V. I.   Lenin

The Third Congress[6]

Published: Proletary, No. 1, May 27 (14), 19O5. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 442-449.
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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The long and stubborn struggle within the R.S.D.L.P. for the Congress is over at last. The Third Congress has been held. A detailed appraisal of all its work will be possible only after the proceedings of the Congress have been published. At present we propose, on the basis of the published “Report”[1] and the impressions of the Congress delegates, to touch on the principal landmarks of Party development as reflected in the decisions of the Third Congress.

Three major questions confronted the Party of the class-conscious proletariat in Russia on the eve of the Third Congress. First, the question of the Party crisis. Second, the more important question of the form of organisation of the Party in general. Third, the main question, namely, our tactics in the present revolutionary situation. Let us see how these questions were dealt with, in the order of lesser to major.

The Party crisis solved itself by the mere fact that the Congress was convened. The root cause of the crisis, as every one knows, was the stubborn refusal of the minority at the Second Congress to submit to the majority. The agonising and protracted nature of the crisis was conditioned by the delay in convening the Third Congress, by the fact that there was virtually a split in the Party, a split that was kept hidden and secret beneath a hypocritical show of unity, while the Majority was making desperate efforts to find a quick and direct way out of the impossible situation. The Congress provided this way out by bluntly asking the Minority whether it accepted the decisions of the Majority, i.e., whether Party unity was to be restored in actual fact   or to be formally and completely broken. The Minority chose the latter course. It preferred a split. The Council’s refusal to take part in the Congress in face of the clearly expressed will of the majority of qualified Party organisations and the refusal of the entire Minority to attend the Congress represented, as the “Report” states, the final step towards the split. We shall not dwell here on the formal validity of the Congress, which has been conclusively evidenced in the “Report”. The argument that the Congress was invalid, that is, not in accordance with the Party Rules, because it had not been convened by the Council, can hardly be treated seriously after all that happened as a result of the Party conflict. It is clear to anyone who has any idea of the general principles of Party organisation that discipline in regard to a lower body is conditional upon discipline in regard to the higher body; the discipline which the Council may command is conditional upon the Council’s subordination to its principals, that is, the committees and their totality, the Party Congress. To disagree with this elementary principle is to come to the absurd conclusion that it is not the agents who are responsible and accountable to their principals, but vice versa. But this question, we repeat, is not worth dwelling upon, not only because those do not see the point who do not wish to see it, but because, from the outset of the split, the dispute on formalities between the breakaway groups becomes barren, pointless, and scholastic.

The Minority has split away from the Party; that is an accomplished fact. Some of them will probably be brought to see by the decisions of the Congress, and still more by its proceedings, how naive the sundry tales about mechanical suppression, etc., are; they will come to see that the rights of the Minority in general are fully guaranteed by the new Rules, that the split is harmful; and this section of the Minority will re-enter the Party. The other section may persist for a while in refusing to recognise the Party Congress. As to this section, we can but hope that it will lose no time in organising itself internally into a separate organisation with its own tactics and its own Rules. The sooner it does this, the easier it will he for all, for the broad mass of the Party workers, to understand the causes of the split and its implications; the more practicable it will be for our Party to come   to a working agreement with the breakaway organisation, depending on the needs of local work; and the sooner will a way be found for the inevitable future restoration of the Party’s unity.

