Tony Cliff

Lenin 1

Chapter 17
The Final Split with Menshevism

The Mensheviks Swing to the Right

AFTER THE revolution, during which they had been very much to the left, the Mensheviks veered strongly to the right. At the Stockholm Unity Congress of April 10-25, 1906, the left wing, influenced by Trotsky and Parvus, was hardly discernible. As Lenin put it,

... a striking thing was the complete absence among the Mensheviks of the trend that was so clearly revealed in Nachalo, and which in the party we are accustomed to connect with the names of Comrades Parvus and Trotsky. True, it is quite possible that there were some “Parvusites” and “Trotskyites” among the Mensheviks – I was told that there were about eight of them. [1]

Lunacharsky explained the volte face of the Mensheviks thus:

The Mensheviks are impressionists, people who yield to the mood of the moment. When the revolutionary tide rose and October-November 1905 arrived, Nachalo galloped off at breakneck speed, and went even more Bolshevik than the Bolsheviks. It galloped from democratic dictatorship to socialist dictatorship. But when the revolutionary tide turned, when enthusiasm ebbed and the Cadets rose to the top, the Mensheviks hastened to adjust themselves to this subdued mood. They now trot behind the Cadets, and disdainfully brush aside the October-November forms of struggle. [2]

During 1905, people like Plekhanov and Martov had been lone voices arguing that the Social Democrats should show “tact” toward the liberals. Now, during the period of reaction, the major tactic of Menshevism was an alliance with the Cadets. One of the spokesmen of Menshevism, Rakhmetov, made the following argument for this coalition:

It is much easier for the Cadets to twist and turn when they are surrounded by a solid wall of hostility than it would be if they were approached with an offer of a political coalition ... Much more can be achieved by the pressure of public opinion on the Cadets (by sending to the Duma resolutions, instruction, petitions and demands, organising protest meetings, negotiations between the Workers’ Group and the Cadets) than by senseless, and therefore useless, rowdyism, to put it strongly [our italics]. [3]

In an article entitled Blocs with the Cadets, written in November 1906, Lenin reacted: “The sanction of blocs with the Cadets is the finishing touch that definitely marks the Mensheviks as the opportunist wing of the workers’ party.” [4]

The most constant, right-wing trend in Menshevism was that of Liquidationism, which influenced it in much the same way as Otzovism and Ultimatism influenced the Bolsheviks. Where Bogdanov made a fetish of illegality and abhorred every effort at legal work in the Duma or trade unions, the Liquidators tried to limit the movement to legal, open activities (Duma elections, parliamentary activity in the Duma, legal trade unions and legal newspapers), and supported the curtailment or liquidation of illegal political organisation and activity. Thus A.N. Potresov, the editor of Nasha Zarya, and the new spokesman of the Liquidators, stated bluntly in February 1910, “the party as an integral and organised hierarchy of institutions does not exist.” Commenting on this view, another Liquidationist magazine, Vozrozhdeniye, in its issue of 30 March 1910, stated,

There is nothing to wind up – and we [i.e., the editors of Vozrozhdeniye]would add on our part – the dream of re-establishing this hierarchy in its old underground form is simply a harmful reactionary utopia, which indicates the loss of political intuition by the representatives of a party which at one time was the most realistic of all. [5]

Similarly the Menshevik B. Bogdanov wrote, “The striving to break with the old underground and embark upon really open and public and political activity – such is the new feature which also characterises the latest phase of our labour movement.” [6]

Martov went some way toward Liquidationism with his call for equality of rights between the legal and illegal party organisations. In his thinking, the illegal organisation ought to serve mainly as a support for the legal party.

... a more or less defined and to a certain extent centralised conspiratorial organisation now makes sense (and great sense) only in so far as it takes part in the construction of a Social Democratic party, which by necessity is less defined and has its main points of support in open workers’ organisations. [7]

Lenin commented on this idea that it

leads in fact to the party being subordinated to the liquidators, for the legalist who sets himself against the illegal party, considering himself on a par with it, is nothing but a Liquidator. The “equality” between an illegal Social Democrat who is persecuted by the police and the legalist who is safeguarded by his legality and his divorce from the party is in fact the “equality” between the worker and the capitalist. [8]

It is the illegal organisations that must judge whether the legalists are in actual fact pro-party, i.e., [we] specifically reject the “theory of equality”! [9]

For Martov the underground was to be a mere skeleton apparatus, held in reserve for use in the event of a forced relapse into complete illegality. To Lenin, on the other hand, the leg – I activities were only a skeletal affair, whose purpose was to broaden the sphere of operations of the underground party. The political consequences of turning one’s back on the underground were bound to be far-reaching. It was, of course, impossible to advocate the overthrow of Tsarism in publications that were meant to be passed by the censor. Therefore to confine the party to legal forms of action meant virtually to abandon the republican principle. This was the first step toward advocating the gradual transformation of the Tsarist regime into a constitutional monarchy, a desire cherished by the Cadets.

