Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


K. Continuation of the Debate on the Rules. Composition of the Council.

The succeeding clauses of the Rules aroused far more controversy over details than over principles of organisation. The 24th sitting of the Congress was entirely devoted to the question of representation at Party congresses, and again a decided and definite struggle against the common plans of all the Iskra-ists was waged only by the Bundists (Goldblatt and Lieber, pp. 258-59) and Comrade Akimov, who with praiseworthy frankness admitted his role at the Congress: “Every time I speak, I do so fully realising that my arguments will not influence the comrades, but will on the contrary damage the point I am trying to defend” (p. 261). Coming just after Paragraph 1 of the Rules, this apt remark was particularly appropriate; only the words “on the contrary” were not quite in order here, for Comrade Akimov was able not only to damage various points, but at the same time, and by so doing, to “influence the comrades” . . . those very inconsistent Iskra-ists who inclined towards opportunist phrase-mongering.

Well, in the upshot Paragraph 3 of the Rules, which defines the conditions of representation at congresses, was adopted by a majority with seven abstentions (p. 263)—anti-Iskra-ists, evidently.

The arguments over the composition of the Council, which took up the greater part of the 25th Congress sitting, revealed an extraordinary number of groupings around a multitude of proposals. Abramson and Tsaryov rejected the plan for a Council altogether. Panin insisted on making the Council a court of arbitration exclusively, and therefore quite consistently moved to delete the definition that the Council is the supreme institution and that it may be summoned by any two of its members.[1] [1] Apparently, Comrade Starover also inclined to the view of Comrade Panin, only with the difference that the latter knew what he wanted and quite consistently moved resolutions aimed at converting the Council into a pure arbitration or conciliation body, whereas Comrade Starover did not know what he wanted when he said that according to the draft the Council could meet “only on the wish of the parties” (p. 266). That was quite incorrect. —Lenin Hertz[3] and Rusov advocated differing methods of constituting the Council, in addition to the three methods proposed by the five members of the Rules Committee.

The questions in dispute reduced themselves primarily to definition of the Council’s functions: whether it was to be a court of arbitration or the supreme institution of the Party. Comrade Panin, as I have said, was consistently in favour of the former. But he stood alone. Comrade Martov vigorously opposed this: “I propose that the motion to delete the words, ’the Council is the supreme institution’, be rejected. Our formulation [i. e., the formulation of the Council’s functions that we had agreed on in the Rules Committee] deliberately leaves open the possibility of the Council developing into the supreme Party institution. For us, the Council is not merely a conciliation board.” Yet the composition of the Council as proposed by Comrade Martov was solely and exclusively that of a “conciliation board” or court of arbitration: two members from each of the central bodies and a fifth to be invited by these four. Not only such a composition of the Council, but even that adopted by the Congress on the motion of Comrades Rusov and Hertz (the fifth member to be appointed by the Congress), answers the sole purpose of conciliation or mediation. Between such a composition of the Council and its mission of becoming the supreme Party institution there is an irreconcilable contradiction. The composition of the supreme Party institution should be constant, and not dependent on chance changes (sometimes owing to arrests) in the composition of the central bodies. The supreme institution should stand in direct relation to the Party Congress, receiving its powers from the latter, and not from two other Party institutions subordinate to the Congress. The supreme institution should consist of persons known to the Party Congress. Lastly, the supreme institution should not be organised in a way that makes its very existence dependent on chance—the two bodies fail to agree on the selection of the fifth member, and the Party is left without a supreme institution! To this it was objected: 1) that if one of the five were to abstain and the remaining four were to divide equally, the position might also prove a hopeless one (Egorov). This objection is unfounded, for the impossibility of adopting a decision is something that is inevitable at times in the case of any body, but that is quite different from the impossibility of forming the body. Second objection: “if an institution like the Council proves incapable of selecting the fifth member, it will mean that it is ineffectual in general” (Zasulich). But the point here is not that it will be ineffectual, but that there will be no supreme institution at all: without the fifth member, there will be no Council, there will be no "institution ", and the question of whether it is effectual or not will not even arise. Lastly, if the trouble were that it might not be possible to form some Party body over which stood another, higher, body, that would be remediable, for in urgent cases the higher body could fill the gap in one way or another. But there is no body above the Council except the Congress, and therefore to frame the Rules in such a way that it might not even be possible to form the Council would obviously be illogical.

Both my brief speeches at the Congress on this question were devoted to an examination (pp. 267 and 269) only of these two wrong objections which Martov and other comrades adduced in defence of his proposal. As to the question of the Central Organ or the Central Committee predominating on the Council, I did not even touch on it. This question was brought up, as early as the 14th sitting of the Congress (p. 157), by Comrade Akimov, he being the first to talk of the danger of the Central Organ predominating; and Comrades Martov, Axelrod, and others, after the Congress, were only following in Akimov’s footsteps when they invented the absurd and demagogic story that the “majority” wanted to convert the Central Committee into a tool of the editorial board. When he dealt with this question in his State of Siege, Comrade Martov modestly avoided mentioning its real initiator!

