A. Badayev

The Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma


Chapter XII
The Poronino Conference

Preparations for the Conference – In Poronino – The Report of the Central Committee – The Main Resolutions – Discussion on the Work of the “Six” – Should We Face a Split of the Fraction?

On June 15, 1913, the State Duma rose for the summer recess. The regular Party conference, which was to have been called immediately the session ended, had been postponed to the end of summer so as to allow our Bolshevik “six” to tour their constituencies. They had to report to the local organisations on the Duma work, and themselves to learn of developments in the provinces. One of the main questions which the workers’ deputies were to put before the local organisations was that of the state of affairs within the fraction. On the other hand, the information obtained by the deputies was to serve as material for discussion at the forthcoming Party conference.

The departure of the workers’ deputies from St. Petersburg naturally created considerable activity among the secret police. Local authorities were flooded with orders from the police department: watch – observe – prohibit, etc. It was extremely difficult to evade the police and accomplish our work without endangering the local Party organisations.

Visits to provincial working-class centres, speeches at workers’ meetings, and the exchange of views with local Party officials convinced our “six” that there had been a steady growth of Bolshevism among the masses. The attitude adopted by the “six” both inside and outside of the fraction was approved by the majority of local organisations, some even demanding an immediate break with the seven Mensheviks.

The majority, however, considered that it was necessary to make one more attempt to preserve the unity of the Social-Democratic fraction, if only in externals. Should it prove impossible to secure Bolshevik leadership of the fraction as a whole, the seven should at least be prevented from doing harm and the Bolshevik deputies guaranteed facilities for making wide use of the Duma. If such an arrangement could not be made, we should definitely break with the Mensheviks, as had been found necessary in other Party organisations.

After summarising the results of our tours as regards both the opinions of the Party groups and the sentiments of the workers in general we proceeded, late in September, to the Party conference. The conference was held at Poronino, a village in Galicia (Austria), not far from Cracow, where Lenin and a few members of the Central Committee were staying. In order to mislead the police, the Poronino Conference was always referred to as the August Conference, although it actually took place at the end of September, 1913.

Twenty-five to thirty representatives from the larger Party organisations were present. In addition to Lenin, Zinoviev and Krupskaya, who were living in Galicia, Kamenev, Shotman. Inessa Armand, Troyanovsky, Rozmirovich, Hanecki and other Party workers also attended, as well as all the Duma Bolsheviks except Samoylov, who was ill.

Nearly twelve months had elapsed since the Cracow Conference, and meanwhile the Russian revolutionary movement had made much progress. Political strikes on January 9 (anniversary of Bloody Sunday), April 4 (anniversary of the Lena shootings) and May 1 had assumed a formidable character. During that year, the Russian workers had celebrated, for the first time, International Women’s Day. Economic strikes, also, had been distinguished by stubbornness and good organisation, while the struggle against the capitalists’ new weapon, the lock-out, had been conducted with extraordinary vigour. In the whole of Russia during 1913 about one million workers had participated in strikes; of these over half a million were involved in political strikes.

Party work had been strengthened, extended and consolidated, new groups had been formed and the old ones had grown larger and more effective. Bolshevik influence had increased in all legal working-class organisations and in cultural and educational societies. As a result of this revolutionary growth, the Poronino Conference dealt with a large number of subjects, such as organisation, tactics, propaganda, agitation, etc.

The first item of the agenda was the reports of the organisations of St. Petersburg, Moscow, the Ukraine, Poland, and the Urals.

Since all the delegates were informed of the course of the strike movement and the political actions of the workers of St. Petersburg, I devoted my report chiefly to the state of Party organisation and to the work of the St. Petersburg Committee. On the basis of decisions taken at the Cracow Conference, important measures of reorganisation were adopted and the St. Petersburg organisation consolidated. Sporadic guerrilla actions such as those that occurred on the opening day of the Duma were no longer possible. Leadership was now concentrated in an executive commission, and the St. Petersburg Committee was closely connected with the Narva, Neva, Vyborg and Vassileostrovsky districts, i.e. with the main working-class areas. I dealt further in detail with the organisation of the two underground printing shops which were then working for the St. Petersburg Committee and which had issued leaflets in 20,000 copies with trade union work, support for Pravda, appeals for funds, etc.

