V. I.   Lenin

Apropos of the Minutes of the November Military and Combat Conference of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party[3]

Written: Written in April 1907
Published: Published on May 2, 1907, in Proletary, No. 16. Published according to the Proletary text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 12, pages 409-418.
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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No. 20 of Narodnaya Duma (April 3, 1907) carried the following item: “The Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. has addressed the following letter to Party organisations. ’A few days ago a—booklet was published under the title of Minutes of the First Conference of Military and Combat Organisations.[1] To prevent all possible misunderstanding, the Central Committee deems it essential to make the following explanations on this matter. (1) The conference was called by representatives of a number of military and combat organisations, not only without the consent of the Central Committee but even in spite of its vehement protest, that body being of the opinion that the unification of combat organisations in any form whatsoever would be impermissible. (2) The Technical Group at the Central Committee was not given the consent of that body for participation in the “conference”, and the member of the group who went so far as to participate has been soundly reprimanded by the Central Committee for doing so without its knowledge. To this must be added that the military organisations of the Baltic Area took part in the conference contrary to a decision   of the Central Committee of the Social-Democratic Party of the Latvian Area."’

The reader will see from this that our Central Committee is very angry and anxious to denigrate a certain conference in the eyes of the Party, and to conceal the point at issue behind a list of formal discrepancies.

We advise all Party members to acquaint themselves with the exceedingly interesting Minutes of the Military and Combat Organisations of the R.S.D.L.P. so as to convince themselves of the amusing nature of the Central Committee’s wrath and dissatisfaction. We, for our part, deem it essential to give at least a brief assessment of this book (and of the “conflict” arising out of it).

Let us begin with the formal aspect of the matter mentioned in the Central Committee’s wrathful statement. The conference was called despite its protest, for the Central Committee was “of the opinion that the unification of combat organisations in any form whatsoever would be impermissible”. This is very wrathful, but illogical to the point of incoherence. If it does not, in general, regard the conference as a “form of unification”, then it completely misses the target. If a meeting (“conference”) of combat organisations is also impermissible as a “form of unification”, then we ask ourselves in perplexity—how can representatives of Party organisations be forbidden to confer so long as they are Party organisations that have not been dissolved either by the Party Congress or the Central Committee? Apparently the Central Committee is afraid to express its real idea (the desire to dissolve all combat organisations), and is therefore wrathful in an amusing manner. Would it really not have been natural to expect objections in substance to certain steps or decisions taken by the conference instead of the outcry: “The meeting is not permitted”? This outcry is meant to prevent the presentation of the problem as it really stands?—that is a thought that occurs to one of its own accord.

Let us now look into the history of the way the conference of military and combat organisations of the R.S.D.L.P. was convened. Last autumn there was a conflict on this issue between the St. Petersburg military organisation and the Central Committee, The former called the conference of   military and combat organisations, and in doing so referred to “the right to call conferences granted to local organisations by Party Rules”.[2] The Central Committee opposed the initiative of the St. Petersburg military organisation, and was against allowing combat organisations to attend. It so turned out that two conferences were held: (1) the October conference of military organisations only, at which representatives of the Central Committee were present; (2) the November Conference of military and combat organisations without the participation of a Central Committee representative (although the Central Committee appointed one of its members to attend that conference as well). Representatives of eight military organisations participated in the October conference. The November conference was attended by eleven military and eight combat organisations. Representatives of the St. Petersburg Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. and other Party officials attended both conferences in a consultative capacity.

The resolutions of the October conference were published by the Central Committee in the above-mentioned pamphlet (Brief Extract). The resolutions of the November conference were published in Proletary, No. 9, and were later included in the publication Minutes, issued as a separate booklet. The Central Committee’s protest, with which we opened this article, refers to the November conference.

It stands to reason that the fact of there having been two conferences should be condemned. That is undoubtedly an undesirable event in a single party. Leaving the formal aspect aside, we pose the question of the substance of the conflict that was responsible for two conferences; was the participation of combat organisations in the conference useful or harmful? We read in the resolution of the October conference: “... there is an urgent need for the Party to call a conference devoted specifically to military organisations, to discuss the question of preparing the troops to participate in the armed struggle of the people, a conference that has nothing to gain from the participation of representatives of   combat groups” (page 4 of the Central Committee’s pamphlet). That was all. Those were the motives in their entirety.