When fighting the ultra-leftists, Lenin was careful to emphasise the danger of falling into Liquidationism, of restricting the program to the needs of legality:

It is the combination of illegal and legal work that especially demands from us that we combat every “belittling of the role and significance” of the illegal party. It is just the need to defend the party position on minor matters, in more modest measures, in particular instances, in the legal framework, that especially requires us to see to it that these aims and slogans are not curtailed, that the changed form of the struggle does not destroy its content, does not make it less irreconcilable, does not distort the historical perspective and historical aim of the proletariat. [10]

In a report to the extended editorial board of Proletary (June 1909), he called for a battle on two fronts – against the ultra-leftists and against the right-wing Liquidationists. He advocated

the combating of both varieties of Liquidationism – Liquidationism on the right and Liquidationism on the left. The Liquidators on the right say that no illegal RSDLP is needed, that Social Democratic activities should be centered exclusively or almost exclusively on legal opportunities. The Liquidators on the left go to the other extreme: legal avenues of party work do not exist for them, illegality at any price is their “be all and end all.” Both, in approximately equal degree, are Liquidators of the RSDLP, for without methodical judicious combination of legal and illegal work in the present situation that history has imposed upon us, the preservation and consolidation of the RSDLP is inconceivable. [11]

While Lenin was ready to expel the Otzovists from the Bolshevik faction, Martov, being basically a conciliator, was incapable of a relentless fight against the Liquidators, even though he opposed them.



The Labour Congress

One way of liquidating the party was to replace it with a broad Labour Party and Labour Congress. Larin, the enfant terrible of Menshevism, advocated this in a pamphlet called A Broad Labour Party and a Labour Congress (Moscow 1906). A broad labour party, as conceived by Larin, should embrace something like 900,000 of the 9,000,000-strong Russian proletariat. The “signboard” had to come down – the party must not be Social Democratic. The Social Democrats and the Socialist Revolutionaries must merge. The new party must be a “nonpartisan party.” The Social Democrats and Socialist Revolutionaries must play the role of propaganda bodies within the broad party. [12]

In similar vein the eminence grise of Menshevism, P.B. Axelrod, said,

The Labour Congress will complete the liquidatory process that has been going on during the past few years, the liquidation of the old party regime that grew up on the outdated historical basis of the feudal state and the hierarchical socio-political regime and at the same time will mark the beginning of a completely new epoch in the historical life of Russian Social Democrats, the epoch of development on exactly the same lines as the Social Democratic parties in the West. [13]

Another Menshevik, N. Rozhkov, suggested the establishment of an open, peaceful, labour organisation – “a political association for the protection of the interests of the working class”. [14]

There is no advocacy of any violence in this; there is not a word, not a thought about a violent revolution being necessary, because in reality, too, no such necessity may ever arise. If anyone, blinded by such reactionary frenzy, took it into his head to accuse the members of such an “association” of striving for violent revolution, the whole burden of an absurd, unfounded and juridically flimsy accusation of this sort would fall upon the head of the accuser! [15]

Lenin wrote voluminously and vehemently against the idea of a Labour Congress. Firstly, he argued that the Realpolitik of the Liquidators regarding the Labour Congress was unrealistic. Thus, at the beginning of December 1911, he wrote,

It is obvious that the “powers that be” will never permit such association ... It is obvious that they will never agree to let it be “put into effect.” Only blind liberals can fail to see this. It is a useful thing to organise legally functioning trade unions, as long as we are aware that under present conditions they cannot become either broad, or “political,” or stable. But it is an empty and harmful occupation to preach liberal concepts of a political workers’ association that exclude any idea of the use of force. [16]

In March 1912, he repeated the argument.

Obviously, under the political conditions prevailing in Russia, where even the party of the liberals, the Cadets, has no legal status, the formation of an open Social Democratic working-class party can only remain wishful thinking. The Liquidators repudiated the illegal party, but did not fulfill their obligation to found a legal party. [17]

Some time later, he was asking: Where is the Congress?

For more than a year we have been telling the Liquidators: Stop talking and start founding your “legal political societies,” such as the “society for the defence of working-class interests,” and so on. Stop phrase-mongering and get down to work!

But they cannot get down to work because it is impossible to realise a liberal utopia in present-day Russia. [18]

Against the idea of a legal Labour Congress, Lenin put forward the supremacy of the illegal party.

1. The only correct type of organisational structure in the present period is an illegal party as the sum total of party nuclei surrounded by a network of legal and semi-legal workers’ associations.

2. It is absolutely obligatory to adapt the organisational form of illegal building to local conditions. A variety of forms of cover for illegal nuclei and the greatest possible flexibility in adapting forms of work to local and general living conditions guarantee the vitality of the illegal organisation.

3. The chief immediate task in the field of organisational work at the present time is to establish in all factories purely party illegal committees consisting of the most active elements among the workers. The tremendous upswing of the working-class movement creates conditions in which factory party committees can be restored and the existing ones strengthened in the vast majority of localities.

4. ... It has now become essential in every centre to form a single leading organisation out of the disconnected local groups. [19]

Of course revolutionary socialists should fight for “freedom of association,” but this should be part and parcel of the struggle to overthrow Tsarism. Not to point out the direct connection between the partial reform and the revolutionary overthrow of Tsarism is to cheat the workers, to fall into liberalism.

It is highly important to point out that freedom of the press, association, assembly and strikes is absolutely indispensable to the workers, but that it is precisely in order to bring it about that we must realise the inseparable connection between it and the general foundations of political liberty, a radical change in the entire political system. Not the liberal utopia of freedom of association under the June 3 regime, but a struggle for freedom in general, and for freedom of association in particular, against this regime all along the line, against the foundations of this regime. [20]

The workers demand freedom of association in earnest and therefore they are fighting for freedom for the whole people, for the overthrow of the monarchy, for a republic. [21]

Conditions during the period of reaction made the idea of concentrating completely on legal work a very attractive one. Hundreds of intellectuals transferred all their activities into various legal organisations – co-operatives, trade unions, educational societies, advisory committees for the Duma group, and so on.

