Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


H. Discussion on Centralism Prior to the Split Among the Iskra-ists

Before passing to the really interesting question of the formulation of Paragraph 1 of the Rules, a question which undoubtedly disclosed the existence of different shades of opinion, let us dwell a little on that brief general discussion of the Rules which occupied the 14th and part of the 15th Congress sittings. This discussion is of some significance inasmuch as it preceded the complete divergence within the Iskra organisation over the composition of the central bodies, whereas the subsequent debate on the Rules in general, and on co-optation in particular, took place after this divergence in the Iskra organisation. Naturally, before the divergence we were able to express our views more impartially, in the sense that they were more independent of views about the personal composition of the Central Committee, which became such a keen issue with us all. Comrade Martov, as I have already remarked, associated himself (p. 157) with my views on organisation, only making the reservation that he differed on two points of detail. Both the anti-Iskra-ists and the “Centre”, on the contrary, at once took the field against both fundamental ideas of the whole Iskra organisational plan (and, consequently, against the Rules in their entirety): against centralism and against “two centres” Comrade Lieber referred to my Rules as “organised distrust” and discerned decentralism in the proposal for two centres (as did Comrades Popov and Egorov). Comrade Akimov wanted to broaden the jurisdiction of the local committees, and, in particular, to grant them themselves “the right to alter their composition”. “They should be allowed greater freedom of action.... The local committees should be elected by the active workers in their localities, just as the Central Committee is elected by the representatives of all the active organisations in Russia. And if even this cannot be allowed, let the number of members that the Central Committee may appoint to local committees be limited. . .” (p. 158). Comrade Akimov, as you see, suggested an argument against “hypertrophy of centralism”, but Comrade Martov remained deaf to these weighty arguments, not yet having been induced by his defeat over the composition of the central bodies to follow in Akimov’s wake. He remained deaf even when Comrade Akimov suggested to him the " idea" of his own Rules (Paragraph 7—restriction of the Central Committee’s right to appoint members to the committees)! At that time Comrade Martov still did not want any “dissonance” with us, and for that reason tolerated a dissonance both with Comrade Akimov and with himself.... At that time the only opponents of “monstrous centralism” were those to whom Iskra’s centralism was clearly disadvantageous: it was opposed by Akimov, Lieber, and Goldblatt, followed, cautiously and circumspectly (so that they could always turn back), by Egorov (see pp. 156 and 276) and such like. At that time it was still clear to the vast majority of the Party that it was the parochial, circle interests of the Bund, Yuzhny Rabochy, etc., that evoked the protest against centralism. For that matter, now too it is clear to the majority of the Party that it is the circle interests of the old Iskra editorial board that cause it to protest against centralism....

Take, for example, Comrade Goldblatt’s speech (pp. 160-61). He inveighs against my “monstrous” centralism and claims that it would lead to the “destruction” of the lower organisations, that it is “permeated through and through with the desire to give the centre unrestricted powers and the unrestricted right to interfere in everything”, that it allows the organisations “only one right—to submit without a murmur to orders from above”, etc. “The centre proposed by the draft would find itself in a vacuum, it would have no peripheral organisations around it, but only an amorphous mass in which its executive agents would move.” Why, this is exactly the kind of false phrase-mongering to which the Martovs and Axelrods proceeded to treat us after their defeat at the Congress. The Bund was laughed at when it fought our centralism while granting its own central body even more definite unrestricted rights (e.g., to appoint and expel members, and even to refuse to admit delegates to congresses). And when people sort things out, the howls of the minority will also be laughed at, for they cried out against centralism and against the Rules when they were in the minority, but lost no time in taking advantage of the Rules once they had managed to make themselves the majority.

Over the question of two centres, the grouping was also clearly evident: all the Iskra-ists were opposed by Lieber, by Akimov (the first to strike up the now favourite Axelrod Martov tune about the Central Organ predominating over the Central Committee on the Council), by Popov, and by Egorov. From the ideas of organisation which the old Iskra had always advocated (and which the Popovs and Egorovs had verbally approved!), the plan for two centres followed of itself. The policy of the old Iskra cut across the plans of Yuzhny Rabochy, the plans to create a parallel popular organ and to convert it virtually into the dominant organ. There lies the root of the paradox, so strange at first glance, that all the anti-Iskra-ists and the entire Marsh were in favour of one central body, that is, of seemingly greater centralism. Of course, there were some delegates (especially among the Marsh) who probably did not have a clear idea where the organisational plans of Yuzhny Rabochy would lead, and were bound to lead in the nature of things, but they were impelled to follow the anti-Iskra-ists by their very irresoluteness and unsureness of themselves.

Of the speeches by Iskra-ists during this debate on the Rules (the one preceding the split among the Iskra-ists), particularly noteworthy were those of Comrades Martov (“association” with my ideas of organisation) and Trotsky. Every word of the answer the latter gave Comrades Akimov and Lieber exposes the utter falsity of the “minority’s” post-Congress conduct and theories. "The Rules, he [Comrade Akimov] said, do not define the jurisdiction of the Central Committee with enough precision. I cannot agree with him. On the contrary, this definition is precise and means that inasmuch as the Party is one whole, it must be ensured control over the local committees. Comrade Lieber said, borrowing my expression, that the Rules were ’organised distrust’. That is true. But I used this expression in reference to the Rules proposed by the Bund spokesmen, which represented organised distrust on the part of a section of the Party towards the whole Party. Our Rules, on the other hand" (at that time, before the defeat over the composition of the central bodies, the Rules were “ours”!), “represent the organised distrust of the Party towards all its sections, that is, control over all local, district, national, and other organisations” (p. 158). Yes, our Rules are here correctly described, and we would advise those to bear this more constantly in mind who are now assuring us with an easy conscience that it was the intriguing majority who conceived and introduced the system of “organised distrust” or, which is the same thing, the “state of siege”. One has only to compare this speech with the speeches at the Congress of the League Abroad to get a specimen of political spinelessness, a specimen of how the views of Martov and Co. changed depending on whether the matter concerned their own group of a lower order or someone else’s.


  G. The Party Rules. Comrade Martov’s Draft | I. Paragraph One of the Rules  

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