The incorrectness of these motives is palpable. Let us assume that everything bad that can be said against combat organisations is true. But it is a fact that they did participate in former attempts at an insurrection. For that reason alone it would be useful and even necessary to consult them. It would be useful to make their harmful tendencies known to the Party, and expose such-and-such activities of theirs at a conference attended by them. The Central Committee and every member of the conference could and should have done this. The decisions of the conference were not in any way binding upon anybody, and were certainly not obligatory either for the Central Committee or for the local committees. Under such conditions, fear of a joint meeting is simply ridiculous.

And if the Central Committee now forthrightly condemns a conference with representatives of combat organisations participating, without condemning any one of the resolutions of the conference with equal forthrightness, that must mean that the conference disproved the Central Committee’s assumptions!

To deal immediately with the decisions of the conference, let us take, for instance, its resolution on the tasks of combat organisations. Here we read: “The Conference of Military and Combat Organisations recognises the main tasks of combat organisations to be (1) dissemination of a correct conception of an armed uprising and explanation of the concrete conditions under which an armed uprising may arise, proceed, and be successfully consummated, because even among Party officials there exist the vaguest and most incorrect conceptions of an armed uprising; (2) the technical preparation of everything necessary for the successful conduct of an armed uprising; (3) the organisation, for bold action, of cadres of politically conscious workers, grouped around the R.S.D.L.P.; (4) assistance in the organisation, for combat purposes, of the revolutionary-democratic sections of the population, and in strengthening the fighting leadership of Social—Democracy among those sections.

Thus, the main task of the combat organisations is declared to be, first and foremost, “the dissemination of a correct   conception of an armed uprising”. This idea is repeated in much sharper form in the resolution on the role of military and combat organisations during an armed uprising: “the role of the combat organisations is to develop a correct conception of the armed uprising among the masses of the people”.

And so our Menshevik Central Committee considers a conference on this to be impermissible? Or was it anxious to hide behind the bureaucratic screen— “no collective activities are permissible, or even a conference”—in order to rid itself of the unpleasant duty of giving the Party a definite explanation of which of the tasks of the combat organisations it considers correct, and which incorrect?

The fact of the matter is that a truly pharisaic attitude to the combat organisations is prevalent among the Mensheviks; they have nothing against taking advantage of any of the “results” of the activities of non-Party combat organisations, but they spread old wives’ tales about Party combat organisations that enable them to evade altogether the question of methods of disseminating among the masses the correct conception of the armed uprising, etc.

Among such tales there is, for example, the one now current that the combat groups (following in the wake of the Bolsheviks) exaggerate the significance of the technique of insurrection.

Excellent, gentlemen! You accuse us of exaggerating the significance of “technique”, do you? Would you care to read two resolutions—those of the Menshevik (October) and the Bolshevik (November) military Social-Democratic conferences—to get at the truth of the matter?

On work among officers. Resolution of the Menshevik (October) conference:

“The conference recognises that revolutionary propaganda among officers is an important task both because the work of the Social-Democratic military-revolutionary organisation among officers can greatly facilitate our work among the troops in peace-time, and also because at the time of an armed uprising revolutionary officers can serve as the technical leaders of the insurrection. The conference, therefore, recommends to the military-revolutionary organisation that it devote great attention to work among officers, striving as far as possible to convert them into politically conscious supporters of the Social-Democratic Party” (p. 13 of the Central Committee’s pamphlet).

The resolution of the Bolshevik (November) conference:

“Whereas: (1) the class, social composition of the corps of officers and their interests as a professional military caste compel them to strive for the retention of the regular army and the under-privileged position of the people; (2) in view of this, the officers, as a body, play a reactionary part in the present bourgeois-democratic revolution; (3) the existing oppositionally-minded groups of officers do not play an active part and (4) at the same time it is possible that individual officers may come over to our Party and they may, in view of their specialised knowledge and special military training, render considerable services during an uprising of the army and its defection to the side of the people, and also in technical preparations for an armed uprising,

“the conference of military and combat organisations recognises: (1) that they cannot build up an independent Social-Democratic military organisation among the officers; (2) that it is essential to use the existing oppositionally-minded groups of officers for purposes of information and in order to draw into our Party military and combat organisations individuals who can serve as instructors and practical leaders” (Minutes, p. 132).

