Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


I. Paragraph One of the Rules

We have already cited the different formulations around which an interesting debate flared up at the Congress. This debate took up nearly two sittings and ended with two roll-call votes (during the entire Congress there were, if I am not mistaken, only eight roll-call votes, which were resorted to only in very important cases because of the great loss of time they involved). The question at issue was undoubtedly one of principle. The interest of the Congress in the debate was tremendous. All the delegates voted—a rare occurrence at our Congress (as at any big congress) and one that likewise testifies to the interest displayed by the disputants.

What, then, was the substance of the matter in dispute? I already said at the Congress, and have since repeated it time and again, that “I by no means consider our difference [over Paragraph 1] so vital as to be a matter of life or death to the Party. We shall certainly not perish because of an unfortunate clause in the Rules!” (p. 250.)[1] Taken by itself, this difference, although it did reveal shades of principle, could never have called forth that divergence (actually, to speak unreservedly, that split) which took place after the Congress. But every little difference may become a big one if it is insisted on, if it is put into the foreground, if people set about searching for all the roots and branches of the difference. Every little difference may assume tremendous importance if it serves as the starting-point for a swing towards definite mistaken views, and if these mistaken views are combined, by virtue of new and additional divergences, with anarchistic actions which bring the Party to the point of a split.

And that is just what happened in the present case. The comparatively slight difference over Paragraph 1 has now acquired tremendous importance, because it was this that started the swing towards the opportunist profundities and anarchistic phrase-mongering of the minority (especially at the League Congress, and subsequently in the columns of the new Iskra as well). It was this that marked the beginning of the coalition of the Iskra-ist minority with the anti-Iskra-ists and the Marsh, which assumed final and definite shape by the time of the elections, and without understanding which it is impossible to understand the major and fundamental divergence over the composition of the central bodies. The slight mistake of Martov and Axelrod over Paragraph 1 was a slight crack in our pot (as I put it at the League Congress). The pot could be bound tight with a hard knot (and not a hangman’s knot, as it was misunderstood by Martov, who during the League Congress was in a state bordering on hysteria); or all efforts could be directed towards widening the crack and breaking the pot in two. And that is what happened, thanks to the boycott and similar anarchistic moves of the zealous Martovites. The difference over Paragraph 1 played no small part in the elections to the central bodies, and Martov’s defeat in the elections led him into a “struggle over principles” with the use of grossly mechanical and even brawling methods (such as his speeches at the Congress of the League of Russian Revolutionary Social-Democracy Abroad).

Now, after all these happenings, the question of Paragraph 1 has thus assumed tremendous importance, and we must clearly realise both the character of the Congress groupings in the voting on this paragraph and—far more important still—the real nature of those shades of opinion which revealed or began to reveal themselves over Paragraph 1. Now, after the events with which the reader is familiar, the question stands as follows: Did Martov’s formulation, which was supported by Axelrod, reflect his (or their) instability, vacillation, and political vagueness, as I expressed it at the Party Congress (p. 333), his (or their) deviation towards Jaurèsism and anarchism, as Plekhanov suggested at the League Congress (League Minutes, p. 102 and elsewhere)? Or did my formulation, which was supported by Plekhanov, reflect a wrong, bureaucratic, formalistic, Jack-in-office, un-Social-Democratic conception of centralism? Opportunism and anarchism, or bureaucracy and formalism?—that is the way the question stands now, when the little difference has become a big one. And when discussing the pros and cons of my formulation on their merits, we must bear in mind just this presentation of the question, which has been forced upon us all by the events, or, I would say if it did not sound too pompous, has been evolved by history.

