Tony Cliff

Lenin 1

Chapter 8
“Open the Gates of the Party”

Lenin Relies on the Committee-Man

THE PERSONIFICATION of Lenin’s concept of the party member, as described in What Is to Be Done? or in his arguments during the second Congress and its aftermath, was the Bolshevik committeeman. He was the professional revolutionary par excellence, leading the life of a hunted agitator and organiser. While at large, he spent his whole time organising strikes, street demonstrations, secret meetings, and conferences. Then came prison and exile, followed by escape, and a new bout of activity, interrupted once again by arrest and deportation.

In fact, the Mensheviks were no less dependent on the work of the professional revolutionaries than the Bolsheviks, as is shown by the figures given in Table 5. However, in the Menshevik concept of the party, the professional revolutionaries did not have a special role to play. In theory, they were on a level with all other socialists – including strikers and socialist intellectuals. But for Lenin, they had a very important function to perform. Unlike Martov, Lenin saw his own task not only as that of a political leader of the party, but also as head of the hierarchy of professional revolutionaries.

It was natural for Lenin, whenever he found the other Bolshevik leaders wanting, to try to establish direct contact with members of lower party committees who were more determined, less vacillating, and who he encouraged and promoted to higher positions in the faction. He had a very high regard for the committeeman. He prised men and women of action and resolution like I.V. Babushkin, Inessa Armand, G.K. Ordzhonikidze, S.S. Spandarian, M.P. Tomsky, I.V. Stalin, A.I. Rykov, L.B. Krasin, F.I. Goloshchekin, V.K. Taratura, L.P. Serebryakov, and many others.

He did not regard the centralised party machine a fetish, or an end in itself, but as a means of increasing the activity, consciousness, and organisation of the vanguard sections of the working class. In contrast, the committeemen showed clear conservative and elitist characteristics, as can be seen from an appeal written by Stalin on the eve of the 1905 Revolution, which reached the following climax: “Let us stretch out our hands to one another and rally around the party committees. We must not forget for a moment that only the party committees can worthily lead us, only they will light up our road to the ‘promised land’ called the socialist world”! [1]

Compare this with the words of Lenin, written on practically the same day in far-off Geneva. “Make way for the anger and hatred that have accumulated in your hearts throughout the centuries of exploitation, suffering and grief!” Trotsky quotes these words, and then comments: “All of Lenin is in that phrase. He hates and rebels together with the masses, feels the rebellion in his bones, and does not ask of those in revolt that they act only with the permission of the ‘committees’.” [2]

The committeemen were, in a number of ways, people of sterling character. They devoted their lives to the revolutionary movement and put themselves completely at the disposal of the party. They had no life outside the movement. Because they made great sacrifices, they had strong moral authority. They were always in a position to demand sacrifices from rank-and-file workers, because they set such an example themselves. They acquired great self-assurance, through repeatedly having to take on-the-spot decisions under fire. They were, on the whole, competent, shrewd, energetic, and strong-willed; as complete outlaws, they could not otherwise have survived.

The committeemen kept up their unfaltering activity over months and years. One only has to look down the list of delegates at, say, the London fifth Congress (1907) to see a gallery of people who were the backbone of Bolshevism, who carried on the tradition, the continuity of the party.

During the period of reaction, 1906-10, it was not the committeemen who deserted the party in large numbers; they mostly remained loyal. In the struggle, a process of selection of cadres took place, and those who were selected were on the whole the committeemen. Unfortunately, however, self-sacrifice and special abilities do not provide a guarantee against the conservatism of the party machine. Herbert Spencer, the well-known naturalist, wisely observed that every organism is conservative in direct proportion to its perfection. Lenin, who knew how to recruit, train, and keep the loyalty of the committeemen, had to oppose their conservatism during the revolution of 1905.

Whereas, in the years before the 1905 Revolution and during the years of reaction following it, the committeemen had a much higher level of activity and consciousness than even the advanced section of the proletariat, at the time of the revolution itself, they lagged behind considerably.