An abridged version of my report, signed “Member of the Executive Commission of the St. Petersburg Committee,” appeared in the December issue of the Party’s central organ, Sotsial-Demokrat (published abroad). The published part of the report refers to the structure of the St. Petersburg organisation and to the work of the St. Petersburg Committee.

All activity in the St. Petersburg District is now controlled by the St. Petersburg Committee, which has been functioning since autumn last year. The Committee has contacts at all works and factories and is informed of all developments there. The organisation of the district is as follows: At the factory, Party members form nuclei in the various workshops and delegates from the nuclei form a factory committee (at small factories, the members themselves constitute the committee). Every factory committee, or workshop nucleus in large factories, appoints a collector who on each pay-day collects the dues and other funds, books subscriptions for the newspapers, etc. A controller is also appointed to visit the institutions for which the funds were raised, to see that the correct amounts have been received there and collect the money. By this system, abuses in the handling of money are avoided.

Each district committee elects by secret voting an executive commission of three, care being taken that the committee as a whole should not know of whom the executive commission actually consists.

The district executive commissions send delegates to the St. Petersburg Committee, again trying to ensure that the names should not to be known by the whole district committee. The St. Petersburg Committee also elects an executive commission of three. Sometimes, for reasons of secrecy, it was found inadvisable to elect the representatives from the district commission and they were co-opted at the discretion of the St. Petersburg Committee.

Owing to this system, it was difficult for the secret police to find out who are members of the St. Petersburg Committee, which was thus enabled to carry on its work, to guide the activities of the organisations, declare political strikes, etc.

The Committee is held in high esteem by the workers, who, on all important points, await its guidance and follow its instructions. Special attention is paid to the leaflets which the Committee issues from time to time.

St. Petersburg trade union organisations have decided not to call political strikes on their own initiative but to act only on instructions from the St. Petersburg Committee. It was the Committee which issued the call for strikes on January 9, April 4 and May 1. The workers strongly resented the suppression of Pravda and wanted to strike, but the Committee decided that it was necessary first to prepare the action properly and to issue an explanatory leaflet which should reach the masses. Within a few days another paper appeared and as it followed the same policy the workers were somewhat reassured. Although no appeal to strike action was issued, some 30,000 workers left their work.

Leaflets are of great importance and the Committee devoted much effort to perfecting its machinery for their printing and distribution. The Committee consists entirely of workers, and we write the leaflets ourselves and have difficulty in finding intellectuals to help in correcting them.

The St. Petersburg political strikes, far from ruining the organisation, strengthened it. It may be asserted that the St. Petersburg organisation was revived, strengthened, and is developing, owing to the political strike movement. The shouts of the Liquidators about a “strike fever” show that they are completely detached from the workers’ organisations and from the life of the masses; they altogether fail to grasp what is now taking place among the workers. From my position in the centre of the St. Petersburg working-class movement, I notice everywhere how the strength of the workers is increasing, how it shows itself and how it will overwhelm everything.

The resolutions of the Cracow Conference were read and studied by the workers in the factories and the entire work of our organisation was conducted in their spirit. Their correctness was fully proved in practice; taking active part in the work, I felt all the time that the line of policy was correct. I rarely met a Liquidator or heard of one; this surprised me at first, but later, at a meeting of metal-workers, I learnt that they were almost non-existent in St. Petersburg.

Comrade A.V. Shotman made a supplementary report on work at St. Petersburg and gave many further details.

The local reports were received as information; no decisions were then taken in connection with them, but they served to illustrate the state of Party organisation and thus enabled the conference to tackle the general problems.

Immediately after the conclusion of local reports, Lenin read the report of the Central Committee. He pointed out that the development of the revolutionary movement and the successful Party work confirmed the correctness of the Bolsheviks’ policy as decided at the Prague Conference in January 1912, when a new Central Committee had been elected.

The course of the elections to the Duma, the successful launching of a newspaper and the high level of the strike movement were all results of Party work under the guidance of the Bolshevik Central Committee. Lenin declared:

“We can truthfully say that we have fully discharged the duties which we assumed. Local reports show that the workers are active and anxious to build up and strengthen their organisations. Let the workers realise that it is they and no one else who can do this.”

Comrade Krupskaya dealt with the technical side of the Central Committee’s work, with correspondence, contacts, transport and the Committee’s representatives in the important cities. Comrade Zinoviev spoke on the results of the work of our “six.”