Anybody who cares to acquaint himself with the entire treatment at the Party Congress of the question of the Central Organ predominating over the Central Committee, and is not content with isolated quotations torn from their context, will easily perceive how Comrade Martov has distorted the matter. It was none other than Comrade Popov who, as early as the 14th sitting, started a polemic against the views of Comrade Akimov, who wanted “the ’strictest centralisation’ at the top of the Party in order to weaken the influence of the Central Organ” (p. 154; my italics), “which in fact is the whole meaning of this [Akimov’s] system.” “Far from defending such centralisation,” Comrade Popov added, “I am prepared to combat it with every means in my power, because it is the banner of opportunism.” There you have the root of the famous question of the Central Organ predominating over the Central Committee, and it is not surprising that Comrade Martov is now obliged to pass over the true origin of the question in silence. Even Comrade Popov could not fail to discern the opportunist character of Akimov’s talk about the predominance of the Central Organ,[2] [2] Neither Comrade Popov nor Comrade Martov hesitated to call Comrade Akimov an opportunist, they only began to take exception and grow indignant when this appellation was applied to them, and applied justly, in connection with “equality of languages” or Paragraph 1. Comrade Akimov, in whose footsteps Comrade Martov has followed, was however able to conduct himself with greater dignity and manhood at the Party Congress than Comrade Martov and Co. at the League Congress. “I have been called an opportunist here,” said Comrade Akimov at the Party Congress. “I personally consider this an abusive and offensive term and believe that I have done nothing to deserve it. However, I am not protesting” (p. 296). Can it be that Comrades Martov and Starover invited Comrade Akimov to subscribe to their protest against the false accusation of opportunism, but that Comrade Akimov declined? —Lenin and in order thoroughly to dissociate himself from Comrade Akimov, Comrade Popov categorically declared: “Let there be three members from the editorial board on this central body [the Council] and two from the Central Committee. That is a secondary question. [My italics.] The important thing is that the leadership, the supreme leadership of the Party, should proceed from one source” (p. 155). Comrade Akimov objected: “Under the draft, the Central Organ is ensured predominance on the Council if only because the composition of the editorial board is constant whereas that of the Central Committee is changeable” (p. 157)—an argument which only relates to “constancy” of leadership in matters of principle (which is a normal and desirable thing), and certainly not to “predominance” in the sense of interference or encroachment on independence. And Comrade Popov, who at that time did not yet belong to a “minority” which masks its dissatisfaction with the composition of the central bodies by spreading tales of the Central Committee’s lack of independence, told Comrade Akimov quite logically: “I propose that it [the Council] be regarded as the directing centre of the Party, in which case it will be entirely unimportant whether there are more representatives on the Council from the Central Organ or from the Central Committee” (pp. 157-58; my italics).

When the discussion of the composition of the Council was resumed at the 25th sitting, Comrade Pavlovich, continuing the old debate, pronounced in favour of the predominance of the Central Organ over the Central Committee “in view of the former’s stability” (p. 264). It was stability in matters of principle that he had in mind, and that was how he was understood by Comrade Martov, who, speaking immediately after Comrade Pavlovich, considered it unnecessary to “fix the preponderance of one institution over the other” and pointed to the possibility of one of the Central Committee members residing abroad, “whereby the stability of the Central Committee in matters of principle would to some extent be preserved” (p. 264).Here there is not yet even a trace of the demagogic confusion of stability in matters of principle, and its preservation, with the preservation of the independence and initiative of the Central Committee. At the Congress this confusion, which since the Congress has practically become Comrade Martov’s trump card, was furthered only by Comrade Akimov, who already at that time spoke of the “Arakcheyev[4] spirit of the Rules” (p. 268), and said that "if three members of the Party Council were to be from the Central Organ, the Central Committee would be converted into a mere tool of the editorial board. [My italics.] Three persons residing abroad would obtain the unrestricted [!!] right to order the work of the entire [!!] Party. Their security would be guaranteed, and their power would therefore be lifelong" (p. 268). It was with this absolutely absurd and demagogic talk, in which ideological leadership is called interference in the work of the entire Party (and which after the Congress provided a cheap slogan for Comrade Axelrod with his talk about “theocracy”)—it was with this that Comrade Pavlovich again took issue when he stressed that he stood “for the stability and purity of the principles represented by Iskra. By giving preponderance to the editorial board of the Central Organ I want to fortify these principles” (p. 268).

That is how the celebrated question of the predominance of the Central Organ over the Central Committee really stands. This famous “difference of principle” on the part of Comrades Axelrod and Martov is nothing but a repetition of the opportunist and demagogic talk of Comrade Akimov, the true character of which was clearly detected even by Comrade Popov, in the days when he had not yet suffered defeat over the composition of the central bodies!

*     *

To sum up the question of the composition of the Council: despite Comrade Martov’s attempts in his State of Siege to prove that my statement of the case in the Letter to the Editors is contradictory and incorrect, the minutes of the Congress clearly show that, in comparison with Paragraph 1, this question was indeed only a detail, and that the assertion in the article “Our Congress” (Iskra, No. 53) that we argued “almost exclusively” about the organisation of the Party’s central institutions is a complete distortion. It is a distortion all the more outrageous since the author of the article entirely ignores the controversy over Paragraph 1. Further, that there was no definite grouping of the Iskra-ists over the composition of the Council is also borne out by the minutes: there were no roll-call votes; Martov differed with Panin; I found common ground with Popov; Egorov and Gusev took up a separate stand, and so on. Finally, my last statement (at the Congress of the League of Russian Revolutionary Social-Democracy Abroad), to the effect that the Martovites’ coalition with the anti-Iskra-ists grew steadily stronger, is also borne out by Comrade Martov’s and Comrade Axelrod’s swing towards Comrade Akimov—now apparent to everyone—on this question as well.


[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] Hertz—pseudonym of the Bolshevik D. I. Ulyanov, younger brother of Lenin.

[4] Arakcheyev, A. A. (1769-1834)—the powerful favourite of Paul I and Alexander I, whose name is associated with a period of crushing police tyranny and jackboot rule.

  J. Innocent Victims of a False Accusation of Opportunism | L. Conclusion of the Debate On The Rules. Co-Optation To The Central Bodies. Withdrawal of the Rabocheye Dyelo Delegates  

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