The Central Committee of the Party, in which the Mensheviks predominate, demanded that the St. Petersburg Conference should divide into two: a City Conference and a Gubernia Conference. The Mensheviks try to justify their walking out of the conference on the grounds that this demand was not complied with.
Let us see whether this demand was in keeping with the Party Rules, whether it was binding on the conference, and whether it was practicable.
The Rules of our Party very definitely establish the democratic organisation of the Party. The whole organisation is built from below upwards, on an elective basis. The Party Rules declare that the local organisations are independent (autonomous) in their local activities. According to the Rules, the Central Committee co-ordinates and directs all the work of the Party. Hence it is clear that it has no right to interfere in determining the composition of local organisations. Since the organisation is built from below upwards, interference in its composition from above would be a flagrant breach of democracy and of the Party Rules. Let us assume that an organisation, for one reason or an other, combines heterogeneous sections, for instance, a city and a gubernia. Under a democratic system, this combination cannot be maintained (or prescribed) by orders from above. Consequently, it can be broken up only if this is desired from below: the city can separate from the gubernia, and no one can forbid it to do so. The gubernia can separate from the city, and no one can forbid it to do so. If no at all large, or at all distinct, part of an organisation has expressed a desire to separate, it means that the Central Committee has been unable to convince a single influential part of the organisation that separation is necessary! That being the case, to force a division from above is a mockery of democracy, a mockery of the Party Rules. It signifies nothing more nor less than an attempt on the part of the Central Committee to abuse its powers, i.e., to use them, not in the interests of Party unity, but in the interests of one section of the Party (the Mensheviks)—to use its powers to distort the will and the decisions of the local workers.
The Central Committee was so conscious of the fact that its demand was unwarranted that in its written general order it expressed itself very guardedly. In it the Central Committee recommends all Party organisations “as far as possible” (this is the literal expression!) to adapt their boundaries to accord with the boundaries of the electoral districts. There can be no question of such advice being binding; and nobody claimed that it was. That the Central Committee had some special object in view in regard to St. Petersburg is evident from the fact that it made no such demand for a division of the conference in any other city in Russia. For instance, in Wilno, the city conference embraces Social-Democrats representing enterprises situated outside the city boundaries, i.e., in another electoral district. The Central Committee did not even think of raising the question of dividing the Wilno Conference!
In Odessa also there was a joint conference, although there, too, some of the factories that were represented are situated outside the city police area. In fact, can one mention a single large city where the organisation corresponds to the police division into city and part of the gubernia? Can anyone seriously claim that in the big cities, in the centres of the Social-Democratic workers’ movement, the suburbs where the biggest factories are sometimes situated, the most proletarian “suburbs” should be separated? This is such a gross mockery of common sense that only those who are most unscrupulously seeking a pretext for a split could seize upon it.
We have only to look at the districts of St. Petersburg to see that the demand to divide the conference was impracticable. To divide an organisation in general, or a conference in particular, into two parts, one for the city and one for the gubernia, it is necessary either to know the address of every member of the Party, or have ready-made Party units, branches and districts organised on a territorial basis, i.e., districts formed according to the place of residence of Party members, or the situation of factories in the various police districts.
But we see that in St. Petersburg (as probably in most cities in Russia) the districts, sub-districts and lower Party units are organised, not only on a territorial (local) basis but also on an occupational basis (according to the trade and occupation of the workers, and of the population in general) and on a national basis (different nationalities, different languages).
For instance, in St. Petersburg there is a railway district. This district is organised on an occupational basis. How could it be divided into a city section and a gubernia section? According to the place of residence of every individual railwayman: St. Petersburg, Kolpino, and other stations? Or according to the location of the railway trains, which, unfortunately for our Central Committee, have a habit of moving from place to place, from the “city” of St. Petersburg into the “gubernia”, and even into other gubernias?
Try to divide the Lettish district! And then there is the Estonian district and the military organisation.
Even the territorial districts cannot be divided. The workers at the conference said so themselves. A worker from Moscow District got up and said: I know factories in our district which are not far from the city boundaries. At the end of the day’s work you can see at a glance that part of the workers make for the “city” and others for the “gubernia”. How are we going to divide them? And the workers simply laughed at the Central Committee’s proposal.
Only very naive people can fail to see the underlying purpose of the whole business. Only very naive people can say: still, we ought to have tried to divide, “approximately”, “as far as possible”.
If it were done approximately, it would, to some extent, have been an arbitrary division, for it would have been impossible to divide the Lettish, railway and other districts exactly. But every arbitrary decision would have evoked new, interminable protests and complaints; it would have called forth new orders from the Central Committee, and would have provided any number of new pretexts for splits. Look at the list of districts (given above) and you will see that some people might have declared that only four districts are purely and indubitably city districts: the Vasilyev sky Ostrov, City, Vyborg and Petersburg districts. Why only these? Because there the Mensheviks would have had a majority. On what grounds could such an arbitrary decision be justified?
And how could the Central Committee justify its arbitrary conduct in not even thinking of dividing Wilno, yet demanding that St. Petersburg should be divided? If you pro test against arbitrary action, who will finally settle your dispute? Why, this very same Central Committee....
Even the most naïve people will now understand that the complaints about the composition of the conference and about its refusal to divide are simply a blind. The sum and substance of the matter is that the Mensheviks decided not to submit to the majority of the St. Petersburg organisation, and to bring about a split on the eve of the elections in order to desert the socialist workers for the Cadets.