Let us begin the examination of these pros and cons with an analysis of the Congress debate. The first speech, that of Comrade Egorov, is interesting only for the fact that his attitude (non liquet, it is not yet clear to me, I do not yet know where the truth lies) was very characteristic of the attitude of many delegates, who found it difficult to grasp the rights and wrongs of this really new and fairly complex and detailed question. The next speech, that of Comrade Axelrod, at once made the issue one of principle. This was the first speech Comrade Axelrod made at the Congress on questions of principle, one might even say the first speech he made at all, and it can scarcely be claimed that his debut with the celebrated “professor” was particularly fortunate. “I think,” Comrade Axelrod said, “that we must draw a distinction between the concepts party and organisation. These two concepts are being confused here. And the confusion is dangerous.” That was the first argument against my formulation. Examine it more closely. When I say that the Party should be the sum (and not the mere arithmetical sum, but a complex) of organisations,[2] [2] The word “organisation” is commonly employed in two senses, a broad and a narrow one. In the narrow sense it signifles an individual nucleus of a collective of people with at least a minimum degree of coherent form. In the broad sense it signifies the sum of such nuclei united into a whole. For example, the navy, the army, or the state is at one and the same time a sum of organisations (in the narrow sense of the word) and a variety of social organisation (in the broad sense of the word). The Department of Education is an organisation (in the broad sense of the word) and consists of a number of organisations (in the narrow sense of the word). Similarly, the Party is an organisation, should be an organisation (in the broad sense of the word); at the same time, the Party should consist of a whole number of diversified organisations (in the narrow sense of the word). Therefore, when he spoke of drawing a distinction between the concepts party and organisation, Comrade Axelrod, firstly, did not take account of the difference between the broad and the narrow sense of the word “organisation”, and, secondly, did not observe that he was himself confusing organised and unorganised elements. —Lenin does that mean that I “confuse” the concepts party and organisation? Of course not. I thereby express clearly and precisely my wish, my demand, that the Party, as the vanguard of the class, should be as organised as possible, that the Party should admit to its ranks only such elements as allow of at least a minimum of organisation.My opponent, on the contrary, lumps together in the Party organised and unorganised elements, those who lend themselves to direction and those who do not, the advanced and the incorrigibly backward—for the corrigibly backward can join an organisation. This confusion is indeed dangerous. Comrade Axelrod further cited the “strictly secret and centralised organisations of the past” (Zemlya i Volya[13] and Narodnaya Voly[14]): around them, he said, “were grouped a large number of people who did not belong to the organisation but who helped it in one way or another and who were regarded as Party members.... This principle should be even more strictly observed in the Social-Democratic organisation.” Here we come to one of the key points of the matter: is “this principle” really a Social-Democratic one—this principle which allows people who do not belong to any of the organisations of the Party, but only “help it in one way or another”, to call themselves Party members? And Plekhanov gave the only possible reply to this question when he said: “Axelrod was wrong in citing the seventies. At that time there was a well-organised and splendidly disciplined centre; around it there were the organisations of various categories, which it had created; and what remained outside these organisations was chaos, anarchy. The component elements of this chaos called themselves Party members, but this harmed rather than benefited the cause. We should not imitate the anarchy of the seventies, but avoid it.” Thus “this principle”, which Comrade Axelrod wanted to pass off as a Social-Democratic one, is in reality an anarchistic principle. To refute this, one would have to show that control, direction, and discipline are possible outside an organisation, and that conferring the title of Party members on “elements of chaos” is necessary. The supporters of Comrade Martov’s formulation did not show, and could not show, either of these things. Comrade Axelrod took as an example “a professor who regards himself as a Social-Democrat and declares himself such”. To complete the thought contained in this example, Comrade Axelrod should have gone on to tell us whether the organised Social-Democrats themselves regard this professor as a Social-Democrat. By failing to raise this further question, Comrade Axelrod abandoned his argument half-way. After all, one thing or the other. Either the organised Social-Democrats regard the professor in question as a Social-Democrat, in which case why should they not enrol him in one of the Social-Democratic organisations? For only if the professor is thus enrolled will his “declaration” answer to his actions, and not be empty talk (as professorial declarations all too frequently are). Or the organised Social Democrats do not regard the professor as a Social-Democrat, in which case it would be absurd, senseless and harmful to allow him the right to bear the honourable and responsible title of Party member. The matter therefore reduces itself to the alternative: consistent application of the principle of organisation, or the sanctification of disunity and anarchy? Are we to build the Party on the basis of that already formed and welded core of Social-Democrats which brought about the Party Congress, for instance, and which should enlarge and multiply Party organisations of all kinds; or are we to content ourselves with the soothing phrase that all who help are Party members? “If we adopt Lenin’s formula,” Comrade Axelrod continued, “we shall be throwing overboard a section of those who, even if they cannot be directly admitted to an organisation, are nevertheless Party members.” The confusion of concepts of which Comrade Axelrod wanted to accuse me stands out here quite clearly in his own case: he already takes it for granted that all who help are Party members, whereas that is what the whole argument is about and our opponents have still to prove the necessity and value of such an interpretation. What is the meaning of the phrase “throwing over board”, which at first glance seems so terrible? Even if only members of organisations recognised as Party organisations are regarded as Party members, people who cannot “directly” join any Party organisation can still work in an organisation which does not belong to the Party but is associated with it. Consequently, there can be no talk of throwing anyone overboard in the sense of preventing them from working, from taking part in the movement. On the contrary, the stronger our Party organisations, consisting of real Social-Democrats, the less wavering and instability there is within the Party, the broader, more varied, richer, and more fruitful will be the Party’s influence on the elements of the working-class masses surrounding it and guided by it. The Party, as the vanguard of the working class, must not be confused, after all, with the entire class. And Comrade Axelrod is guilty of just this confusion (which is characteristic of our opportunist Economism in general) when he says: “First and foremost we are, of course, creating an organisation of the most active elements of the Party, an organisation of revolutionaries; but since we are the Party of a class, we must take care not to leave outside the Party ranks people who consciously, though perhaps not very actively, associate themselves with that Party.” Firstly, the active elements of the Social-Democratic working-class party will include not only organisations of revolutionaries, but a whole number of workers’ organisations recognised as Party organisations. Secondly, how, by what logic, does the fact that we are the party of a class warrant the conclusion that it is unnecessary to make a distinction between those who belong to the Party and those who associate themselves with it? Just the contrary: precisely because there are differences in degree of consciousness and degree of activity, a distinction must be made in degree of proximity to the Party. We are the party of a class, and therefore almost the entire class (and in times of war, in a period of civil war, the entire class) should act under the leadership of our Party, should adhere to our Party as closely as possible. But it would be Manilovism[15] and “tail-ism” to think that the entire class, or almost the entire class, can ever rise, under capitalism, to the level of consciousness and activity of its vanguard, of its Social-Democratic Party. No sensible Social-Democrat has ever doubted that under capitalism even the trade union organisations (which are more primitive and more comprehensible to the undeveloped sections) are incapable of embracing the entire, or almost the entire, working class. To forget the distinction between the vanguard and the whole of the masses gravitating towards it, to forget the vanguard’s constant duty of raising ever wider sections to its own advanced level, means simply to deceive oneself, to shut one’s eyes to the immensity of our tasks, and to narrow down these tasks. And it is just such a shutting of one’s eyes, it is just such forgetfulness, to obliterate the difference between those who associate themselves and those who belong, those who are conscious and active and those who only help.

To argue that we are the party of a class in justification of organisational looseness, in justification of confusing organisation with disorganisation, is to repeat the mistake of Nadezhdin, who confused “the philosophical and social historical question of the ’depth’ of the ’roots’ of the movement with the technical and organisational question” (What Is To Be Done?, p. 91).[3] It is this confusion, wrought by the deft hand of Comrade Axelrod, that was then repeated dozens of times by the speakers who defended Comrade Martov’s formulation. “The more widespread the title of Party member, the better,” said Martov, without, however, explaining the benefit of a widespread title which did not correspond to fact. Can it be denied that control over Party members who do not belong to a Party organisation is a mere fiction? A widespread fiction is not beneficial, but harmful. “We could only rejoice if every striker, every demonstrator, answering for his actions, could proclaim himself a Party member” (p. 239). Is that so? Every striker should have the right to proclaim himself a Party member? In this statement Comrade Martov instantly carries his mistake to the point of absurdity, by lowering Social-Democracy to the level of mere strike-making, thereby repeating the misadventures of the Akimovs. We could only rejoice if the Social-Democrats succeeded in directing every strike, for it is their plain and unquestionable duty to direct every manifestation of the class struggle of the proletariat, and strikes are one of the most profound and most powerful manifestations of that struggle. But we should be tail-enders if we were to identify this primary form of struggle, which ipso facto is no more than a trade unionist form, with the all-round and conscious Social Democratic struggle. We should be opportunistically legitimising a patent falsehood if we were to allow every striker the right to “proclaim himself a Party member”, for in the majority of cases such a “proclamation” would be false. We should be indulging in complacent daydreaming if we tried to assure ourselves and others that every striker can be a Social-Democrat and a member of the Social-Democratic Party, in face of that infinite disunity, oppression, and stultification which under capitalism is bound to weigh down upon such very wide sections of the “untrained”, unskilled workers. This example of the "striker " brings out with particular clarity the difference between the revolutionary striving to direct every strike in a Social-Democratic way and the opportunist phrase-mongering which proclaims every striker a Party member. We are the Party of a class inasmuch as we in fact direct almost the entire, or even the entire, proletarian class in a Social-Democratic way; but only Akimovs can conclude from this that we must in word identify the Party and the class.