Let us now pass to the second question, to the general organisational standards of the Party. The Third Congress made changes of a substantial character in these standards in the course of revising the Party Rules. The revision affected three main points: (a) the amendment of Clause 1 of the Rules; (b) the precise definition of the rights of the C.C. and the autonomy of the committees, with the extension of the scope of this autonomy; and (c) the creation of a single centre. As to the famous Clause I of the Rules, this has been sufficiently clarified in Party literature. The erroneousness of defending in principle Martov’s vague formula has been demonstrated conclusively. Kautsky’s attempt to defend this formula from considerations, not of principle, but of expediency, namely, the conditions of secrecy prevailing in Russia, was not successful, as indeed it could not be. Anyone who has worked in Russia knows well that such considerations of expediency do not exist. The only thing now is to wait for the first results of the Party’s collective work in implementing the new Clause I of the Rules. We emphasise the fact that a great deal of work has still to be done for this implementation. No work at all is needed to enrol oneself as a member of the Party “under the control of a Party organisation”, since this formula is a mere name and remained such from the Second Congress to the Third. A wide network of varied Party organisations, from narrow and secret organisations to the broadest possible and least secret, can only be built up by dint of long, hard, and efficient organising work; this is the work that has now devolved upon our C.C. and to a still greater extent upon our local committees. It is the committees that will have to confirm the largest number of organisations in the capacity of Party branches and in the course avoid all unnecessary red tape and faultfinding; it is the committees that will have to propagate among the workers constantly and unremittingly the idea of the necessity to create the greatest possible number of diverse workers’ organisations affiliated to our Party. We cannot deal here with this interesting question at greater length. We   should like to point out, however, that the revolutionary epoch makes it particularly essential to draw a line of demarcation’between Social-Democracy and all the other democratic parties. But this demarcation is unthinkable unless sustained efforts are made to increase the number of Party organisations and strengthen the ties among them. The fortnightly reports decided upon by the Congress will, among other things, serve to strengthen these ties. Let us hope that the reports will not remain an unrealised wish; that they will not cause the practical workers to draw for themselves a horrible picture of red tape and bureaucracy; that these comrades will start off in a small way till they develop the habit, by perhaps just reporting the number of members of every Party organisation, even the smallest and the farthest from the centre. “The first step is the hardest”, runs the proverb. After that they will realise how tremendously important it is to acquire the habit of maintaining regular organisational connections.

We shall not dwell at length on the question of the single centre. The Third Congress rejected “bicentrism” by as huge a majority as the Second Congress had adopted it. The reasons will easily be understood by anyone who has care fully followed the history of the Party. Congresses do not so much create something new as consolidate results already achieved. At the time of the Second Congress the Iskra Editorial Board was the recognised pillar of stability, and it enjoyed dominant influence. The preponderant position of the comrades in Russia in relation to those resident abroad still seemed problematical at that stage of the Party’s development. After the Second Congress it was the Editorial Board abroad that proved to be unstable. The Party, on the other hand, had developed considerably and unquestionably in Russia. Under these circumstances the appointment of an Editorial Board of the Central Organ by the Party C. C. could not but meet with the approval of the mass of the Party workers.

Finally, the attempts to delimit more precisely the rights of the C.C. and of the local committees, to draw a line between ideological struggle and disruptive squabbles, followed inevitably also from the whole course of events after the Second Congress. We have here a consistent and   systematic “accumulation of Party experience”. Plekhanov ’s and Lenin’s letter of October 6, 1903,[2] to the disgruntled editors was an attempt to distinguish between irritation and disagreement. The C.C.’s ultimatum of November 25, 1903, was a similar attempt in the form of a proposal formulated by a group of publicists. The statement issued by the C.C. representatives on the Council at the end of January 1903[3] was an attempt to call upon the whole Party to differentiate the ideological forms of struggle from boycott, etc. Lenin’s letter of May 26, 1904,[4] to the members of the C.C. in Russia was an admission of the necessity of formally guaranteeing the rights of the Minority. The well-known Declaration of the Twenty-Two (autumn 1904) was a similar admission in a more distinct, detailed, and categorical form. Quite naturally, the Third Congress took the same path when it “finally dispelled, dispelled by formal decisions, the mirage of a state of siege”. What these formal decisions were, viz., the changes in the Party Rules, can be seen from the Rules and the “Report”; therefore we shall not repeat them here. We shall mention only two things. First, it is to be hoped that the guarantee of the right to publish literature and the safeguarding of the committees against “cashiering” will help the seceded non-Russian Social-Democratic organisations to return to the Party. Secondly, in view of the inviolability of committee membership, some provision had to be made against the possible abuse of this guarantee, viz., against being saddled with a perfectly useless committee that was “undeposable”. That accounts for Clause 9 of the new Party Rules, which sets forth the conditions under which a committee may be dissolved upon the demand of two-thirds of the local workers belonging to the Party organisations. Let us wait for the guidance of experience before deciding to what extent this rule is practical.