To survive during the difficult years of illegality and suffering, they had had to evolve a discipline, which now became an impediment. Krupskaya summed up the committeeman’s characteristics very aptly:

The “Komitetchik” [committeeman] was usually a fairly self-assured person, who realised what great influence the work of the committees had over the masses; he generally did not recognise any inner-party democracy whatever. “This democratism only leads to us falling into the hands of the authorities; we are already quite well enough connected with the movement,” the Komitetchiks would say. And inwardly, these committee members always rather despised “the people abroad,” who, they considered, just grew fat and organised intrigues. “They ought to be sent to work under Russian conditions” was their verdict. The Komitetchiks did not like to feel the pressure from abroad. At the same time they did not like innovations. They were neither desirous nor capable of adapting themselves to the changing conditions.

In the period 1904-1905 these members of the committees bore tremendous responsibilities on their shoulders, but many of them experienced the utmost difficulty in adapting themselves to the conditions of increasing opportunities for legal work, and to the methods of open struggle. At the third Congress there were no workers present – or at any rate, not a single prominent worker. On the other hand there were many committee members. [3]



Opening up the Party

In the new times of the revolutionary spring of 1905, Lenin was singing a different tune, and he tried desperately to rid the committeemen of their old habits, their formalism, their cautions and fears, exhorting them to boldness and initiative.

Organise, organise, organise, open the gates of the party to new forces – this was the message he repeated impatiently and urgently. In a letter of 11 February 1905, to A.A. Bogdanov and S.I. Gusev, he wrote:

Really, I sometimes think that nine-tenths of the Bolsheviks are actually formalists ... We need young forces. I am for shooting on the spot anyone who presumes to say that there are no people to be had. The people in Russia are legion; all we have to do is to recruit young people more widely and boldly, more boldly and widely, and again more widely and again more boldly without fearing them. This is a time of war. The youth – the students, and still more so the young workers – will decide the issue of the whole struggle. Get rid of all the old habits of immobility, of respect for rank, and so on. Form hundreds of circles of Vperyodists from among the youth and encourage them to work at full blast. Enlarge the committee threefold by accepting young people into it, set up half a dozen or a dozen subcommittees, “co-opt” any and every honest and energetic person. Allow every subcommittee to write and publish leaflets without any red tape (there is no harm if they do make a mistake; we on Vperyod will “gently” correct them). We must, with desperate speed, unite all people with revolutionary initiative and set them to work. Do not fear their lack of training, do not tremble at their inexperience and lack of development ...

Only you must be sure to organise, organise, and organise hundreds of circles, completely pushing into the background the customary, well meant committee (hierarchic) stupidities. This is a time of war. Either you create new, young, fresh, energetic battle organisations everywhere for revolutionary Social Democratic work of all varieties among all strata, or you will go under wearing the aureole of “committee” bureaucrats. [4]

On March 25, 1905, he wrote to the Odessa Committee of the party: “Are you taking workers into the committee? This is essential, absolutely essential! Why don’t you put us in direct contact with workers? Not a single worker writes to Vperyod. This is a scandal. We need at all costs dozens of worker correspondents.” [5]

A short time later, in a pamphlet called New Times and New Forces, he called even more vehemently for the party to be opened up. But his appeal met with stubborn resistance from the conservative committeemen.

At the third Congress, in the spring of 1905, Lenin and Bogdanov proposed a resolution urging the party to open its gates wide to workers, who should be brought forward to take a leading role in it, to

make every effort to strengthen the ties between the party and the masses of the working class by raising still wider sections of proletarians and semi-proletarians to full Social Democratic consciousness, by developing their revolutionary Social Democratic activity, by seeing to it that the greatest possible number of workers capable of leading the movement and the party organisations be advanced from among the mass of the working class to membership on the local centres and on the all-party centre through the creation of a maximum number of working-class organisations adhering to our party, by seeing to it that working-class organisations unwilling or unable to enter the party should at least be associated with it. [6]

The debate at the Congress waxed very fierce. The next speaker, Gradov (Kamenev), said: “I must express my strong opposition to ... this resolution. As an issue of the relationship of workers and the intelligentsia in party organisations, this question does not exist. (Lenin: It does.) No, it does not: it exists as a demagogic question, that is all.” [7]

The inclusion of workers in local committees was debated with particular heat. Filippov said that there was only one worker in the Petersburg Committee, although work in Petersburg had been going on for 15 years. (Lenin: Outrageous!) [8] Leskov said that in the Northern Committee things were even worse:

At one time three of the seven members of our Northern Committee were workers; now not one of the eight committee members is a worker. Very soon this question will become even more complex. The labour movement is growing irresistibly, quite apart from party influence, and the newly emerging masses must be organised. This weakens the ideological influence of Social Democracy. [9]

Osipov reported: “Not so long ago I toured the Caucasus Committees ... At the time there was one worker in the Baku Committee, one in the Batum Committee, and none in the Kutais Committee. Only the Tiflis Committee had several ... Could it be that our Caucasus comrades prefer intelligenty committeemen to worker committeemen?” [10]

Orlovsky commented that “a workers’ party in which leadership is the hereditary property of the intelligentsia is doomed to be anemic.” [11] A. Belsky (Krasikov) declared: “In our committees, and I have seen plenty of them in my work, there is some kind of phobia towards workers.” [12] Lenin intervened, and the session became even noisier.

It will be the task of the future centre to reorganise a considerable number of our committees: the inertness of the committeemen has to be overcome. (Applause and booing) I can hear Comrade Segeyev booing while the non-committeemen applaud. I think we should look at the matter more broadly. To place workers on the committees is a political, not only a pedagogical task. Workers have the class instinct, and, given some political experience, they pretty soon become staunch Social Democrats. I should be strongly in favour of having eight workers to every two intellectuals on our committees. [13]

Mikhailov, speaking immediately after Lenin, added fuel to the flames:

We must see to it that our committees are immediately expanded to 15 – 20 members, with an elective board. The main contingent of a committee must consist of workers. It is said that we do not have workers capable of sitting on a committee. That is not true. The criterion for admitting workers ... ought to be different from the one applied to intelligenty. There is talk of tempered SDs, but ... first and second-year students, familiar with Social Democratic ideas from the Erfurt Program and a few issues of Iskra, are already considered tempered SDs. Thus in practice the requirements for intelligenty are very low, and for workers they are extremely high. (Lenin: Very true! The Majority of the Delegates: Not true!) The only valid criterion for admitting workers into a committee must be the degree of their influence among the masses. (Hissing, shouting.) All workers who are leaders and have been in our circles must be members of our committee. (Right!) I think this is the only way to settle the vexed question between workers and intelligenty and to cut the ground from under demagoguery. [14]

Later Lenin returned to the subject:

I could hardly keep my seat when it was said here that there are no workers fit to sit on the committees. The question is being dragged out; obviously there is something the matter with the party. Workers must be given places on the committees. Oddly enough, there are only three journalists at the Congress, the others being committeemen: it appears however that the journalists are for placing the workers, whereas the committeemen for some reason are quite wrought up over it.

“Chair-warmers and keepers of the seal” should all be smoked out:

If this clause constitutes a threat to the committee consisting of intellectuals then I am all for it. A tight hold must always be kept on the intelligentsia. It is always the instigator of all sorts of squabbles.

One cannot rely on a small periphery of intellectuals, but one can and should rely on hundreds of organised workers. [15]

Most of the delegates to the Congress were committeemen who were opposed to any move that would tend to weaken their authority over the rank and file. Buttressing themselves with quotations from What Is to Be Done? they called for “extreme caution” in admitting workers into the committees and condemned “playing at democracy.” Lenin’s resolution was defeated by 12 votes to 9½. It was not the last occasion on which he found himself in a minority among the Bolshevik leaders, and even booed at a Bolshevik Congress. [1*]

The unfortunate Lenin had to persuade his supporters to oppose the line proposed in What Is to Be Done? He denied that he had

at the second Congress ... any intention of elevating my own formulations, as given in What Is to Be Done? to “programmatic” level constituting special principles. On the contrary, the expression I used – and it has since been frequently quoted – was that the “economists” had gone to one extreme. What Is to Be Done?, I said, straightens out what had been twisted by the “economists”. I emphasise that just because we were so vigorously straightening out whatever had been twisted, our line of action would always be the straightest.

