V. I.   Lenin

A Third Step Back

Published: Proletary No. 6, July 3 (June 20), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 544-554.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Isidor Lasker
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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All comrades know from the resolutions of the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party what our attitude should be, in point of principle and organisation, towards the so-called Minority, or the new-Iskrists. While recognising the need for an ideological struggle against the survivals of “Economism”, the Third Congress ruled that adherents of the Minority may be admitted to membership in Party organisations, provided they recognise the congresses of the Party and submit to Party discipline. Since this condition has not been met, all “Minority” groups must be regarded as being outside the Party. Practical agreements may, of course, be concluded with them at the discretion of the Central Committee and the local committees, along the same lines as the agreements with the Bund, etc.

At present all we can give the comrades is some information regarding the section abroad of the seceded Minority. Immediately after the Congress the C.C. wrote to the “League”, as well as to the heads of the technical and financial departments of the Party, asking the former to state its attitude to the Third Congress, and the latter to turn over the Party property to the C.C. No reply was received to either of the letters. The new-Iskrists were not averse to using the Party printing-house and store, and to receiving money from the German Social-Democratic Party and from abroad in general, in the name of the entire Party; but they showed no desire to account to the Party for the use of Party property and the disbursement of Party funds. We consider comment on such behaviour superfluous.

In the article on the Third Congress (Proletary, No. 1[1] ) we expressed the wish that the breakaway group of the Party might at least organise itself into some cohesive form as quickly as possible, since this would make agreements easier and the path towards future unity clearer. Unfortunately, even this wish of ours has proved almost unrealisable. The resolutions of the Minority “Conference” have now been published (see the highly interesting pamphlet, The First All-Russian Conference of Party Functionaries, a separate supplement to Iskra, No. 100; also Iskra, No. 100). We earnestly recommend this pamphlet to all Party organisations, for we cannot imagine any better material than this for combating the ideas of the breakaway section of the Party. These resolutions show the Minority’s total incapacity to organise even its own followers. They could not even convene their own Conference; we did it for them, the Bureau of Committees of the Majority and the C.C., when we convened the Third Congress. The delegates of the Menshevik organisations went to the Congress on the instructions of their organisations, but arrived instead at the Conference! The Conference resolved not to recognise the decisions of the Third Congress—and to rescind the Party Rules adopted at the Second Congress! The Conference was unable to constitute itself as a congress; its decisions were the decisions of a consultative assembly, subject to the approval of each organisation. There is no complete list of the participants at the Conference, nor are there any minutes. The organisations of the Minority can therefore only give their ayes and noes to the question whether they will recognise any particular resolution. Thus, a vote will be taken on the resolutions with no opportunity for the voters to offer proposals for changes or to have before them a complete record of the discussion of the resolutions. Heaven only knows how these votes are to be counted, since the polls in favour of confirming or rejecting particular sections of the resolutions may differ. We have here the principle of Bonapartist plebiscites, as opposed to the principle of democratic representation generally recognised by Social-Democrats the world over. With us, democratically elected and responsible representatives   of qualified organisations consult with one another and reach a decision. With them, representatives as well as guests confer and make proposals, and the qualified organisations vote aye or no post factum. It is difficult to imagine a system better suited for disorganising the Social-Democrats. In practice this system of plebiscites always ends in a farce.

The Rules adopted by the Conference and consisting of thirteen clauses are a gem of their kind. They erect a six storey party structure rising in the following order: (1) Directing Board; (2) Committee; (3) Regional Congress; (4) Regional Committee; (5) Conference; and (6) Executive Committee. Generally speaking, the lower body elects the higher. But the relations between the Directing Board and the Committee are not based on the principle of election but on the principle of “agreement”, as the new-Iskrists see it, or on the principle of “confusion”, as we see it. On the one hand, the Committee is included en bloc in the membership of the Directing Board, together with all the members, not only of the District Committees, but of “the groups working among the special sections of the population”. On the other hand, “the District Committee includes also a representative of the Committee”! On the one hand, all important decisions must come from the Directing Board; on the other, in emergency cases, the Committee may act on its own initiative “before inviting the opinion [!] of the District Committees”. What is more, “the Committee is obliged to report periodically on its activities to the district committees If a majority of the members of the District Committees express no confidence in the Committee, the latter is reorganised “by mutual agreement between the Regional Committee and the District Committees”. Neither the powers nor the composition of the other Party organisations (including the District Committee) are defined in any way. The concept of Party membership, of which the Mensheviks made a major issue at the Second Congress, has been jettisoned! Hereto fore the principle of “agreement” among members of one and the same organisation or party, who sing in unison on all essential questions of programme and tactics, was regarded as an anarchist principle. Social-Democrats throughout the world have in such cases always followed the principle   of the subordination of the minority to the majority. The new-Iskrists want to show the world a shining example of the manner in which these two principles can be commingled in the most “poetic” disorder. Recently we came across a copy of a German newspaper bearing the motto, “Weder Autorität noch Majorität” (“Neither Authority nor Majority”), a principle akin to the organisation-as-process theory of the new-Iskrists. The newspaper is the organ of the German anarchists: Der Anarchist.