“I am not afraid of a conspiratorial organisation,” said Comrade Martov in this same speech; but, he added, “for me a conspiratorial organisation has meaning only when it is enveloped by a broad Social-Democratic working-class party” (p. 239). To be exact he should have said: when it is enveloped by a broad Social-Democratic working-class movement. And in that form Comrade Martov’s proposition would have been not only indisputable, but a plain truism. I dwell on this point only because subsequent speakers turned Comrade Martov’s truism into the very prevalent and very vulgar argument that Lenin wants “to confine the sum-total of Party members to the sum-total of conspirators”. This conclusion, which can only provoke a smile, was drawn both by Comrade Posadovsky and by Comrade Popov; and when it was taken up by Martynov and Akimov, its true character of an opportunist phrase became altogether manifest. Today Comrade Axelrod is developing this same argument in the new Iskra by way of acquainting the reading public with the new editorial board’s new views on organisation. Already at the Congress, at the very first sitting where Paragraph 1 was discussed, I noticed that our opponents wanted to avail themselves of this cheap weapon, and therefore warned in my speech (p. 240): “It should not be imagined that Party organisations must consist solely of professional revolutionaries. We need the most diverse organisations of all types, ranks, and shades, beginning with extremely limited and secret and ending with very broad, free, lose Organisationen.” This is such an obvious and self-evident truth that I did not think it necessary to dwell on it. But today, when we have been dragged back in so many respects, one has to “repeat old lessons” on this subject too. In order to do so, I shall quote certain passages from What Is To Be Done? and A Letter to a Comrade.

“. . . A circle of leaders of the type of Alexeyev and Myshkin, of Khalturin and Zhelyabov, is capable of coping with political tasks in the genuine and most practical sense of the term, for the reason and to the extent that their impassioned propaganda meets with response among the spontaneously awakening masses, and their sparkling energy is answered and supported by the energy of the revolutionary class.”[4] In order to be a Social-Democratic party, we must win the support precisely of the class. It is not that the Party should envelop the conspiratorial organisation, as Comrade Martov thought, but that the revolutionary class, the proletariat, should envelop the Party, the latter to include both conspiratorial and non-conspiratorial organisations.

“. . . The workers’ organisations for the economic struggle should be trade union organisations. Every Social-Democratic worker should as far as possible assist and actively work in these organisations. But . . . it is certainly not in our interest to demand that only Social-Democrats should be eligible for membership in the trade unions since that would only narrow the scope of our influence upon the masses. Let every worker who understands the need to unite for the, struggle against the employers and the government join the trade unions. The very aim of the trade unions would be impossible of achievement if they did not unite all who have attained at least this elementary degree of understanding—if they were not very broad organisations. The broader these organisations, the broader will be our influence over them—an influence due, not only to the ’spontaneous’ development of the economic struggle, but to the direct and conscious effort of the socialist trade union members to influence their comrades” (p. 86).[5] Incidentally, the example of the trade unions is particularly significant for an assessment of the controversial question of Paragraph 1. That these unions should work “under the control and direction” of the Social-Democratic organisations, of that there can be no two opinions among Social-Democrats. But on those grounds to confer on all members of trade unions the right to “proclaim themselves” members of the Social-Democratic Party would be an obvious absurdity and would constitute a double danger: on the one hand, of narrowing the dimensions of the trade union movement and thus weakening the solidarity of the workers; and, on the other, of opening the door of the Social-Democratic Party to vagueness and vacillation. The German Social-Democrats had occasion to solve a similar problem in a practical instance, in the celebrated case of the Hamburg bricklayers working on piece rates.[16] The Social-Democrats did not hesitate for a moment to proclaim strike breaking dishonourable in Social-Democratic eyes, that is, to acknowledge that to direct and support strikes was their own vital concern; but at the same time they just as resolutely rejected the demand for identifying the interests of the Party with the interests of the trade unions, for making the Party responsible for individual acts of individual trade unions. The Party should and will strive to imbue the trade unions with its spirit and bring them under its influence; but precisely in order to do so it must distinguish the fully Social-Democratic elements in these unions (the elements belonging to the Social-Democratic Party) from those which are not fully class-conscious and politically active, and not confuse the two, as Comrade Axelrod would have us do.

