V. I.   Lenin

The “Unity” Conference of R.S.D.L.P. Organisations Abroad

SEPTEMBER 21–22 (OCTOBER 4–5), 1901[2]

Published: See below.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961, Moscow, Volume 5, pages 223-230.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.



Speech Delivered on September 21 (October 4)



Let us begin with the point on which the success of the conference depends.

As a representative of Iskra I consider it necessary to touch on the history of our attitude to the other organisations. Iskra has been completely independent from its very inception, recognising only ideological connections with Russian Social-Democracy and functioning on instructions from many comrades in Russia. In its first issue Iskra declared that it would not deal with the organisational differences that had arisen in the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad[3] and attached the greatest importance to its position on matters of principle.[1]

Some members of the Union Abroad proposed that we hold a conference to come to an agreement with the organisations abroad. We understood the proposal to mean that a group in the Union was in agreement with our principles, which made it possible that the Union would also accept them. The revolutionary organisation Sotsial-Demokrat,[4] voiced agreement, notwithstanding considerable organisational differences, as well as differences on principle. The Union, unfortunately, refused to negotiate. When a new group of initiators[5] appeared, the Union consented to the negotiations. Since the Union had no distinct physiognomy and since a new trend towards revolutionary Marxism had manifested itself within it it was to be hoped that an agreement   on principle would be possible. Iskra and Sotsial-Demokrat again consented, and the Geneva Conference was held. At the beginning of our session Comrade Kruglov read the conference resolution without any comments. No one from the Union took the floor in opposition.

We affirm that in its tenth issue, Rabocheye Dyelo made a decisive break with the traditions of revolutionary Marxism and opposed the agreement on principles elaborated at the Geneva Conference, with whose tendencies the Union is apparently in agreement.

In view of this, my criticism will be directed against the editors of Rabocheye Dyelo, and not against the entire Union.

Let us compare the Geneva resolution with the articles in issue No. 10 of Rabocheye Dyelo.

The Geneva resolution astonishes one by its amazing detail and its stressing of points that are considered generally known.

Point 1 of the agreement on principles reads: “Accepting the basic principles of scientific socialism and acting in solidarity with international revolutionary Social-Democracy, we reject all attempts to introduce opportunism into the class struggle of the proletariat—attempts that find expression in so-called Economism, Bernsteinism, Millerandism,[6] etc.” Here there is an obvious allusion to something; obviously a struggle was taking place between opportunism and revolutionary Marxism. Whatever the contents of issue No. 10 of Rabocheye Dyelo may be, it cannot, in any event, destroy the historical fact that the Geneva Conference took place and that the resolution it adopted can serve as a basis for unification. In its third point, for instance, the Geneva resolution recognises that Social-Democracy should assume leadership in the struggle for democracy. Apparently there were previous differences of opinion on this point, too. In its effort to keep well away from opportunism, the resolution descends almost to the ridiculous. (See Point “e” in Paragraph 5.) It follows, therefore, that there were differences even on such elementary questions. Now let us compare that resolution with the articles in Rabocheye Dyelo (No. 10). Unfortunately I have had the articles at my disposal for three days only, not more than enough for a cursory examination.