In the election of the centre (“the body that unifies all Party work”) the new-Iskrists prefer indirect voting, through electors, to direct voting. The Executive Committee is not elected by the direct vote of the representatives of the Directing Boards, but in four stages! Why this sudden dislike of direct elections God alone knows. Some people wonder whether the new-Iskrists may not have been influenced by the example of Mr. Struve, who wants the Upper House to be elected by universal suffrage, but not by direct vote. How this four-stage election is to be carried out, again God alone knows, for there is not a word about it in the “Rules”.

Obviously it would be absurd to take the Rules seriously, though we have not exhausted their charms by far. They will never be put into practice. The six-decker bus would not be able to budge an inch, even if it could be built. These Rules are of importance, not for their practical value, but as a statement of principles. They are a superb, peerless illustration of the famous “organisation-as process” theory. Now even the blind must see that organisation-as-process means disorganisation. Hitherto the Mensheviks have acted as disorganisers of their opponents, of the Second Congress and the bodies created by it. Now they act as disorganisers of their own followers. This is truly disorganisation exalted to a principle.

That the Mensheviks have begun by breaking their own Rules does not surprise us. They have mapped out no scheme for the division of Russia into regions. They have elected no Executive Committee, not even pro tem., pending the confirmation of the committees and organisations. The Conference elected an Organisation Committee, which was not provided for in the Rules, and assigned to it special   tasks! At present even temporary and partial agreements with the Mensheviks are made extremely difficult, for this Organisation Committee lacks official status, and no steps that it takes can have decisive significance. Anyone desiring to have dealings with the Mensheviks must now take the trouble of communicating with each of their organisations separately, and even with each individual “Pan” who may say, “Nie pozwalam!”[2]

Finally, the most astonishing thing about the “Rules” of the Minority is the omission of all reference to Party organs and to Party literature in general. Organs there are (Iskra, Sotsial-Demokrat[4]) and will be, but the “Rules” adopted by the Conference establish no connection between them and the Party. This is incredible, but it is a fact. The publicists are outside the Party, above the Party. No control, no reports, no material dependence. Something reminiscent of the worst days of opportunism among the French socialists: the Party unto itself, and the publicists unto themselves. From this point of view the following decision of the Conference, viz., the resolution on Party (?) literature, should perhaps not seem accidental: “The Conference deems it necessary: (1) that the Organisation Committee take measures to furnish the Party publicists greater possibilities to wage a struggle in the legal press for the theoretical principles of the Party”. A kind of prototype of Menshevik organisation: a group of “Party publicists”, non-responsible and “independent”, indispensable and irreplaceable. And attached to them—a committee to have charge of the work of ... legal publication!

It is difficult to discuss this type of organisation with the necessary seriousness. The nearer the revolution and the nearer the opportunity for Social-Democrats to write openly in the “legal” press, the more strictly should the party of the proletariat adhere to the principle of the unconditional responsibility of “Party publicists” to the Party, of their dependence on the Party.

As regards the tactical resolutions of the Conference, they admirably confirm the declaration of the Third Congress   on the shadings of Social-Democracy “akin to Economism”, and on “the constriction of the scope of Party work”. We shall say nothing of the incredibly careless editing of the resolutions, which rather resemble jottings, aphorisms, reflections, and scraps of rough copy. In this respect the resolutions of the Conference can be rivalled only by the “Programme of the Osvobozhdeniye League”. Instead of precise, clear-cut directives issued by the highest body of the Party, we find here ... stylistic exercises of some Party literati.

