the Social Democrats' peculiar application of Marxism to local conditions, their adoption of Lithuanian nationalism and their work among the peasantry. Their desire for autonomy was couched in "Marxist" terms. As Sabaliūnas explained:

The workers' movement was an international one, so ran the argument, because its ultimate goals were the same throughout the world. However, each nation possessed a set of distinctive traits which the proletariat valued and to which it adjusted. Opposed to oppression in any form, the proletariat was also opposed to the oppression of one nation by another. Lithuania endured such oppression. Not only did Lithuanian workers suffer as workers, but they also suffered as Lithuanians. Since the LSDP struggled for the freedom of all the people, it struggled for the national freedom of Lithuania, too. The incarnation of such a national freedom would be the establishment of a democratic republic of Lithuania.55

The LSDP's gamble to win the support of the peasantry while retaining its Marxist ideology, temporarily enhanced the party's influence, but quite rapidly gave rise to theoretical and practical contradictions which forced the party back to its urban strongholds. For a variety of reasons, the LSDP attracted the prosperous peasants. They forced the party to identify itself with Lithuanian nationalism because Marxist economics found few supporters in the countryside.

The LSDP's courtship of the middle peasantry, however, drew sharp criticism from the party radicals who began to agitate among the landless rural laborers, inciting them to strike for better economic conditions. The LSDP, nevertheless, could only gain the permanent loyalty of the landless laborers by advocating the partition of the estate lands to form individual farmsteads. But its Marxist ideology precluded such a policy.

When the middle peasantry grew frightened of the landless peasantry's revolutionary activities during 1905 and the subsequent repressions, it began to turn away from the LSDP to the equally nationalist but socially more conservative LDP or LCDP, both of which had been invigorated by the events of 1905. Thus, the LSDP lost the middle peasantry's support while nationalism held little appeal for the mass of landless peasants whose only aim was to acquire land. They flocked to the newly formed Lithuanian Peasants' Alliance whose populist program generated much enthusiasm. 1905 marked the high point of peasant support for the LSDP.

Thereafter, the peasantry switched its allegiance to parties that articulated its desire for land ownership. But the post-1905 era is beyond the scope of this work. Thus, paradoxically, a Marxist party, supposedly committed to proletarian internationalism, played a central role in the national reawakening of Lithuania and accelerated the political differentiation of Lithuanian society by forcing the Democrats and clergy, in order to preserve their influence in society, to seek mass support by means of modern political party structures. Between 1900 and 1905 the LSDP had been the preeminent party in Lithuania, but after 1905 its competitors gained strength rapidly and this was reflected in the results of the elections of the Constituent Assembly of 1920 when the LSDP managed to win only thirteen out of one hundred and twelve seats.56

The LSDP appeared as a result of the modernization of Lithuanian society. Capitalist development and the rise of nationalism dictated that the party, in order to extend its influence as widely as possible, respond to these two trends. Its attempt to unite nationalism and Marxism into a single ideology failed. For a short time, the LSDP's dynamic image and national slogans attracted the peasantry. But the events of 1905 matured the Lithuanian nation politically: modern mass parties emerged and the peasantry decided that its own interests and Marxism were incompatible. The LSDP was left with its original constituency—the urban proletariat.


* Presented to the Committee on Degrees in History and Literature in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honors, at Harvard College,- Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 1, 1977.

1 Tyla, A., 1905 metų revoliucija Lietuvos kaime. Vilnius: Pergalė, 1968, p 56-60.
2 Mikas, Lietuvos socialdemokratų partija," Kova 20:295-296, 1907, in Čepėnas P., Naujųjų laikų Lietuvos istorija. Chicago, 1977, p 329.
3 Žiugžda, J. ledi, Lietuvos TSR istorija nuo seniausių laikų iki 1957 metų. Vilnius: Vaizdas, 1958, p 231.
4 Kairys, S., Tau, Lietuva. Boston: Lietuvių Enciklopedija, 1964, pp 63-64.
5 Ibid., pp 64-66.
6 Tyla, pp 176, 168.
7 Keep, J.L.H., The Rise of Social Democracy in Russia. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963, p 81.
8 Kairys, p 334.
9 Kairys, p 337.
10 Kairys, p 67.
11 Bielinis, K., Penktieji metai: revoliucinio sąjūdžio slinktis ir padariniai. New York: Lietuvių Enciklopedija, 1959, pp 45-46.
16 Tyla, pp 213-217.
17 Kairys, p 58.
18 Bielinis, pp 425-426.
19 Damauskas J.,Prelude to independence: The Great Conference of Vilnius. Lituanus 11:51, 1965.
20 Biržiška, M., Lietuvių Tautos kelias į naująjį gyvenimą. Los Angeles, Lietuvių Dienos, 1953, vol. 2, p. 123.
21 Kairys, p 83.
22 Without Basanavičius' knowledge, J. Vileišis substituted his own political program in place of the formers' academic program. In Vilniaus Žinios, Vileišis stated that the Assembly's topics of discussion would be: (l) the October manifesto; (2) the Duma elections; (3) parish and school affairs; (4) taxes; (5) the land question; (6) the zemstva; (7) class relations and national minorities in Lithuania; and (8) the emigration.
23 Kairys, p 84.
24 Gabrys, p 56.
25 Kairys, p 84.
26 Gabrys, p 55.
27 Dainauskas, p 52.
28 Kairys, p 87.
29 Ruseckas, P., Didysis Vilniaus Seimas, 1905-1930. Kaunas; Spaudos Fondas, 1930, pp 19-22.
30 Kairys, p 88.
31 Kairys, p 89.
32 Basanavičius, J., Rinktiniai raštai. Vilnius: V. Kapsukas-Mickevičius, 1970, p 238. Cited in Ruseckas, p 29.
33 Resolutions taken from: Dainauskas, pp 56-57; Ruseckas, pp 32-34; Basanavičius, pp 243-244.
34 Kairys, p 94.
35 Janulaitis, A., Lietuvos nepriklausomybės keliai. Kultūra, No. l, 1931, p 343.
36 Kairys, pp 95-96.
37 Dainauskas, p 58.
38 Ruseckas, p 46.
39 Davis, H.B., Nationalism and Socialism: Marxist and Labor Theories of Nationalism to 1917. New York; Monthly Review Press, 1967, p 137.
40 Lietuvis A. (Alfonsas Moravskis), "Lietuvos darbininkų judėjimo istorija sąrišy su Lietuvos valstybės atgimimo judėjimu; pirmas dešimtmetis: 1892-1902 m.m.," Kultūra, 5 (1931), 197. (hereafter cited as Moravskis).
41 Moravskis, p 200.
42 Kairys, Lietuva Budo, New York: Lietuvių Enciklopedija, 1957, p 391.
43 Sabaliūnas, L., Social Democracy in Tsarist Lithuania, 1893-1904. The Slavic Review 32:340, 1972.
44 Grinius, K. Atsiminimai ir mintys. Chicago: Naujienos, 1962, vol. 2, p 172.
45 Sabaliūnas, p 340,
46 Moravskis, p 199.
47 Moravskis, pp 200-201.
48 Davis, pp 133-137.
49 Sabaliūnas, p 340.
50 Kairys, Tau, Lietuva, p 97.
51 Gabrys, p 13.
52 Senn, A.E., The Emergence of Modern Lithuania. New York: Columbia University Press, 1959, p 4.
53 Žiugžda, p 240.
54 Žiugžda, p 200.
55 Sabaliūnas, p 341,
56 B(ielinis), K., Lietuvių Enciklopedija. Boston: Lietuvių Enciklopedija, 1954, vol. 15, p 222,