“... Centralisation of the most secret functions in an organisation of revolutionaries will not diminish, but rather increase the extent and enhance the quality of the activity of a large number of other organisations that are intended for a broad public and are therefore as loose and as non-secret as possible, such as workers’ trade unions; workers’ self-education circles and circles for reading illegal literature; and socialist, as well as democratic, circles among all other sections of the population; etc., etc. We must have such circles, trade unions, and organisations everywhere in as large a number as possible and with the widest variety of functions; but it would be absurd and harmful to confound them with the organisation of revolutionaries, to efface the border-line between them . . .” (p. 96).[6] This quotation shows how out of place it was for Comrade Martov to remind me that the organisation of revolutionaries should be enveloped by broad organisations of workers. I had already pointed this out inWhat Is To Be Done?—and inA Letter to a Comrade I developed this idea more concretely. Factory circles, I wrote there, “are particularly important to us: the main strength of the movement lies in the organisation of the workers at the large factories, for the large factories (and mills) contain not only the predominant part of the working class, as regards numbers, but even more as regards influence, development, and fighting capacity. Every factory must be our fortress.... The factory subcommittee should endeavour to embrace the whole factory, the largest possible number of the workers, with a network of all kinds of circles (or agents).... All groups, circles, subcommittees, etc., should enjoy the status of committee institutions or branches of a committee. Some of them will openly declare their wish to join the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party and, if endorsed by the committee, will join the Party, and will assume definite functions (on the instructions of, or in agreement with, the committee), will undertake to obey the orders of the Party organs, receive the same rights as all Party members, and be regarded as immediate candidates for membership of the committee, etc. Others will not join the R.S.D.L.P., and will have the status of circles formed by Party members, or associated with one Party group or another, etc.” (pp. 17-18).[7] The words I have underlined make it particularly clear that the idea of my formulation of Paragraph 1 was already fully expressed in A Letter to a Comrade. The conditions for joining the Party are directly indicated there, namely: 1) a certain degree of organisation, and 2) endorsement by a Party committee. A page later I roughly indicate also what groups and organisations should (or should not) be admitted to the Party, and for what reasons: “The distributing groups should belong to the R.S.D.L.P. and know a certain number of its members and functionaries. The groups for studying labour conditions and drawing up trade union demands need not necessarily belong to the R.S.D.L.P. Groups of students, officers, or office employees engaged in self-education in conjunction with one or two Party members should in some cases not even be aware that these belong to the Party, etc.” (pp. 18-19).[8]

There you have additional material on the subject of the “open visor”! Whereas the formula of Comrade Martov’s draft does not even touch on relations between the Party and the organisations, I pointed out nearly a year before the Congress that some organisations should belong to the Party, and others not. In A Letter to a Comrade the idea I advocated at the Congress was already clearly outlined. The matter might be put graphically in the following way. Depending on degree of organisation in general and of secrecy of organisation in particular, roughly the following categories may be distinguished: 1) organisations of revolutionaries; 2) organisations of workers, as broad and as varied as possible (I confine myself to the working class, taking it as self-evident that, under certain conditions, certain elements of other classes will also be included here). These two categories constitute the Party. Further, 3) workers’ organisations associated with the Party; 4) workers’ organisations not associated with the Party but actually under its control and direction; 5) unorganised elements of the working class, who in part also come under the direction of the Social-Democratic Party, at any rate during big manifestations of the class struggle. That, approximately, is how the matter presents itself to me. As Comrade Martov sees it, on the contrary, the border-line of the Party remains absolutely vague, for “every striker” can “proclaim himself a Party member”. What benefit is there in this looseness? A widespread “title”. Its harm is that it introduces a disorganising idea, the confusing of class and party.

In illustration of the general propositions we have adduced, let us take a cursory glance at the further discussion of Paragraph 1 at the Congress. Comrade Brouckère (to the great glee of Comrade Martov) pronounced in favour of my formulation, but his alliance with me, unlike Comrade Akimov’s with Martov, turned out to be based on a misunderstanding. Comrade Brouckère did “not agree with the Rules as a whole, with their entire spirit” (p. 239), and defended my formulation as the basis of the democracy which the supporters of Rabocheye Dyelo desired. Comrade Brouckère had not yet risen to the view that in a political struggle it is sometimes necessary to choose the lesser evil; Comrade Brouckère did not realise that it was useless to advocate democracy at a Congress like ours. Comrade Akimov was more perspicacious. He put the question quite rightly when he stated that “Comrades Martov and Lenin are arguing as to which [formulation] will best achieve their common aim” (p. 252); “Brouckère and I,” he continued, “want to choose the one which will least achieve that aim. From this angle I choose Martov’s formulation.” And Comrade Akimov frankly explained that he considered “their very aim” (that is, the aim of Plekhanov, Martov, and myself—the creation of a directing organisation of revolutionaries) to be “impracticable and harmful”; like Comrade Martynov,[9] [9] Comrade Martynov, it is true, wanted to be different from Comrade Akimov, he wanted to show that conspiratorial did not mean secret, that behind the two different words were two different concepts. What the difference is, neither Comrade Martynov nor Comrade Axelrod, who is now following in his footsteps, ever did explain. Comrade Martynov “acted” as if I had not—for example in What Is To Be Done? (as well as in the Tasks [see present edition, Vol. 2, pp. 323-51.—Ed.])—resolutely opposed “confining the political struggle to conspiracy”. Comrade Martynov was anxious to have his hearers forget that the people I had been fighting had not seen any necessity for an organisation of revolutionaries, just as Comrade Akimov did not see it now. —Lenin he advocated the Economist idea that “an organisation of revolutionaries” was unnecessary. He was “confident that in the end the realities of life will force their way into our Party organisation, whether you bar their path with Martov’s formulation or with Lenin’s”. It would not be worth while dwelling on this “tail-ist” conception of the “realities of life” if we did not encounter it in the case of Comrade Martov too. In general, Comrade Martov’s second speech (p. 245) is so interesting that it deserves to be examined in detail.