The meaning of these words is clear enough: What Is to Be Done? is a controversial correction of “economist” distortion and it would be wrong to regard the pamphlet in any other light. [17]

On the idea that socialist consciousness could be brought in only from the “outside,” and that the working class could spontaneously achieve only trade union consciousness, Lenin now formulated his conclusion in terms that were the exact opposite of those of What Is to Be Done? In an article called The Reorganisation of the Party, written in November 1905, he says bluntly: “The working class is instinctively, spontaneously Social Democratic.” [18]

A few years later, in an article commemorating the 1905 Revolution, Lenin goes even further in expressing the view that capitalism itself inculcates a socialist consciousness in the working class.

The very conditions of their lives make the workers capable of struggle and impels them to struggle. Capital collects the workers in great masses in big cities, uniting them, teaching them to act in unison. At every step they come face to face with their enemy – the capitalist class. In combat with this enemy the worker becomes a socialist, comes to realise the necessity of a complete abolition of all poverty and all oppression. [19]

This does not mean that Lenin had been wrong in What Is to Be Done? In 1900-03, his emphasis on the need for an organisation of professional revolutionaries was perfectly justified. In 1908, he wrote:

To maintain today that Iskra exaggerated (in 1901 and 1902!) the idea of an organisation of professional revolutionaries is like reproaching the Japanese, after the Russo-Japanese war, for having exaggerated the strength of Russia’s armed forces, for having prior to the war exaggerated the need to prepare for fighting these forces. To win victory the Japanese had to marshal all their forces against the probable maximum of Russian forces. Unfortunately, many of those who judge our party are outsiders, who do not know the subject, who do not realise that today the idea of an organisation of professional revolutionaries has already scored a complete victory. That victory would have been impossible if this idea had not been pushed to the forefront at the time, if we had not “exaggerated” so as to drive it home to people who were trying to prevent it from being realised. [20]

It was not characteristic of Lenin to give up a fight, and a few months after the third Congress, in November 1905, he returned to the issue with increased vigour: The gates of the party should be opened, despite the conservative committeemen: “Rally all the worker Social Democrats round yourselves, incorporate them in the ranks of the party organisations by hundreds and thousands.” [21]

The committeemen were very much afraid of dangers of “diluting” the party. Lenin countered this opposition to worker recruitment as follows:

Danger may be said to lie in a sudden influx of large numbers of non – Social Democrats into the party. If that occurred, the party would be dissolved among the masses, it would cease to be the conscious vanguard of its class, its role would be reduced to that of a tail. That would mean a very deplorable period indeed. And this danger could undoubtedly become a very serious one if we showed any inclination towards demagogy, if we lacked party principles (program, tactical rules, organisational experience) entirely, or if those principles were feeble and shaky. But the fact is that no such “ifs” exist ... We have a firmly established party program which is officially recognised by all Social Democrats and the fundamental propositions of which have not given rise to any criticism (criticism of individual points and formulations is quite legitimate and necessary in any live party). We have resolutions on tactics which were consistently and systematically worked out at the second and third Congresses and in the course of many years’ work of the Social Democratic press. We also have some organisational experience and an actual organisation, which has played an educational role and has undoubtedly borne fruit. [22]

The party doors should be wide open, even to religious workers if they were opponents of the employers and the government.

To be sure, those workers who remain Christians, who believe in God, and those intellectuals who defend mysticism (fie upon them!), are inconsistent too; but we shall not expel them from the Soviet or even the party, for it is our firm conviction that the actual struggle, and work within the ranks will convince all elements possessing vitality that Marxism is the truth, and will cast aside all those who lack vitality. And we do not for one moment doubt our strength, the overwhelming strength of Marxists, in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. [23]

Non-workers should also be encouraged to join the party.

The urban and industrial proletariat will inevitably be the nucleus of our Social Democratic Labour Party, but we must attract to it, enlighten, and organise all who labour and are exploited, as stated in our program – all without exception: handicraftsmen, paupers, beggars, servants, tramps, prostitutes – of course, subject to the necessary and obligatory condition that they join the Social Democratic movement and not that the Social Democratic movement join them, that they adopt the standpoint of the proletariat, and not that the proletariat adopt theirs. [24]

In characteristic style, Lenin vehemently reiterated the immediate tasks that he saw facing the movement. During this period, he called continually for the party to be opened up to the mass of workers: “At the third Congress of the party I suggested that there be about eight workers to every two intellectuals in the Party committees. [25] How obsolete that suggestion seems today! Now we must wish for the party organisations to have one Social Democratic intellectual to several hundred Social Democratic workers.” [26]

A year later, in December 1906, he repeated:

It is certainly necessary now to enlarge the party with the aid of proletarian elements. It is abnormal that we should have only 6,000 party members in St. Petersburg (in St. Petersburg Gubernia there are 81,000 workers in factories employing 500 workers and over; in all 150,000 workers); that in the Central Industrial Region we should have only 20,000 party members (377,000 workers in factories employing 500 and over; in all, 562,000 workers). We must learn to recruit [2*] five times and 10 times as many workers for the party in such centres.