These articles give a detailed explanation of the difference in our views; there are some just remarks addressed to Zarya and Iskra which we shall turn to account. But that is not what concerns us at the moment; we are concerned with the principles underlying the articles. The position on principle adopted by Rabocheye Dyelo (No. 10) contradicts the position adopted by the Union delegates at the Geneva Conference. It is impossible to reconcile these two positions. It is necessary to reveal the differences contained in them in order to know on what basis the Union takes its stand, in order to know whether it is possible to effect ideological unity, without which organisational unity would be meaningless; we have not sought and could not seek such unity. On pages 32 and 33 of issue No. 10 of Rabocheye Dyelo the author of the article demurs at the contraposing of Mountain and Gironde in international Social-Democracy.[7] Look but at the Geneva Conference—does it not represent a clash between the Mountain and the Gironde? Does not Iskra represent the Mountain? Did not Iskra in its very first editorial declare itself against organisational unity prior to the demarcation of ideological boundaries? In Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, it is stated that even the most rabid Bernsteinians take a stand on the basis of class interests. The resolution makes special mention of Bernsteinism, to refute which the delegates at the conference devoted considerable effort; and now, in the articles of Rabocheye Dyelo (No. 10), the same old fare is rehashed. What is this, a challenge or a sneer? To what end the effort we put forth? People are simply laughing at our pains to elaborate a theoretical basis. We must not forget that without a common ideological basis there can be no question of unity. In the same article, moreover, we get the prospect of a widened scope of our differences. On page 33, for example, the author writes: “Perhaps our differences arise out of different interpretations of Marxism?” Again, I ask, to what end the effort we put forth?

Point “c” of Paragraph 4 of the Geneva resolution speaks of the necessity to struggle against all opponents of revolutionary Marxism; however, we are told that perhaps, in general, we understand Marxism differently.

I must also mention that all this is accompanied by arguments on the harmfulness of fettering thought, etc., which   is precisely what all the Bernsteinians are saying. This was stated at the Lübeck Parteitag,[8] and it is also repeated by the followers of Jaurès,[9] while the points of the agreement say nothing about this, since the agreement was made expressly on the basis of revolutionary Marxism. Even faint manifestations of criticism would have led to a complete breach. We have met to discuss the content of the opinions and not the freedom of opinion. References to French and German models are most unfortunate. The Germans have already achieved what we are still struggling for. They have a united Social-Democracy which exercises leadership in the political struggle. Our Social-Democracy is not yet the leader of the revolutionary groups; on the contrary, there are signs of the revival of other revolutionary tendencies. In the articles in Rabocheye Dyelo (No. 10), not only are there no signs of a complete break in principle with opportunism, there is even something worse—there is praise of the predominance of the spontaneous movement. I am not cavilling at words. All of us, the comrades from Iskra, the comrades from Sotsial-Demokrat, and I, are calling attention only to the basic tendencies of the articles; but those words, as the Germans say, ins Gesicht schlagen.[Offend the nostrils.—Ed.] Particularly as regards these points the Geneva resolution could not be clearer. The recently emerged Workers’ Party for the Political Liberation of Russia[10] chants in harmony with these publications.

Consider in the article the famous distinction between tactics-as-plan and tactics-as-process. The author says that tactics-as-plan is in contradiction to the fundamental principle of revolutionary Marxism, and he thinks that one may speak of tactics-as-"process”, taken to mean the growth of the Party’s tasks, which increase as the Party grows. In my opinion this is simply unwillingness to discuss. We have expended so much time and effort on the formulation of definite political tasks, and at the Geneva Conference so much was said about them; and now we are suddenly being talked to about “tactics-as-plan” and “tactics-as-process”. To me this represents a return to the specific, narrow Bernsteinian product of Rabochaya Mysl which asserted that only that   struggle should be conducted which is possible, and that the possible struggle is that which is going on. We on our part maintain that only the distortion of Marxism is growing. The Geneva resolution says that no stages are necessary for the transition to political agitation, and then an article suddenly appears in which “the literature of exposure” is contraposed to the “proletarian struggle”. Martynov writes about students and liberals, holding that they can worry about democratic demands themselves. We, however, think that the entire peculiarity of Russian Social-Democracy consists in the fact that the liberal democracy has not taken the initiative in the political struggle. If the liberals know better what they have to do and can do it themselves, there is nothing for us to do. The author of the article goes as far as to assume that the government will adopt concrete, administrative measures of its own accord.

As we all know, there were differences of opinion on the question of terror at the Geneva Conference. After the Conference, a part of the Union Abroad, the Bund,[11] at its conference, came out decisively against terror. On page 23, however, the author writes that we “do not wish to set ourselves against the terrorist moods”. This is the sheerest opportunism.[The minutes break off at this point.—Ed.]

