It was originally intended to hold the congress in Brussels, and in fact the first sittings were held there. Koltsov, an old Plekhanovite, lived in Brussels at the time, and he undertook to see to all the arrangements. As it turned out, however, it was not so easy to arrange the congress there. All the delegates were to have reported to Koltsov, but after four or five Russians had called on him his landlady told him that she would not stand any more of this coming and going, and if one more person called he would have to move out at once. Koltsov's wife after that stood on the street corner all day long, intercepting the delegates and directing them to the socialist hotel Cog d'Or as I believe it was called.
The delegates overran the whole hotel, and Gusev, after a drop of brandy, sang operatic arias in the evening in such a powerful voice that crowds collected at the windows outside. (Vladimir Ilyich liked Gusev's singing, especially the song We Were Wedded Out of Church.)
We overdid the secrecy precautions, though. The Belgian Party thought it would be safer to hold the congress in a vast flour warehouse. Our intrusion there only succeeded in astonishing the rats and the policemen. The word went round that Russian revolutionaries had got together to plot in secret.
The congress was attended by forty-three delegates with a deciding vote and fourteen with a deliberative vote. In comparison with present-day congresses, where the numerous delegates represent hundreds of thousands of Party members, this congress would seem a small one, but at that time we thought it big. The First Congress held in 1898 was attended by only nine persons. Everyone felt that considerable progress had been made in those five years. Most important of all, the organizations these delegates came from were no longer semi-mythical, they definitely existed and were already in touch with the working-class movement, which was beginning to spread ever wider.
How Vladimir Ilyich had dreamt of such a congress! He always, as long as he lived, attached tremendous importance to Party congresses. He held the Party congress to be the highest authority, where all things personal had to be cast aside, where nothing was to be concealed, and everything was to be open and above board. He always took great pains in preparing for Party congresses, and was particularly careful in thinking out his speeches.
Plekhanov looked forward to the congress just as eagerly as Vladimir Ilyich. He opened it. The big window of the flour warehouse near the improvised platform was covered with some red cloth. Everyone was excited. Plekhanov's speech, uttered with genuine deep feeling, sounded very Solemn. And no wonder! The long years of emigrant life seemed to be a thing of the past. He was opening the Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.
Strictly speaking, the Second Congress was an inaugural congress. Fundamental questions of theory were raised there, and the foundations of Party ideology were laid. At the First Congress only the Party's designation and a manifesto on its formation had been adopted. Up to the time of the Second Congress the Party had had no programme. The editorial board of Iskra had drafted such a programme, and it had been under discussion for a long time. Every word, every sentence had been motivated, and weighed, and hotly debated. Correspondence on the programme had been carried on for months between the Munich and Swiss sections of the editorial board. Many practical workers regarded these disputes to be of a purely abstract nature, and did not think it mattered whether a "more-or-less" proviso was left standing in the programme or not.
Vladimir Ilyich and I were once reminded of a simile used by Lev Tolstoi. He was going along and saw from afar a man squatting and waving his arms about in a ridiculous way; a madman, he thought, but when he drew nearer, he saw it to be a man sharpening a knife on the kerb. The same thing happens in theoretical disputes. From the outside it seems a sheer waste of time, but when you go into the matter more deeply you see that it is a momentous issue. It was like that with the programme.
When the delegates began to arrive in Geneva the chief question discussed with them in greatest detail was that of the programme. That question went through at the congress more smoothly than any other.
Another question of tremendous importance discussed at the Second Congress was that of the Bund. It had been resolved at the First Congress that the Bund constituted a section of the Party, albeit an autonomous one. During the five years that had elapsed since the First Congress the Party, practically speaking, had not existed as a united whole, and the Bund had led a separate existence. Now the Bund wanted to make good this separateness and to establish merely federative relations with the R.S.D.L.P. The motive behind this was that the Bund, reflecting as it did the mood of the artisans of the small Jewish towns, was much more interested in the economic than in the political struggle, and therefore sympathized much more with the "Economists" than with the Iskra-ists. The issue at stake was whether the country was to have a strong united workers' Party, rallying solidly around it the workers of all nationalities living on Russian territory, or whether it was to have several workers' parties constituted separately according to nationality. It was a question of achieving international solidarity within the country. The Iskra editorial board stood for international consolidation of the working class. The Bund stood for national separatism and merely friendly contractual relations between the national workers' parties of Russia.
The question of the Bund had also been discussed in detail with the delegates as they arrived, and was likewise decided on Iskra lines by an overwhelming majority.