The Liquidators were in the forefront during the most desolate years. “They suffered less from police persecution,” writes Olminsky. “They had many of the writers, a good part of the lecturers and on the whole most of the intellectuals. They were cocks of the walk and they crowed about it.” The attempts of the Bolshevik faction, whose ranks were thinning every hour to preserve its illegal machine were dashed at each turn against hostile circumstances. Bolshevism seemed definitely doomed. “All of present-day development,” wrote Martov, “renders the formation of any kind of durable party-sect a pathetic reactionary utopia.” [22]

Lenin identified Liquidators as intellectuals who ran away from the underground.

The flight of some people from the underground could have been the result of their fatigue and dispiritedness. Such individuals may only be pitied; they should be helped because their dispiritedness will pass and there will again appear an urge to get away from philistinism, away from the liberals and the liberal-labour policy, to the working-class underground. But when the fatigued and dispirited use journalism as their platform and announce that their flight is not a manifestation of fatigue, or weakness, or intellectual woolliness, but that it is to their credit, and then put the blame on the “ineffective,” “worthless,” “moribund,” etc., underground, these runaways then become disgusting renegades, apostates. These runaways then become the worst advisers for the working-class movement and therefore its dangerous enemies. [23]

By no means all the Mensheviks were Liquidators. However, on the whole, the Mensheviks at least tolerated them. While Martov and Dan did not support them, they defended them from Bolshevist attack in their journal Golos Sotsialdemokrata, published in Paris. At the same time, these two were actively collaborating in the legal press published by the Liquidators.



The Issue of “Expropriations”

With the decline of the revolution, the question of where to get funds for the party became more and more pressing. Even during 1905, the Bolshevik apparatus was very modest. In her memoirs, Krupskaya relates that because of the pressure of work, another secretary, Mikhail Sergeyevich Weinstein, was engaged, and also an assistant secretary, Vera Rudolfovna Menzhinskaya.

Mikhail Sergeyevich was engaged more on the military organisation, and was always busy carrying out the instructions of Nikitin (L.B. Krassin). I was in charge of appointments and communication with committees and individuals. It would be difficult to picture now what a simplified technique the CC secretariat made shift with. I remember that we never attended CC meetings, no one was “in charge” of us, no minutes were taken, ciphered addresses were kept in matchboxes, inside book-bindings, and in similar places.

We had to trust to our memories. A whole heap of people besieged us, and we had to look after them in every way, supplying them with whatever they wanted; literature, passports, instructions, advice. It is now difficult to imagine how we ever managed to cope with it all, and how we kept things in order, being controlled by nobody, and living “of our own free will”. [24]

And this three-person secretariat was serving a party that in 1907 had 46,143 members!

The party full-timers were paid a pittance. “Those members of the party who gave their entire time to the party work got very small remuneration, sometimes as low as 3, 5, or 10 roubles, and never exceeding 30 roubles per month.” [25] By comparison, the average wage in 1903-05 was 28 roubles.

However modest the party apparatus, and however low the wages paid to full-time workers, money was always a problem. During the revolution, this problem was largely solved by the donations of rich sympathisers. For instance, in the Moscow Bolshevik organisation, which had about 1,000 members in the spring of 1905,

The accounts of the Committee for June 1905 show that it had a total income of 9,891r. 1,013r being brought forward ... The income includes several very large sums, 4,000r from a “friend,” and one of 3,000r “for arms.” It is known that there were many rich sympathisers with the Bolshevik cause, including A.M. Gorky and the son of a factory owner ... The other individual subscriptions amounted only to 1,378r. [26]

In October, the large contributions from rich sympathisers increased: There were two of 4,000 roubles and 8,400 roubles from “friends”. [27]

Martov reported the same situation among the Mensheviks. During the revolutionary period,

the budgets of the party organisation had increased enormously ... Membership subscriptions played only a very small part in this. The treasurer’s report from the party committee in Baku shows for February 1905, from an intake of 1382.8 roubles, only 38.9 roubles or 3 per cent were subscriptions from workers. In a report from the Riga party branch for August only 143.4 roubles out of 558.7 or 22 per cent came from workers’ subscriptions. In a report from the Sebastopol committee 14 per cent came from members’ subscriptions; in the reports from the Mariupol branch 33 per cent, etc. We find that the highest percentage from membership subscriptions came from the Russian Social Democratic branch of Ivanovo-Voznesensk, where membership subscriptions made up 53 per cent of the total intake. [28]

One of the most important “angels” was A.M. Kalmykova (called “Aunty”), who gave the original funds necessary to launch Iskra. She was a rich bookseller and publisher, a leading distributor of cheap popular books and progressive literature, and a close friend of Krupskaya. Another was the big textile magnate Morozov, who regularly donated 2,000 roubles a month to the Bolsheviks via the engineer Krasin. (Morozov committed suicide after the defeat of the 1905 Revolution.) His nephew, N.P. Schmidt, to whom we shall refer below, was also a major contributor.

With the assault of reaction, practically all the rich sympathisers deserted the party. Lenin’s golden touch in raising funds failed more and more frequently. Krupskaya, who acted not only as secretary of the Bolsheviks but also as their national treasurer, again and again complained about the lack of money. For Lenin, salus revolutionis suprema lex. If need be, revolutionaries must crawl, even through the mud, onwards towards their goal. He was not impressed by a fastidiousness in obtaining funds. The case of the Schmidt inheritance provides an example of his attitude.

Young Nikolai Pavlovich Schmidt, a nephew of the textile magnate Morozov and owner of a furniture factory in the Presnya district of Moscow, came over to the side of the workers in 1905 and joined the Bolsheviks. He provided the money to found Novaya Zhizn and also provided money for the purpose of procuring arms. He became intimate with the workers and was one of their best friends. The police called Schmidt’s factory a “devil’s nest”. The factory played an important part during the Moscow uprising. Nikolai Pavlovich was arrested. In prison he was subjected to every kind of torture. The police took him to see what had been done to his factory; they took him to see the murdered workers and finally they murdered him in prison. Before he died, he succeeded in informing his friends outside that he was leaving his property to the Bolsheviks.