Comrade Martov’s first argument: control by the Party organisations over Party members not belonging to them “is practicable, inasmuch as, having assigned a function to someone, the committee will be able to watch over it” (p. 245). This thesis is remarkably characteristic, for it “betrays”, if one may so put it, who needs Martov’s formulation and whom it will serve in actual fact—free-lance intellectuals or workers’ groups and the worker masses. The fact is that there are two possible interpretations of Martov’s formulation: 1) that anyone who renders the Party regular personal assistance under the direction of one of its organisations is entitled to "proclaim himself " (Comrade Martov’s own words) a Party member; 2) that a Party organisation is entitled to regard as a Party member anyone who renders it regular personal assistance under its direction. It is only the first interpretation that really gives “every striker” the opportunity to call himself a Party member, and accordingly it alone immediately won the hearts of the Liebers, Akimovs, and Martynovs. But this interpretation is manifestly no more than a phrase, because it would apply to the entire working class, and the distinction between Party and class would be obliterated; control over and direction of “every striker” can only be spoken of “symbolically”. That is why, in his second speech, Comrade Martov at once slipped into the second interpretation (even though, be it said in parenthesis, it was directly rejected by the Congress when it turned down Kostich’s resolution—p. 255), namely, that a committee would assign functions and watch over their fulfilment. Such special assignments will never, of course, be made to the mass of the workers, to the thousands of proletarians (of whom Comrade Axelrod and Comrade Martynov spoke)—they will frequently be given precisely to those professors whom Comrade Axelrod mentioned, to those high-school students for whom Comrade Lieber and Comrade Popov were so concerned (p. 241), and to the revolutionary youth to whom Comrade Axelrod referred in his second speech (p. 242). In a word, Comrade Martov’s formula will either remain a dead letter, an empty phrase, or it will be of benefit mainly and almost exclusively to “intellectuals who are thoroughly imbued with bourgeois individualism” and do not wish to join an organisation. In words, Martov’s formulation defends the interests of the broad strata of the proletariat, but in fact it serves the interests of the bourgeois intellectuals, who fight shy of proletarian discipline and organisation. No one will venture to deny that the intelligentsia, as a special stratum of modern capitalist society, is characterised, by and large, precisely by individualism and incapacity for discipline and organisation (cf., for example, Kautsky’s well-known articles on the intelligentsia). This, incidentally, is a feature which unfavourably distinguishes this social stratum from the proletariat; it is one of the reasons for the flabbiness and instability of the intellectual, which the proletariat so often feels; and this trait of the intelligentsia is intimately bound up with its customary mode of life, its mode of earning a livelihood, which in a great many respects approximates to the petty-bourgeois mode of existence (working in isolation or in very small groups, etc.). Nor is it fortuitous, lastly, that the defenders of Comrade Martov’s formulation were the ones who had to cite the example of professors and high school students! It was not champions of a broad proletarian struggle who, in the controversy over Paragraph 1, took the field against champions of a radically conspiratorial organisation, as Comrades Martynov and Axelrod thought, but the supporters of bourgeois-intellectual individualism who clashed with the supporters of proletarian organisation and discipline.

Comrade Popov said: “Everywhere, in St. Petersburg as in Nikolayev or Odessa, as the representatives from these towns testify, there are dozens of workers who are distributing literature and carrying on word-of-mouth agitation but who cannot be members of an organisation. They can be attached to an organisation, but not regarded as members” (p. 241). Why they cannot be members of an organisation remained Comrade Popov’s secret. I have already quoted the passage from A Letter to a Comrade showing that the admission of all such workers (by the hundred, not the dozen) to an organisation is both possible and necessary, and, more over, that a great many of these organisations can and should belong to the Party.

Comrade Martov’s second argument: “In Lenin’s opinion there should be no organisations in the Party other than Party organisations....” Quite true! “In my opinion, on the contrary, such organisations should exist. Life creates and breeds organisations faster than we can include them in the hierarchy of our militant organisation of professional revolutionaries....” That is untrue in two respects: 1) the number of effective organisations of revolutionaries that “life” breeds is far less than we need, than the working-class movement requires; 2) our Party should be a hierarchy not only of organisations of revolutionaries, but of a mass of workers’ organisations as well.... "Lenin thinks that the Central Committee will confer the title of Party organisations only on such as are fully reliable in the matter of principles. But Comrade Brouckère understands very well that life [sic!] will assert itself and that the Central Committee, in order not to leave a multitude of organisations outside the Party, will have to legitimise them despite their not quite reliable character; that is why Comrade Brouckère associates himself with Lenin...." What a truly tail-ist conception of “life”! Of course, if the Central Committee had necessarily to consist of people who were not guided by their own opinions, but by what others might say (vide the Organising Committee incident), then “life” would “assert itself” in the sense that the most backward elements in the Party would gain the upper hand (as has in fact happened now when the backward elements have taken shape as the Party “minority” ). But no intelligent reason can be given which would induce a sensible Central Committee to admit “unreliable” elements to the Party. By this reference to “life”, which “breeds” unreliable elements, Comrade Martov patently revealed the opportunist character of his plan of organisation! . . . “I for my part think,” he continued, “that if such an organisation [one that is not quite reliable] is prepared to accept the Party programme and Party control, we may admit it to the Party, without thereby making it a Party organisation. I would consider it a great triumph for our Party if, for example, some union of ’independents’ were to declare that they accepted the views of Social-Democracy and its programme and were joining the Party; which does not, however, mean that we would include the union in the Party organisation....” Such is the muddle Martov’s formulation leads to: non-Party organisations belonging to the Party! Just imagine his scheme: the Party = 1) organisations of revolutionaries, + 2) workers’ organisations recognised as Party organisations, + 3) workers’ organisations not recognised as Party organisations (consisting principally of “independents”), + 4) individuals performing various functions—professors, high-school students, etc., + 5) “every striker”. Alongside of this remarkable plan one can only put the words of Comrade Lieber: “Our task is not only to organise an organisation [!!]; we can and should organise a party” (p. 241). Yes, of course, we can and should do that, but what it requires is not meaningless words about “organising organisations”, but the unequivocal demand that Party members should work to create an organisation in fact. Me who talks about “organising a party” and yet defends using the word party to cover disorganisation and disunity of every kind is just indulging in empty words.

