Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


J. Innocent Victims of a False Accusation of Opportunism

Before passing on to the subsequent discussion of the Rules, it is necessary, in order to elucidate our difference over the personal composition of the central institutions, to touch on the private meetings of the Iskra organisation during the Congress. The last and most important of these four meetings was held just after the vote on Paragraph 1 of the Rules—and thus the split in the Iskra organisation which took place at this meeting was in point of both time and logic a prelude to the subsequent struggle.

The Iskra organisation began to hold private meetings[1] [1] I have already tried at the League Congress to give an account of what took place at the private meetings, keeping to the barest essentials in order to avoid hopeless arguments. The principal facts are also set out in my Letter to the Editors ofIskra” (p. 4). Comrade Martov did not challenge them in his Reply. —Lenin soon after the Organising Committee incident, which gave rise to a discussion of possible candidates for the Central Committee. It stands to reason that, since binding instructions had been abolished, these meetings were purely in the nature of consultations and their decisions were not binding on any one; but their importance was nevertheless immense. The, selection of candidates for the Central Committee was a matter of considerable difficulty to delegates who were acquainted neither with the secret names nor with the inner work of the Iskra organisation, the organisation that had brought about actual Party unity and whose leadership of the practical movement was one of the motives for the official adoption of Iskra. We have already seen that, united, the Iskra-ists were fully assured a big majority at the Congress, as much as three-fifths, and all the delegates realised this very well. All the Iskra-ists, in fact, expected the “Iskra” organisation to make definite recommendations as to the personal composition of the Central Committee, and not one member of that organisation raised any objection to a preliminary discussion of the Central Committee’s composition within it; not one of them so much as hinted at endorsing the entire membership of the Organising Committee that is converting that body into the Central Committee, or even at conferring with the Organising Committee as a whole regarding candidates for the Central Committee. This circumstance is also highly significant, and it is extremely important to bear it in mind, for now, after the event, the Martovites are zealously defending the Organising Committee, thereby only proving their political spinelessness for the hundredth and thousandth time.[2] [2] Just reflect on this “picture of morals”: the delegate from the Iskra organisation confers at the Congress with it alone and does not hint, even, at conferring with the Organising Committee. But after he is defeated both in this organisation and at the Congress, he begins to regret that the Organising Committee way not endorsed, to extol it retrospectively, and loftily to ignore the organisation that gave him his mandate! It may safely be vouched that no analogous instance will be found in the history of any really Social-Democratic and really working-class party. —Lenin Until the split over the composition of the central bodies led Martov to join forces with the Akimovs, everyone at the Congress clearly realised what any impartial person may easily ascertain from the Congress minutes and from the entire history of Iskra, namely, that the Organising Committee was mainly a commission set up to convene the Congress, a commission deliberately composed of representatives of different shades, including even the Bundists; while the real work of creating the organised unity of the Party was done entirely by the Iskra organisation. (It should be remembered also that quite by chance several Iskra-ists on the Organising Committee were absent from the Congress, either because they had been arrested or for other reasons “beyond their control”.) The members of the Iskra organisation present at the Congress have already been enumerated in Comrade Pavlovich’s pamphlet (see his Letter on the Second Congress, p. 13).[9]