Elisaveta Pavlovna Schmidt, Nikolai Pavlovich’s younger sister, inherited part of her brother’s estate, and she, too, decided to give it to the Bolsheviks. But she was not yet of age and in order that she might dispose of her money as she wished, it was decided to arrange a fictitious marriage. Elisaveta Pavlovna went through a form of marriage with Comrade Ignatyev, a member of the fighting detachment who managed to retain his legality, and being his wife officially, she was able, with the consent of her husband, to do what she liked with her legacy. But the marriage was really a fictitious one. Elisaveta Pavlovna was actually the wife of another Bolshevik, Victor Taratuta. The official marriage enabled her to obtain the legacy immediately and the money was handed over to the Bolsheviks. [29]

Even so, the finances of the Bolsheviks were still in great straits. Lenin decided to use “expropriations” (“exes”) – armed robbery of banks and other institutions – to raise funds for the party. After a number of “exes” the Mensheviks raised an outcry. Trotsky criticised Lenin sharply in the German Social Democratic press. Even many of the Bolsheviks did not like the enterprise. At the Stockholm Party Congress (1906) a majority of 64 votes to 4, with 20 abstentions, supported a Menshevik resolution forbidding “exes”. This meant that Bolshevik delegates had voted with the Mensheviks.

In his extensive report on the Stockholm Congress, Lenin avoided any mention of the resolution concerning armed acts, on the grounds that he was not present during the discussion. “Besides, it is, of course, not a question of principle.” It is hardly likely that Lenin’s absence was accidental; he simply did not want to have his hands tied.

At the London Congress of May 1907, where Lenin had his own way on practically every other issue, an overwhelming vote was passed against “exes”. A majority of the Bolsheviks voted with the Mensheviks, and when delegates shouted from the floor, “What does Lenin say? We want to hear Lenin,” he took advantage of his place in the chair to avoid registering his vote – he only chuckled “with a somewhat cryptic expression”. [30]

In his report on this Congress, to which he was a delegate, Stalin tried to explain away the resolution in the following lame terms:

Of the Menshevik resolutions only the one on guerilla actions was carried, and that by sheer accident: on that point the Bolsheviks did not accept battle, or rather, they did not wish to fight the issue to a conclusion, purely out of the desire to “give the Menshevik comrades at least one opportunity to rejoice”.

In actual fact, the Bolsheviks “did not accept battle” only because on that question they had ranged against them not only the Mensheviks, but also the Poles and the Bund, as well as many members of the Bolshevik faction itself.

On June 23, six weeks after the London Congress, and in spite of its resolution, Lenin’s agents carried out the most audacious expropriation ever – that of the Tiflis treasury. This raid yielded 341,000 roubles, which were duly transferred to the Bolshevik treasury abroad. However, as the proceeds consisted of banknotes of very large denominations, it was not easy to exchange them in foreign banks, which had been warned to expect the attempts to do so. Several important Bolsheviks, including the future commissar of foreign affairs, Litvinov, were arrested in Western Europe when they tried to exchange the money.

Both Trotsky and Martov strongly denounced the Bolsheviks at the London Congress, and some time later went so far as to carry their denunciation into the columns of the Western European socialist press.

It is probable that Stalin’s role as a careful but audacious organiser of “exes”, including the Tiflis one, was what brought him to Lenin’s attention. Among the comrades involved in “exes” were some of the finest Bolsheviks. One need but think of Kamo (Semyon Arshakovich Ter-Petrosian) who carried out the raids at Tiflis and a number of other places. He allowed himself and a member of his band exactly 50 kopeks a day for maintenance. Among his exploits were a number of “exes”, a daring escape from Tiflis prison, and the smuggling of guns to Russia. He feigned insanity so successfully in a German prison that, despite tortures of various kinds, he convinced his gaolers, and was transferred back to Tiflis. He escaped, got caught, and was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.



Split, Split, Split

After the Unity Congress at Stockholm, the quarrel over the Duma elections came to a head in Petersburg. When the time came to nominate the deputies for Petersburg, the Leninists, in secure control of the city, got their candidates adopted. However, 31 Menshevik delegates, obeying the instructions of the Menshevik-controlled Central Committee, walked out of the city conference, and held a special provincial conference that decided on an alliance with the Cadets.

Lenin immediately issued a pamphlet accusing the seceders of complicity with the Cadets, “for the purpose of selling the vote of the workers” and “bargaining to get their men into the Duma in spite of the workers and with the aid of the Cadets.” This was not merely a charge against the seceders but also against the Central Committee of the party. It was really a case of open violation of party discipline on Lenin’s part. He found himself before a party court, charged with “conduct impermissible in a party member.” He was allowed to nominate three judges, while the Central Committee appointed another three, and the Lettish, Polish, and Jewish Bund organisations one each.

The trial itself is not now of great interest, as it was interrupted by a party congress that overturned the Menshevik majority and put Lenin in control. But Lenin’s behavior at the trial is very interesting, because it shows the relentless way in which he conducted a faction fight against the right wing of the party.

As the trial opened, Lenin calmly acknowledged that he used “language impermissible in relations between comrades in the same party” [31], but he made absolutely no apology for doing so. Indeed, in fighting the Liquidationists and their allies in the movement, he never hesitated to use the sharpest weapons he could lay his hands on. Moderation is not a characteristic of Bolshevism.



