Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


C. Beginning of the Congress. The Organising Committee Incident

The most convenient way to analyse the debates and the voting is to take them in the order of the Congress sittings, so as successively to note the political shades as they became more and more apparent. Only when absolutely necessary will departures from the chronological order be made for the purpose of considering together closely allied questions or similar groupings. For the sake of impartiality, we shall endeavour to mention all the more important votes, omitting, of course, the innumerable votes on minor issues, which took up an inordinate amount of time at our Congress (owing partly to our inexperience and inefficiency in dividing the material between the commissions and the plenary sittings, and partly to quibbling which bordered on obstruction).

The first question to evoke a debate which began to reveal differences of shades was whether first place should be given (on the Congress “order of business”) to the item: “Position of the Bund in the Party” (Minutes, pp. 29-33). From the standpoint of the Iskra-ists, which was advocated by Plekhanov, Martov, Trotsky, and myself, there could be no doubt on this score. The Bund’s withdrawal from the Party strikingly bore out our view: if the Bund refused to go our way and accept the principles of organisation which the majority of the Party shared with Iskra, it was useless and senseless to “make believe” that we were going the same way and only drag out the Congress (as the Bundists did drag it out). The matter had already been fully clarified in our literature, and it was apparent to any at all thoughtful Party member that all that remained was to put the question frankly, and bluntly and honestly make the choice: autonomy (in which case we go the same way), or federation (in which case our ways part).

Evasive in their entire policy, the Bundists wanted to be evasive here too and postpone the matter. They were joined by Comrade Akimov, who, evidently on behalf of all the followers of Rabocheye Dyelo, at once brought up the differences with Iskra over questions of organisation (Minutes, p. 31). The Bund and Rabocheye Dyelo were supported by Comrade Makhov (representing the two votes of the Nikolayev Committee—which shortly before had expressed its solidarity with Iskra!). To Comrade Makhov the matter was altogether unclear, and another “sore spot”, he considered, was “the question of a democratic system or, on the contrary [mark this!], centralism”—exactly like the majority of our present “Party” editorial board, who at the Congress had not yet noticed this “sore spot”!

Thus the Iskra-ists were opposed by the Bund, Rabocheye Dyelo and Comrade Makhov, who together controlled the ten votes which were cast against us (p. 33). Thirty votes were cast in favour—this is the figure, as we shall see later, around which the votes of the Iskra-ists often fluctuated. Eleven abstained, apparently not taking the side of either of the contending “parties”. It is interesting to note that when we took the vote on Paragraph 2 of the Rules of the Bund (it was the rejection of this Paragraph 2 that caused the Bund to withdraw from the Party), the votes in favour of it and the abstentions also amounted to ten (Minutes, p. 289), the abstainers being the three Rabocheye Dyelo-ists (Brouckère, Martynov, and Akimov) and Comrade Makhov. Clearly, the grouping in the vote on the place of the Bund item on the agenda was not fortuitous. Clearly, all these comrades differed with Iskra not only on the technical question of the order of discussion, but in essence as well. In the case of Rabocheye Dyelo, this difference in essence is clear to everyone, while Comrade Makhov gave an inimitable description of his attitude in the speech he made on the withdrawal of the Bund (Minutes, pp. 289-90). It is worth while dwelling on this speech. Comrade Makhov said that after the resolution rejecting federation, “the position of the Bund in the R.S.D.L.P. ceased to be for me a question of principle and became a question of practical politics in relation to an historically evolved national organisation”. “Here,” the speaker continued, “I could not but take into account all the consequences that might follow from our vote, and would therefore have voted for Paragraph 2 in its entirety.” Comrade Makhov has admirably imbibed the spirit of “practical politics”: in principle he had already rejected federation, and therefore in practice he would have voted for including in the Rules a point that signified federation! And this “practical” comrade explained his profound position of principle in the following words: “But [the famous Shchedrin “but”!] since my voting one way or the other would only have significance in principle [!!] and could not be of any practical importance, in view of the almost unanimous vote of all the other Congress delegates, I preferred to abstain in order to bring out in principle [God preserve us from such principles!] the difference between my position on this question and the position of the Bund delegates, who voted in favour. Conversely, I would have voted in favour if the Bund delegates had abstained, as they had at first insisted.” Can you make head or tail of it? A man of principle abstains from loudly saying “Yes” because practically it is useless when everybody else says “No”.

