Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back



When a prolonged, stubborn and heated struggle is in progress, there usually begin to emerge after a time the central and fundamental points at issue, upon the decision of which the ultimate outcome of the campaign depends, and in comparison with which all the minor and petty episodes of the struggle recede more and more into the background.

That, too, is how matters stand in the struggle within our Party, which for six months now has been riveting the attention of all members of the Party. And precisely because in the present outline of the whole struggle I have had to refer to many details which are of infinitesimal interest, and to many squabbles which at bottom are of no interest whatever, I should like from the very outset to draw the reader’s attention to two really central and fundamental points, points which are of tremendous interest, of undoubted historical significance, and which are the most urgent political questions confronting our Party today.

The first question is that of the political significance of the division of our Party into “majority” and “minority” which took shape at the Second Party Congress and pushed all previous divisions among Russian Social-Democrats far into the background.

The second question is that of the significance in principle of the new Iskra’s position on organisational questions, insofar as this position is really based on principle.

The first question concerns the starting-point of the struggle in our Party, its source, its causes, and its fundamental political character. The second question concerns the ultimate outcome of the struggle, its finale, the sum-total of principles that results from adding up all that pertains to the realm of principle and subtracting all that pertains to the realm of squabbling. The answer to the first question is obtained by analysing the struggle at the Party Congress; the answer to the second, by analysing what is new in the principles of the new Iskra. Both these analyses, which make up nine-tenths of my pamphlet, lead to the conclusion that the “majority” is the revolutionary, and the “minority” the opportunist wing of our Party; the disagreements that divide the two wings at the present time for the most part concern, not questions of programme or tactics, but only organisational questions; the new system of views that emerges the more clearly in the new Iskra the more it tries to lend profundity to its position, and the more that position becomes cleared of squabbles about co-optation, is opportunism in matters of organisation.

The principal shortcoming of the existing literature on the crisis in our Party is, as far as the study and elucidation of facts is concerned, the almost complete absence of an analysis of the minutes of the Party Congress; and as far as the elucidation of fundamental principles of organisation is concerned, the failure to analyse the connection which unquestionably exists between the basic error committed by Comrade Martov and Comrade Axelrod in their formulation of Paragraph 1 of the Rules and their defence of that formulation, on the one hand, and the whole “system” (insofar as one can speak here of a system) of Iskra’s present principles of organisation, on the other. The present editors of Iskra apparently do not even notice this connection, although the importance of the controversy over Paragraph 1 has been referred to again and again in the literature of the “majority”. As a matter of fact, Comrade Axelrod and Comrade Martov are now only deepening, developing and extending their initial error with regard to Paragraph 1. As a matter of fact, the entire position of the opportunists in organisational questions already began to be revealed in the controversy over Paragraph 1: their advocacy of a diffuse, not strongly welded, Party organisation; their hostility to the idea (the “bureaucratic” idea) of building the Party from the top downwards, starting from the Party Congress and the bodies set up by it; their tendency to proceed from the bottom upwards, allowing every professor, every high school student and “every striker” to declare himself a member of the Party; their hostility to the “formalism” which demands that a Party member should belong to one of the organisations recognised by the Party; their leaning towards the mentality of the bourgeois intellectual, who is only prepared to “accept organisational relations platonically”; their penchant for opportunist profundity and for anarchistic phrases; their tendency towards autonomism as against centralism—in a word, all that is now blossoming so luxuriantly in the new Iskra, and is helping more and more to reveal fully and graphically the initial error.

As for the minutes of the Party Congress, the truly undeserved neglect of them can only be explained by the fact that our controversies have been cluttered by squabbles, and possibly by the fact that these minutes contain too large an amount of too unpalatable truth. The minutes of the Party Congress present a picture of the actual state of affairs in our Party that is unique of its kind and unparalleled for its accuracy, completeness, comprehensiveness, richness and authenticity; a picture of views, sentiments and plans drawn by the participants in the movement themselves; a picture of the political shades existing in the Party, showing their relative strength, their mutual relations and their struggles. It is the minutes of the Party Congress, and they alone, that show us how far we have really succeeded in making a clean sweep of the survivals of the old, purely circle ties and substituting for them a single great party tie. It is the duty of every Party member who wishes to take an intelligent share in the affairs of his Party to make a careful study of our Party Congress. I say study advisedly, for merely to read the mass of raw material contained in the minutes is not enough to obtain a picture of the Congress. Only by careful and independent study can one reach (as one should) a stage where the brief digests of the speeches, the dry extracts from the debates, the petty skirmishes over minor (seemingly minor) issues will combine to form one whole, enabling the Party member to conjure up the living figure of each prominent speaker and to obtain a full idea of the political complexion of each group of delegates to the Party Congress. If the writer of these lines only succeeds in stimulating the reader to make a broad and independent study of the minutes of the Party Congress, he will feel that his work was not done in vain.

One more word to the opponents of Social-Democracy. They gloat and grimace over our disputes; they will, of course, try to pick isolated passages from my pamphlet, which deals with the failings and shortcomings of our Party, and to use them for their own ends. The Russian Social-Democrats are already steeled enough in battle not to be perturbed by these pinpricks and to continue, in spite of them, their work of self-criticism and ruthless exposure of their own shortcomings, which will unquestionably and inevitably be overcome as the working-class movement grows. As for our opponents, let them try to give us a picture of the true state of affairs in their own “parties” even remotely approximating that given by the minutes of our Second Congress!

N .Lenin

May 1904

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