Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


O. After the Congress. Two Methods of Struggle

The analysis of the debates and voting at the Congress, which we have now concluded, actually explains in nuce (in embryo) everything that has happened since the Congress, and we can be brief in outlining the subsequent stages of our Party crisis.

The refusal of Martov and Popov to stand for election immediately introduced an atmosphere of squabbling into a Party struggle between Party shades. On the very next day after the Congress, Comrade Glebov, thinking it incredible that the unelected editors could seriously have decided to swing towards Akimov and Martynov, and attributing the whole thing primarily to irritation, suggested to Plekhanov and me that the matter should be ended peaceably and that all four should be “co-opted” on condition that proper representation of the editorial board on the Council was guaranteed (i.e., that of the two representatives, one was definitely drawn from the Party majority). This condition seemed sound to Plekhanov and me, for its acceptance would imply a tacit admission of the mistake at the Congress, a desire for peace instead of war, a desire to be closer to Plekhanov and me than to Akimov and Martynov, Egorov and Makhov. The concession as regards “co-optation” thus became a personal one, and it was not worth while refusing to make a personal concession which should clear away the irritation and restore peace. Plekhanov and I therefore consented. But the editorial majority rejected the condition. Glebov left. We began to wait and see what would happen next: whether Martov would adhere to the loyal stand he had taken up at the Congress (against Comrade Popov, the representative of the Centre), or whether the unstable elements who inclined towards a split, and in whose wake he had followed, would gain the upper hand.

We were faced with the question: would Comrade Martov choose to regard his Congress “coalition” as an isolated political fact (just as, si licet parva componere magnis,[1] Bebel’s coalition with Vollmar in 1895 was an isolated case), or would he want to consolidate this coalition, exert himself to prove that it was Plekhanov and I who were mistaken at the Congress, and become the actual leader of the opportunist wing of our Party? This question might be formulated otherwise as follows: a squabble or a political Party struggle? Of the three of us who on the day after the Congress were the sole available members of the central institutions, Glebov inclined most to the former answer and made the most efforts to reconcile the children who had fallen out. Comrade Plekhanov inclined most to the latter answer and was, as the saying goes, neither to hold nor to bind. I on this occasion acted the part of “Centre”, or “Marsh”, and endeavoured to employ persuasion. To try at this date to recall the spoken attempts at persuasion would be a hopelessly muddled business, and I shall not follow the bad example of Comrade Martov and Comrade Plekhanov. But I do consider it necessary to reproduce certain passages from one written attempt at persuasion which I addressed to one of the “minority” Iskra-ists:

“. . . The refusal of Martov to serve on the editorial board, his refusal and that of other Party writers to collaborate, the refusal of a number of persons to work on the Central Committee, and the propaganda of a boycott or passive resistance are bound to lead, even if against the wishes of Martov and his friends, to a split in the Party. Even if Martov adheres to a loyal stand (which he took up so resolutely at the Congress), others will not, and the outcome I have mentioned will be inevitable....

“And so I ask myself: over what, in point of fact, would we be parting company? . . . I go over all the events and impressions of the Congress; I realise that I often behaved and acted in a state of frightful irritation, ’frenziedly’; I am quite willing to admit this fault of mine to anyone, if that can be called a fault which was a natural product of the atmosphere, the reactions, the interjections, the struggle, etc. But examining now, quite unfrenziedly, the results attained, the outcome achieved by frenzied struggle, I can detect nothing, absolutely nothing in these results that is injurious to the Party, and absolutely nothing that is an affront or insult to the minority.

“Of course, the very fact of finding oneself in the minority could not but be vexatious, but I categorically protest against the idea that we ’cast slurs’ on anybody, that we wanted to insult or humiliate anybody. Nothing of the kind. And one should not allow political differences to lead to an interpretation of events based on accusing the other side of unscrupulousness, chicanery, intrigue, and the other nice things we are hearing mentioned more and more often in this atmosphere of an impending split. This should not be allowed, for it is, to say the least, the nec plus ultra of irrationality.

“Martov and I have had a political (and organisational) difference, as we had dozens of times before. Defeated over Paragraph 1 of the Rules, I could not but strive with all my might for revanche in what remained to me (and to the Congress). I could not but strive, on the one hand, for a strictly Iskra-ist Central Committee, and, on the other, for a trio on the editorial board.... I consider this trio the only one capable of being an official institution, instead of a body based on indulgence and slackness, the only one to be a real centre, each member of which would always state and defend his Party viewpoint, not one grain more, and irrespective of all personal considerations and all fear of giving offence, of resignations, and so on.