After preliminary reports, the conference proceeded to discuss other questions on the agenda. Deliberations continued for almost two weeks and the subsequent work of the Party was fully outlined. The conference stressed once again that the principal slogans for the working-class struggle must be: “a democratic republic,” “confiscation of landlords’ estates,” and “the eight-hour day.” These slogans were to be used in every political strike. In the matter of the organisation of a general political strike, the conference welcomed the initiative of the St. Petersburg Committee and of a number of Moscow Party groups and considered that agitation and preparation for an all-Russia general political strike should be conducted immediately.

The resolution on strikes contained six points, the last of which for reasons of secrecy was not published. Until recently the text of this last point was not known, because naturally the documents of the conference have not survived. However, I accidentally came across a copy of the full text of the resolution in the archives of the police department. The sixth point dealt with the necessity of carrying on political strikes simultaneously in various cities, especially St. Petersburg and Moscow:

The conference calls on all local workers to reinforce their agitation by the distribution of leaflets and to establish permanent and close co-operation between the political and other workers’ organisations in various cities. It is especially important to secure agreement between Moscow and St. Petersburg workers in the first place, so that political strikes which may occur for various reasons (persecution of the press, insurance protests, etc.) should as far as possible take place simultaneously in both towns.

In the same archives a copy of the resolution on the Party press was also preserved. The first five points of this resolution were not published and it was thought that they had been lost. The following is the full text:

1. The conference recognises the enormous importance of a legal press for the cause of Social-Democratic agitation and organisation and therefore calls on all Party organisations and class-conscious workers to lend their whole-hearted support by distributing papers as widely as possible, by organising mass collective subscriptions and by the payment of regular dues. The conference once more emphasises that the said dues are membership dues to the Party.

2. Special attention should be paid to the strengthening of the legal workers’ paper in Moscow and to the speedy establishment of a paper in the south.

3. The conference desires to bring about the closest co-operation between the existing legal papers by means of mutual exchange of information, the holding of conferences, etc.

4. Recognising the importance and the necessity of a theoretical Marxist organ, the conference desires Party and trade union papers to call the attention of the workers to the journal Prosveshtchenye (Enlightenment), and to appeal to them to subscribe regularly and support it in a systematic fashion.

5. The conference calls the attention of Party publishing organisations to the necessity for a wider circulation of popular pamphlets for agitation and propaganda.

6. In view of the recent development of the revolutionary movement and of the importance of analysing it thoroughly, in the complete manner which is impossible in the legal press, the conference draws special attention to the necessity of extending our illegal publishing work and recommends that, in addition to illegal pamphlets and leaflets, a central illegal Party paper should be issued regularly at short intervals.

The conference pointed out that the most important task in respect of Party organisation was not merely the strengthening of the different Party units but their co-ordination into a united whole. For this purpose it was suggested that wherever possible regional Party conferences should be held and that representatives should be sent to the Central Committee. The question of convoking a regular Party congress was also raised at the conference.

The report presented by our “six” on the work of the Social-Democratic fraction in the Duma was one of the main issues dealt with at the conference. Since the Cracow Conference we had gained fresh experience both as regards speaking in the Duma and our work outside. But it seemed to us that our use of the Duma for revolutionary agitation was not enough. Before the conference opened, we had private talks with Lenin on our work.

“We arrange demonstrations against ministers and the Black Hundreds whenever they appear on the rostrum,” I said to Lenin, “but this is not enough. The workers ask ‘what practical proposals do you make in the Duma? Where are the laws which you put forward?’”

Lenin answered with his usual laugh:

“The Black Hundred Duma will never pass any laws which improve the lot of the workers. The task of a workers’ deputy is to remind the Black Hundreds, day after day, that the working class is strong and powerful and that the day is not far distant when the revolution will break out and sweep away the Black Hundreds and their government. No doubt it is possible to move amendments and even to introduce some bills, but this must only be done in order to expose more effectively the anti-working-class nature of the tsarist regime and to reveal the absolute lack of rights of the exploited workers. This is really what the workers should hear from their deputies.”

