V. I.   Lenin

Report on the Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.

A Letter to the St. Petersburg Workers



Armed Uprising

The two main questions, the agrarian question and that of the State Duma, together with the debate on the appraisal of the situation, took up most of the attention of the Congress. I do not remember how many days we spent on these questions , but the fact remains that many of those present were beginning to show signs of fatigue, and probably not only of fatigue, but of a desire to shelve some of the items on the agenda. A motion was adopted to accelerate the proceedings of the Congress, and the time allotted for the reports on the question of armed uprising was cut down to fifteen minutes   (the reporters on the preceding questions had their time repeatedly extended beyond the allotted half-hour). The questions now began to be rushed through.

The reporter on armed uprising from the “Minority”, which predominated at the Congress, was Comrade Cherevanin, and as was to be expected—and as the Bolsheviks more than once foretold—he “slipped down towards Plekhanov”, that is to say, he virtually took the view of the Dnevnik, with which, before the Congress, many Mensheviks had expressed disagreement. The notes I have on his speech contain sentences like the following: “The December uprising was only a product of despair”, or: “The defeat of the December uprising was a foregone conclusion in the very first days.” Plekhanov’s dictum: “It was wrong to take up arms” ran through his whole speech, which, as usual, was replete with thrusts at the “conspirators” and at those who “exaggerated the importance of technique

Our reporter, Comrade Winter, vainly tried in his short speech to induce the Congress to appraise the exact texts of the two resolutions. He was even obliged once to refuse to continue with his report. This was when he was about half-way through, and was reading the first clause of the Menshevik resolution: “The struggle is bringing to the fore front the direct task of wresting power from the autocratic government.” It transpired that our reporter, a member of the committee entrusted with drawing up a resolution on armed uprising, did not know that at the last moment this commit tee had submitted to the Congress a hectographed draft of the resolution in a new version, namely, the Menshevik section of the committee, headed by Plekhanov, proposed that the words “wresting rights by force” be substituted for the words “wresting power”.

This alteration of the text of the resolution submitted to the Congress, without the knowledge of the reporter, a member of the committee, was so flagrant a violation of all rules and customs of Congress procedure that in his indignation our spokesman refused to continue with his report. Only after lengthy “explanations” had been made by the Mensheviks did he agree to say a few words in conclusion.

The alteration was truly flabbergasting. A resolution on insurrection speaks, not of the struggle for power, but of the   struggle for rights! Just imagine what incredible confusion this opportunist formula would have caused in the minds of the masses, and how absurd would have been the glaring discrepancy between the majesty of the means (insurrection) and the modesty of the aim (to wrest rights, i.e., to wrest rights from the old regime, to obtain concessions from the old regime, and not to overthrow it).

It goes without saying that the Bolsheviks attacked this amendment with the utmost vigour. The ranks of the Mensheviks wavered. Evidently they had convinced themselves that Plekhanov had again overdone it, and that in practice they would have a hard time of it trying to explain away this moderate and trim appraisal of the aims of insurrection. Plekhanov had to back out. He withdrew his amendment, saying that he did not attach any importance to what was, strictly speaking, merely a matter of “style”. This was only gilding the pill, of course. Everybody realised that it was not a matter of style at all.

Plekhanov’s amendment clearly revealed what the Mensheviks were aiming at on the question of insurrection: to invent dissuading arguments against insurrection, to repudiate the December uprising, to advise against launching another uprising, to nullify the aims of the insurrection, or define them in such a way as to rule out insurrection as a means of achieving them. But the Mensheviks could not bring themselves to say this straightforwardly and emphatically, plainly and openly. Their position was utterly false: to ex press their most cherished idea by veiled hints. The representatives of the proletariat can and should openly criticise its mistakes, but to do so in a veiled, ambiguous and vague form is quite unworthy of Social-Democrats. And the Menshevik resolution involuntarily expressed this ambiguous position: dissuading arguments against insurrection, along with a sham recognition of it by the “people”.

The talk about technique and conspiratorial methods was too obviously an attempt to distract attention, too crude an attempt to muffle up disagreements on the political appraisal of insurrection. To avoid making this appraisal, to avoid saying bluntly whether the December uprising was a step forward and had raised the movement to a higher plane, it was necessary to divert the discussion from politics to   technique, from concrete appraisal of the events of December 1905 to generalities about conspiratorial methods. What a stain on Social-Democracy will be left by this talk about conspiracy in connection with such a people’s movement as the December struggle in Moscow!

You want to indulge in polemics, we said to the Menshevik comrades; you want to have a “dig” at the Bolsheviks; your resolution on insurrection is full of thrusts at those who disagree with you. Indulge in polemics as much as you like. It is your right and your duty. But don’t reduce the great question of appraising historic days to petty and pettifogging polemics. Don’t humiliate the Party by making it appear as if, in speaking of the December struggle of the workers, peasants and town petty bourgeoisie, it could do no better than snarl and dig at another Party group. Rise a little higher: write a special polemical resolution against the Bolsheviks, if you want to, but do give the proletariat and the whole people a plain, straightforward and unambiguous answer concerning insurrection.

You shout about the overrating of technique and about conspiratorial methods. But compare the two draft resolutions. In our resolution, you will not find technique, but historical and political material. You will find that it is based, not on bare and unprovable platitudes (“the object of the struggle is to wrest power”), but on facts taken from the history of the movement, from the political experience of the last quarter of 1905. You lay the blame at the door of another, for it is your resolution that is utterly lacking in historical and political material. It speaks of insurrection, but says not a word about the relation between strike and insurrection, not a word about how the struggle after October necessarily and inevitably led to insurrection; there is not a single plain and straightforward statement in it about December. It is in our resolution that insurrection appears, not as a call from conspirators, not as a question of technique, but as the political result of a very specific historical situation created by the October strike, by the promise of liberties, by the at tempt to withdraw these liberties and by the struggle to protect them.