“This trio, after what had occurred at the Congress, undoubtedly meant legitimising a political and organisational line in one respect directed against Martov. Undoubtedly. Cause a rupture on that account? Break up the Party because of it?? Did not Martov and Plekhanov oppose me over the question of demonstrations? And did not Martov and I oppose Plekhanov over the question of the programme? Is not one side of every trio always up against the other two? If the majority of the Iskra-ists, both in the Iskra organisation and at the Congress, found this particular shade of Martov’s line organisationally and politically mistaken, is it not really senseless to attempt to attribute this to ’intrigue’, ’incitement’, and so forth? Would it not be senseless to try to talk away this fact by abusing the majority and calling them ’riffraff’?

“I repeat that, like the majority of the Iskra-ists at the Congress, I am profoundly convinced that the line Martov adopted was wrong, and that he had to be corrected. To take offence at this correction, to regard it as an insult, etc., is unreasonable. We have not cast, and are not casting, any ’slurs’ on anyone, nor are we excluding anyone from work. And to cause a split because someone has been excluded from a central body seems to me a piece of inconceivable folly.”[2] [2] This letter (to A. N. Potresov, of August 31 [September 13], 1903–Ed.) was written in September (New Style). I have only omitted what seemed to me irrelevant to the matter in hand. If the addressee considers what I have omitted important, he can easily repair the omission. Incidentally, let me take this opportunity to say that any of my opponents may publish any of my private letters should they think a useful purpose will be served by it. —Lenin

I have thought it necessary to recall these written statements of mine now, because they conclusively prove that the majority wanted to draw a definite line at once between possible (and in a heated struggle inevitable) personal grievances and personal irritations caused by biting and “frenzied” attacks, etc., on the one hand, and a definite political mistake, a definite political line (coalition with the Right wing), on the other.

These statements prove that the passive resistance of the minority began immediately after the Congress and at once evoked from us the warning that it was a step towards splitting the Party; the warning that it ran directly counter to their declarations of loyalty at the Congress; that the split would be solely over the fact of exclusion from the central institutions (that is, non-election to them), for nobody ever thought of excluding any Party member from work; and that our political difference (an inevitable difference, inasmuch as it had not yet been elucidated and settled which line at the Congress was mistaken, Martov’s or ours) was being perverted more and more into a squabble, accompanied by abuse, suspicions, and so on and so forth.

But the warnings were in vain. The behaviour of the minority showed that the least stable elements among them, those who least valued the Party, were gaining the upper hand. This compelled Plekhanov and me to withdraw the consent we had given to Glebov’s proposal. For if the minority were demonstrating by their deeds their political instability not only as regards principles, but even as regards elementary Party loyalty, what value could be attached to their talk about this celebrated “continuity”? Nobody scoffed more wittily than Plekhanov at the utter absurdity of demanding the “co-optation” to the Party editorial board of a majority consisting of people who frankly proclaimed their new and growing differences of opinion! Has there ever been a case in the world of a party majority on the central institutions converting itself into a minority of its own accord, prior to the airing of new differences in the press, in full view of the Party? Let the differences first be stated, let the Party judge how profound and important they were, let the Party itself correct the mistake it had made at the Second Congress, should it be shown that it had made a mistake! The very fact that such a demand was made on the plea of differences still unknown demonstrated the utter instability of those who made it, the complete submersion of political differences by squabbling, and their entire disrespect both for the Party as a whole and for their own convictions. Never have there been, nor will there be, persons of convinced principle who refuse to try to convince before they secure (privately ) a majority in the institution they want to bring round to their standpoint.

Finally, on October 4, Comrade Plekhanov announced that he would make a last attempt to put an end to this absurd state of affairs. A meeting was called of all the six members of the old editorial board, attended by a new member of the Central Committee.[3] [3] This Central Committee member[13] arranged, in addition, a number of private and collective talks with the minority, in which he refuted the preposterous tales that were being spread and appealed to their sense of Party duty. —Lenin Comrade Plekhanov spent three whole hours proving how unreasonable it was to demand “co-optation” of four of the “minority” to two of the “majority”. He proposed co-opting two of them, so as, on the one hand, to remove all fears that we wanted to "bully, suppress, besiege, behead or bury anyone, and, on the other, to safeguard the rights and position of the Party “majority”. The co-optation of two was likewise rejected.