However, Lenin found the going very difficult indeed among the people he himself had organised and trained. The organisational loyalty of the committeemen, which Lenin had cultivated and valued highly, turned into organisational fetishism, and became a serious impediment to Bolshevism.



But Nevertheless it Moves ...

Notwithstanding the determined opposition of the committeemen, the Bolshevik Party expanded rapidly in the wake of the revolution and its social composition changed radically.

On the basis of reports presented to the second Congress, membership of the RSDLP in Russia in 1903 could not have been more than a few thousand, excluding membership of the Bund ... By the fourth Congress in April 1906, membership had grown, it is estimated, to 13,000 for the Bolsheviks and 18,000 for the Mensheviks. Another estimate (for October 1906) was 33,000 Bolsheviks, 43,000 Mensheviks ... By 1907 the total membership had increased to 150,000: Bolsheviks – 46,143; Mensheviks – 38,174; Bund – 25,468; and the Polish and Latvian parts of the party – 25,654 and 13,000, respectively. [28]

The Bolsheviks also became largely a party of young people, a factor that more than once helped Lenin to overcome conservative resistance to change in the party. In 1907, the age structure of the “rank and file” by faction was as follows in percentage [29]:





Over 30




















The “activists” – defined as propagandists, public speakers, agitators, or members of a local soviet or of an armed (Social Democratic) detachment – were not much older. [30]





Over 30




















The party leadership was also quite young. Of the leaders of the Bolsheviks in 1907,

the oldest were Krasin, Lenin and Krasikov (all 37). The youngest were Litvinov and Zemlyachka (both 31). The average age of the nine Bolshevik leaders was 34. The Menshevik leaders had an average of 44. [31]

Lenin was both delighted and proud that the party was a party of youth.

We are the party of the future, and the future belongs to the youth. We are a party of innovators, and it is always the youth that most eagerly follows the innovators. We are a party that is waging a self-sacrificing struggle against the old rottenness, and youth is always the first to undertake a self-sacrificing struggle.

No, let us leave it to the Cadets to collect the “tired” old men of 30, revolutionaries who have “grown wise”, and renegades from Social Democracy. We shall always be a party of the youth of the advanced class! [32]

A few years later, in a letter to Inessa Armand, he wrote: “The young are the only people worth working on!” [33]

Another factor that helped him to overcome conservative resistance in the party was its largely proletarian composition. The results of the party census in 1922, in which information was given for the Bolshevik membership in 1905, show the following broad occupational division [34] [3*]:




Office and
Shop Workers









% of total






Party cells sprang up in scores of factories. Thus the report of the St. Petersburg Committee to the third Congress of the Bolsheviks (May 1905) listed 17 cells in the factories of the Petersburg district, 18 cells in the Vyborg district, 29 in the City district, 20 in the Neva district and 15 circles among the handicraftsmen. [36] Similarly, in Moscow, at the end of the summer of 1905, the Bolsheviks claimed 40 factory cells. [37]

The facts wholly refute the notion that the party was made up of a handful of intellectuals, a view that prevails among anti-Bolshevik scholars. Thus J.L.H. Keep has asserted that “the RSDLP, professedly a proletarian party, was in reality an organisation of revolutionary intellectuals with only a modicum of popular support.” [38] Lenin wrote in January 1907 that only liars “can now doubt the mass proletarian character of the Social Democratic Party in Russia.” [39]

Over time, the proportion of manual workers increased considerably, not only among the rank and file but also among delegates to party congresses. The social composition of the delegates to four congresses was as follows:




Office workers
and others


2nd (1903)





3rd (1905)





4th (1906)





5th (1907)