To take the contents. On the pressing question of the uprising, we are not told that it has become “essential”; that it is necessary to elucidate, not only its political significance, but its “practical and organisational aspect”; that we must “organise the proletariat” to this end and “form special groups as the need arises”. (Resolution of the Third Congress.) Not at all. First we are told that the possibility of timing the uprising and preparing it by methods of secret organisation is “excluded”; we then read that, with broader agitation and organisation, it is possible to convert spontaneous movements into “planned insurrections”. From this muddle the party of the proletariat is expected to derive ideological guidance! The Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. repeats and confirms all the old truths about propaganda, agitation, the general democratic movement, etc., but adds to this a new task: to organise the proletariat for the uprising, to elucidate the “practical and organisational aspect” of new methods of struggle, of the determined struggle for freedom. The Conference speaks only of “the preparation of the uprising” in general, with stale repetitions about agitation and organisation in general; it cannot bring itself to formulate a single new task independently, it advances no guiding slogan on the necessity to take a step forward from the general preparation, of which we have spoken since 1902, to the treatment of the matter from the point of view of practical organisation. Like the old Economists to a T. When new tasks of the political struggle emerged upon the scene, they were belittled, broken up into stages, and subordinated to the tasks of the economic struggle.

Not only economic struggle, but political struggle, and in the broadest and boldest forms, said the revolutionary Social-Democrats. The best means of political agitation is   economic struggle, answered the Economists. Not only propaganda and agitation in general, the revolutionary Social-Democrats now say, not only clarification of the political significance of the uprising, but also the formation of special groups, the immediate commencement of practical organisational work, “the most energetic measures for the arming of the proletariat.” A planned uprising is excluded, retort the new-Iskrists; we must expand agitation, strengthen organisation, prepare the conversion of the spontaneous into the planned; only in this way “can the moment of insurrection be brought nearer”, only in this way “can the technical fighting preparations acquire more or less serious importance”....

For them the moment of insurrection has not yet “come near”! For them the practical preparations have still to “acquire more or less serious importance”! Is this not tail-ism par excellence? Is this not a degradation of the “urgent” task (urgent in the opinion of the Third Congress), towards which we have as yet done dreadfully little? Are not these people backing away from uprising to agitation, as the Economists backed away from political struggle to economic struggle with the employers and the government? Read in Osvobozhdeniye, No. 71, how Mr. Struve is backing away from the slogan of the “armed uprising”, how this leader of the liberal bourgeoisie is questioning the inevitability of the uprising (p. 340), how he lays himself out to minimise the importance of “the technical aspect of the revolution”, how he “gives depth” to the slogan of the uprising by pointing to the “socio-psychical conditions”, how he substitutes for this slogan the slogan of “imbuing the masses with the ideas of democratic reform”— and you will understand what a profoundly demoralising influence the tail-ism of the new-Iskrists must exercise on the proletariat, and into whose hands it plays.

The second urgent political question is that of the provisional revolutionary government. This question is clearly and distinctly formulated in the resolution of the Third Congress. The preamble speaks of the struggle for the republic, which can be won only through a completely successful uprising; of the need for the convocation of the Constituent Assembly by a provisional revolutionary government in order to guarantee truly free and fair elections; of the need to   prepare for the struggle with the bourgeoisie to safeguard the gains of the revolution. The conclusions and directives of the Congress: The proletariat must be made to realise the need for a provisional revolutionary government. The proletariat must put clearly defined demands before this government, namely, the realisation of the entire minimum programme. Social-Democrats may participate in the government (action “from above”), the object of such participation being clearly specified (a ruthless struggle against counter revolution and defence of the independent interests of the working class). The conditions of such participation are made equally explicit. The formal condition is strict control by the Party; the material condition, i.e., the condition determining the expediency of such participation, is jealous preservation of the independence of the Social-Democratic position and the creation of the conditions for the socialist revolution. This enumeration of the conditions of participation in the government, the conditions of pressure from above, as a new form of activity characteristic of the revolutionary epoch, is supplemented by an indication of the form and the purpose of pressure from below, which must be steadily maintained under all circumstances — pressure on the provisional revolutionary government by the armed proletariat led by the Social-Democratic Party. Broadly, we have here a complete answer to the new political question, a precise indication of the significance of the new forms of struggle and their purpose, of the programme of the struggle and the conditions under which these forms may be employed.

And in the Conference resolution? The resolution begins with the grossly erroneous assertion that “the decisive victory of the revolution over tsarism” may be signalised either by the establishment of a provisional government “or by the revolutionary initiative of a representative institution, which, under the direct revolutionary pressure of the people, decides to organise a popular Constituent Assembly”.