“Our formulation,” Comrade Martov said, “expresses the desire to have a series of organisations between the organisation of revolutionaries and the masses.” It does not. This truly essential desire is just what Martov’s formulation does not express, for it does not offer an incentive to organise, does not contain a demand for organisation, does not separate organised from unorganised. All it offers is a title,[10] [10] At the League Congress, Comrade Martov adduced one more argument in support of his formulation an argument that deserves to be laughed at. “We might point out,” he said, “that, taken literally Lenin’s formulation excludes the agents of the Central Committee from the Party, for they do not constitute an organisation” (p. 59). Even at the League Congress this argument was greeted with laughter, as the minutes record. Comrade Martov supposes that the “difficulty” he mentions can only be solved by including the Central Committee agents in “the organisation of the Central Committee”. But that is not the point. The point is, that Comrade Martov’s example saliently demonstrates that he completely fails to understand the idea of Paragraph 1; it was a sheer specimen of pedantic criticism that did indeed deserve to be laughed at. Formally speaking, all that would be required would be to form an “organisation of Central Committee agents” pass a resolution to include it in the Party, and the “difficulty” which caused Comrade Martov so much brain-racking would immediately vanish. The idea of Paragraph 1 as formulated by me consists in the incentive to organise; it consists in guaranteeing actual control and direction. Essentially, the very question whether the Central Committee agents will belong to the Party is ridiculous, for actual control over them is fully and absolutely guaranteed by the very fact that they have been appointed agents and that they are kept on as agents. Consequently, here there can be no question of any confusion of organised and unorganised (which is the root mistake in Comrade Martov’s formulation). Why Comrade Martov’s formulation is no good is that it allows anyone, any opportunist, any windbag, any “professor”, and any “high-school student” to proclaim himself a Party member. It is in vain for Comrade Martov to try to talk away this Achilles heel of his formulation by examples in which there can be no auestion of people arbitrarily styling or proclaiming themselves members. —Lenin and in this connection we cannot but recall Comrade Axelrod’s words: “No decree can forbid them [circles of revolutionary youth and the like] or individuals to call themselves Social-Democrats [true enough!] and even to regard themselves as part of the Party”—now that is not true at all ! It is impossible and pointless to forbid anyone to call himself a Social-Democrat, for in its direct sense this word only signifies a system of convictions, and not definite organisational relations. But as to forbidding various circles and persons to “regard themselves as part of the Party”, that can and should be done if these circles and persons injure the Party, corrupt or disorganise it. It would be absurd to speak of the Party as of a whole, as of a political entity, if it could not “by decree forbid” a circle to “regard itself as part” of the whole! What in that case would be the point of defining the procedure and conditions of expulsion from the Party? Comrade Axelrod reduced Comrade Martov’s fundamental mistake to an obvious absurdity; he even elevated this mistake to an opportunist theory when he added: “As formulated by Lenin, Paragraph 1 directly conflicts in principle with the very nature [!!] and aims of the Social-Democratic Party of the proletariat” (p. 243). This means nothing less than that making higher demands of the Party than of the class conflicts in principle with the very nature of the aims of the proletariat. It is not surprising that Akimov was heart and soul in favour of such a theory.

It should be said in fairness that Comrade Axelrod—who now wants to convert this mistaken formulation, one obviously tending towards opportunism, into the germ of new views—at the Congress, on the contrary, expressed a readiness to “bargain”, saying: “But I observe that I am knocking at an open door” (I observe this in the new Iskra too), “because Comrade Lenin, with his peripheral circles which are to be regarded as part of the Party organisation, goes out to meet my demand.” (And not only with the peripheral circles, but with every kind of workers’ union: cf. p. 242 of the Minutes, the speech of Comrade Strakhov, and the passages from What Is To Be Done? and A Letter to a Comrade quoted above.) “There still remain the individuals, but here, too, we could bargain.” I replied to Comrade Axelrod that, generally speaking, I was not averse to bargaining, and I must now explain in what sense this was meant. As regards the individuals—all those professors, high-school students, etc.—I would least of all have agreed to make concessions; but if doubts had been aroused as to the workers’ organisations, I would have agreed (despite the utter groundlessness of such doubts, as I have proved above) to add to my Paragraph 1 a note to the following effect: “Workers’ organisations which accept the Programme and Rules of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party should be included in the largest possible numbers among the Party organisations.” Strictly speaking, of course, the place for such a recommendation is not in the Rules, which should be confined to statutory definitions, but in explanatory commentaries and pamphlets (and I have already pointed out that I gave such explanations in my pamphlets long before the Rules were drawn up); but at least such a note would not contain even a shadow of wrong ideas capable of leading to disorganisation, not a shadow of the opportunist arguments[11] [11] To this category of arguments, which inevitably crop up when attempts are made to justify Martov’s formulation belongs, in particular, Comrade Trotsky’s statement (pp. 248 and 346) that “opportunism is produced by more complex [or: is determined by deeper] causes than one or another clause in the Rules; it is brought about by the relative level of development of bourgeois democracy and the proletariat....” The point is not that clauses in the Rules may produce opportunism, but that with their help a more or a less trenchant weapon against opportunism can be forged. The deeper its causes, the more trenchant should this weapon be. Therefore, to justify a formulation which opens the door to opportunism on the grounds that opportunism has deep causes is tail-ism of the first water. When Comrade Trotsky was opposed to Comrade Lieber, he understood that the Rules constitute the “organised distrust” of the whole towards the part, of the vanguard towards the backward contingent, but when Comrade Trotsky came to be on Comrade Lieber’s side, he forgot this and even began to justify the weakness and instability of our organisation of this distrust (distrust of opportunism) by talking about “complex causes”, the “level of development of the proletariat”, etc. Here is another of Comrade Trotsky’s arguments: “It is much easier for the intellectual youth, organised in one way or another, to enter themselves [my italics ] on the rolls of the Party.” Just so. That is why it is the formulation by which even unorganised elements may proclaim themselves Party members that suffers from intellectualist vagueness, and not my formulation, which obviates the right to “enter oneself” on the rolls. Comrade Trotsky said that if the Central Committee “refused to recognise” an organisation of opportunists, it would only be because of the character of certain individuals, and that since these individuals would be known, as political personalities, they would not be dangerous and could be removed by a general Party boycott. This is only true of cases when people have to be removed from the Party (and only half true at that, because an organised party removes members by a vote and not by a boycott). It is absolutely untrue of the far more frequent cases when removal would be absurd, and when all that is required is control. For purposes of control, the Central Committee might, on certain conditions, deliberately admit to the Party an organisation which was not quite reliable but which was capable of working; it might do so with the object of testing it, of trying to direct it on to the right path, of correcting its partial aberrations by guidance etc. This would not be dangerous if in general “self-entering” on the Party rolls were not allowed. It would often be useful for an open and responsible, controlled expression (and discussion) of mistaken views and mistaken tactics. “But if statutory definitions are to correspond to actual relations, Comrade Lenin’s formulation must be rejected,” said Comrade Trotsky, and again he spoke like an opportunist. Actual relations are not a dead thing, they live and develop. Statutory definitions may correspond to the progressive development of those relations, but they may also (if the definitions are bad ones) “correspond” to retrogression or stagnation. The latter case is the “case” of Comrade Martov. —Lenin and “anarchistic conceptions” that are undoubtedly inherent in Comrade Martov’s formulation.