Probably the most representative Congress was the fifth, in 1907, at which it was claimed that each delegate represented 500 local party members. The social composition of the Bolshevik and Menshevik delegates in terms of occupation (or former occupation) is shown in the following table [40]:











Manual workers





Office and shop workers





“Liberal professions”





Professional revolutionaries






























The occupation table shows a high degree of similarity between both factions ... The only differences are in the clerical and manual workers’ groups, of which more were Bolsheviks than Mensheviks, and in the professional revolutionaries’ group where the Mensheviks had a slightly higher proportion than the Bolsheviks. This last item rebuts the commonly held assertion that the Bolsheviks were a faction of “professional revolutionaries” in contrast to the Mensheviks. [41]



In conclusion

Lenin’s attitude to organisational forms was always historically concrete; hence its strength. He was never taken in by abstract, dogmatic schemes of organisation, but always ready to change the organisational structure of the party to reflect the development of the class struggle.

Organisation is subordinate to politics. This does not mean that it has no independent influence on politics. But it is, and must be, subordinated to the concrete policies of the day. The truth is always concrete, as Lenin reiterated again and again. And this also applies to the organisational forms needed to undertake the concrete tasks.

Lenin grasped better than anyone else the need for a centralised party organisation. However, he saw it not as an aim in itself, but rather as a lever to raise the level of activity and consciousness among the mass of the workers. To make the organisation into a fetish, to submit to it although it impeded mass action, went against his grain. When he found it necessary, as in 1905-07, or in 1917, he would appeal to the energy of the masses to overcome the conservatism of the party machine.




1*. The opposition of the committeemen to the inclusion of workers in the committees was not limited to the Bolsheviks. The same happened among the Mensheviks. [16]

2*. We say “learn to recruit,” for the number of Social Democratic workers in such centres is undoubtedly many times the number of party members. We suffer from routine, we must fight against it. We must learn to form, where necessary, lose Organisationen – looser, broader and more accessible proletarian organisations. Our slogan is: for a larger Social Democratic Labour Party, against a non-party labour congress and a non-party party! [27]

3*. “This information is based on the evaluation of the members, of whom more than half considered themselves to be ‘workers.’ The small number of ‘peasants’ here recorded is evidence that a ‘peasant’ estate classification referred to legal position at birth and not occupation: the bulk of the ‘peasants’ in the movement even in 1905 had already moved from the village to work in the factories.” [35]




1. J.V. Stalin, Works, vol.1, p.80.

2. Trotsky, Stalin, op.cit., p.64.

3. Krupskaya, Memories, op.cit., pp.114-15.

4. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.8, pp.145-46.

5. ibid., vol.34, p.307.

6. ibid., vol.8, pp.409-10.

7. Tretii sezd RSDRP, op.cit., p.255; Schwarz, 1905, op.cit., p.217.

8. Tretii sezd RSDRP, op.cit., p.267.

9. ibid., p.265.

10. ibid., p.334.

11. ibid., p.275.

12. ibid., p.335; Schwarz, op.cit., pp.218-19.

13. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.8, p.408.

14. Tretii sezd RSDRP, op.cit., p.362.

15. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.8, pp.407-15.

16. Martow, Geschichte der russischen Sozialdemokratie, op.cit., p.136.

17. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.13, pp.107-08.

18. ibid., vol.10, p.32.

19. ibid., vol.16, pp.301-02.

20. ibid., vol.13, p.102.

21. Lenin, “The Reorganization of the Party,” ibid., vol.10, p.32.

22. ibid., p.31.

23. ibid., p.23.

24. ibid., vol.9, p.238.

25. ibid., vol.8, p.408.

26. ibid., vol.10, p.36.

27. ibid., vol.11, p.359.

28. Lane, Roots, op.cit., pp.12-13.

29. ibid., p.37.

30. ibid., p.36.

31. ibid., p.35.

32. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.11, pp.354-55.

33. ibid., vol. 43, p.613.

34. Lane, op.cit., pp.25-26.

35. ibid.

36. Tretii sezd RSDRP, op.cit., pp.547-53.

37. Proletary, no.22, October 1915; Lane, op.cit., p.116.

38. Keep, Rise, op.cit., p.287.

39. Lane, op.cit., p.37.

40. ibid., p.38.

41. ibid., p.39.


Last updated on 4.12.2003