Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


G. The Party Rules. Comrade Martov’s Draft

From the programme, the Congress passed to the Party Rules (we leave out the question of the Central Organ, already touched on above, and the delegates’ reports, which the majority of the delegates were unfortunately unable to present in a satisfactory form). Needless to say, the question of the Rules was of tremendous importance to all of us. After all, Iskra had acted from the very outset not only as a press organ but also as an organisational nucleus. In an editorial in its fourth issue (“Where To Begin”) Iskra had put forward a whole plan of organisation,[1] [1] In his speech on the adoption of Iskra as the Central Organ, Comrade Popov said, inter alia: “I recall the article ’Where To Begin’ in No. 3 or No. 4 of Iskra. Many of the comrades active in Russia found it a tactless article; others thought this plan was fantastic, and the majority [?—probably the majority around Comrade Popov] attributed it solely to ambition” (p. 140). As the reader sees, it is no new thing for me to hear my political views attributed to ambition—an explanation now being rehashed by Comrade Axelrod and Comrade Martov. —Lenin which it pursued systematically and steadily over a period of three years. When the Second Party Congress adopted Iskra as the Central Organ, two of the three points of the preamble of the resolution on the subject (p. 147) were devoted precisely to this organisational plan and toIskra’s” organisational ideas: its role in directing the practical work of the Party and the leading part it had played in the work of attaining unity. It is quite natural, therefore, that the work of Iskra and the entire work of organising the Party, the entire work of actually restoring the Party, could not be regarded as finished until definite ideas of organisation had been adopted by the whole Party and formally enacted. This task was to be performed by the Party’s Rules of Organisation.

The principal ideas which Iskra strove to make the basis of the Party’s organisation amounted essentially to the following two: first, the idea of centralism, which defined in principle the method of deciding all particular and detail questions of organisation; second, the special function of an organ, a newspaper, for ideological leadership—an idea which took into account the temporary and special requirements of the Russian Social-Democratic working-class movement in the existing conditions of political slavery, with the initial base of operations for the revolutionary assault being set up abroad. The first idea, as the one matter of principle, had to pervade the entire Rules; the second, being a particular idea necessitated by temporary circumstances of place and mode of action, took the form of a seeming departure from centralism in the proposal to set up two centres, a Central Organ and a Central Committee. Both these principal Iskra ideas of Party organisation had been developed by me in the Iskra editorial (No. 4) “Where To Begin”[2] and inWhat Is To Be Done?[3] and, finally, had been explained in detail, in a form that was practically a finished set of Rules, inA Letter to a Comrade.[4] Actually, all that remained was the work of formulating the paragraphs of the Rules, which were to embody just those ideas if the recognition of Iskra was not to be merely nominal, a mere conventional phrase. In the preface to the new edition of my Letter to a Comrade I have already pointed out that a simple comparison of the Party Rules with that pamphlet is enough to establish the complete identity of the ideas of organisation contained in the two.[5]

A propos of the work of formulating Iskra’s ideas of organisation in the Rules, I must deal with a certain incident mentioned by Comrade Martov. “. . . A statement of fact,” said Martov at the League Congress (p. 58), "will show you how far my lapse into opportunism on this paragraph [i.e., Paragraph 1] was unexpected by Lenin. About a month and a half or two months before the Congress I showed Lenin my draft, in which Paragraph 1 was formulated just in the way I proposed it at the Congress. Lenin objected to my draft on the ground that it was too detailed, and told me that all he liked was the idea of Paragraph 1—the definition of Party membership—which he would incorporate in his Rules with certain modifications, because he did not think my formulation was a happy one. Thus, Lenin had long been acquainted with my formulation, he knew my views on this subject. You thus see that I came to the Congress with my visor up, that I did not conceal my views. I warned him that I would oppose mutual co-optation, the principle of unanimity in cases of co-optation to the Central Committee and the Central Organ, and so on."

As regards the warning about opposing mutual co-optation, we shall see in its proper place how matters really stood. At present let us deal with this “open visor” of Martov’s Rules. At the League Congress, recounting from memory this episode of his unhappy draft (which he himself withdrew at the Congress because it was an unhappy one, but after the Congress, with his characteristic consistency, again brought out into the light of day), Martov, as so often happens, forgot a good deal and therefore again got things muddled. One would have thought there had already been cases enough to warn him against quoting private conversations and relying on his memory (people involuntarily recall only what is to their advantage!)—nevertheless, for want of any other, Comrade Martov used unsound material. Today even Comrade Plekhanov is beginning to imitate him—evidently, a bad example is contagious.