Lenin Proposes a Rapprochement with Plekhanov

Although he was absolutely relentless, Lenin never bore grudges. The moment he saw a move by any of his political opponents toward rapprochement he would move to meet them. A case in point concerned Plekhanov.

In 1908-09, Lenin saw a chance of reconstructing the party by sacrificing the ultra-leftist and attracting the anti-Liquidationist elements among the Mensheviks, that is, those who had not abandoned the idea of building up underground organisations. The leader of this group was Plekhanov.

In December 1908, Plekhanov left the editorial board of the Liquidationist newspaper Golos Sotsialdemokrata. At the same time, he resigned from the editorial board of the five-volume work The Social Movement in Russia, now edited by Martov, Maslov, and Potresov. He wrote angrily attacking this symposium in Dnevnik (no.9, 1909), singling out for particular criticism an article by Potresov, who argued the case for the Liquidators thus:

I ask the reader ... whether it is possible that there can exist, in this year of 1909, as something that is actually real and not a figment of a diseased imagination, a Liquidationist tendency, a tendency to liquidate what is already beyond liquidations and actually no longer exists as an organised whole.

Plekhanov retorted:

There is no doubt however, that a man for whom our party does not exist, does not himself exist for our party. [Plekhanov’s italics] Now all the members of the party will have to say that Mr. Potresov is no comrade of theirs, and some of them, will, perhaps, stop accusing me on the score that I have long since ceased to regard him as such. [32]

“Potresov lost the ability to look at social life through the eyes of a revolutionary.” Liquidationism, says Plekhanov, leads to the “slough of the most disgraceful opportunism.” “Among [the Liquidators] new wine is converted into a very sour liquid suitable only for preparing petty-bourgeois vinegar.” Liquidationism “facilitates the penetration of petty-bourgeois tendencies in a proletarian environment”. “I have repeatedly tried to prove to influential Menshevik comrades that they are making a great mistake in displaying at times their readiness to go hand-in-hand with gentlemen who to a greater or lesser extent are redolent of opportunism.” “Liquidationism leads straight to the muddy slough of opportunism and petty-bourgeois aspirations hostile to Social Democracy.” [33]

After this declaration. Lenin proposed a reconciliation with Plekhanov. In November 1909, he called for

a rapprochement of pro-party members of all factions and sections of the party, above all a rapprochement between the Bolsheviks and the pro-party Mensheviks, and with the Mensheviks of the type of the Vyborg comrades in St. Petersburg and the Plekhanovites abroad ... We issue a call to all Mensheviks capable of openly combating Liquidationism, of openly supporting Plekhanov, and, of course, to all Menshevik workers above all. [34]

In practice, very little came of Lenin’s effort to cooperate with Plekhanov; the basic differences between them were too radical. The fact that in 1905, Plekhanov was on the extreme right wing of the Mensheviks, that he had opposed the December uprising because it would frighten the liberals, and that he called for tactfulness toward the Cadets limited too severely the scope of this experiment in co-operation.



Lenin Fights Against the Conciliators

Lenin fought to overcome ultra-leftism in the Bolshevik faction and carried on a struggle against the Menshevik Liquidators. But no sooner had he expelled the Vperyodist Bolsheviks than a new source of opposition arose within the Bolshevik faction: the Conciliators or, as they called themselves, the “Party Bolsheviks”. The RSDLP was in tatters, and so exhausted that its members were calling for simple unity, a reconciliation between Bolshevism and Menshevism, and an end to all factionalism.

Meanwhile, Lenin was beginning to lose support within the faction, as many leading Bolsheviks supported the call for a united party. The Conciliators included several who had been elected as members or candidates of the Central Committee at the fifth Congress, notably A.I. Rykov, V.P. Nogin, I.F. Dubrovinsky, S.A. Lozovsky and G.Y. Sokolnikov. [35]

In these circumstances, the Menshevik leaders were able to call together a Plenum of the CC in Paris at the beginning of January 1910. Lenin, who was opposed to the meeting, was on this occasion in a minority, not only in the party as a whole, but within his own faction. The only prominent Bolshevik supporting him against conciliation was Zinoviev. (From that time on, Zinoviev was Lenin’s closest associate, completely trusted, until the events of 1917 put him to a severe test.)

For three long weeks, Lenin was badly hammered. He was forced to agree to turn over the Schmidt money. He had to liquidate his faction paper, Proletary, and agree to a common paper with the Mensheviks – Sotsial-Demokrat – with two Bolsheviks, Lenin and Zinoviev, joining the Mensheviks Martov and Dan, and a representative of Polish Social Democracy, Varsky, on the editorial board. Trotsky’s Vienna paper, Pravda, was declared an official party organ (Kamenev was dispatched to assist him in editing it) and the Central Committee was instructed to give it financial support. To add insult to injury, while the Plenum condemned the Liquidators in words, it at the same time invited them to participate in the life of the party, and to name three of their number for the underground Central Committee.

Trotsky went so far as to hail the results of the Paris Plenum as “the greatest event in the history of Russian Social Democracy”. [36] Lenin’s attitude is clear from a letter he wrote to Gorky on 11 April 1910.

At the CC Plenum (the “long plenum” – three weeks of agony, all nerves were on edge, the devil to pay!) ... a mood of “conciliation in general” (without any clear idea with whom, for what, and how); hatred of the Bolshevik Center for its implacable ideological struggle; squabbling on the part of the Mensheviks, who were spoiling for a fight, and as a result – an infant covered with blisters.