The ultimate result of the heated debates in the Iskra organisation was the two votes I have already mentioned in my Letter to the Editors. The first vote: “by nine votes to four, with three abstentions, one of the candidates supported by Martov was rejected.” What could be simpler and more natural, one would think, than such a fact: by the common consent of all the sixteen Iskra organisation members at the Congress, the possible candidates are discussed, and one of Comrade Martov’s candidates is rejected by the majority (it was Comrade Stein, as Comrade Martov himself has now blurted out—State of Siege, p. 69). After all, one of the reasons why we assembled at the Party Congress was to discuss and decide to whom to entrust the “conductor’s baton”—and it was the common duty of us all as Party members to give this item on the agenda the most serious attention, to decide this question from the standpoint of the interests of the work, and not of “philistine sentimentality”, as Comrade Rusov quite rightly expressed it later. Of course, in discussing candidates at the Congress, we were bound to touch upon certain personal qualities, were bound to express our approval or disapproval,[3] [3] Comrade Martov bitterly complained at the League of the vehemence of my disapproval, failing to see that his complaint turned into an argument against himself. Lenin behaved—to use his own expression—frenziedly (League Minutes, p. 63). That is so. He banged the door. True. His conduct (at the second or third meeting of the Iskra organisation) aroused the indignation of the members who remained at the meeting. It did. But what follows? Only that my arguments on the substance of the questions in dispute were convincing and were borne out by the course of the Congress. For if, in fact, nine of the sixteen members of the Iskra organisation in the end sided with me, clearly this was so notwithstanding and in spite of my reprehensible vehemence. Hence, had it not been for this “vehemence”, perhaps even more than nine would have sided with me. The more “indignation” my arguments and facts had to overcome, the more convincing they must have been. —Lenin especially at an unofficial and intimate meeting. And I have already pointed out at the League Congress that it is absurd to think that a candidate is “disgraced” when he is not approved (League Minutes, p. 49), absurd to make a “scene” and go into hysterics over what forms part of a Party member’s direct duty to select officials conscientiously and judiciously. And yet this was what put the fat in the fire as far as our minority are concerned, and they began after the Congress to clamour about “destroying reputations” (League Minutes, p. 70) and to assure the broad public in print that Comrade Stein had been the “chief figure” on the former Organising Committee and that he had been groundlessly accused of “diabolical schemes” (State of Siege, p. 69). Is it not hysterics to shout about “destroying reputations” in connection with the approval or disapproval of candidates? Is it not squabbling when people who have been defeated both at a private meeting of the Iskra organisation and at the official supreme assembly of the Party, the Congress, begin to complain to all and sundry and recommend rejected candidates to the worthy public as “chief figures”, and when they then try to force their candidates upon the Party by causing a split and demanding co-optation? In our musty émigré atmosphere political concepts have become so confused that Comrade Martov is no longer able to distinguish Party duty from personal and circle allegiance! It is bureaucracy and formalism, we are to believe, to think it proper to discuss and decide upon candidates only at congresses, where delegates assemble primarily for the discussion of important questions of principle, where representatives of the movement assemble who are able to treat the question of personalities impartially, and who are able (and in duty bound) to demand and gather all necessary information about the candidates before casting their decisive votes, and where the assignment of a certain place to arguments over the conductor’s baton is natural and essential. Instead of this bureaucratic and formal view, new usages and customs have now become the thing: we are, after congresses, to talk right and left about the political burial of Ivan Ivanovich or the destroyed reputation of Ivan Nikiforovich; writers are to recommend candidates in pamphlets, the while beating their breasts and hypocritically asserting: “This is not a circle, it is a party....” Those of the reading public who have a taste for scandal will eagerly savour the sensational news that, on the assurance of Martov himself,[4] so-and-so was the chief figure on the Organising Committee. This reading public is far more competent to discuss and decide the question than formalistic institutions like congresses, with their grossly mechanical decisions by majority vote.... Yes, there are still veritable Augean stables of émigré squabbling for our real Party workers to clean up!

Second vote of the Iskra organisation: “by ten votes to two, with four abstentions, a list of five [candidates for the Central Committee] was adopted which, on my proposal, included one leader of the non-Iskra-ist elements and one leader of the Iskra-ist minority.”[5] This vote is of the utmost importance, for it clearly and irrefutably proves the utter falsity of the fables which were built up later, in the atmosphere of squabbling, to the effect that we wanted to eject the non-Iskra-ists from the Party or set them aside, that what the majority did was to pick candidates from only one half of the Congress and have them elected by that half, etc. All this is sheer falsehood. The vote I have cited shows that we did not exclude the non-Iskra-ists even from the Central Committee, let alone the Party, and that we allowed our opponents a very substantial minority. The whole point is that they wanted to have a majority, and when this modest wish was not gratified, they started a row and refused to be represented on the central bodies at all. That such was the case, Comrade Martov’s assertions at the League notwithstanding, is shown by the following letter which the minority of the Iskra organisation addressed to us, the majority of the Iskra-ists (and the majority at the Congress after the withdrawal of the seven), shortly after the Congress adopted Paragraph 1 of the Rules (it should be noted that the Iskra organisation meeting I have been speaking of was the last: after it, the organisation actually broke up and each side tried to convince the other Congress delegates that it was in the right).