On October 6, Plekhanov and I wrote the following official letter to all the old editors of Iskra and to Comrade Trotsky, one of its contributors:

“Dear Comrades,

“The editorial board of the Central Organ considers it its duty officially to express its regret at your withdrawal from participation in Iskra and Zarya. In spite of the repeated invitations to collaborate which we made to you immediately following the Second Party Congress and several times after, we have not received a single contribution from you. The editors of the Central Organ declare that your withdrawal from participation is not justified by anything they have done. No personal irritation should serve, of course, as an obstacle to your working on the Central Organ of the Party. If, on the other hand, your withdrawal is due to any differences of opinion with us, we would consider it of the greatest benefit to the Party if you were to set forth these differences at length. More, we would consider it highly desirable for the nature and depth of these differences to be explained to the whole Party as early as possible in the columns of the publications of which we are the editors.”[4] [4] The letter to Comrade Martov contained in addition a reference to a certain pamphlet and the following sentence: “Lastly, we once more inform you, in the interests of the work, that we are still prepared to co-opt you to the editorial board of the Central Organ, in order to give you every opportunity officially to state and defend your views in the supreme institution of the Party.” —Lenin

As the reader sees, it was still quite unclear to us whether the actions of the “minority” were principally governed by personal irritation or by a desire to steer the organ (and the Party) along a new course, and if so, what course exactly. I think that if we were even now to set seventy wise men to elucidate this question with the help of any literature or any testimony you like, they too could make nothing of this tangle. I doubt whether a squabble can ever be disentangled: you have either to cut it, or set it aside.[5] [5] Comrade Plekhanov would probably add: “or satisfy each and every claim of the initiators of the squabble”. We shall see why this was impossible. —Lenin

Axelrod, Zasulich, Starover, Trotsky, and Koltsov sent a couple of lines in reply to this letter of October 6, to the effect that the undersigned were taking no part in Iskra since its passage into the hands of the new editorial board. Comrade Martov was more communicative and honoured us with the following reply:

“To the Editorial Board of the Central Organ of the R.S.D.L.P.

“Dear Comrades,

“In reply to your letter of October 6 I wish to state the following: I consider all our discussions on the subject of working together on one organ at an end after the conference which took place in the presence of a Central Committee member on October 4, and at which you refused to state the reasons that induced you to withdraw your proposal to us that Axelrod, Zasulich, Starover, and I should join the editorial board on condition that we undertook to elect Comrade Lenin our ’representative’ on the Council. After you repeatedly evaded at this conference formulating the statements you had yourselves made in the presence of witnesses, I do not think it necessary to explain in a letter to you my motives for refusing to work on Iskra under present conditions. Should the need arise, I shall explain them in detail to the whole Party, which will already be able to learn from the minutes of the Second Congress why I rejected the proposal, which you now repeat that I accept a seat on the editorial board and on the Council....[6]

L. Martov

This letter, in conjunction with the previous documents, clarifies beyond any possible dispute that question of boycott, disorganisation, anarchy, and preparations for a split which Comrade Martov (with the help of exclamation marks and rows of dots) so assiduously evades in his State of Siege—the question of loyal and disloyal methods of struggle.

Comrade Martov and the others are invited to set forth their differences, they are asked to tell us plainly what the trouble is all about and what their intentions are, they are exhorted to stop sulking and to analyse calmly the mistake made over Paragraph 1 (which is intimately connected with their mistake in swinging to the Right)—but Comrade Martov and Co. refuse to talk, and cry: "We are being besieged! We are being bullied!"The jibe about “dreadful words” has not cooled the ardour of these comical outcries.

How is it possible to besiege someone who refuses to work together with you?—we asked Comrade Martov. How is it possible to ill-treat, “bully”, and oppress a minority which refuses to be a minority? Being in the minority necessarily and inevitably involves certain disadvantages. These disadvantages are that you either have to join a body which will outvote you on certain questions, or you stay outside that body and attack it, and consequently come under the fire of well-mounted batteries.

Did Comrade Martov’s cries about a “state of siege” mean that those in the minority were being fought or governed unfairly and unloyally? Only such an assertion could have contained even a grain of sense (in Martov’s eyes), for, I repeat, being in the minority necessarily and inevitably involves certain disadvantages. But the whole comedy of the matter is that Comrade Martov could not be fought at all as long as he refused to talk! The minority could not be governed at all as long as they refused to be a minority!