Published for the first time
Published according to the text of the minutes



Questions Submitted to the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad at the “Unity” Conference, September 21 (October 4), 1901

1. Do all the three organisations accept, in principle, the resolution of the June Conference?

2. Is the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad willing and able so to organise publication activity as to render impossible unprincipled and opportunist deviations from revolutionary Marxism—deviations that create confusion of mind so dangerous for our movement—and to eliminate all flirting with tacit and avowed Bernsteinism, as well as servile acceptance of the elementary forms and spontaneity of the movement, which must inevitably lead to the conversion of the labour movement into an instrument of bourgeois democracy?

First published in December 1901, in the pamphlet, Documents of the “Unity” Conference
Published according to the text in the pamphlet


[1] See present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 378-79.—Ed.

[2] The “Unity” Conference, held in Zurich on September 21-22 (October 4-5), 1901, was an attempt to unite the Russian Social-Democratic organisations abroad on a platform of Marxist principles. The Conference was attended by representatives of the foreign department of the Iskra and Zarya organisation, the Sotsial-Demokrat organisation (which included the Emancipation of Labour group), the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad, the Bund, and the Borba (Struggle) group.

The Conference was preceded by a preliminary conference of representatives of these organisations in Geneva (June 1901). The Geneva Conference adopted a resolution containing fundamental principles for agreement and joint action.

This apparent initial rapprochement was to have been officially constituted at the “Unity” Conference; but articles by the leaders of the Union Abroad, published in Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10 (September 1901), as well as amendments and addenda to the resolution of the Geneva Conference, submitted by the Union Abroad during the “Unity” Conference, showed that the Union Abroad still adhered to its opportunist position. The representatives of Iskra and Sotsial-Demokrat read a declaration and withdrew from the Conference.

Lenin took part in the “Unity” Conference under the name of Frey and spoke under that name. This was his first public appearance among the Russian Social-Democrats abroad.

[3] The Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad was founded in Geneva in 1894, on the initiative of the Emancipation of Labour group, which at first supervised its activities and edited its publications. Opportunist elements (the “young” Social-Democrats, the “Economists”) later gained the upper hand in the Union. At the Union’s first conference, in November 1898, the Emancipation of Labour group refused to bear further responsibility for the editorship of its publications. The final break with the Union and the withdrawal of the Emancipation of Labour group took place in April 1900, at the Union’s second conference, when the Emancipation of Labour group and its supporters left the Conference and founded the autonomous organisation Sotsial-Demokrat.

[4] The Sotsial-Demokrat organisation was founded by the Emancipation of Labour group and its supporters after the split in the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad (May 1900). In a leaflet-manifesto the organisation declared its purposes to be “the promotion of the socialist movement among the Russian proletariat” and the struggle against every opportunist attempt to distort Marxism.   The organisation published a Russian translation of The Manifesto of the Communist Party, a number of works by Marx and Engels, and several pamphlets by Plekhanov, Kautsky, and others. In October 1901, on Lenin’s initiative, the Sotsial-Demokrat organisation joined forces with the Iskra-Zarya organisation abroad and formed the League of Russian Revolutionary Social-Democracy Abroad.

[5] This group, consisting of D. B. Ryazanov, Y. M. Steklov (Nevzorov), E. L. Gurevich (V. Danevich, Y. Smirnov), which was formed in Paris in 1900, adopted, in May 1901, the name of “Borba” (Struggle). In an attempt to reconcile the revolutionary and opportunist trends in Russian Social-Democracy, the Borba group proposed the unification of the Social-Democratic organisations abroad and for this purpose entered into negotiations with the Iskra-Zarya and Sotsial-Demokrat organisations and with the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad; the group also took part in the Geneva Conference (June 1901) and in the “Unity” Conference (October 1901). In the autumn of 1901 the Borba group took shape as an independent literary group and announced its publications. In these publications (“Material for a Party Programme”, Issues I-III; “Leaflet” No. 1, 1902, etc.) the group distorted the revolutionary theory of Marxism and displayed hostility to the Leninist principles of organisation and the tactical line of Russian revolutionary Social-Democracy. On account of its deviation from Social-Democratic views and tactics, its disorganising activities, and its lack of contact with Social-Democratic organisations in Russia, the Borba group was not allowed to participate in the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. By decision of the Second Congress, the Borba group was dissolved.