After the vote on the place of the Bund item on the agenda, the question of the Borba group cropped up at the Congress; it too led to an extremely interesting grouping and was closely bound up with the “sorest” point at the Congress, namely, the personal composition of the central bodies. The committee appointed to determine the composition of the Congress pronounced against inviting the Borba group, in accordance with a twice-adopted decision of the Organising Committee (see Minutes, pp. 383 and 375) and the report of the latter’s representatives on this committee (p. 35).

Thereupon Comrade Egorov, a member of the Organising Committee, declared that “the question of Borba” (mark, of Borba, not of some particular member of it) was “new to him”, and demanded an adjournment. How a question on which the Organising Committee had twice taken a decision could be new to a member of the Organising Committee remains a mystery. During the adjournment the Organising Committee held a meeting (Minutes, p. 40), attended by such of its members as happened to be at the Congress (several members of theOrganising Committee, old members of the Iskra organisation, were not at the Congress).[1] Then began a debate about Borba. The Rabocheye Dyelo-ists spoke in favour (Martynov, Akimov, and Brouckère—pp. 36-38), the Iskra-ists (Pavlovich, Sorokin, Lange,[3] Trotsky, Martov, and others)—against. Again the Congress split up into the grouping with which we are already familiar. The struggle over Borba was a stubborn one, and Comrade Martov made a very circumstantial (p. 38) and “militant” speech, in which he rightly referred to “inequality of representation” of the groups in Russia and abroad, and said that it would hardly be “well” to allow a foreign group any “privilege” (golden words, particularly edifying today, in the light of the events since the Congress!), and that we should not encourage "the organisational chaos in the Party that was characterised by a disunity not justified by any considerations of principle" (one right in the eye for . . . the “minority” at our Party Congress!). Except for the followers of Rabocheye Dyelo, nobody came out openly and with reasoned motives in favour of Borba until the list of speakers was closed (p. 40). It should be said in fairness to Comrade Akimov and his friends that they at least did not wriggle and hide, but frankly advocated their line, frankly said what they wanted.

After the list of speakers had been closed, when it was already out of order to speak on the issue itself, Comrade Egorov “insistently demanded that a decision just adopted by the Organising Committee be heard”. It is not surprising that the delegates were outraged at this manoeuvre, and Comrade Plekhanov, the chairman, expressed his “astonishment that Comrade Egorov should insist upon his demand”. One thing or the other, one would think: either take an open and definite stand before the whole Congress on the question at issue, or say nothing at all. But to allow the list of speakers to be closed and then, under the guise of a “reply to the debate”, confront the Congress with a new decision of the Organising Committee on the very subject that had been under discussion, was like a stab in the back!

When the sitting was resumed after dinner, the Bureau still in perplexity, decided to waive “formalities” and resort to the last method, adopted at congresses only in extreme cases, viz., “comradely explanation”. The spokesman of the Organising Committee, Popov, announced the committee’s decision, which had been adopted by all its members against one, Pavlovich (p. 43), and which recommended the Congress to invite Ryazanov.