Comrade Martov could not cite a single fact to show that the editorial board of the Central Organ had exceeded or abused its powers while Plekhanov and I were on it. Nor could the practical workers of the minority cite a single fact of a like kind with regard to the Central Committee. However Comrade Martov may now twist and turn in his State of Siege, it remains absolutely incontrovertible that the outcries about a state of siege were nothing but “feeble whining”.

How utterly Comrade Martov and Co. lacked sensible arguments against the editorial board appointed by the Congress is best of all shown by their own catchword: “We are not serfs!” (State of Siege, p. 34.) The mentality of the bourgeois intellectual, who counts himself among the “elect minds” standing above mass organisation and mass discipline, is expressed here with remarkable clarity. To explain their refusal to work in the Party by saying that they “are not serfs” is to give themselves away completely, to confess to a total lack of arguments, an utter inability to furnish any motives, any sensible reasons for dissatisfaction. Plekhanov and I declare that their refusal is not justified by anything we have done; we request them to set forth their differences; and all they reply is: “We are not serfs” (adding that no bargain has yet been reached on the subject of co-optation).

To the individualism of the intellectual, which already manifested itself in the controversy over Paragraph 1, revealing its tendency to opportunist argument and anarchistic phrase-mongering, all proletarian organisation and discipline seems to be serfdom. The reading public will soon learn that in the eyes of these “Party members” and Party “officials” even a new Party Congress is a serf institution that is terrible and abhorrent to the “elect minds”.... This “institution” is indeed terrible to people who are not averse to making use of the Party title but are conscious that this title of theirs does not accord with the interests and will of the Party.

The committee resolutions enumerated in my letter to the editors of the new Iskra, and published by Comrade Martov in his State of Siege, show with facts that the behaviour of the minority amounted all along to sheer disobedience of the decisions of the Congress and disorganisation of positive practical work. Consisting of opportunists and people who detested Iskra, the minority strove to rend the Party and damaged and disorganised its work, thirsting to avenge their defeat at the Congress and sensing that by honest and loyal means (by explaining their case in the press or at a congress) they would never succeed in refuting the accusation of opportunism and intellectualist instability which at the Second Congress had been levelled against them. Realising that they could not convince the Party, they tried to gain their ends by disorganising the Party and hampering all its work. They were reproached with having (by their mistakes at the Congress) caused a crack in our pot; they replied to the reproach by trying with all their might to smash the pot altogether.

So distorted had their ideas become that boycott and refusal to work were proclaimed to be “honest[7] methods” of struggle. Comrade Martov is now wriggling all around this delicate point. Comrade Martov is such a “man of principle” that he defends boycott . . . when practised by the minority, but condemns boycott when, his side happening to have become the majority, it threatens Martov himself!

We need not, I think, go into the question whether this is a squabble or a “difference of principle” as to what are honest methods of struggle in a Social-Democratic workers’ party.

After the unsuccessful attempts (of October 4 and 6) to obtain an explanation from the comrades who had started the “co-optation” row, nothing remained for the central institutions but to wait and see what would come of their verbal assurances that they would adhere to loyal methods of struggle. On October 10, the Central Committee addressed a circular letter to the League (see League Minutes, pp. 3-5), announcing that it was engaged in drafting Rules for the League and inviting the League members to assist. The Administration of the League had at that time decided against a congress of that body (by two votes to one; ibid., p. 20). The replies received from minority supporters to this circular showed at once that the celebrated promise to be loyal and abide by the decisions of the Congress was just talk, and that, as a matter of fact, the minority had positively decided not to obey the central institutions of the Party, replying to their appeals to collaborate with evasive excuses full of sophistry and anarchistic phrase-mongering. In reply to the famous open letter of Deutsch, a member of the Administration (p. 10), Plekhanov, myself, and other supporters of the majority expressed our vigorous "protest against the gross violations of Party discipline by which an official of the League permits himself to hamper the organisational activities of a Party institution and calls upon other comrades likewise to violate discipline and the Rules. Remarks such as, ’I do not consider myself at liberty to take part in such work on the invitation of the Central Committee’, or, ’Comrades, we must on no account allow it [The Central Committee] to draw up new Rules for the League’, etc., are agitational methods of a kind that can only arouse disgust in anyone who has the slightest conception of the meaning of the words party, organisation, and party discipline. Such methods are all the more disgraceful for the fact that they are being used against a newly created Party institution and are therefore an undoubted attempt to undermine confidence in it among Party comrades, and that, moreover, they are being employed under the cachet of a member of the League Administration and behind the back of the Central Committee.” (p. 17.)