Here is the text of the letter:

“Having heard the explanation of delegates Sorokin and Sablina[10] regarding the wish of the majority of the editorial board and the Emancipation of Labour group to attend the meeting [on such and such a date],[6] and having with the help of these delegates established that at the previous meeting a list of Central Committee candidates was read which was supposed to have come from us, and which was used to misrepresent our whole political position; and bearing in mind also that, firstly, this list was attributed to us without any attempt to ascertain its real origin; that, secondly, this circumstance is undoubtedly connected with the accusation of opportunism openly circulated against the majority of the Iskra editorial board and of the Emancipation of Labour group, and that, thirdly, this accusation is, as is perfectly clear to us, connected with a quite definite plan to change the composition of the ’ Iskra’ editorial board—we consider that the explanation given us of the reasons for excluding us from the meeting is unsatisfactory, and that the refusal to admit us to the meeting is proof of not wanting to give us the opportunity to refute the above mentioned false accusations.

“As to the possibility of our reaching agreement on a joint list of candidates for the Central Committee, we declare that the only list we can accept as the basis for agreement is: Popov, Trotsky, and Glebov. Furthermore, we emphasise that this is a compromise list, since the inclusion of Comrade Glebov is to be viewed only as a concession to the wishes of the majority; for now that the role he has played at the Congress is clear to us, we do not consider Comrade Glebov a person satisfying the requirements that should be made of a candidate for the Central Committee.

“At the same time, we stress that our entering into negotiations regarding the candidates for the Central Committee has no bearing whatever on the question of the composition of the editorial board of the Central Organ, as on this question (the composition of the editorial board) we are not prepared to enter into any negotiations.

“On behalf of the Comrades,

“Martov and Starover”

This letter, which accurately reproduces the frame of mind of the disputing sides and the state of the dispute, takes us at once to the “heart” of the incipient split and reveals its real causes. The minority of the Iskra organisation, having refused to agree with the majority and preferred freedom of agitation at the Congress (to which they were, of course, fully entitled), nevertheless tried to induce the “delegates” of the majority to admit them to their private meeting! Naturally, this amusing demand only met with a smile and a shrug at our meeting (where the letter was of course read), and the outcry, bordering on hysterics, about “false accusations of opportunism” evoked outright laughter. But let us first examine Martov’s and Starover’s bitter complaints point by point.

The list had been wrongly attributed to them; their political position was being misrepresented.—But, as Martov himself has admitted (League Minutes, p. 64), it never occurred to me to doubt the truth of his statement that he was not the author of the list. In general, the authorship of the list has nothing to do with the case, and whether the list was drawn up by some Iskra-ist or by some representative of the “Centre”, etc., is of absolutely no importance. The important thing is that this list, which consisted entirely of members of the present minority, circulated at the Congress, if only as a mere guess or conjecture. Lastly, the most important thing of all is that at the Congress Comrade Martov was obliged to dissociate himself with the utmost vehemence from such a list, a list which he now would be bound to greet with delight. Nothing could more saliently exemplify instability in the evaluation of people and shades than this right-about-face in the course of a couple of months from howling about “defamatory rumours” to forcing on the Party central body the very candidates who figure in this supposedly defamatory list![7]

This list, Comrade Martov said at the League Congress, “politically implied a coalition between us and Yuzhny Rabochy, on the one hand, and the Bund, on the other, a coalition in the sense of a direct agreement” (p. 64). That is not true, for, firstly, the Bund would never have entered into an “agreement” about a list which did not include a single Bundist; and, secondly, there was and could have been no question of a direct agreement (which was what Martov thought disgraceful) even with the Yuzhny Rabochy group, let alone the Bund. It was not an agreement but a coalition that was in question; not that Comrade Martov had made a deal, but that he was bound to have the support of those very anti-Iskra-ists and unstable elements whom he had fought during the first half of the Congress and who had seized upon his error over Paragraph 1 of the Rules. The letter I have quoted proves incontrovertibly that the root of the “grievance” lay in the open, and moreover false, accusation of opportunism. This “accusation” which put the fat in the fire, and which Comrade Martov now so carefully steers clear of, in spite of my reminder in the Letter to the Editors, was twofold. Firstly, during the discussion of Paragraph 1 of the Rules Plekhanov bluntly declared that Paragraph 1 was a question of “keeping away” from us “every kind of representative of opportunism”, and that my draft, as a bulwark against their invading the Party, “should, if only for that reason, receive the votes of all enemies of opportunism” (Congress Minutes, p. 246). These vigorous words, even though I softened them down a little (p. 250),[8] caused a sensation, which was clearly expressed in the speeches of Comrades Rusov (p. 247), Trotsky (p. 248), and Akimov (p. 253). In the “lobby” of our “parliament”, Plekhanov’s thesis was keenly commented on and varied in a thousand ways in endless arguments over Paragraph 1. But instead of defending their case on its merits, our dear comrades assumed a ludicrous air of injury and even went to the length of complaining in writing about a “false accusation of opportunism”!