Pavlovich declared that he had challenged and continued to challenge the lawfulness of the Organising Committee meeting, and that the Committee’s new decision “contradicts its earlier decision”. This statement caused an uproar. Comrade Egorov, also an Organising Committee member and a member of the Yuzhny Rabochy group, evaded answering on the actual point in question and tried to make the central issue one of discipline. He claimed that Comrade Pavlovich had violated Party discipline (!), for, having heard his protest, the Organising Committee had decided “not to lay Pavlovich’s dissenting opinion before the Congress”. The debate shifted to the question of Party discipline, and Plekhanov, amid the loud applause of the delegates, explained for the edification of Comrade Egorov that “we have no such thing as binding instructions” (p. 42; cf. p. 379, Regulations for the Congress, Point 7: “The powers of delegates must not be restricted by binding instructions. In the exercise of their powers, delegates are absolutely free and independent”). “The Congress is the supreme Party authority”, and, consequently, he violates Party discipline and the Congress Regulations who in any way restricts any delegate in taking directly to the Congress any question of Party life whatsoever. The issue thus came down to this: circles or a party? Were the rights of delegates to be restricted at the Congress in the name of the imaginary rights or rules of the various bodies and circles, or were all lower bodies and old groups to be completely, and not nominally but actually, disbanded in face of the Congress, pending the creation of genuinely Party official institutions? The reader will already see from this how profoundly important from the standpoint of principle was this dispute at the very outset (the third sitting) of this Congress whose purpose was the actual restoration of the Party. Focused in this dispute, as it were, was the conflict between the old circles and small groups (such as Yuzhny Rabochy) and the renascent Party. And the anti-Iskra groups at once revealed themselves: the Bundist Abramson, Comrade Martynov, that ardent ally of the present Iskra editorial board, and our friend Cornrade Makhov all sided with Egorov and the Yuzhny Rabochy group against Pavlovich. Comrade Martynov, who now vies with Martov and Axelrod in sporting “democracy” in organisation, even cited the example of . . . the army, where an appeal to a superior authority can only be made through a lower one!! The true meaning of this “compact” anti-Iskra opposition was quite clear to everyone who was present at the Congress or who had carefully followed the internal history of our Party prior to the Congress. It was the purpose of the opposition (perhaps not always realised by all of its representatives, and sometimes pursued by force of inertia) to guard the independence, individualism and parochial interests of the small, petty groups from being swallowed up in the broad Party that was being built on the Iskra principles.

It was precisely from this angle that the question was approached by Comrade Martov, who had not yet joined forces with Martynov. Comrade Martov vigorously took the field, and rightly so, against those whose “notion of Party discipline does not go beyond a revolutionary’s duty to the particular group of a lower order to which he belongs”. “No compulsory [Martov’s italics] grouping can be tolerated within a united Party,” he explained to the champions of the circle mentality, not foreseeing what a flail these words would be for his own political conduct at the end of the Congress and after.... A compulsory grouping cannot be tolerated in the case of the Organising Committee, but can quite well be tolerated in the case of the editorial board. Martov condemns a compulsory grouping when he looks at it from the centre, but Martov defends it the moment he finds himself dissatisfied with the composition of the centre....

It is interesting to note that in his speech Comrade Martov laid particular stress not only on Comrade Egorov’s “profound error”, but also on the political instability the Organising Committee had displayed. “A recommendation has been submitted on behalf of the Organising Committee,” he exclaimed in just indignation, “which runs counter to the committee report [based, we will add, on the report of members of the Organising Committee—p. 43, Koltsov’s remarks] and to the Organising Committee’s own earlier recommendations.” (My italics.) As we see, at that time, before his “swing-over”, Martov clearly realised that substituting Ryazanov for Borba in no way removed the utter contradictoriness and inconsistency of the Organising Committee’s actions (Party members may learn from the League Congress Minutes, p. 57, how Martov conceived the matter after his swing-over). Martov did not confine himself then to analysing the issue of discipline; he bluntly asked the Organising Committee: “What new circumstance has arisen to necessitate the change?” (My italics.) And, indeed, when the Organ ising Committee made its recommendation, it did not even have the courage to defend its opinion openly, as Akimov and the others did. Martov denies this (League Minutes p. 56), but whoever reads the minutes of the Congress will see that he is mistaken. Popov, in submitting the Organising Committee recommendation, did not say a word about the motives (Party Congress Minutes, p. 41). Egorov shifted the issue to one of discipline, and all he said on the question itself was: "The Organising Committee may have had new reasons [but whether it did, and what those new reasons were, is unknown]; it could have forgotten to nominate somebody, and so on. [This “and so on” was the speaker’s sole refuge, for the Organising Committee could not have forgotten about Borba, which it had discussed twice before the Congress and once in the committee.] The Organising Committee did not adopt this decision because it has changed its attitude towards the Borba group, but because it wants to remove unnecessary rocks in the path of the Party’s future central organisation at the very outset of its activities." This is not a reason, but an evasion of a reason. Every sincere Social-Democrat (and we do not entertain the least doubt about the sincerity of any Congress delegate) is concerned to remove what he considers to be sunken rocks, and to remove them by those methods which he considers advisable. Giving reasons means explicitly stating and explaining one’s view of things, and not making shift with truisms. And they could not give a reason without “changing their attitude towards Borba”, because in its earlier and contrary decisions the Organising Committee had also been concerned to remove sunken rocks, but it had then regarded the very opposite as “rocks”. And Comrade Martov very severely and very rightly attacked this argument, saying that it was “petty” and inspired by a wish to “burke the issue”, and advising the Organising Committee “not to be afraid of what people will say”. These words characterise perfectly the essential nature of the political shade which played so large a part at the Congress and which is distinguished precisely by its want of independence, its pettiness, its lack of a line of its own, its fear of what people will say, its constant vacillation between the two definite sides, its fear of plainly stating its credo—in a word, by all the features of a “Marsh”.[2] [2] There are people in our Party today who are horrified when they hear this word, and raise an outcry about uncomradely methods of controversy. A strange perversion of sensibility due to . . . a misapplied sense of official form! There is scarcely a political party acquainted with internal struggles that has managed to do without this term, by which the unstable elements who vacillate between the contending sides have always been designated. Even the Germans, who know how to keep their internal struggles within very definite bounds indeed, are not offended by the word versumpft (sunk in the marsh—Ed.) are not horrified, and do not display ridiculous official prudery. —Lenin