And so we have to suffer. Either – at best – we cut open the blisters, let out the pus, and cure and rear the infant.

Or, at worst – the infant dies. Then we shall be childless for a while (that is, we shall re-establish the Bolshevik faction) and then give birth to a more healthy infant. [37]

However, the “unity” never became operational, not so much because of Bolshevik intransigence, but because the Mensheviks were not ready to carry out their part of the bargain. The January 1910 Plenum committed the Bolsheviks to have no dealings with the boycottists and the Mensheviks to sever their connections with the Liquidators. Lenin was easily able to carry out his part of the instruction, as he had already expelled Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, and the other boycottists from the Bolshevik camp. However, the Mensheviks found it impossible to fulfil their obligation. The Liquidators’ attitude was far too prevalent in their ranks. If they had expelled the Liquidators, they would have completely destroyed the Menshevik group, and this would have helped the Bolsheviks toward victory in the movement. Martov made it clear a little later that he had not ever intended to carry out this commitment and that he had agreed to the “unity” in the Plenum only because the Mensheviks were too weak to risk an immediate break. [38]

The final blow was dealt to the scheme when the three Liquidators invited to join the Central Committee flatly refused to have anything to do with the underground organisation. When the Bolshevik “Conciliators”, who had a majority in Russia, proposed further negotiations with other Liquidator leaders, Lenin ignored them. When Martov and Dan tried to put their views to Sotsial-Demokrat, the paper they were supposed to be editing jointly with Lenin and Zinoviev, they were prevented from doing so. (Varsky voted with Lenin and Zinoviev on the editorial board.)

Trotsky’s Pravda also failed to serve as the paper of a united party. When his attempt at reconciliation broke down because – as he himself stated – the Mensheviks refused to disband their faction and get rid of the Liquidators, Trotsky did not condemn them but “suspended judgement”. [39] Kamenev could not persuade him to take a firmer attitude.

Another factor intervened against the unity of the RSDLP – the Tsarist secret police. Initially the main spokesman of the Conciliators was I.F. Dubrovinsky, but he was soon arrested and driven to suicide in Siberian exile. [40] His place as leading Conciliator on the Central Committee was t en by Aleksei Rykov. When Rykov went to Russia to organise the Bolsheviks against Lenin’s splitting tactics, the police picked him up in the street immediately after his arrival, before he could reach any of the Bolsheviks in the underground. The okhrana knew very well, from their key man, Malinovsky, where everybody in the Bolshevik leadership stood politically, and how to set about finding them. “The Russian police at that time had a particular interest in supporting the Bolsheviks who stood for disunity. In order to prevent a united and therefore more dangerous Social Democracy, okhrana instructions were to concentrate on the arrest of the Conciliators.” [41]

The Mensheviks were infuriated by the fact that Lenin’s splitting policy coincided with that of the okhrana. The okhrana hoped that the split in Social Democracy would weaken the labour movement; Lenin reckoned that it would steel the workers’ revolutionary leadership. History has given its verdict; the secret police plot did not bear the hoped-for fruit. [1*]

Who was using whom? This question was to arise again when Field Marshal Ludendorff, in order to weaken Russia’s war effort and to divide Germany’s enemies, allowed Lenin to return to Russia through Germany in the “sealed train” in 1917.



Lenin’s Victory Over the Conciliators

Lenin called a conference in Prague in January 1912, from which the Liquidators were forcibly excluded. The Polish and Latvian national parties, the Jewish Bund, Vperyod, Trotsky and Plekhanov all refused to participate. The 14 voting delegates (of whom two were police agents) represented 10 party committees in Russia. This conference elected a new Central Committee made up of “hards,” seven in all – Lenin, Zinoviev, Ordzhonikidze, Goloshekin, Spandarian, Schwartzman, and Roman Malinovsky (the police agent). Shortly afterwards, the Committee co-opted two further members, I.V. Dzhugashvili (Stalin) and I.S. Belostotsky. Five members were dispatched to work inside Russia, including three Caucasians: Ordzhonikidze, Spandarian, and Stalin.

Trotsky had not abandoned his idée fixe of unity among all the Social Democratic groups, and in response to Lenin’s Prague conference, he persuaded the Mensheviks associated with the Organisation Committee to convene a conference of all Social Democrats in Vienna in August 1912. He hoped that, as in 1905, the rise in the revolutionary mood in Russia would bring about appeasement between the different trends of Social Democracy. He wrote, “it is ridiculous and absurd to affirm that there is an irreconcilable contradiction between the political tendencies of Luch and Pravda.” “Our historic factions, Bolshevism and Menshevism, are purely intellectualist formations in origin.” [2*]

However, he was disastrously wrong: The cleavage that had crystallised over the years between Bolshevism and Menshevism was too deep to be overcome, and the new political awakening could only deepen it further. Lenin was now reaping the fruits of his long labours. His followers led the underground, while the Mensheviks were a collection of loose, divided grouplets. The Bolsheviks refused to participate in the Vienna conference. The Mensheviks, the ultra-left former Bolsheviks (Vperyodists), the Jewish Bund, and Trotsky’s group came together and founded a confederation known as the August Bloc. Trotsky was its chief spokesman, persistently attacking Lenin for “splitting tactics.” This confederation began to fall apart almost as soon as it came together.

After the Prague conference, in February 1912, Lenin decided to launch a legal daily paper. To Trotsky’s indignation, he appropriated the title Pravda. The first issue of the Bolshevik Pravda appeared on 22 April, and it was published until the outbreak of the war, playing a central role in building the Bolshevik Party. Plekhanov was for a time a regular contributor. Bogdanov and the rest of the Vperyod group were also invited to contribute, but, with the exception of Alexinsky, they did not continue this connection long. The questions of “Ultimatism”, Otzovism, and even Machism had by this time lost their immediate importance. Lenin was very happy to have Plekhanov and Alexinsky writing for Pravda.