Under such conditions, the League Congress promised to be nothing but a brawl.

From the outset, Comrade Martov continued his Congress tactics of “getting personal”, this time with Comrade Plekhanov, by distorting private conversations. Comrade Plekhanov protested, and Comrade Martov was obliged to withdraw his accusations (League Minutes, pp. 39 and 134), which were a product of either irresponsibility or resentment.

The time for the report arrived. I had been the League’s delegate at the Party Congress. A mere reference to the summary of my report (p. 43 et seq.)[8] will show the reader that I gave a rough outline of that analysis of the voting at the Congress which, in greater detail, forms the contents of the present pamphlet. The central feature of the report was precisely the proof that, owing to their mistakes, Martov and Co. had landed in the opportunist wing of our Party. Although this report was made to an audience whose majority consisted of violent opponents, they could discover absolutely nothing in it which departed from loyal methods of Party struggle and controversy.

Martov’s report, on the contrary, apart from minor “corrections” to particular points of my account (the incorrectness of these corrections we have shown above), was nothing but—a product of disordered nerves.

No wonder that the majority refused to carry on the fight in this atmosphere. Comrade Plekhanov entered a protest against the “scene” (p. 68)—it was indeed a regular "scene "!—and withdrew from the Congress without stating the objections he had already prepared on the substance of the report. Nearly all the other supporters of the majority also withdrew from the Congress, after filing a written protest against the “unworthy behaviour” of Comrade Martov (League Minutes, p. 75).

The methods of struggle employed by the minority became perfectly clear to all. We had accused the minority of committing a political mistake at the Congress, of having swung towards opportunism, of having formed a coalition with the Bundists, the Akimovs, the Brouckères, the Egorovs, and the Makhovs. The minority had been defeated at the Congress, and they had now “worked out” two methods of struggle, embracing all their endless variety of sorties, assaults, attacks, etc.

First method—disorganising all the activity of the Party, damaging the work, hampering all and everything “without statement of reasons”.

Second method—making “scenes”, and so on and so forth.[9] [9] I have already pointed out that it would be unwise to attribute to sordid motives even the most sordid manifestations of the squabbling that is so habitual in the atmosphere of émigré and exile colonies. It is a sort of epidemic disease engendered by abnormal conditions of life, disordered nerves, and so on. I had to give a true picture of this system of struggle here, because Comrade Martov has again resorted to it in its full scope in his " State of Siege". —Lenin

This “second method of struggle” is also apparent in the League’s famous resolutions of “principle”, in the discussion of which the “majority”, of course, took no part. Let us examine these resolutions, which Comrade Martov has reproduced in his State of Siege.

The first resolution, signed by Comrades Trotsky, Fomin, Deutsch, and others, contains two theses directed against the “majority” of the Party Congress: 1) “The League expresses its profound regret that, owing to the manifestation at the Congress of tendencies which essentially run counter to the earlier policy of Iskra, due care was not given in drafting the Party Rules to providing sufficient safeguards of the independence and authority of the Central Committee.” (League Minutes, p. 83.)

As we have already seen, this thesis of “principle” amounts to nothing but Akimov phrase-mongering, the opportunist character of which was exposed at the Party Congress even by Comrade Popov! In point of fact, the claim that the “majority” did not mean to safeguard the independence and authority of the Central Committee was never anything but gossip. It need only be mentioned that when Plekhanov and I were on the editorial board, there was on the Council no predominance of the Central Organ over the Central Committee, but when the Martovites joined the editorial board, the Central Organ secured predominance over the Central Committee on the Council! When we were on the editorial board, practical workers in Russia predominated on the Council over writers residing abroad; since the Martovites took over, the contrary has been the case. When we were on the editorial board, the Council never once attempted to interfere in any practical matter; since the unanimous co-optation such interference has begun, as the reading public will learn in detail in the near future.

Next thesis of the resolution we are examining: “. . . when constituting the official central bodies of the Party, the Congress ignored the need for maintaining continuity with the actually existing central bodies....”