The Mensheviks do not say a word about the class composition of the corps of officers, or about its role during the whole course of the bourgeois revolution. The central feature of the Bolshevik resolution is an assessment of both the one and the other. That is the first point. The Mensheviks have nothing but technique, since all proof of the “importance” of work among the officers is reduced to nothing but the fact that such work “could facilitate” our activities among the troops (provide us with quarters? or with legal cover?) and could then provide technical leaders. The Bolsheviks give subordinate place to technique, as services rendered by “individual officers”, and give prominence to proof that the workers’ party cannot build up an “independent Social-Democratic organisation” among the officers. That is the second point. The ideas of the Mensheviks—petty-bourgeois in nature because they fear to show the class connections between the corps of officers and the bourgeoisie—are complemented by the timidity of the conclusion drawn—“as far as possible convert them into politically conscious supporters of the Social-Democratic Party”. The Bolsheviks give a frank proletarian assessment of a stratum that is, on the whole, reactionary, and this leads to a decisive conclusion: use oppositionally minded officers “for purposes of information” and draw only   “individual officers” into our Party military and combat organisations. That is the third point.

After that, it may well be asked what else but old wives’ tales can one call the Menshevik chatter about the exaggeration of the significance of technique by the Bolsheviks in general, and the Bolshevik combat groups in particular? As we have seen, this chatter has actually served, on the one hand, to cover up the narrow Menshevik view concerning the corps of officers, and, on the other hand, the purely intellectualist, opportunist fear of assessing the bourgeois class character of the composition of the corps of officers and of introducing into the work among the troops the idea of the class difference between the mass of “rank-and-file” soldiers drawn from the peasants and workers, and the handful of sons of the aristocracy or of the bourgeoisie, who worm themselves into the aristocracy through military service.

It was not only the Menshevik participants in the tiny October conference who displayed this “technical” and petty-bourgeois opportunist view of the corps of officers. We find that our Menshevik Central Committee shares this view; we have only to recall the famous fourth letter to organisations (the period when the Duma was dissolved) where the slogan “for the Duma” as an organ of power that could convene a constituent assembly, was justified by an effort at adaptation to the interests and level of political consciousness “of the middle bourgeoisie and corps of officers”. In that letter, the Central Committee went so far as to say that the victory of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies in the struggle for power would lead only to the military dictatorship of the army that had gone over to the side of the people! For, you see, without the “liberal” officers, the troops would not be able, even jointly with the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, to ensure anything else but a military dictatorship!

This petty-bourgeois view with regard to the corps of officers is also displayed by Plekhanov, the ideological leader of the Mensheviks. Throughout 1906 we saw the efforts he made to accuse the Bolsheviks of exaggerating the significance of the technical tasks of the uprising. What aspect of the uprising did our esteemed Comrade Plekhanov write about during that time? Was it about the insurrection’s   roots in the masses, or the role of the peasant and proletarian elements in the insurrection? Nothing of the sort. All that time Comrade Plekhanov wrote only about one letter from one liberal officer, in Dnevnik, No. 7 (August 1906),[4] whom he with the greatest politeness “corrected” for his bourgeois views on the “men” and on the “tranquil” nature of the period of Witte’s Ministry, etc. “I even think,” wrote Comrade Plekhanov, “that only [note that “only”!] the participation of officers in the military organisations will put an end to these outbreaks [of soldiers and sailors] that are an unplanned and unproductive waste of energy needed by the revolution.” You see the strength behind it—only the participation of officers will put an end to the outbreaks! Without the officers there will be no end to the “unplanned” waste of energy by the foolish muzhik. And when the Bolshevik combat groups meet in conference and wish to give the Social-Democratic Party a modest piece of advice—let the main task of the combat organisations be that of imparting military knowledge to the masses, of teaching them to understand the course of the insurrection and the conditions for its planned conduct—then the Pharisees of hidebound Menshevism begin to shout, What a narrowly technical conception of “planning”! What an “impermissible” conference of combat groups, contrary to the will of the Central Committee!

But enough of the Pharisees—let us get back to the minutes. In one place we found, not “modest advice” to the Social-Democratic Party, but pretentious and clumsy project-mongering. That was in the report made by Comrade Izarov[5] on the role of the Party during the armed uprising. Here Comrade Izarov really did go to absurd extremes, such as the division of Party organisations into three main types— military, combat and proletarian! He even went so far as to offer “plans” to form “military-combat councils” with an equal number of delegates from the three types of organisation (p. 95), etc. It goes without saying that we Bolsheviks will always hold aloof in the most decisive manner from suchcombatism”. The unconditionally dominant character and deciding voice belong to the general proletarian organisation; the complete subordination of all military and combat organisations to it, the necessity to base those same combat   organisations entirely on cadres of workers who are Social-Democratic Party members (or, perhaps, even replace the combat organisation by a Party militia) — to us there is no shadow of doubt in all this.

