Item #1981 [LENIN’S EARLY CALL TO ACTION] Ob’yasnenie zakona o shtrafah [i.e. Explanation of the Penalty Law]. Vladimir Lenin.

[LENIN’S EARLY CALL TO ACTION] Ob’yasnenie zakona o shtrafah [i.e. Explanation of the Penalty Law]

Item #1981

[2nd revised edition]. Geneva: Tipografija "Soyuza Rasskih socialdemokratov" for Izdanie "Soyuza bor'by za osvobozhdenie rabochego klassa”, 1897. 48 pp. 15x11 cm. Issued without title page (similar to the Russian State Library copy). Publisher’s wrappers. Good. Minor paper loss along the edges of the paper cover. Numerical stamps on the cover, first page, price mark in ink on the back cover.

Front cover featuring marxist motto from the 1848 Communist Manifesto - Rabochie vseh stran, soedinjajtes'! [Workers of the World Unite!]. A typo in the publisher's imprint - erroneously marked as Soyuz Rasskih socialdemokratov edition instead of Soyuz Russkih socialdemokratov edition on the front cover.
The present brochure is the 2nd separate edition of the text. First one was illegally printed under a similar title Ob’yasnenie zakona o shtrafah vzimaemyh s rabochih na fabrikah i zavodah in
St. Petersburg at a Lakhta underground printing house with an astonishing circulation for a 19th century underground edition of 3000 copies. For disguise reasons, the 1st edition was marked as a Kherson-issued brochure. The printing house was tracked and closed down by the Imperial police in 1896. After that the Russian social-democratic movement to the large extent relocated to Geneva. According to some researches, the 2nd edition saw an even larger run of up to 5000 copies. This text present in the brochure was quite possibly the first noticeable marxist propaganda success in the Russian Empire. “Soyuz bor'by za osvobozhdenie rabochego klassa”, the organization responsible for the publication, was a brainchild of Russian communist leader V. Lenin (1870-1924) himself. He used considerable effort to unite all early marxist circles and proto-parties into one entity, the first of its kind in the Russian Empire. The editions by Soyuz were the first Russian publishings of social democratic press that enjoyed wide circulation and attention from the blue-collar and peasantry alike. The main purpose of the organization was to provide accessible socdem literature for the Russian readers. And Soyuz provided not only propaganda-infused texts, but legit guides for self-organization and worker rights protection.

The year 1897 was a turning point for the worker movement as a global Russian strike forced the Tsarist ministers to limit the working day to 11,5 hours max. This was the first successful largescale strike in the Russian Empire. One of the brochures studied by the workers who took place in the strike was this one. But while the strikes took place, Lenin himself was in exile after the wide arrests of Soyuz members. During the Winter 1895-1896, police uncovered the activity of Soyuz, captured over 50 people - and over 250 later - and jailed the activists for 3 years. One of them was Lenin. So Lenin had never witnessed the first real mass effects of his writings.

As everything published by Soyuz, the brochure was illegal, but nevertheless it was the first major success of a text aimed at workers. It was widely distributed and read by both metropole
and provincial workers (see: Deksnis, B. Ocherki istorii kommunisticheskoj Litvy // Kommunist, #7(733) for July 1985). It is mentioned that the text was so popular that it was literally found
lying on the streets. A Vitebsk policeman report from 17th of Nov 1899 captures such an image: “extremely outrageous contents in the form of the brochures and ephemera were found today, scattered in the workshops of the city and on the streets" (Ravnopolets L. Izdanija i rasprostranenie proizvedenij V. I. Lenina v Belorussii // Knygotyra 7(14) for 1979). A year later, in December 1900, a copy of this brochure was found again lying in plain sight on the Vitebsk city street. Seems like local social-democrats were deliberately distributing the brochure this way as with the help of such drop-and-runs it was impossible to track and arrest the distributors. The text is divided into eight parts. It explains in simple, understandable sentences all issues related to the application of the law on fines. Using figures and examples taken from the contemporary press, Lenin indeed analyzed the title question and described it meticulously.

As Lenin’s wife and comrade-in-arms N. Krupskaya (1869-1939) remembers, the brochure was “a brilliant example of an appropriate way to approach the ordinary factory worker and […]
guide him to the understanding of the necessity of active political resistance”. (Krupskaya N. Moj muzh – Vladimir Lenin. Moscow: Algoritm, 2014) As Lenin himself remembers, he “wished for nothing more than writing for the working class”. The intellectual minds of Georgy Plekhanov (1856-1918) and Pavel Akselrod (1850-1928) praised the language of the work and Lenin was happy with their decision to reissue the work after the Penalty law was updated in 1894. Lenin added some remarks and shared his joy on this second edition in a letter that he wrote in exile and transferred the note to comrades in Geneva, secretly attached to the inside of a book spine. Some research states that this is Lenin’s first typographically printed article, but the question is debatable. However it is known that this version of the article is considered canonical and was reproduced in numerous Lenin’s collected works of the Soviet era. The brochure is listed in two key bibliographies on 19th century banned Russian language editions:
• Itenberg, B. (ed). Svodnyy katalog russkoy nelegal'noy i zapreshhennoy pechati XIX veka ( Moskva, 1971). Item no. 908.
• Shickova, L. (ed). Zarubezhnye nelegal'nye i zapreshhennye izdanija XIX veka (na russkom yazyke). (Moskva, 1984). Item no. 283.

Rarity. WorldCat finds 10 copies: Princeton University Library, Harvard University, Stanford University, Yale University Library, Cornell University Library, Columbian University in the City of New York, NYPL, University of Virginia, University of Wisconsin, Indiana University. The book is present in the Russian State Library. Additionally, KVK finds a copy in Bibliothèque de Genève.

Price: $5,500.00

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