Volume 39, No.2 - Summer 1993
Editor of this issue: Robertas Vitas, Lithuanian Research & Studies Center 
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1993 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Leonas Sabaliūnas. Lithuanian Social Democracy in Perspective 1893-1914 Duke University Press, 1990. 205 pp. Cloth $29.95.

Leonas Sabaliūnas, who is Professor of Political Science at Eastern Michigan University, Ann Arbor, was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1934. He is also the author of Lithuania in Crisis: Nationalism to Communism, 1939-1940.

The book under review offers a wealth of scholarly information on the genesis and symbiotic aspects of socialism and nationalism in pre-1914 Lithuania, which at that time was a part of the tsarist Russian Empire.

While the focus is on the history of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (henceforth LSDP) from its inception in 1895, the study also covers the introduction of Marxism into the guberniias (Vilnius, Kaunas, Suwalki and Grodno) of the Russian Empire, an area roughly covering the Lithuanian ethnic territory.

It appears that Jewish Marxists initiated the indoctrination and organization of workers in Vilnius and other urban centers, at first within their own community of Yiddish speaking workers, but soon urging the extension of Marxism to Christian workers as well. Arkadi Kremer (1865-1935) and Matla Srednicki (1867-1943) were possibly the first Jewish promoters who headed an underground network and organized the first Jewish May Day observance in 1892. Organizing of Christian workers was begun as early as 1889 by two students, Leonas Mikalauskas (1870-1899) and Bronislovas Urbonavičius (1868-1903), as well as by a discharged Russian army officer, Evgeni Sponti (1866-1931), who was converted to Marxism while stationed in Vilnius.

The seminal conference of Lithuanian social democrats took place in Vilnius in 1895, led by two Lithuanian students, Andrius Domaševičius (1865-1935) and Alfonsas Moravskis (1868-1941), who, while on vacation at their homes in Panavėžys, were introduced to Marxism by a Jewish organizer, Zemah Kopelson (1969-1933). At this meeting, a program of objectives and methods was drafted which was later confirmed at the constituent congress in Vilnius in the spring of 18%. In addition to the Marxist goals of indoctrinating and organizing workers, promoting proletarian consciousness and demanding improvements in the conditions of workers, the program included the important objective of autonomy and democracy for Lithuania.

The policy on Lithuanian autonomy was not altogether national in its logic. The Russians were regarded as backward and hence an obstacle to the advancement of Marxism, while democracy was regarded as the best road to Marxism even by many Marxists. At the same time, the leadership of the LSDP was dominated by the educated who were involved in the cultural and national aspirations of Lithuania, as well as in the ideals of Marxism. Other Marxist parties operating in the area did not espouse this nationalist aspect which kept the LSDP from joining the international Marxist organization, the Second International. The latter included the Polish Socialist Party (1893), which pretended to embrace both Poland and Lithuania; the Gemeral Union of Jewish Workers (1897), known as the Bund; the Russian Socialist Workers Party (1904); and the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (1901), also echoing the former union of Poland and Lithuania. Other parties, the Democratic (liberal) and the Christian (conservative) represented the majority of Lithuanians.

It appears that the LSDP never exceeded about 4,000 in paying members, but it acquired a substantial following - including chapters among Lithuanians in St. Petersburg and Latvia - by the end of the Russo-Japanese war, and was described as the "moral dictatorship" leading the way to the political liberation of Lithuania and the economic liberation of the proletariat. For the one reason or the other it had the general support of Lithuanians, even though all Marxists were suspect as proponents of atheism. Its Marxist organizers in rural areas were known as "preachers" and were both wanted and respected. It opposed antisemitism and at one point resisted tsarist efforts to incite it. The LSDP wished to embrace the entire proletariat regardless of ethnicity or faith. It was not critical of Jewish separatism among the socialists and was mild in any criticism of the clergy or the conservative Christians.

At its peak, the LSDP leadership was described as 92% male, 59% middle class, 32% workers, and 9% rural, with an average age of 29. The diversity of views within the LSDP was most probably among the intellectuals as elsewhere in the Marxist movement. A division existed in the LSDP between the revolutionary wing favoring an all-out revolution as the best way for Marxism to succeed, and the evolutionary wing, with faith in the inevitability of eventual success via democracy and education. In Russia, the division resulted in rivalry between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

There was never a clear agreement on how Lithuanian autonomy should be structured, but immediate independence was not envisioned as feasible. Some suggested an autonomous Lithuania in a federation of autonomous surrounding states: others — autonomy within a democratic republic embracing the whole Empire. All Marxists were proponents of overthrowing the tsarist regime of Nicholas II, but were not clear on the succession.

Changes in the LSDP started to appear for several reasons, but mainly because of government repression. The LSDP at first opposed calling a Lithuanian assembly after the tsarist regime issued the manifesto on civil liberties in October 1905 as a second attempt to pacify insurrectionists. (The previous year the tsarist regime had lifted the ban on publications with the Latin alphabet.) Apparently, the majority of the LSDP leadership feared contamination by association with the bourgeoisie and also wished to preserve the prominent position it had gained in leading insurrectionary strikes, demonstrations and anti-tsarist propaganda. It recanted and found support for much of its program in the Grand Diet of Vilnius in November 1905 which called for Lithuanian autonomy in a federal relationship with other nationalities; for boycotting tsarist administrative agencies, courts and Russian schools; for closing liquor stores, and initiating strikes - all in protest against Russian autocracy. All Marxist parties in Lithuania boycotted the elections to the first State Duma in 1906 which was called by the tsarist regime in a further effort to pacify the resistance. After the Tsar dissolved the first Duma as too radical, the LSDP saw the Duma as a platform to spread its program and was successful in electing five of the seven Lithuanian delegates to the second Duma in 1907. Election laws were changed to reduce radicalism, thus resulting in the LSDP having no Lithuanian delegate to the fourth Duma in 1912.

Many factors converged in the fragmentation of the LSDP — from the collapse of the world monarchies to disruptive personality clashes within its confines — resulting in a schism between "party professionals" (e.g. Pranas Eidukevičius, Vincas Kapsukas and Zigmas Angarietis) whose concerns were limited to the working class, and who eventually embraced Communism, and the party intellectuals (e.g. Mykolas Biržiška, Steponas Kairys, and others) with a decided emphasis on cultural pursuits, including social values.

In concluding, the author states:

In a way that proved to be prophetic, the founding generation of the LSDP articulated the belief that subjection to Russia — and it did not matter much whether that Russia was White or Red — was fraught with irreparable harm to Lithuania. (pp. 153-4)

This book should be invaluable to scholars as well as students of East European and Baltic studies. It reflects extensive research of both primary and secondary sources in Lithuania and elsewhere, and includes a substantial bibliography, as well as appendices of LSDP periodicals and appeals

Joseph L. Harmon, Ph.D.*

*Dr. Joseph L. Harmon died on June 13,1992. His review of the above study was edited by Danutė S. Harmon, Ph.D.