The Impact of the SPD Model on Lenin and Bolshevism
In the late nineteenth century, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) pioneered a new type of party that combined innovative techniques of mass mobilization (the “permanent campaign,” the “alternative culture,” and extensive party press) with a well-defined revolutionary aim. Russian Social Democrats admired this model, but they realized they lacked an essential precondition: the political freedom that was necessary to carry out mass mobilization of a national scale. They themselves were forced to innovate while adapting the SPD model to inhospitable Russian conditions. Lenin’s What is To be Done? is less of a theoretical breakthrough than a summary of methods already found by empirical trial and error, coupled with Lenin’s own practical suggestions toward achieving the next step, namely, a national party with a functioning central leadership. The influence of the SPD continued long after 1905 and can be seen in the post-revolutionary ‘propaganda state’ that applied the permanent campaign without limit or rival.