Their narrow circle mentality and astonishing immaturity as Party members, which cannot stand the fresh breeze of open controversy in the presence of all, is here clearly revealed. It is the mentality so familiar to the Russian, as expressed in the old saying: either coats off, or let’s have your hand! These people are so accustomed to the bell-jar seclusion of an intimate and snug little circle that they almost fainted as soon as a person spoke up in a free and open arena on his own responsibility. Accusations of opportunism!—against whom? Against the Emancipation of Labour group, and its majority at that—can you imagine anything more terrible? Either split the Party on account of this ineffaceable insult, or hush up this “domestic unpleasantness” by restoring the “continuity” of the bell-jar—this alternative is already pretty clearly indicated in the letter we are examining. Intellectualist individualism and the circle mentality had come into conflict with the requirement of open speaking before the Party. Can you imagine such an absurdity, such a squabble, such a complaint about “false accusations of opportunism” in the German party? There, proletarian organisation and discipline weaned them from such intellectualist flabbiness long ago. Nobody has anything but the profoundest respect for Liebknecht, let us say; but how they would have laughed over there at complaints that he (together with Bebel) was “openly accused of opportunism” at the 1895 Congress, when, on the agrarian question, he found himself in the bad company of the notorious opportunist Vollmar and his friends. Liebknecht’s name is inseparably bound up with the history of the German working-class movement not, of course, because he happened to stray into opportunism on such a comparatively minor and specific question, but in spite of it. And similarly, in spite of all the acrimony of the struggle, the name of Comrade Axelrod, say, inspires respect in every Russian Social-Democrat, and always will; but not because Comrade Axelrod happened to defend an opportunist idea at the Second Congress of our Party, happened to dig out old anarchistic rubbish at the Second Congress of the League, but in spite of it. Only the most hidebound circle mentality, with its logic of “either coats off, or let’s have your hand”, could give rise to hysterics, squabbles, and a Party split because of a “false accusation of opportunism against the majority of the Emancipation of Labour group”.

The other element of this terrible accusation is intimately connected with the preceding (Comrade Martov tried in vain at the League Congress [p. 63] to evade and hush up one side of this incident). It relates in fact to that coalition of the anti-Iskra-ist and wavering elements with Comrade Martov which began to emerge in connection with Paragraph 1 of the Rules. Naturally, there was no agreement, direct or indirect, between Comrade Martov and the anti-Iskra-ists, nor could there have been, and nobody suspected him of it: it only seemed so to him in his fright. But politically his error was revealed in the fact that people who undoubtedly gravitated towards opportunism began to form around him an ever more solid and “compact” majority (which has now become a minority only because of the “accidental” withdrawal of seven-delegates). We pointed to this “coalition”, also openly, of course, immediately after the matter of Paragraph 1—both at the Congress (see Comrade Pavlovich’s remark already quoted: Congress Minutes, p. 255) and in the Iskra organisation (Plekhanov, as I recall, pointed to it in particular). It is literally the same point and the same jibe as was addressed by Clara Zetkin to Bebel and Liebknecht in 1895, when she said: "Es tut mir in der Seele weh, dass ich dich in der Gesellschaft seh ’" (“It cuts me to the quick to see you [i.e., Bebel] in such company [i.e., of Vollmar and Co.]”). It is strange, to be sure, that Bebel and Liebknecht did not send a hysterical message to Kautsky and Zetkin complaining of a false accusation of opportunism....