The vast importance of the fundamental issues dealt with and decided at the Second Congress was later overshadowed for many by the split. During the debates on these questions Vladimir Ilyich felt more than usually I close to Plekhanov. The latter's speech to the effect that the thesis "the good of the revolution is the highest law" should be considered the basic democratic principle, and that even the idea of universal franchise should be regarded from the point of view of this principle, made a profound impression on Vladimir Ilyich. He recollected it fourteen years later, when the Bolsheviks were faced with the question of dismissing the Constituent Assembly.
Another speech of Plekhanov's that fell in with Vladimir Ilyich's ideas was that in which he spoke about the importance of popular education as being the "guarantee of the rights of the proletariat."
Plekhanov felt close to Lenin, too, at the congress.
Replying to Akimov, an ardent supporter of the Rabocheye Delo group, who was all out to create dissension between Plekhanov and Lenin, Plekhanov said humorously: "Napoleon had a craze for making his marshals divorce their wives. Some marshals submitted, although they loved their wives. Comrade Akimov reminds me of Napoleon in that respect – he wants to divorce me and Lenin at all costs. But I shall show more character than Napoleon's marshals – I shall not divorce Lenin and I hope he does not intend to divorce me." Vladimir Ilyich laughed and shook his head.
During the discussion of the first item on the agenda (the constitution of the congress) an unexpected incident occurred over the question of inviting a representative of the Borba (Struggle) group (Ryazanov, Nevzorov, Gurevich). The O.C. wanted to come forward with its own opinion. It was not a question of the Borba group at all; the O.C. was trying to impose a special discipline on its members in face of the congress. The O.C. wanted to act as a group, which had previously decided among themselves how they were going to vote, and to speak at the congress as a group. Thus the supreme authority for a member of the congress would be the group and not the congress itself. Vladimir Ilyich was fairly boiling with indignation. He was not the only one to support Pavlovich (Krasikov), when the latter protested against these tactics; he was backed by Martov, too, and others. Although the O.C. was dismissed by the congress, the incident was significant and augured all kinds of complications. The incident, however, was temporarily pushed into the background by such momentous issues as the Bund's place within the Party and the Party's programme. On the question of the Bund, the Iskra editorial board, the O.C. and the local delegates were of one mind. Yegorov (Levin), representative of Yuzhny Rabochy and member of the O.C. also came out emphatically against the Bund. Plekhanov complimented him during the recess, saying that his speech ought to be "spread wide through all the communes." The Bund was utterly defeated. The thesis that national peculiarities must not interfere with the unity of Party work and the monolithic unity of the Social-Democratic movement was securely established.
Meanwhile we were compelled to move to London. The Brussels police made things difficult for the delegates, and when they deported Zemlyachka and someone else, we all got moving. In London the Takhtarevs did all they could to make congress arrangements.'The London police raised no obstacles.
The discussion of the Bund question was continued. Then, while the question of the programme was in its committee stage, we passed to the fourth item of the agenda – the question of approving the central organ. Iskra was unanimously recognized as such, the Rabocheye Delo group alone being against. Iskra was hailed with enthusiasm. Even Popov (Rozanov), the representative of the O.C., said: "Here, at this congress, we see a united Party, created largely through the activity of Iskra." That was the tenth sitting. There were thirty-seven sittings in all. Clouds steadily began to gather. Three persons had to be elected to the Central Committee. No nucleus of a C.C. was yet available. One unquestionable candidature was Glebov (Noskov), who had proved himself to be an energetic organizer. Another would have been that of Clair (Krzhizhanovsky), had he been at the congress. But he was not. The voting for him and Kurz had to be done by proxy, which was extremely awkward. On the other hand, there were far too many "generals" at the congress who were candidates for the Central Committee. These were Jacques (Stein-Alexandrova), Fomin (Krokhmal), Stern (Kostya – Rosa Galberstadt), Popov (Rozanov) and Yegorov (Levin). All these were candidates for two seats on the C.C. trio. We all knew one another not only as Party workers, but in intimate personal life. It was all a tangle of personal sympathies and antipathies. The atmosphere grew tenser as the time for voting approached Although the accusations of the Bund and Rabocheye Delo about the foreign Centre wanting to control and dictate etc., had met with a solid rebuff at the outset, they had done their work by influencing the Centre and the waverers, although they may not have been aware of it. Of whose "control" were people afraid? Not of Martov's Zasulich's, Starover's and Axelrod's, of course. They were afraid of Lenin's and Plekhanov's control. But they knew that the questions of personnel and Russian work would be decided by Lenin, and not by Plekhanov, who took no part in the practical work.