He found that, even among the “hards,” he had to continue the battle against conciliation with the Mensheviks and the Liquidators. For three months, the word “Liquidator” was even expunged from Pravda’s vocabulary. “That is why Vladimir Ilyich was so upset when Pravda at first deliberately struck out from his articles all his arguments in opposition to the Liquidators. He wrote angry letters to Pravda protesting against this.” [43] “Sometimes, although rarely, Ilyich’s articles would get lost. Sometimes his articles would be held up and printed only after some delay. This irritated Ilyich and he wrote angry letters to Pravda, but that did not improve matters.” [44]

In a letter to V.M. Molotov, the secretary of the Pravda editorial board, on August 1, 1912, Lenin wrote,

You write, and as secretary, evidently, on behalf of the editorial board; that “the editorial board in principle considers my article fully acceptable including the attitude to the Liquidators.” If that is so, why then does Pravda stubbornly and systematically cut out any mention of the Liquidators, both in my articles and in the articles of other colleagues? [45]

On 25 January 1913, he wrote to the Bolshevik deputies in the Duma:

... we have received a stupid and insolent letter from the editors. We are not replying. They should be kicked out ... The absence of news about the plan for reorganising the editorial board is causing us great concern ... Reorganisation, or better still the complete expulsion of all the old ones, is absolutely essential. Absurdly conducted. They lavish praise on the Bund and Zeit: it’s simply disgusting. They can’t take the right line against Luch. Disgraceful the way they handle articles ... Simply exasperating ... We are waiting impatiently for news about all this. [46]

But the editorial board continued to provide cause for concern. On February 9, Lenin wrote to Sverdlov,

The use made of Pravda for keeping the class-conscious workers informed and reporting their work (the Petersburg Committee particularly) is beneath all criticism. You must put an end to the so-called autonomy of these editorial failures. You must set about it before all else ... Take the editorial board into your own hands ... If this is well organised, there will also be a revival in the Petersburg Committee which is ridiculously inept, incapable of saying a word, lets every occasion for a statement go by. And it ought to be making a statement almost daily in legal form (in the name of influential workers, etc.) and at least once or twice a month illegally. Once again, the key to the whole situation is Pravda. Here it is possible to conquer, and then (only then) organise the local work as well. Otherwise everything will collapse. [47]

The Central Committee sent Sverdlov to Petersburg to reorganise the editorial board. [48] Lenin wrote to him on 9 February 1913, “Today we learned about the beginning of reforms on Pravda. A thousand greetings, congratulations and wishes for success ... You cannot imagine how tired we are of working with an utterly hostile editorial staff.”

Things were arranged more or less in the way Lenin wanted. A joint meeting of the Russian Bureau of the Central Committee and the Pravda editorial board arrived at a compromise solution: Three members of the existing board were to remain as editors, and, in addition, Sverdlov, although not on the board, was to have the right to vote and to censor all articles in the paper. This compromise did not last long, as Sverdlov was arrested less than three weeks later.

The new board, apparently cured of its leanings toward the Liquidators, at first worked amicably enough with Lenin. However, toward the end of May, another row blew up, this time because Pravda was moving in the other direction – toward co-operation with the Otzovists. On May 26, it published a declaration by the Otzovist leader, Bogdanov, in which he tried to clarify his group’s attitude to the Duma faction. When Lenin received a copy of Pravda, he was furious, and wrote a letter to the editorial board.

The action of the editors in respect of Mr. Bogdanov’s distortion of party history is so scandalous that, to tell the truth, one does not know whether it is possible after this to remain a contributor ...

I demand categorically that the enclosed article be printed in full. I have always permitted the editors to make changes in a comradely manner, but after Mr. Bogdanov’s letter I do not grant any right to alter or do anything else of that kind with this article ...

I insist on an immediate reply. I cannot continue to contribute articles in face of Mr. Bogdanov’s despicable line.

They sent the article back to him, finding it too strong, but he agreed to make only one change – to drop the word “Mr.” (gospodin) in front of Bogdanov’s name. The editorial board refused to publish – and the article was suppressed until 1939. [49]

Lenin then wrote to Kamenev asking him to apply some pressure on Pravda and, in January 1914, sent him into Russia to take over the editorship. Once again, good relations were resumed – although the Bogdanov affair was not completely over, for as late as February 1914, Lenin was still receiving reports of dissatisfaction in the Russian party over his treatment of Bogdanov. [50] Under Kamenev’s editorship, Pravda and Lenin remained on good terms until the paper was closed in July 1914. Its closure averted another crisis, as the war was to divide Lenin and Kamenev very sharply on the key question of the correct attitude to the war.