Your phrases about technique and conspiracy are only a screen to cover up your retreat on the question of insurrection.

At the Congress, the Mensheviks’ resolution on insurrection was actually called “a resolution against armed uprising”. And anyone who at all carefully reads the texts of the two resolutions submitted to the Congress will hardly venture to challenge this statement.[1]

Our arguments influenced the Mensheviks only in part. Whoever compares the draft of their resolution with the resolution they finally adopted will see that they deleted a number of really petty attacks and expressions. But the general spirit of the resolution remained unaltered, of course. It is ahistorical fact that a Menshevik-dominated Congress, held after the first armed uprising in Russia, betrayed bewilderment, evaded a straight answer, did not have the courage to tell the proletariat in plain language whether this insurrection had been a mistake or a step forward, whether a second insurrection was necessary, and what historical connection it would have with the first.

The evasiveness of the Mensheviks, who wanted to shelve the question of insurrection, who longed to do so but could not bring themselves to admit it, resulted in the question virtually remaining open. The Party still has to draw up its appraisal of the December uprising; and all Party organisations must devote the most serious attention to this matter.

The practical aspect of the question of insurrection is also still an open one. In the name of the Congress, it was admitted that the immediate (note this!) task of the movement is to “wrest power”. Why, this formulation is, if you will, ultra-Bolshevik: it reduces the whole matter to a phrase, the very thing that we were accused of doing. But since the Congress has said this, we must be guided by it. We must on these grounds very strongly criticise those local and central bodies and organisations of the Party that might forget this immediate task. On the basis of the Congress decision we can, and must, put this immediate task first in certain political situations. Nobody will have the right to object to this,   for since the words “wrest rights” have been deleted, and we have secured recognition of “wresting power as the immediate task”, this will be wholly and entirely in accordance with the line laid down by the Congress.

We advise the Party organisations not to forget this, particularly at a time when our far-famed Duma is being so grossly snubbed by the autocratic government.

During the debate on armed uprising, Comrade Voyinov very aptly hit off the tight spot in which the Mensheviks had landed. To say “wrest rights” means expressing an utterly opportunist formula. To say “wrest power” means throwing away all weapons in the fight against the Bolsheviks. Now we know what orthodox Marxism and conspiratorial heresy are, said Voyinov ironically. “To wrest power” is orthodox: “to conquer power” is conspiracy....

The same speaker depicted the characteristics that are common to all Mensheviks in this connection. The Mensheviks, he said, are impressionists, people who yield to the mood of the moment. When the revolutionary tide rose and October-November 1905 arrived, Nachalo galloped off at breakneck speed, and went even more Bolshevik than the Bolsheviks. It galloped from democratic dictatorship to socialist dictatorship. But when the revolutionary tide turned, when enthusiasm ebbed and the Cadets rose to the top, the Mensheviks hastened to adjust themselves to this subdued mood. They now trot behind the Cadets, and disdainfully brush aside the October-December forms of struggle.

Highly interesting confirmation of the foregoing was provided at the Congress by a written statement from the Menshevik Larin. He submitted his statement to the Bureau, and it should therefore be fully recorded in the minutes. Larin ’s statement said that the Mensheviks had made a mistake in October-December by behaving like Bolsheviks. I heard verbal and informal protests against this “valuable admission” from individual Mensheviks at the Congress, but I will not vouch that these protests were expressed in speeches or statements.

Plekhanov’s speech was also edifying. He was talking (if I am not mistaken) about the seizure of power, but in doing so he made a very curious slip. I am opposed to the conspiratorial seizure of power, he exclaimed: but I am wholly   in favour of the seizure of power on the lines of, say, the Convention during the great French Revolution.

We took Plekhanov at his word. Excellent, Comrade Plekhanov, I replied. Put what you have said in the resolution! Condemn conspiracy as sharply as you like—we Bolsheviks will whole-heartedly and unanimously vote for a resolution that recognises and recommends to the proletariat the seizure of power on the lines of the Convention. Condemn conspiracy, but recognise in your resolution a dictatorship like the Convention, and we will agree with you entirely and unreservedly. More than that. I guarantee that the moment you sign such a resolution the Cadets will stop praising you!

Comrade Voyinov also pointed to the glaring contradiction in which Comrade Plekhanov had landed as a result of his “slip of the tongue” about the Convention. The Convention was precisely a dictatorship of the lower classes, that is, of the lowest and poorest sections of the town and village population. In the bourgeois revolution this was a body with full powers, wholly and entirely dominated, not by the upper or middle bourgeoisie, but by the common people, the poor, that is, precisely those whom we call “the proletariat and the peasantry”. To recognise the Convention and to oppose the seizure of power means juggling with words. To recognise the Convention and be violently opposed to “the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” means defeating one’s own purpose. But the Bolsheviks have at all times and invariably spoken about the capture of power by the masses of the people, by the proletariat and the peasantry. and not by any “politically-conscious minority”. All the talk about conspiracy and Blanquism was just pious declamation, which evaporated at the mere mention of the Convention.


[1] In order to help the reader to study the debates at the Congress intelligently and critically, I print in the appendix the texts of the first drafts of the resolutions of the Majority and of the Minority, and the texts of the resolutions adopted by the Congress. Only by carefully studying and comparing these texts can one arrive at an independent opinion on the question of Social-Democratic tactics.—Lenin

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