This thesis boils down to nothing but the question of the personal composition of the central bodies. The “minority” preferred to evade the fact that at the Congress the old central bodies had proved their unfitness and committed a number of mistakes. But most comical of all is the reference to “continuity” with respect to the Organising Committee. At the Congress, as we have seen, nobody even hinted that the entire membership of the Organising Committee should be endorsed. At the Congress, Martov actually cried in a frenzy that a list containing three members of the Organising Committee was defamatory to him. At the Congress, the final list proposed by the “minority” contained one member of the Organising Committee (Popov, Glebov or Fomin, and Trotsky), whereas the list the “majority” put through contained two members of the Organising Committee out of three (Travinsky, Vasilyev, and Glebov). We ask, can this reference to “continuity” really be considered a “difference of principle”?

Let us pass to the other resolution, which was signed by four members of the old editorial board, headed by Comrade Axelrod. Here we find all those major accusations against the “majority” which have subsequently been repeated many times in the press. They can most conveniently be examined as formulated by the members of the editorial circle. The accusations are levelled against “the system of autocratic and bureaucratic government of the Party”, against “bureaucratic centralism”, which, as distinct from “genuinely Social-Democratic centralism”, is defined as follows: it “places in the forefront, not internal union, but external, formal unity, achieved and maintained by purely mechanical means, by the systematic suppression of individual initiative and independent social activity”; it is therefore “by its very nature incapable of organically uniting the component elements of society”.

What “society” Comrade Axelrod and Co. are here referring to, heaven alone knows. Apparently, Comrade Axelrod was not quite clear himself whether he was penning a Zemstvo address on the subject of desirable government reforms, or pouring forth the complaints of the “minority”. What is the implication of “autocracy” in the Party, about which the dissatisfied “editors” clamour? Autocracy means the supreme, uncontrolled, non-accountable, non-elective rule of one individual. We know very well from the literature of the “minority” that by autocrat they mean me, and no one else. When the resolution in question was being drafted and adopted, I was on the Central Organ together with Plekhanov. Consequently, Comrade Axelrod and Co. were expressing the conviction that Plekhanov and all the members of the Central Committee “governed the Party”, not in accordance with their own views of what the interests of the work required, but in accordance with the will of the autocrat Lenin. This accusation of autocratic government necessarily and inevitably implies pronouncing all members of the governing body except the autocrat to be mere tools in the hands of another, mere pawns and agents of another’s will. And once again we ask, is this really a “difference of principle” on the part of the highly respected Comrade Axelrod?

Further, what external, formal unity are they here talking about, our “Party members” just returned from a Party Congress whose decisions they have solemnly acknowledged valid? Do they know of any other method of achieving unity in a party organised on any at all durable basis, except a party congress? If they do, why have they not the courage to declare frankly that they no longer regard the Second Congress as valid? Why do they not try to tell us their new ideas and new methods of achieving unity in a supposedly organised party?

Further, what “suppression of individual initiative” are they talking about, our individualist intellectuals whom the Central Organ of the Party has just been exhorting to set forth their differences, but who instead have engaged in bargaining about “co-optation”? And, in general, how could Plekhanov and I, or the Central Committee, have suppressed the initiative and independent activity of people who refused to engage in any “activity” in conjunction with us? How can anyone be “suppressed” in an institution or body in which he refuses to have any part? How could the unelected editors complain of a “system of government” when they refused to "be governed "? We could not have committed any errors in directing our comrades for the simple reason that they never worked under our direction at all.

It is clear, I think, that the cries about this celebrated bureaucracy are just a screen for dissatisfaction with the personal composition of the central bodies, a fig-leaf to cover up the violation of a pledge solemnly given at the Congress. You are a bureaucrat because you were appointed by the Congress not in accordance with my wishes, but against them; you are a formalist because you take your stand on the formal decisions of the Congress, and not on my consent; you are acting in a grossly mechanical way because you cite the “mechanical” majority at the Party Congress and pay no heed to my wish to be co-opted; you are an autocrat because you refuse to hand over the power to the old snug little band who insist on their circle “continuity” all the more because they do not like the explicit disapproval of this circle spirit by the Congress.

These cries about bureaucracy have never had any real meaning except the one I have indicated.[10] [10] It is enough to point out that Comrade Plekhanov ceased to be a supporter of “bureaucratic centralism” in the eyes of the minority once he put through the beneficent co-optation. —Lenin And this method of struggle only proves once again the intellectualist instability of the minority. They wanted to convince the Party that the selection of the central bodies was unfortunate. And how did they go about it? By criticism of Iskra as conducted by Plekhanov and me? No, that they were unable to offer. The method they used consisted in the refusal of a section of the Party to work under the direction of the hated central bodies. But no central institution of any party in the world can ever prove its ability to direct people who refuse to accept its direction. Refusal to accept the direction of the central bodies is tantamount to refusing to remain in the Party, it is tantamount to disrupting the Party; it is a method of destroying, not of convincing. And these efforts to destroy instead of convince show their lack of consistent principles, lack of faith in their own ideas.