I could not have “liked” the “idea” of Paragraph 1 of Martov’s draft, for that draft contained no idea that came up at the Congress. His memory played him false. I have been fortunate enough to find Martov’s draft among my papers, and in it “Paragraph 1 is formulated n o t in the way he proposed it at the Congress”! So much for the “open visor”!

Paragraph is clearly evident from this juxtaposition that there is no idea in Martov’s draft, but only an empty phrase. That Party members must work under the control and direction of the organs of the Party goes without saying; it cannot be otherwise, and only those talk about it who love to talk without saying anything, who love to drown “Rules” in a flood of verbiage and bureaucratic formulas (that is, formulas useless for the work and supposed to be useful for display). The idea of Paragraph 1 appears only when the question is asked: can the organs of the Party exercise actual direction over Party members who do not belong to any of the Party organisations? There is not even a trace of this idea in Comrade Martov’s draft. Consequently, I could not have been acquainted with the “views” of Comrade Martov “on this subject”, for in Comrade Martov’s draft there are no views on this subject. Comrade Martov’s statement of fact proves to be a muddle.

About Comrade Martov, on the other hand, it does have to be said that from my draft “he knew my views on this subject” and did not protest against them, did not reject them, either on the editorial board, although my draft was shown to everyone two or three weeks before the Congress, or in talking to the delegates, who were acquainted only with my draft. More, even at the Congress, when I moved my draft Rules[6] [6] Incidentally, the Minutes Committee, in Appendix XI, has published the draft Rules “moved at the Congress by Lenin” (p. 393). Here the Minutes Committee has also muddled things a little. It has confused my original draft (see present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 476-78.—Ed.), which was shown to all the delegates (and to many before the Congress), with the draft moved at the Congress, and published the former under the guise of the latter. Of course, I have no objection to my drafts being published, even in all their stages of preparation, but there was no need to cause confusion. And confusion has been caused, for Popov and Martov (pp. 154 and 157) criticised formulations in the draft I actually moved at the Congress which are not in the draft published by the Minutes Committee (cf. p. 394, Paragraphs 7 and 11). With a little more care, the mistake could easily have been detected simply by comparing the pages I mention. —Lenin and defended them before the election of the Rules Committee, Comrade Martov distinctly stated: “I associate myself with Comrade Lenin’s conclusions. Only on two points do I disagree with him” (my italics)—on the mode of constituting the Council and on unanimous co-optation (p. 157). Not a word was yet said about any difference over Paragraph 1.

In his pamphlet on the state of siege, Comrade Martov saw fit to recall his Rules once more, and in great detail. He assures us there that his Rules, to which, with the exception of certain minor particulars, he would be prepared to subscribe even now (February 1904—we cannot say how it will be three months hence), “quite clearly expressed his disapproval of hypertrophy of centralism” (p. iv). The reason he did not submit this draft to the Congress, Comrade Martov now explains, was, firstly, that “his Iskra training had imbued him with disdain for Rules” (when it suits Comrade Martov, the word Iskra means for him, not a narrow circle spirit, but the most steadfast of trends! It is a pity, however, that Comrade Martov’s Iskra training did not imbue him in three years with disdain for the anarchistic phrases by which the unstable mentality of the intellectual is capable of justifying the violation of Rules adopted by common consent). Secondly, that, don’t you see, he, Comrade Martov, wanted to avoid “introducing any dissonance into the tactics of that basic organisational nucleus which Iskra constituted”. Wonderfully consistent, isn’t it? On a question of principle regarding an opportunist formulation of Paragraph 1 or hypertrophy of centralism, Comrade Martov was so afraid of any dissonance (which is terrible only from the narrowest circle point of view) that he did not set forth his disagreement even to a nucleus like the editorial board! On the practical question of the composition of the central bodies, Comrade Martov appealed for the assistance of the Bund and the Rabocheye Dyelo-ist! against the vote of the majority of the Iskra organisation (that real basic organisational nucleus ). The “dissonance” in his phrases, which smuggle in the circle spirit in defence of the quasi-editorial board only to repudiate the “circle spirit” in the appraisal of the question by those best qualfied to judge—this dissonance Comrade Martov does not notice. To punish him, we shall quote his, draft Rules in full, noting for our part what views and what hypertrophy they reveal[7]:

"Draft of Party Rules.—I. Party membership.—1) A member of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party is one who, accepting its programme, works actively to accompish its aims under the control and direction of the organs of the Party.—2) Expulsion of a member from the Party for conduct incompatible with the interests of the Party shall be decided by the Central Committee. [The sentence of expulsion, giving the reasons, shall be preserved in the Party files and shall be communicated, on request, to every Party committee. The Central Committee’s decision to expel a member may be appealed against to the Congress on the demand of two or more committees.]" I shall indicate by square brackets the provisions in Martov’s draft which are obviously meaningless, failing to contan not only “ideas”, but even any definite conditions or requirements—like the inimitable specification in the “Rules” as to where exactly a sentence of expulsion is to be preserved, or the provision that the Central Committee’s decision to expel a member (and not all its decision in general?) may be appealed against to the Congress. This, indeed, is hypertrophy of verbiage, or real bureaucratic formalism, which frames superfluous, patently useless or red-tapist, points and paragraphs. “II. Local Committees.—3) In its local work, the Party is represented by the Party committees” (how new and clever!). "4) [As Party committees are recognised all those existing at the time of the Second Congress and represented at the Congress.]—5) New Party committees, in addition to those mentioned in Paragraph 4, shall be appointed by the Central Committee [which shall either endorse as a committee the existing membership of the given local organisation, or shall set up a local committee by reforming the latter].—6) The committees may add to their membership by means of co-optation.—7) The Central Committee has the right to augment the membership of a local committee with such numbers of comrades (known to it) as shall not exceed one-third of the total membership of the committee." A perfect sample of bureaucracy. Why not exceeding one-third? What is the purpose of this? What is the sense of this restriction which restricts nothing, seeing that the augmenting may be repeated over and over again? "8) [In the event of a local committee falling apart or being broken up by persecution" (does this mean that not all the members have been arrested?), "the Central Committee shall re-establish it.]" (Without regard to Paragraph 7? Does not Comrade Martov perceive a similarity between Paragraph 8 and those Russian laws on orderly conduct which command citizens to work on weekdays and rest on holidays?) "9) [A regular Party Congress may instruct the Central Committee to reform the composition of any local committee if the activities of the latter are found incompatible with the interests of the Party. In that event the existing committee shall be deemed dissolved and the comrades in its area of operation exempt from subordination[8] to it.]” The provision contained in this paragraph is as highly useful as the provision contained to this day in the Russian law which reads: “Drunkenness is forbidden to all and sundry.” "10) [The local Party committees shall direct all the propagandist, agitational, and organisational activities of the Party in their localities and shall do all in their power to assist the Central Committee and the Central Organs of the Party in carrying out the general Party tasks entrusted to them.]" Phew! What in the name of all that’s holy is the purpose of this? "11) [The internal arrangements of a local organisation, the mutual relations between a committee and the groups subordinate to it" (do you hear that, Comrade Axelrod?), "and the limits of the competence and autonomy" (are not the limits of competence the same as the limits of autonomy?) "of these groups shall be determined by the committee itself and communicated to the Central Committee and the editorial board of the Central Organs.]" (An omission: it is not stated where these communications are to be filed.) "12) [All groups subordinate to committees, and individual Party members, have the right to demand that their opinions and recommendations on any subject be communicated to the Central Committee of the Party and its Central Organs.]—13) The local Party committees shall contribute from their revenues to the funds of the Central Committee such sums as the Central Committee shall assign to their share.—III. Organisations for the Purpose of Agitation in Languages Other than Russian.—14) [For the purpose of carrying on agitation in any non-Russian language and of organising the workers among whom such agitation is carried on, separate organisations may be set up in places where such specialised agitation and the setting up of such organisations are deemed necessary.]—15) The question as to whether such a necessity exists shall be decided by the Central Committee of the Party, and in disputed cases by the Party Congress." The first part of this paragraph is superfluous in view of subsequent provisions in the Rules, and the second part, concerning disputed cases, is simply ludicrous. "16) [The local organisations mentioned in Paragraph 14 shall be autonomous in their special affairs but shall act under the control of the local committee and be subordinate to it, the forms of this control and the character of the organisational relations between the committee and the special organisation being determined by the local committee." (Well, thank God! It is now quite clear that this whole spate of empty words was superfluous.) "In respect of the general affairs of the Party, such organisations shall act as part of the committee organisation.]—17) [The local organisations mentioned in Paragraph 14 may form autonomous leagues for the effective performance of their special tasks. These leagues may have their own special press and administrative bodies both being under the direct control of the Central Committee of the Party. The Rules of these leagues shall be drawn up by themselves, but shall be subject to endorsement by the Central Committee of the Party.]