As to the list of candidates for the Central Committee, this letter shows that Comrade Martov was mistaken in declaring at the League that the refusal to come to an agreement with us was not yet final—another example of how unwise it is in a political struggle to attempt to reproduce the spoken word from memory, instead of relying on documents. Actually, the “minority” were so modest as to present the “majority” with an ultimatum: take two from the “minority” and one (by way of compromise and only as a concession, properly speaking!) from the “majority”. This is monstrous, but it is a fact. And this fact clearly shows how absurd are the fables now being spread to the effect that the “majority” picked representatives of only one half of the Congress and got them elected by that one half. Just the opposite: the Martovites offered us one out of three only as a concession, consequently, in the event of our not agreeing to this unique “concession”, they wanted to get all the seats filled by their own candidates! At our private meeting we had a good laugh at the Martovites’ modesty and drew up a list of our own: Glebov-Travinsky (subsequently elected to the Central Committee)-Popov. For the latter we then substituted (also at a private meeting of the twenty-four) Comrade Vasilyev (subsequently elected to the Central Committee) only because Comrade Popov refused, first in private conversation and then openly at the Congress (p. 338), to be included in our list.

That is how matters really stood.

The modest “minority” modestly wished to be in the majority. When this modest wish was not met, the “minority” were pleased to decline altogether and to start a row. Yet there are people who now talk pontifically about the “intransigence” of the “majority”!

Entering the fray in the arena of free agitation at the Congress, the “minority” presented the “majority” with amusing ultimatums. Having suffered defeat, our heroes burst into tears and began to cry out about a state of siege. Voilà tout.

The terrible accusation that we intended to change the composition of the editorial board was also greeted with a smile (at our private meeting of the twenty-four): from the very beginning of the Congress, and even before the Congress, everybody had known perfectly well of the plan to reconstitute the editorial board by electing an initial trio (I shall speak of this in greater detail when I come to the election of the editorial board at the Congress). That the “minority” took fright at this plan after they saw its correctness splendidly confirmed by their coalition with the anti-Iskra-ists did not surprise us—it was quite natural. Of course, we could not take seriously the proposal that we should of our own free will, without a fight at the Congress, convert ourselves into a minority; nor could we take seriously this whole letter, the authors of which had reached such an incredible state of exasperation as to speak of “false accusations of opportunism”. We confidently hoped that their sense of Party duty would very soon get the better of the natural desire to “vent their spleen”.


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

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

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

[4] I, too, like Martov, tried in the Iskra organisation to get a certain candidate nominated to the Central Committee and failed, a candidate of whose splendid reputation before and at the beginning of the Congress, as borne out by outstanding facts, I too could speak. But it has never entered my head. This comrade has sufficient self-respect not to allow anybody, after the Congress, to nominate him in print or to complain about political burials, destroyed reputations, etc. —Lenin

[5] See p. 121 of this volume.—Ed.

[6] According to my reckoning, the date mentioned in the letter was a Tuesday. The meeting took place on Tuesday evening, that is, after the 28th sitting of the Congress. This chronological point is very important. It is a documentary refutation of Comrade Martov’s opinion that we parted company over the organisation of the central bodies, and not over their personal composition. It is documentary proof of the correctness of my statement of the case at the League Congress and in the Letter to the Editors. After the 28th sitting of the Congress Comrades Martov and Starover had a great deal to say about a false accusation of opportunism, but did not say a word about the differences over the composition of the Council or over co-optation to the central bodies (which we argued about at the 25th, 26th, and 27th sittings). —Lenin

[7] These lines were already set up when we received news of the incident of Comrade Gusev and Comrade Deutsch. We shall examine this incident separately in an appendix. (See pp. 416–25 of this volume.—Ed.) —Lenin

[8] See present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 501–02.—Ed.

[9] There were sixteen members of the Iskra organisation present at the Second Party Congress—9 majority adherents, headed by Lenin, and 7 minority adherents, headed by Martov. p. 279

[10] Sablina—pseudonym of N. K. Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife and closest Party associate.

  I. Paragraph One of the Rules | K. Continuation of the Debate on the Rules. Composition of the Council.  

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