Several sittings were devoted to the debate on our report, and in the resolution adopted the conference reaffirmed previous Party decisions that Social-Democratic deputies were not concerned with so-called positive legislative work but that their task was to utilise the Duma for revolutionary agitation and propaganda. Although none qf the bills submitted to the Duma were satisfactory, the question arose as to what should be done when a bill did propose some improvement in the conditions of the workers. The conference decided that we were to vote for such measures only when an immediate and direct improvement such as shorter hours or higher wages, etc., was involved. If, however, the effect of the proposal was doubtful, the fraction was to abstain after expressing clearly its reasons for doing so. The conference decided that, in connection with every question raised in the Duma, the Social-Democratic fraction should formulate and introduce its own independent resolutions for passing to the order of the day.

A special resolution dealt with internal conditions in the fraction and with our differences with the Mensheviks. The conference had to consider the advisability of a final break with the Menshevik “seven” and of forming an independent fraction of Bolsheviks. Although this step was regarded as necessary and inevitable in the long run, there were many aspects to be considered before such a serious move could be made. How would the masses react to it? Would they understand that unity with the Liquidators was only harmful to the interests of the workers? Would they not consider it necessary that both wings of the Party should act together against the Black Hundreds? The situation was rendered more difficult by the fact that, owing to the strict censorship and police persecutions, it was impossible to conduct a wide campaign of enlightenment on this question. Our press was unable to call a spade a spade and even the three basic slogans of the Bolsheviks had to be camouflaged by the use of similar words. It was essential that the split should occur in such a way that the greatest number of those people who were hesitating between the two wings should be attracted to our side. This applied both to class-conscious workers and to members of the fraction itself. Our task was to wrest from the Mensheviks all who were not irretrievably sunk in the Liquidationist swamp.

The resolution of the Poronino Conference, adopted after these points had been considered, required as a preliminary step that an ultimatum should be presented to the Menshevik “seven” demanding absolute equality for both sections of the fraction. Only if this was refused were we to break with the “seven” and form an independent fraction. The following was the text:

The conference is of the opinion that the unity of the Social-Democratic Duma fraction is possible and necessary, but considers that the behaviour of the Menshevik “seven” is seriously endangering this unity.

The “seven” make use of their bare majority of one to obstruct the work of the six workers’ deputies who represent the overwhelming majority of the Russian workers. On a number of occasions when important matters relating to workers were dealt with and when the Social-Democratic fraction put up two or more speakers, the six deputies were refused the opportunity of nominating one of them.

The “seven” also refuse to allow the “six” one of the two seats, on Duma commissions (e.g. the budget commission).

When a representative has to be elected from the fraction to bodies of importance to the labour movement, the seven deputies by their majority of one always deprive the six of any representation. The officials of the fraction are elected in this one-sided way; e.g. the demand for a second secretary has been rejected.

The conference considers that these actions of the seven deputies prevent the smooth working of the fraction and must inevitably lead to a split.

The conference protests most emphatically against such actions of the seven deputies. The six deputies represent the enormous majority of the working class of Russia and act in full accord with the political line of its organised vanguard.

The conference is, therefore, of the opinion that only if there is full equality between the two wings of the fraction and only if the “seven” give up their policy of stifling the voice of the “six,” will it be possible to maintain the unity of the Duma Social-Democratic fraction.

In spite of irreconcilable divergences on work not only in the Duma, the conference insists on the unity of the fraction on the above-stated basis of equal rights for both sides.

The conference invites all class-conscious workers to express their opinion on this important question and to contribute with all their energy to the preservation of the unity of the fraction on the basis of equal rights for the six workers’ deputies.

In proposing this solution our Party made a last attempt to minimise the harm that the Mensheviks could do without causing an official split. But the division of the fraction into two wings, each enjoying equal rights, would in itself establish a sharp distinction between the “six” and the “seven,” and even if no formal split were to occur, we would be able to conduct our Duma activities in accordance with Party decisions.

Just before we left Poronino the workers’ deputies attended a meeting of the Central Committee, at which the practical steps to be taken by the “six” in regard to the Mensheviks were discussed. It was decided that we should present a series of demands: that a second secretary be appointed, that new members be nominated for the budget commission, that new delegates be appointed to the International Socialist Bureau, and that the speakers for the fraction be chosen in equal numbers from Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The text of the letter containing these demands was drafted there and then. In the event of the “seven” refusing, it was agreed that we should break away from them altogether and appeal to the masses.

Last updated on 14.9.2011