[6] Millerandism—an opportunist trend called after the French social-reformist Millerand, who, in 1899, entered the reactionary bourgeois government of General Galiffet, the butcher of the Paris Commune.

[7] Mountain and Gironde—the two political groups of the bourgeoisie during the French bourgeois revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. La Montagne (Mountain) was the name given to the Jacobins, the most consistent representatives of the revolutionary class of the period—bourgeoisie; they advocated the abolition of absolutism and the feudal system. The Girondists, as distinct from them, vacillated between revolution and counter-revolution, and chose the way of compromise with the royalists.

Lenin applied the term “Socialist Gironde” to the opportunist tendency in Social-Democracy and the term “Mountain” or proletarian Jacobins, to the revolutionary Social-Democrats. After the R.S.D.L.P. had split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, Lenin, on many occasions, stressed the point that the Mensheviks were the Girondist tendency in the working-class movement.

[8] The Lübeck Parteitag of the German Social-Democratic Party was held between September 9 and 15 (22-28), 1901. The central is sue at the Congress was the struggle against revisionism, which bad by that time taken form as the Right Wing of the Party, with its own programme and periodical press (Sozialistische Monatshefte). Bernstein, the leader of the revisionists, had long been advocating the revision of scientific socialism; at the Congress he demanded “freedom to criticise” Marxism. The Congress rejected the resolution introduced by Bernstein’s supporters and adopted a resolution that gave a direct warning to Bernstein, though without laying down the principle that Bernsteinian views were incompatible with membership of the working-class party.

[9] Jaurèsists—followers of the French socialist J. J. Jaurès, who headed the Right reformist Wing of the French Socialist Party. Under the pretext of defending “freedom of criticism”, they sought to revise the Marxist principles and preached the class collaboration of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. In 1902 they formed the French Socialist Party, which adhered to reformist principles.

[10] The Workers’ Party for the Political Liberation of Russia—a small Narodnik-type organisation; existed in Minsk, Belostok and several other cities from 1899 to 1902. In 1902 the members of the party joined the Socialist Revolutionary Party.

[11] The Bund—the General Jewish Workers’ Union of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia; founded in 1897, it embraced mainly the Jewish artisans in the western regions of Russia. The Bund joined the R.S.D.L.P. at its First Congress in March 1898. At the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. Bund delegates insisted on the recognition of their organisation as the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat in Russia. The Congress rejected this organisational nationalism, whereupon the Bund withdrew from the Party.

In 1906, following the Fourth (“Unity”) Congress, the Bund reaffiliated with the R.S.D.L.P. The Bundists constantly supported the Mensheviks and waged an incessant struggle against the Bolsheviks. Despite its formal affiliation with the R.S.D.L.P., the Bund remained an organisation of a bourgeois-nationalist character. As opposed to the Bolshevik programmatic demand for the right of nations to self-determination, the Bund put forward the demand for cultural-national autonomy. During the First World War of 1914-18 the Bund took the stand of social-chauvinism. In 1917 the Bund supported the counter-revolutionary Provisional Government and fought on the side of the enemies of the October Socialist Revolution. During the Civil War, prominent Bundists joined forces with the counter-revolution. At the same time, a turn began among the rank and file in favour of support to the Soviet Government. When the victory of the dictatorship of the proletariat over the internal counter-revolution and foreign intervention became apparent, the Bund declared its abandonment of the struggle   against the Soviet system. In March 1921, the Bund dissolved itself and part of the membership joined the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) as new members.

Works Index   |   Volume 5 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index
< backward   forward >