The Party may and should be given tactical directions both for the contingency of a victory of the uprising and for the contingency of its defeat, both for the contingency of the convocation of a true Constituent Assembly along revolutionary lines and for the contingency of the convocation of   a travesty of popular representation by the tsar. But to apply the term decisive victory to something that lacks the essential element of victory is to confuse the revolutionary consciousness, not to lead it. Any “decision” of any representative institution to organise a Constituent Assembly is as far removed from decisive victory as word is from deed; for the tsarist government wields the power that can prevent word from becoming deed. There is nothing whatever to choose between the resolution of the new-Iskrists and the affirmation of the old Economists that the decisive victory of the workers may consist either in their winning the eight-hour day or in the government’s granting them the ten-hour day, from which stage the workers will pass to the nine-hour day.

The Conference resolution repeats the incontestable theses of Marxism on the bourgeois nature of the democratic revolution, but interprets them narrowly or incorrectly. Instead of the militant slogan of “Republic”, we are given a description of the process of “liquidation of the monarchist regime”. Instead of setting forth the conditions and tasks of the new method of struggle “from above”, which can and must be employed in a successful course of the proletarian uprising in the epoch of revolution, we are given the guiding rule “to remain the party of the extreme revolutionary opposition”. This is a very useful thesis for the parliamentary struggle and action from below, but it would certainly be inadequate in the time of insurrection. At such a time the task of the “opposition” consists in the violent overthrow of the government; on this question the Conference was unable to offer a guiding slogan.

While admitting the possibility of partial and sporadic “seizures of power” in separate cities and districts, the Conference resolution abandons the “principle” of the new Iskra that participation in a provisional revolutionary government with the bourgeoisie constitutes a betrayal of the proletariat, that it is Millerandism, etc. Betrayal that is partial and sporadic is betrayal none the less. Limiting the problem to separate cities and districts does not solve it, however, but merely divides our attention and splits up the question, thereby befogging the issue. Lastly, the slogan of “revolutionary communes”, embodied in the Conference   resolution, is more like an empty phrase on account of its unclarity, in contrast to the slogan of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.

The resolution of the new-Iskrists on the provisional revolutionary government suffers from the very fault that glares from their resolution on insurrection, namely, an inability to determine the new tactical tasks of the moment; reiteration of the much reiterated instead of the summons to go forward; the lack of a guiding slogan for the advanced class in the democratic revolution; a belittlement of the tasks and the scope of activity of this class, of its revolutionary enthusiasm and revolutionary energy. The political tendency of this erroneous tactical line is to bring new Iskrism closer to Osvobozhdeniye-ism, to yield the leadership in the democratic revolution to the liberal bourgeoisie, to make the proletariat a mere satellite of the liberal bourgeoisie.

This basic error manifests itself also in the minor resolutions of the Conference. Thus, instead of the slogan of winning the eight-hour day by revolutionary means (resolution of the Third Congress), the old, now inadequate slogan of campaigning for the legislative introduction of the eight-hour day is put forward. Instead of the call for the immediate organisation of revolutionary peasant committees, we have the proposal solely to bring to the Constituent Assembly the demand for their formation. Instead of the slogan of combating the inconsistency, narrowness, and inadequacy of the liberation movement of the bourgeoisie wherever these traits manifest themselves (resolution of the Third Congress), the Conference resolution, repeating Starover’s error, pursues the illusory aim of finding “the litmus paper”, of enumerating the “points” conformity with which, if he meets them, entitles the bourgeois democrat to be called a true friend of the people. Of course, the “points” in the resolution of the new-Iskrists have shown themselves to be incomplete. The demand for the republic is missing. One is left to conclude that a democratic group like the “Russian Liberation Union” (Proletary, No. 4[3] ) conforms to these   “points”, although in reality there is no guarantee whatever that the Osvobozhdeniye crowd will not predominate in this group.

It need hardly be said that in a newspaper article we could only give a very brief and general idea of the main error pervading the new Iskra’s tactical line, as expressed in the Conference resolutions. The erroneous tendencies of the new Iskra’s tactical line are as serious and important to the Party as its “organisation-as-process” is not serious. We therefore deal with these tendencies in detail in a special pamphlet which is now in the press and will appear very shortly.[5]


[1] See p. 443 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] “I do not permit!”—the expression of the “Liberum veto” possessed by every member of the Polish Sejm in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.—Ed.

[3] See pp. 499-510 of this volume—Ed.

[4] Sotsial-Demokrat (The Social-Democrat)—a Menshevik newspaper, appeared in Geneva from October 1904 to October 1905.

[5] The reference is to Lenin’s Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, which appeared at the end of July 1905.

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