This last expression, given by me in quotation marks, is that of Comrade Pavlovich, who quite justly characterised as anarchism the recognition of “irresponsible and self-enrolled Party members”. “Translated into simple terms,” said Comrade Pavlovich, explaining my formulation to comrade Lieber, “it means: ’if you want to be a Party member, your acceptance of organisational relations too must be not merely platonic’.” Simple as this “translation” was, it seems it was not superfluous (as events since the Congress have shown) not only for various dubious professors and high-school students, but for honest-to-goodness Party members, for people at the top.... With no less justice, Comrade Pavlovich pointed to the contradiction between Comrade Martov’s formulation and the indisputable precept of scientific socialism which Comrade Martov quoted so unhappily: “Our Party is the conscious spokesman of an unconscious process.” Exactly. And for that very reason it is wrong to want “every striker” to have the right to call himself a Party member, for if “every strike” were not only a spontaneous expression of the powerful class instinct and of the class struggle which is leading inevitably to the social revolution, but a conscious expression of that process, then . . . then the general strike would not be an anarchist phrase, then our Party would forthwith and at once embrace the whole working class, and, consequently, would at once put an end to bourgeois society as a whole. If it is to be a conscious spokesman in fact, the Party must be able to work out organisational relations that will ensure a definite level of consciousness and systematically raise this level. “If we are to go the way of Martov.” Comrade Pavlovich said, “we should first of all delete the clause on accepting the programme, for before a programme can be accepted it must be mastered and understood.... Acceptance of the programme presupposes a fairly high level of political consciousness.” We shall never allow support of Social-Democracy, participation in the struggle it directs, to be artificially restricted by any requirements (mastery, understanding, etc.), for this participation itself, the very fact of it, promotes both consciousness and the instinct for organisation; but since we have joined together in a party to carry on systematic work, we must see to it that it is systematic.

That Comrade Pavlovich’s warning regarding the programme was not superfluous became apparent at once, during that very same sitting. Comrades Akimov and Lieber, who secured the adoption of Comrade Martov’s formulation,[12] [12] The vote was twenty-eight for and twenty-two against. Of the eight anti-Iskra-ists, seven were for Martov and one for me. Without the aid of the opportunists, Comrade Martov would not have secured adoption of his opportunist formulation. (At the League Congress Comrade Martov tried very unsuccessfully to refute this undoubted fact, for some reason mentioning only the votes of the Bundists and forgetting about Comrade Akimov and his friends—or rather remembering them only when it could serve against me: Comrade Brouckère’s agreement with me.) —Lenin at once betrayed their true nature by demanding (pp. 254-55) that in the case of the programme too only platonic acceptance, acceptance only of its “basic principles”, should be required (for “membership” in the Party). “Comrade Akimov’s proposal is quite logical from Comrade Martov’s standpoint,” Comrade Pavlovich remarked. Unfortunately, we cannot see from the minutes how many votes this proposal of Akimov’s secured—in all probability, not less than seven (five Bundists, Akimov, and Brouckère). And it was the withdrawal of seven delegates from the Congress that converted the “compact majority” (anti-Iskra-ists, “Centre”, and Martovites) which began to form over Paragraph 1 of the Rules into a compact minority! It was the withdrawal of seven delegates that resulted in the defeat of the motion to endorse the old editorial board—that supposed howling violation of “continuity” in the Iskra editorship! A curious seven it was that constituted the sole salvation and guarantee of Iskra “continuity”: the Bundists, Akimov and Brouckère, that is, the very delegates who voted against the motives for adopting Iskra as the Central Organ, the very delegates whose opportunism was acknowledged dozens of times by the Congress, and acknowledged in particular by Martov and Plekhanov in the matter of toning down Paragraph 1 in reference to the programme. The “continuity” of Iskra guarded by the anti-Iskra-ists!—this brings us to the starting-point of the post-Congress tragicomedy.

*     *

The grouping of votes over Paragraph 1 of the Rules revealed a phenomenon of exactly the same type as the equality of languages incident: the falling away of one-quarter (approximately) of the Iskra majority made possible the victory of the anti-Iskra-ists, who were backed by the “Centre”. Of course, here too there were individual votes which disturbed the full symmetry of the picture—in so large an assembly as our Congress there are bound to be some “strays” who shift quite fortuitously from one side to the other, especially on a question like Paragraph 1, where the true character of the divergence was only beginning to emerge and many delegates had simply not yet found their bearings (considering that the question had not been discussed before hand in the press). Five votes fell away from the majority Iskra-ists (Rusov and Karsky with two votes each, and Lensky with one); on the other hand, they were joined by one anti-Iskra-ist (Brouckère) and by three from the Centre (Medvedev, Egorov and Tsaryov); the result was a total of twenty-three votes (24 - 5 + 4), one vote less than in the final grouping in the elections. It was the anti-Iskra-ists who gave Martov his majority, seven of them voting for him and one for me (of the “Centre” too, seven voted for Martov, and three for me). That coalition of the minority Iskra-ists with the anti-Iskra-ists and the “Centre” which formed a compact minority at the end of the Congress and after the Congress was beginning to take shape. The political error of Martov and Axelrod, who undoubtedly took a step towards opportunism and anarchistic individualism in their formulation of Paragraph 1, and especially in their defence of that formulation, was revealed at once and very clearly thanks to the free and open arena offered by the Congress; it was revealed in the fact that the least stable elements, the least steadfast in principle, at once employed all their forces to widen the fissure, the breach, that appeared in the views of the revolutionary Social-Democrats. Working together at the Congress were people who in matters of organisation frankly pursued different aims (see Akimov’s speech)—a circumstance which at once induced those who were in principle opposed to our organisational plan and our Rules to support the error of Comrades Martov and Axelrod. The Iskra-ists who on this question too remained faithful to the views of revolutionary Social-Democracy found themselves in the minority. This is a point of the utmost importance, for unless it is grasped it is absolutely impossible to understand either the struggle over the details of the Rules or the struggle over the personal composition of the Central Organ and the Central Committee.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 6, p. 501.—Ed.