The congress had endorsed the Iskra line, but the Iskra editorial board had still to be elected.
Vladimir Ilyich moved that the editorial board of Iskra should consist of three members. He had told Martov and Potresov about this proposal beforehand. Speaking with the delegates on their arrival, Martov had supported the idea of three editors as being the most expedient. He realized then that the three-man proposal was aimed chiefly against Plekhanov. When Vladimir Ilyich handed Plekhanov his draft proposal for an editorial board of three, Plekhanov had read it and put it in his pocket without saying a word. He understood what it was about, and agreed to it. Once there was a Party, practical work was necessary.
Martov mixed more with the members of the Organizing Committee than anyone else on Iskra. It did not take long to persuade him that the three-man idea was directed against him, and that if he joined it he would be betraying Zasulich, Potresov and Axelrod. Axelrod and Zasulich were greatly upset.
In such an atmosphere, the dispute over the first paragraph of the Rules assumed an extremely acrimonious character. Lenin and Martov disagreed both politically and organizationally on the question of Paragraph I of the party Rules. They had often disagreed before, but such differences had then been confined to narrow limits and had soon been sunk. Now they had come out at the congress, and everyone who had had a grudge against Iskra, against Plekhanov and Lenin, went out of his way to fan it up into a disagreement on a fundamental issue. Lenin was attacked for his article Where to Begin? and his pamphlet What Is To Be Done? and accused of being ambitious, and so on. In his booklet One Step Forward, Two Steps Back he wrote:
"I cannot help recalling in this connection a conversation I happened to have at the congress with one of the 'Centre' delegates.'How oppressive the atmosphere is at our congress!' he had complained. 'This bitter fighting, this agitation one against the other, this biting controversy, this uncomradely attitude...''What a splendid thing our congress is!' I replied.'A free and open struggle. Opinions have been stated. The shades have been brought out. The groups have taken shape. Hands have been raised. A decision has been taken. A stage has been passed. Forward! That's the stuff for me! That's life! That's not like the endless, tedious word-chopping of intellectuals which terminates not because the question has been settled, but because they are too tired to talk any more.... The comrade of the 'Centre' had looked at me with a puzzled expression and shrugged his shoulders. We were speaking in different tongues."
Here, in this quotation we have the whole of Ilyich.
His nerves had been keyed up from the very beginning Of the congress. The Belgian woman worker with whom we lodged in Brussels was very upset at Vladimir Ilyich not eating the lovely radishes and Dutch cheese which she Served up for breakfast every morning. He was too worried to be able to eat anything. In London he worried so much that he stopped sleeping altogether.
Vehement though he was in the debates, Vladimir Ilyich was absolutely impartial as chairman and neve, treated an opponent unfairly. Not so Plekhanov. When he was in the chair he liked to flash his wit and tease his opponent.
Although there were no differences among the overwhelming majority of the delegates on the question or the Bund's place in the Party, on the question of the programme, and the acceptance of the Iskra line as their banner, a definite rift made itself felt half-way through the congress, which deepened towards the end. Strictly , speaking, no serious differences standing in the way of joint work or making such work impossible had vet come to light at the congress. They existed in a latent form, however, potentially, so to speak. Yet the congress was clearly divided. Many were inclined to blame Plekhanov's tactlessness, Lenin's "vehemence" and "ambition," Pavlovich's pinpricks, and the unfair treatment of Zasulich and Axelrod – and they sided with those who had a grievance. They missed the substance through looking at personalities. Trotsky was one of them. He became a fierce opponent of Lenin. And the substance was this – that the comrades grouped around Lenin were far more seriously committed to principles, which they wanted to see applied at all cost and pervading all the practical work. The other group had more of the man-in-the-street mentality, were given to compromise and concessions in principle, and had more regard for persons.
The struggle during the elections was very sharp. One or two scenes before the voting started are still fresh in my memory. Axelrod accused Bauman (Sorokin) of all alleged lack of moral sense, and brought up some gossip about an incident supposed to have taken place in Siberian exile. Bauman said nothing, but there were tears in his eyes.
Another scene. Deutsch was angrily telling off Glebov (Noskov), who looked up with flashing eyes and said with annoyance: "I'd keep my mouth shut if I were you, old boy!"
The congress ended. Glebov, Clair and Kurz were elected to the Central Committee, twenty out of the forty-four votes being abstentions. Plekhanov, Lenin and Martov were elected to the Central Organ. Martov refused to work on the editorial board. The split was obvious.