V. I.   Lenin

The Jena Congress of the German Social-Democratic Workers’ Party

Written: Written in September 1905
Published: First published in 1924 in the magazine Pod Znamenem Marxizma (Under the Banner of Marxism), No. 2. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 290-294.
Translated: The Late Abraham Fineberg and Julius Katzer
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). 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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Congresses of the German Social-Democrats have long become events whose importance goes far beyond the con fines of the German labour movement. The German Social-Democratic movement ranks first in respect of organisation, integrality and coherence, and the extent and rich content of its Marxist literature. It is natural that under such circumstances resolutions of the German Social-Democratic congresses also frequently acquire almost international significance. Such was the case with the question of the latest opportunist tendencies in socialism (Bernsteinism). The decision of the Dresden Social-Democratic Congress, which confirmed the old and tested tactics of revolutionary Social-Democracy, was adopted by the Amsterdam International Socialist Congress, and has now become the common decision of the whole class-conscious proletariat throughout the world. Such is now the case too. The question of a mass political strike—the main question at the Jena Congress—is agitating the entire international Social-Democratic movement. It has been brought to the fore lately by events in a number of countries, including Russia, and even perhaps Russia in particular. The German Social-Democrats’ decision will undoubtedly exercise considerable influence on the entire international labour movement by giving support and strength to the revolutionary spirit of militant workers.

However, let us first take brief note of the other and less important questions discussed and decided by the Jena Congress. First of all, it considered the question of Party organisation. We shall not of course dwell here on the details   of the revision of the German Party Rules. It is important that the highly characteristic basic feature of this revision should be stressed, i.e., the tendency towards further, more comprehensive and stricter application of the principle of centralism, the establishment of a stronger organisation. This tendency found expression, first, in the inclusion in the Rules of a direct provision to the effect that every Social-Democrat is obliged to belong to a Party organisation, with the exception of cases when this is precluded by very serious reasons. Secondly, it found expression in the institution of a system of Social-Democratic local branches instead of the system of delegates, the replacement of the principle of one-man authority and confidence in an individual, by the principle of collective, organisational links. Thirdly, it expressed itself in a decision to the effect that all Party organisations must contribute 25 per cent of their revenue to the Party’s central treasury.

On the whole, this obviously shows that the growth of the Social-Democratic movement and of its revolutionary spirit necessarily and inevitably leads to the more consistent establishment of centralism. In this respect the development of the German Social-Democratic movement is highly instructive to us Russians. Not so long ago organisational questions occupied a disproportionate place among current problems of Party life, and to some extent this holds true of the present as well. Since the Third Congress two organisational tendencies in the Party have become fully defined. One is towards consistent centralism and consistent extension of the democratic principle in Party organisations, not for the sake of demagogy, or because it sounds good, but in order to put this into effect as Social-Democracy’s free field of activity extends in Russia. The other tendency is towards diffusiveness of organisation, “vagueness of organisation”, whose injuriousness is now understood even by Plekhanov, who defended it for such a long time (let us hope that events will soon force him to understand likewise the connection between this vagueness of organisation and vagueness of tactics).

Recall the disputes about Clause 1 of our Rules. The Conference of the new-Iskrists, who had been previously fervently defending the “idea” underlying their mistaken formulation   of this clause, now simply discarded all the clause and the idea as a whole. The Third Congress confirmed the principle of centralism and organisational ties. The new-Iskrists immediately attempted to put on a basis of general principles the question whether every Party member must belong to an organisation. We now see that the Germans—opportunists and revolutionaries alike— do not even question the legitimacy of such a requirement as a matter of principle. When they brought this requirement (that every Party member must belong to a Party organisation) straight into their Rules, they explained the need of exceptions to this rule, not by considerations of principle but by the absence of sufficient freedom in Germany! Vollmar, who at Jena delivered the report on the organisational question, justified toleration of exceptions to the rule on the ground that it would be impossible for such people (petty officials) to belong to the Social-Democratic Party openly. It goes without saying that the situation in Russia is different: since there is no freedom all organisations are equally secret. Under conditions of revolutionary freedom it is particularly important that parties be quite distinct from each other, and that no “diffusiveness” be permitted in this respect. However the principle of the desirability of stronger organisational ties remains unshaken.

As regards the delegate system, which the German Social-Democrats have now discarded, its existence was due entirely to the Exceptional Law Against the Socialists. The farther this law receded into the past, the more natural and inevitable became the transition to a Party system based on direct links between organisations, instead of on links through delegates.

Another question that came up for discussion at Jena prior to the question of political strike is also highly instructive for Russia. This was the question of the May Day celebrations, or, to be more exact (to take the gist of the matter and not the item that gave rise to the discussion), the question of the relation of the trade union movement to the Social-Democratic Party. Proletary has spoken several times about the profound impression made on German Social-Democrats, and not only on them alone, by the Cologne Trade Union Congress.[1] It became more than evident at this Congress that even in Germany, where the traditions of Marxism   and its influence are strongest, anti-socialist tendencies, tendencies towards “pure trade-unionism” of the British, i.e., absolutely bourgeois type, are developing in the trade unions—mark you, Social-Democratic trade unions. That is why from the question of a May Day demonstration in its literal sense, there inevitably arose at the Jena Congress the question of trade-unionism and Social-Democracy, the question of Economism, to speak in terms of trends within the Russian Social-Democratic movement.

Fischer, who delivered the report on the question of May Day, frankly stated that it would be a bad mistake to ignore the fact that in the trade unions the socialist spirit is disappearing now here, now there. Things had gone so far that, for instance, Bringmann, representative of the carpenters’ union, had uttered and published statements like the following: “The strike on May Day is like a foreign body in the human body.” “In the given circumstances the trade unions are the sole means for improving the condition of the workers”, etc. And these “symptoms of disease”, as Fischer aptly termed them, are being supplemented by a number of others. In Germany, as in Russia and indeed everywhere, a narrow trade-unionism, or Economism, is linking up with opportunism (revisionism). The newspaper published by this same carpenters’ union wrote about the crumbling foundations of scientific socialism, the erroneousness of the theory of crises, the theory of collapse, etc. The revisionist Calwer did not call on the workers to show discontent or increase their demands, but to be modest, etc., etc. Liebknecht met with approval from the Congress when he spoke against the idea of the trade unions’ “neutrality”, and remarked that “Bebel, it is true, also spoke in favour of neutrality, but, in my opinion, this is one of the few points on which Bebel does not have the hacking of the majority of the Party”.

Bebel himself denied that he had advised the trade unions to be neutral with regard to the Social-Democratic movement. Bebel fully recognised the danger of narrow trade-unionism. He went on to say that he knew even worse examples of this craft union apathy: young trade union leaders go so far as to jeer at the Party in general, at socialism in general, at the theory of the class struggle. These statements of Bebel’s evoked general indignation at the Social-Democratic Congress.   There was loud applause when he resolutely declared: “Comrades, be on your guard, think of what you are doing; you are travelling a fatal path, which in the end will lead to your doom.”

It thus stands to the credit of the German Social-Democratic movement that it faced the danger squarely. It did not gloss over the extremes of Economism, or invent lame excuses and subterfuges (such as were so abundantly invented by our Plekhanov, for instance, after the Second Congress). No, it bluntly named the disease, resolutely condemned the injurious tendencies, and straightforwardly and openly called on all Party members to combat them. This is instructive to Russian Social-Democrats, some of whom have earned the praise of Mr. Struve for having begun to “see the light” on the question of the trade union movement.


[1] The Cologne Congress of German Trade Unions took place in May 1905.

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