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

[3] See present edition, Vol. 5, p. 461.—Ed.

[4] See present edition, Vol. 5, p. 447.—Ed.

[5] See present edition, Vol. 5, p. 454.—Ed.

[6] See present edition, Vol. 5, p. 466.—Ed.

[7] See present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 243, 245, 246.—Ed.

[8] See present edition, Vol. 6, p. 247.—Ed.

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

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

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

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

[13] Zemlya i Volya (Land and Freedom) was a revolutionary Narodnik organisation formed in St. Petersburg in the autumn of 1816; erig inally known as the Northern Revolutionary Narodnik Group, it took the name Zemlya i Volya in 1878. Among the members were Mark and Olga Natanson, G. V. Plekhanov, 0. V. Aptekman, A. D. and A. F. Mikhailov, A. A. Kvyatkovsky, M. R. Popov, S. M. Kravchinsky, D. A. Kiements, A. D. Oboleshev, Sophia Perovskaya, and other prominent revolutionaries of the seventies. While not renouncing socialism as the ultimate goal, Zemlya i Volya put for ward as the immediate aim the satisfaction of “the people’s demands and desires as they are at the moment”, namely, the demand for “land and freedom”. “Needless to say”, its programme declared, “this formula can be made a reality only through violent revolu tion”, with a view to which it advocated exciting “popular discon tent” and “disorganising the power of the state”. For the purpose of agitation among the peasantry, members of the orgj)anisation set up rural “colonies”, chiefly in the agricultural gu ernias along the Volga and in the fertile central regions. They also carried on agitation among the workers and the student youth. On Decem ber 6 (18), 1876, they organised a demonstration in the Kazan Square in St. Petersburg. In the course of 1878-79 Zemlya i Volyn published five issues of a journal of the same name.

Although connected with some of the workers’ circles, Zemlya i Volya could not and did not want to he the leader of the working- class movement, since in common with other Narodniks it denied the vanguard role of the working class. Nor did it understand the importance of political struggle, which in its view only diverted the revolutionaries’ energies and might weaken their ties with the people.

Unlike the Narodnik groups of the early seventies, Zemlya i Volya built up a close-knit organisation, based on principles of strict centralisation and discipline. There was a central “core” and around it there were territorial and specialised groups (for work among the peasantry and among the workers, for “disorganising” activities, and so on); the “core” was headed by an “administration” (or “commission”) which controlled the activities of the groups and supplied them with literature, funds, etc. The Zernlya i Volya Rules, adopted in the winter of 1876-77, stipulated subordination of minority to majority, bound every member to dedicate and sacrifice to the organisation’s interests “all his energies, means, connections, sympathies and antipathies, and even life itself”, and imposed absolute secrecy in regard to all the organisation’s internal affairs.

By 1879, with their socialist agitation among the peasants having little effect and with government persecution increasing, the major ity of the members began to loan towards political terrorism as the principal means of achieving their programme. There were sharp disagreements about this, and at its Voronezh Congress in June 1879 Zemlya i Volya split in two: the adherents of the old tactics (headed by Plekhanov) formed an organisation called Chorny Peredel (General Redistribution), while the advocates of terrorism (A. I. Zhelyabov and others) founded Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will).

[14] Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will)—the secret political organisa tion of the terrorist Narodniksformed in August 1879 following the split in Zemlya i Volya. It was headed by an Executive Committee consisting of A. I. Zhelyabov, A. D. Mikhailov, M. F. Frolenko, N. A. Morozov, Vera Figner, Sophia Perovskaya, A. A. Kvyatkov sky, and others.

While still adhering to the Narodnik utopian-socialist ideas, Narodnaya Volya believed in political struggle also, regarding the overthrow of the autocracy and the achievement of political freedom as a major aim. Its programme envisaged a “permanent popular representative body” elected by universal suffrage, the proclamation of democratic liberties, the transfer of the land to the people, and measures to put the factories in the hands of the work ers. “The Narodnaya Volya members,” Lenin wrote, “made a step forward when they took up the political struggle, but they failed to connect it with socialism” (see present edition, Vol. 8, “Working Class Democracy and Bourgeois Democracy”).

Narodnaya Volya fought heroically against the tsarist autocracy. But, going by the erroneous theory of “active” heroes and a “pas sive” mass, it expected to achieve the remaking of society without the participation of the people, by its own efforts, through individ ual terrorism that would intimidate and disorganise the govern ment. After the assassination of Alexander II on March 1, 1881, the government was able, by savage reprisals, death sentences, and acts of provocation, to crush it out of existence.

Repeated attempts to revive the organisation during the eighties ended in failure. Thus, in 1886 a group in the Narodnaya Volya tradition was formed by A. I. Ulyanov (elder brother of Lenin) and P. Y. Shevyryov; but after an unsuccessful attem Pt to assa si nate Alexander III in 1887, the group was uncovered and its active members executed.

While criticising Narodnaya Volya’s erroneous, utopian pro gramme, Lenin expressed great respect for its members’ selfless struggle against tsarism. In A Protest by Russian Social-Demo crats (1899) he pointed out that “the members of the old Narodnaya Volya managed to play an enormous role in the history of Russia, despite the fact that only narrow social strata supported the few heroes, and despite the fact that it was by no means a revolutionary theory which served as the banner of the movement” (see present edition, Vol. 4, p. 181).

[15] Manilovism (from the name ot Manilov in Gogol’s Dead Souls)— smug complacency, empty sentimental day-dreaming.

[16] The reference is to an incident which took place in Hamburg in 1900 in connection with the conduct of a group of members of the Free Bricklayers’ Union who performed piece work during a strike, in violation of the instructions of the trade union centre. The Hamburg Bricklayers’ Union complained to the local Sociai Democratic Party organisation about the strike-breaking activities of the Social-Democrat members of the group. A court of arbitration appointed by the Central Executive of the Social-Democratic Party condemned the conduct of these Social-Democrats but turned down the proposal that they be expelled from the Party.

  H. Discussion on Centralism Prior to the Split Among the Iskra-ists | J. Innocent Victims of a False Accusation of Opportunism  

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