They talk of bureaucracy. The word bureaucracy might be translated into Russian as concentration on place and position. Bureaucracy means subordinating the interests of the work to the interests of one’s own career; it means focusing attention on places and ignoring the work itself; it means wrangling over co-optation instead of fighting for ideas. That bureaucracy of this kind is undesirable and detrimental to the Party is unquestionably true, and I can safely leave it to the reader to judge which of the two sides now contending in our Party is guilty of such bureaucracy.... They talk about grossly mechanical methods of achieving unity. Unquestionably, grossly mechanical methods are detrimental; but I again leave it to the reader to judge whether a grosser and more mechanical method of struggle of a new trend against an old one can be imagined than installing people in Party institutions before the Party has been convinced of the correctness of their new views, and before these views have even been set forth to the Party.

But perhaps the catchwords of the minority do mean something in principle, perhaps they do express some special group of ideas, irrespective of the petty and particular cause which undoubtedly started the “swing” in the present case? Perhaps if we were to set aside the wrangling over “co-optation”, these catchwords might turn out to be an expression of a different system of views?

Let us examine the matter from this angle. Before doing so, we must place on record that the first to attempt such an examination was Comrade Plekhanov at the League, who pointed out the minority’s swing towards anarchism and opportunism, and that Comrade Martov (who is now highly offended because not everyone is ready to admit that his position is one of principle[11] [11] Nothing could be more comical than the new Iskra’s grievance that Lenin refuses to see any differences of principle, or denies them. If your attitude had been based more on principle, you would the sooner have examined my repeated statements that you have swung towards opportunism. If your position had been based more on principle, you could not well have degraded an ideological struggle to a squabble over places. You have only yourselves to blame, for you hava yourselves done everything to make it impossible to regard you as men of principle. Take Comrade Martov, for example: when speaking in his State of Siege, of the League Congress, he says nothing about the dispute with Plekhanov over anarchism, but instead informs us that Lenin is a super-centre, that Lenin has only to wink his eye to have the centre issue orders, that the Central Committee rode rough-shod over the League, etc. I have no doubt that by picking his topic in this way, Comrade Martov displayed the profundity of his ideals and principles. —Lenin ) preferred completely to ignore this incident in his State of Siege.

At the League Congress the general question was raised as to whether Rules that the League or a committee may draw up for itself are valid without the Central Committee’s endorsement, and even if the Central Committee refuses to endorse them. Nothing could be clearer, one would think: Rules are a formal expression of organisation, and, according to Paragraph 6 of our Party Rules, the right to organise committees is explicitly vested in the Central Committee; Rules define the limits of a committee’s autonomy, and the decisive voice in defining those limits belongs to the central and not to a local institution of the Party. That is elementary, and it was sheer childishness to argue with such an air of profundity that “organising” does not always imply “endorsing Rules” (as if the League itself had not of its own accord expressed the wish to be organised on the basis of formal Rules). But Comrade Martov has forgotten (temporarily, let us hope) even the ABC of Social-Democracy. In his opinion, the demand that Rules should be endorsed only indicated that “the earlier, revolutionary Iskra centralism is being replaced by bureaucratic centralism” (League Minutes, p. 95), and there, in fact—Comrade Martov declared in the same speech—lay the “principle” at issue (p. 96)—a principle which he preferred to ignore in his State of Siege!