Conciliation also affected the Bolshevik group of Duma deputies. The six deputies in the fourth Duma, holding office for nearly a year, between December 1912 and September 1913, did not see eye to eye with Lenin. The first thing they did after their election was to make an agreement with the Menshevik deputies to contribute both to Pravda and to the Liquidators’ Luch. In a special resolution published in Pravda, the united faction acknowledged that “the unity of Social Democracy is a pressing need,” expressed itself in favour of merging Pravda with Luch, and as a step in this direction recommended that all its members become contributors to both newspapers. On December 18, Luch triumphantly published the names of four of the Bolshevik deputies (two having declined) in its list of contributors. The names of the seven members of the Menshevik faction appeared simultaneously on the Pravda masthead. [51]

At a meeting in Cracow later in December, Lenin insisted that the Bolshevik deputies should withdraw from their agreement to contribute to Luch, and the deputies made an appropriate announcement when the Duma reconvened at the end of January. However, the Cracow meeting also insisted that they should demand parity with the Menshevik group, which outnumbered them by one and thus outvoted them in the Social Democratic faction. The Duma group was hesitant about the reorganisation of Pravda aimed at ending its Conciliationist leanings. Six months later, in June 1913, Lenin wrote urging them once again to demand parity with the Mensheviks, and proposing that they split if this was refused. [52] No action was evidently taken by the deputies, and at the Poronin Conference in September, the issue was again stated in more or less the same terms. [53] This was a joint conference of the Central Committee and party officials, including the Duma deputies. After this, the deputies made the demand, they were defeated, and the faction split. This finally ended the fraternal relations between Bolshevik and Menshevik Duma deputies.

Malinovsky played an important role – actually a dual role – in splitting the Bolsheviks from the Mensheviks. The gendarme General Spiridovich wrote, “Malinovsky, carrying out the directives of Lenin and of the Police Department, achieved in October 1913 ... the final quarrel between the ‘seven’ and the ‘six’.” [54]

The fact that it took Lenin nearly a year to persuade the Bolshevik deputies to break away from the Mensheviks gives a very different picture from the commonly accepted one of Bolshevism as a totalitarian organisation under his dictatorship. In fact, Lenin had to fight again and again to convince his own members, one might even say, to colonise his own party.




1*. Lenin had no idea that Malinovsky was an agent of the okhrana. Again and again, he praised him very highly and was vehement in defending him against the “slanders” of Martov.

What did Nasha Rabochaya Gazeta do? It spread insidious rumours and insinuations to the effect that Malinovsky is an agent provocateur. But then these intellectual gossips are past masters of the art of scandal-mongering, of going to or from Martov (or other filthy slanderers like him) and encouraging insidious rumours, or picking up and passing on insinuations! Whoever has been but once in the company of these scandal-mongering intellectualist gossips will certainly (unless he is a gossip himself) retain for the rest of his life disgust for these despicable creatures.

Not a shadow of belief in the “rumours” circulated by Martov and Dan; a firm determination to ignore them, to attach no importance to them. [42]

2*. How little Trotsky, prior to 1917, understood the role of the party in the revolution and the place of Bolshevism in history is clear above all from his book 1905. In the whole of this book neither the Bolsheviks nor Lenin receive a single mention. This failure explains why Trotsky’s epigones never published this very interesting work by the leader of the St. Petersburg Soviet, although far less important writings of his have been published again and again. Hardly a reference to 1905 can be found in the epigones’ press.




1. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.10, pp.323-4.

2. ibid., p.369.

3. ibid., vol.11, pp.57-8.

4. ibid., p.320.

5. ibid., vol.16, pp.242-3.

6. ibid., vol.17, p.164.

7. Martov, On Liquidationism, Golos sotsialdemokrata, August-September 1909; Getzler, op. cit., p.125.

8. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.16, p.158.

9. ibid.

10. ibid., p.153.

11. ibid., vol.15, pp.432-3.

12. ibid., vol.12, p.390.

13. Zhivala zhizn, 25 July 1913; ibid., vol.19, pp.44-5.

14. N. R-kov, The Present Situation in Russia and the Main Tasks of the Working-Class Movement at the Present Moment, Nasha Zariia, nos.9-10; ibid., vol.17, p.322.

15. ibid., vol.17, p.323.

16. ibid., pp.357-8.

17. ibid., p.540.

18. ibid., vol.18, p.395.

19. ibid., pp.458-9.

20. ibid., pp.417-8.

21. ibid., p.243.

22. Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., p.111.

23. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.19, p.398.

24. Krupskaya, op. cit., pp.127-8.

25. E. Yaroslavsky, History of the Communist Party, Moscow 1927, vol.5, p.15.

26. Lane, op. cit., p.108.

27. ibid.

28. Martow, Geschichte der russischen Sotzialdemokratie, op. cit., p.33.

29. Krupskaya, op. cit., pp.16l-2.

30. Trotsky, My Life, op. cit., p.218.

31. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.12, pp.424-5.

32. ibid., vol.17, pp.493-4.

33. ibid., vol.16, pp.19-20.

34. ibid., p.101.

35. Zinoviev, op. cit., p.162.

36. Pravda, Vienna, February 12, 1910; Getzler, op. cit., p.32.

37. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.34, p.420.

38. Martov, Spasiteli ili uprazdniteli? Paris 1911, p.16.

39. Pravda, Vienna, no.12, in I. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, London 1954, p.195.

40. Zinoviev, op. cit., pp.244-5.

41. M.A. Tsialovsky, ed., Bolsheviki, Dokumenty po istorii bolshevizma 1903 po 1916 god bivshago moskovskago okhrannago otdeleniia, Moscow 1918, pp.48ff, in O.H. Gankin and H.H. Fisher, The Bolsheviks and the World War, Stamford University Press 1940, p.106.

42. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.20, pp.475-6.

43. Krupskaya, op. cit., p.209.

44. ibid., p.226.

45. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.35, p.47.

46. ibid., vol.43, p.335.

47. ibid., vol.35, p.79.

48. A footnote in Lenin, Sochineniia, 3rd edition, vol.16, p.696, quoted in Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., p.48.

49. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.43, p.356.

50. ibid., pp.385-7.

51. Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., p.144.

52. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.35, pp.101-2.

53. See ibid., vol.19, pp.425-6.

54. Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., p.160.


Last updated on 10.12.2003