Finally, in passing to the last and most important item of the Congress proceedings, the determination of the Party’s tactics, we must state that this is not the place to list and   analyse the various resolutions. Possibly we shall have to do this in special articles devoted, to the major· resolutions. Here we need only outline the general political situation which the Congress had to analyse. Two alternative courses and outcomes are open to the Russian revolution, which has begun. The tsarist government may yet succeed by means of trivial concessions and a “Shipov” constitution in extricating itself from the vice in which it is now caught. There is little likelihood of such an outcome; but should the inter national position of the autocracy improve as the result, let us say, of a relatively favourable peace, should the betrayal by the bourgeoisie of the cause of freedom be brought quickly to a head by a compromise with the powers that be, should the inevitable revolutionary outbreak or out breaks end in the defeat of the people, then such an outcome is likely. We Social-Democrats and the entire class-conscious proletariat must then face a long dreary period of harsh, ostensibly constitutional class rule of the bourgeoisie, with all manner of suppression of the political activity of the workers and slow economic progress under the new conditions. We shall not lose heart, of course, whatever the outcome of the revolution; we will take advantage of every change in conditions to widen and strengthen the independent organisation of the working-class party, to train the proletariat politically for renewed struggle. The Congress took this task, among others, into account in its resolution on open action by the R.S.D.L.P.

The other possible and more probable outcome of the revolution is the “complete victory of democracy, headed by the working class”, of which the “Report” speaks.[5] We need hardly say that we will do all in our power to achieve this result, to eliminate the possibility of the other alter native. The objective historical conditions, too, are shaping themselves favourably for the Russian revolution. The sense less and shameful war is tightening the noose round the neck of the tsarist government and creating an exceptionally favourable situation for the revolutionary destruction of militarism, for the widespread propaganda of the idea of   arming the people in lieu of standing armies and for the speedy effectuation of this measure, in view of its support by the masses of the population. The long and undivided rule of the autocracy has stored up revolutionary energy among the people to a degree perhaps never before known in history. Simultaneously with the vast movement of the working class, the peasant revolt is spreading and growing, and the petty-bourgeois democratic forces, consisting mostly of the professional classes, are coming into alliance. The irony of history has punished the autocracy in that even friendly social forces, such as clericalism, must organise against it to some extent, thereby breaking down or widening the framework of the bureaucratic police regime. Discontent among the clergy, the striving among them after new forms of life, the emergence of clericals as a separate group, the appearance of Christian Socialists and Christian Democrats, the resentment of the “heterodox”, sectarians, etc.—this all serves the purpose of the revolution and creates exceedingly favourable conditions for agitation for the complete separation of the Church from the State. The allies of the revolution, voluntary and involuntary, conscious and unconscious, are growing and multiplying hour by hour. The outlook brightens for the victory of the people over the autocracy.

This victory is possible only through a heroic effort of all the forces of the proletariat. It makes demands of Social-Democracy such as history has never before and nowhere made of a working-class party in an epoch of democratic revolution. We have before us now, not the well-trodden paths of slow preparatory work, but the colossal, grandiose tasks of organising the insurrection, mustering the revolutionary forces of the proletariat, uniting them with the forces of the whole revolutionary people, launching the armed attack, and establishing a provisional revolutionary government. In the resolutions which have now been published for general information, the Third Congress has sought to take into account these new tasks and give all possible directives to the organisations of the class-conscious proletariat.

Russia is nearing the denouement of the age-long struggle of all the progressive popular forces against the autocracy. No one doubts any longer that the proletariat will take the   most energetic part in this struggle and that its participation in the struggle will decide the outcome of the revolution in Russia. We Social-Democrats will now have to prove our selves worthy representatives and leaders of the most revolutionary class, to help it win the fullest freedom, which is the pledge of our victorious march towards socialism.


[1] See pp. 433-39 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] See present edition, Vol. 7, p. 354.—Ed.

[3] Ibid., pp. 147-49.—Ed.

[4] Ibid., pp. 426-29.—Ed.

[5] See p. 438 of this volume.—Ed.

[6] The article “The Third Congress” was reprinted on July 1 (14), 1905, in issue No. I of Borba Proletariata.

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