Comrade Plekhanov answered Martov at once, requesting that expressions like bureaucracy, Jack-in-office, etc., be refrained from as “detracting from the dignity of the Congress” (p. 96). There followed an interchange with Comrade Martov, who regarded these expressions as “a characterisation of a certain trend from the standpoint of principle”. At that time, Comrade Plekhanov, like all the other supporters of the majority, took these expressions at their real value, clearly realising that they related exclusively to the realm, if we may so put it, of “co-optation”, and not of principle. However, he deferred to the insistence of the Martovs and Deutsches (pp. 96-97) and proceeded to examine their supposed principles from the standpoint of principle. “If that were so,” said he (that is, if the committees were autonomous in shaping their organisation, in drawing up their Rules), "they would be autonomous in relation to the whole, to the Party. That is not even a Bundist view, it is a downright anarchistic view. That is just how the anarchists argue: the rights of individuals are unlimited; they may conflict; every individual determines the limits of his rights for himself. The limits of autonomy should be determined not by the group itself, but by the whole of which it forms a part. The Bund was a striking instance of the violation of this principle. Hence, the limits of autonomy are determined by the Congress, or by the highest body set up by the Congress. The authority of the central institution should rest on moral and intellectual prestige. There I, of course, agree. Every representative of the organisation must be concerned for the moral prestige of its institution. But it does not follow that, while prestige in necessary, authority is not.... To counterpoise the power of authority to the power of ideas is anarchistic talk, which should have no place here" (p. 98). These propositions are as elementary as can be, they are in fact axioms, which it was strange even to put to the vote (p. 102), and which were called in question only because “concepts have now been confused” (loc. cit). But the minority’s intellectualist individualism had, inevitably, driven them to the point of wanting to sabotage the Congress, to refuse to submit to the majority; and that wish could not be justified except by anarchistic talk. It is very amusing to note that the minority had nothing to offer in reply to Plekhanov but complaints of his use of excessively strong words, like opportunism, anarchism, and so forth. Plekhanov quite rightly poked fun at these complaints by asking why “the words Jauresism and anarchism are not permissible, and the words lèse-majesté and Jack-in-office are”. No answer was given. This quaint sort of quid pro quo is always happening to Comrades Martov, Axelrod, and Co.: their new catchwords clearly bear the stamp of vexation; any reference to the fact offends them—they are, you see, men of principle; but, they are told, if you deny on principle that the part should submit to the whole, you are anarchists, and again they are offended!—the expression is too strong! In other words, they want to give battle to Plekhanov, but only on condition that he does not hit back in earnest!

How many times Comrade Martov and various other “Mensheviks”[12] have convicted me, no less childishly, of the following “contradiction”. They quote a passage from What Is To Be Done? or A Letter to a Comrade which speaks of ideological influence, a struggle for influence, etc., and contrast it to the “bureaucratic” method of inflyencing by means of the Rules, to the “autocratic” tendency to rely on authority, and the like. How naïve they are! They have already forgotten that previously our Party was not a formally organised whole, but merely a sum of separate groups, and therefore no other relations except those of ideological influence were possible between these groups. Now we have become an organised Party, and this implies the establishment of authority, the transformation of the power of ideas into the power of authority, the subordination of lower Party bodies to higher ones. Why, it positively makes one uncomfortable to have to chew over such elementary things for the benefit of old associates, especially when one feels that at the bottom of it all is simply the minority’s refusal to submit to the majority in the matter of the elections! But from the standpoint of principle these endless exposures of my contradictions boil down to nothing but anarchistic phrase-mongering. The new Iskra is not averse to enjoying the title and rights of a Party institution, but it does not want to submit to the majority of the Party.

If the talk about bureaucracy contains any principle at all, if it is not just an anarchistic denial of the duty of the part to submit to the whole, then what we have here is the principle of opportunism, which seeks to lessen the responsibility of individual intellectuals to the party of the proletariat, to lessen the influence of the central institutions, to enlarge the autonomy of the least steadfast elements in the Party, to reduce organisational relations to a purely platonic and verbal acceptance of them. We saw this at the Party Congress, where the Akimovs and Liebers made exactly the same sort of speeches about “monstrous” centralism as poured from the lips of Martov and Co. at the League Congress. That opportunism leads to the Martov and Axelrod “views” on organisation by its very nature, and not by chance, and not in Russia alone but the world over, we shall see later, when examining Comrade Axelrod’s article in the new Iskra.


[1] If little things may be compared to big.—Ed.

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

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

[6] I omit what Martov replied in reference to his pamphlet, then being republished. —Lenin

[7] Mining Area resolution (State of Siege, p. 38). —Lenin

[8] See pp. 73-83 of this volume.—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] From the Russian menshinstvo–“minority”, as “Bolshevik” comes from bolshinstvo–“majority”.—Trans.

[13] This new member of the Central Committee was F. V. Lengnik.

  N. General Picture of the Struggle at the Congress. The Revolutionary and Opportunist Wings of the Party | P. Little Annoyances Should Not Stand in the Way of a Big Pleasure  

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