A consequence of this political spinelessness of the unstable group was, incidentally, that no one except the Bundist Yudin (p. 53) did put before the Congress a resolution to invite one of the members of the Borba group. Yudin’s resolution received five votes—all Bundists, apparently: the vacillating elements had changed sides again! How large was the vote of the middle group is shown approximately by the voting on the resolutions of Koltsov and Yudin on this question: the Iskra-ist received thirty-two votes (p. 47), the Bundist received sixteen, that is, in addition to the eight anti-Iskra-ist votes, the two votes of Comrade Makhov (cf. p. 46), the four votes of the members of the Yuzhny Rabochy group, and two others. We shall show in a moment that this alignment can by no means be regarded as accidental; but first let us briefly note Martov’s present opinion of this Organising Committee incident. Martov maintained at the League that “Pavlovich and others fanned passions”. One has only to consult the Congress Minutes to see that the longest, most heated and sharpest speeches against Borba and the Organising Committee were delivered by Martov himself. By trying to lay the “blame” on Pavlovich he only demonstrates his own instability: it was Pavlovich he helped to elect prior to the Congress as the seventh member of the editorial board; at the Congress he fully associated himself with Pavlovich (p. 44) against Egorov; but afterwards, having suffered defeat at the hands of Pavlovich, he began to accuse him of “fanning passions”. This is ludicrous.

Martov waxes ironical in Iskra (No. 56) over the importance that was attached to whether X or Y should be invited. But again the irony turns against Martov, for it was this Organising Committee incident that started the dispute over such an “important” question as inviting X or Y on to the Central Committee or the Central Organ. It is unseemly to measure with two different yardsticks, depending on whether the matter concerns your own “group of a lower order” (relative to the Party) or someone else’s. This is precisely a philistine and circle, not a Party attitude. A simple comparison of Martov’s speech at the League (p. 57) with his speech at the Congress (p. 44) sufficiently demonstrates this. “I can not understand,” Martov said, inter alia, at the League, “how people can insist on calling themselves Iskra-ists and at the same time be ashamed of being Iskra-ists.” A strange failure to understand the difference between “calling oneself” and “being”—between word and deed. Martov himself, at the Congress, called himself an opponent of compulsory groupings, yet, after the Congress, came to be a supporter of them....


[1] Concerning this meeting, see the “Letter” of Pavlovich,[4] who was a member of the Organising Committee and who before the Congress was unanimously elected as the editorial board’s trusted representative, its seventh member (League Minutes, p. 44). —Lenin

[2]Note: This footnote has been moved into the body of the document.

[3] Sorokin—pseudonym of the Bolshevik N. E. Bauman; Lange—pseudonym of the Bolshevik A. M. Stopani.

[4] Pavlovich, Letter to the Comrades on the Second Congress of the R. S. D. L. P., Geneva, 1904.

  B. Significance of the Various Groupings at the Congress | D. Dissolution of the Yuzhny Rabochy Group  

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