—18) [The autonomous leagues mentioned in Paragraph 17 may include local Party committees if, by reason of local conditions, these devote themselves mainly to agitation in the given language. Note. While forming part of the autonomous league, such a committee does not cease to be a committee of the Party.]" (This entire paragraph is extremely useful and wonderfully clever, the note even more so.) "19) [The relations of local organisations belonging to an autonomous league with the central bodies of that league shall be controlled by the local committees.]—20) [The central press and administrative bodies of the autonomous leagues shall stand in the same relation to the Central Committee of the Party as the local Party committees.]—IV. Central Committee and Press Organs of the Party.—21) [The Party as a whole shall be represented by its Central Committee and its press organs, political and theoretical.]—22) The functions of the Central Committee shall be: to exercise general direction of all the practical activities of the Party; to ensure the proper utilisation and allocation of all its forces; to exercise control over the activities of all sections of the Party, to supply the local organisations with literature; to organise the technical apparatus of the Party, to convene Party congresses.—23) The functions of the press organs of the Party shall be: to exercise ideological direction of Party life, to conduct propaganda for the Party programme, and to carry out theoretical and popular elaboration of the world outlook of Social-Democracy.—24) All local Party committees and autonomous leagues shall maintain direct communication both with the Central Committee of the Party and with the editorial board of the Party organs and shall keep them periodically informed of the progress of the movement and of organisational work in their localities.—25) The editorial board of the Party press organs shall be appointed at Party congresses and shall function until the next congress.—26) [The editorial board shall be autonomous in its internal affairs] and may in the interval between congresses augment or alter its membership, informing the Central Committee in each case.—27) All statements issued by the Central Committee or receiving its sanction shall on the demand of the Central Committee, be published in the Party organ.—28) The Central Committee, by agreement with the editorial board of the Party organs, shall set up special writers’ groups for various forms of literary work.—29) The Central Committee shall be appointed at Party congresses and shall function until the next congress. The Central Committee may augment its membership by means of co-optation, without restriction as to numbers, in each case informing the editorial board of the Central Organs of the Party.—V. The Party Organisation Abroad.—30) The Party organisation abroad shall carry on propaganda among Russians living abroad and organise the socialist elements among them. It shall be headed by an elected administrative body.—31) The autonomous leagues belonging to the Party may maintain branches abroad to assist in carrying out their special tasks. These branches shall constitute autonomous groups within the general organisation abroad.—VI. Party Congresses.—32) The supreme Party authority is the Congress.—33) [The Party Congress shall lay down the Programme, Rules and guiding principles of the activities of the Party, it shall control the work of all Party bodies and settle disputes arising between them.]—34) The right to be represented at congresses shall be enjoyed by: a) all local Party committees; b) the central administrative bodies of all the autonomous leagues belonging to the Party, c) the Central Committee of the Party and the editorial board of its Central Organs; d) the Party organisation abroad.—35) Mandates may be entrusted to proxies, but no delegate shall hold more than three valid mandates. A mandate may be divided between two representatives. Binding instructions are forbidden.—36) The Central Committee shall be empowered to invite to the congress in a deliberative capacity comrades whose presence may be useful.—37) Amendments to the Programme or Rules of the Party shall require a two-thirds majority; other questions shall be decided by a simple majority.—38) A congress shall be deemed properly constituted if more than half the Party committees existing at the time of it are represented.—39) Congresses shall, as far as possible, be convened once every two years [If for reasons beyond the control of the Central Committee a congress cannot be convened within this period, the Central Committee shall on its own responsibility postpone it.]"

Any reader who, by way of an exception, has had the patience to read these so-called Rules to the end assuredly will not expect me to give special reasons for the following conclusions. First conclusion: the Rules suffer from almost incurable dropsy. Second conclusion: it is impossible to discover in these Rules any special shade of organisational views evincing a disapproval of hypertrophy of centralism. Third conclusion: Comrade Martov acted very wisely indeed in concealing from the eyes of the world (and withholding from discussion at the Congress) more than 38/39 of his Rules. Only it is rather odd that à propos of this concealment he should talk about an open visor.


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

[2] See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 13-24.—Ed.

[3] See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 347-529.—Ed.

[4] See present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 231-52.—Ed.

[5] See pp. 132-33 of this volume.—Ed.

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

[7] I might mention that unfortunately I could not find the first variant of Comrade Martov’s draft, which consisted of some forty-eight paragraphs and suffered even more from “hypertrophy” of worthless formalism. —Lenin

[8] We would draw Comrade Axelrod’s attention to this word. Why this is terrible! Here are the roots of that “Jacobinism” which goes to the length even . . . even of altering the composition of an editorial board .... —Lenin

  F. The Agrarian Programme | H. Discussion on Centralism Prior to the Split Among the Iskra-ists  

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