But if Comrade Izarov’s absurd excesses are brought against us for factional purposes, we would ask such “critics” to remember that the Bolshevik military and combat conference did not accept Izarov’s extremes. The best refutation of the calumnies directed against our combat groups is the fact that they themselves at their own conference, simply pushed Izarov’s project-mongering aside. In order that their voice on the question of the role of the Social-Democratic Party in an insurrection should not be regarded as pretentious imposition or dictating, etc., they themselves turned their conference on this point into a private meeting (see Proletary, No. 9, and Minutes, p. 116). It was only at this private meeting that they passed a resolution without a suggestion of project-mongering à la Izarov, but with only a point about “ensuring the closest connection and co-operation between general-proletarian, military and combat organisations”. In addition, the resolution on the tasks of military organisations particularly stresses “the subordination of all the work” to “the political leadership of general-proletarian organisations” (Proletary, No. 9, Minutes, p. 137). If the Bolshevik combat organisations alone were able to correct Izarov, one may well realise that the Central Committee had good reason for apprehension when confronted with a general meeting of the military and combat organisations of the whole Party.

Space does not permit us to deal in such detail with other aspects of the work of the conference. We must mention that almost half of this thick book is devoted to work among the troops (pp. 10-49) and former attempts at an armed uprising (pp. 53-59, 64-79). This is very valuable material, and all politically conscious Social-Democratic workers will thank the military and combat conference for its initiative in gathering and preparing this material. We note the report made by Comrade Varin[6] “on former attempts at an armed uprising”; in this report prominence is given to a study of the armed uprising as a specific form of the mass movement, a special form of the class struggle of the proletariat.   Stress is laid on the historic moment when the struggle between certain classes is sharpened to the extreme, as a condition for the uprising. The role of various classes is examined—the dependence of the movement among the troops upon the alignment of social forces, the indivisibility of the political and military aspects of the uprising, the significance of “broad democratic organisation of the masses of the people” as a prerequisite for a provisional revolutionary government, etc. The study of such problems is, of course, rather more difficult than the writing of “tactical platforms” containing Cadet phrases about “faith of the proletarian masses in the miracle of a spontaneous insurrection” (see the “Tactical Platform” of Martov & Co.).

Lastly, let us note the discussion on current affairs, with the splendid speech by Comrade Ilyan[7] who, in November 1906, at the military and combat conference, proved able to express a view on the Second Duma that has been fully confirmed by events. “I shall permit myself to touch upon the Duma,” he said. “We shall have a composition that will differ completely from that of the past Duma. What we shall have is mobilised revolution and mobilised reaction. Particularly in view of its expectations not having been fulfilled, the peasantry will send a more revolutionary element than it did to the First Duma. No doubt the proletariat will do the same.... Our trouble is that some Social-Democrats are striving to fill up the Duma with some sort of intermediate stratum of liberals” (p. 84 of the Minutes).

At the combat conference they were better able to assess politics than were Plekhanov and the Menshevik Central Committee in November 1906.

It goes without saying that in a newspaper article we cannot deal fully with the contents of the Minutes. We shall conclude by giving readers our earnest advice to study them—advice to those Social-Democrats who are capable of discussing questions of an insurrection without any liberal sniggering.


[1] The real title, abridged by the Central Committee, reads: “... organisations of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, (Conference) held in November 1906” (St. Petersburg, 1907. Price 60 kopeks. 168 pp.+IV).—Lenin

[2] See the Central Committee’s publication Brief Extract from the Minutes of the First Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. Organisations Conducting Activities Among the Troops, a pamphlet of thirteen pages issued by the Central Committee Press.—Lenin

[3] This refers to the First Conference of Military and Combat Organisations of the R.S.D.L.P., which was held between November 16 and 22 (November 29-December 5), 1906, in Tammerfors (Finland). The Conference was called on the initiative of the St. Petersburg and Moscow organisations, and also of the Bolshevik section of the Central Committee. Lenin approved the Conference and took part in the preparations for it. He wrote a letter to the conference delegates in which he warned them against rash decisions that deviated   from the principles of the Bolshevik line. Lenin’s letter was read to the Conference.

The Conference was attended by 19 delegates with a vote and 8 with consultative voice, representing 11 military and 8 combat organisations, including representatives of the R.S.D.L.P. committees in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Military organisations in St. Petersburg, Kronstadt, Riga, Moscow, Finland, Sevastopol, Libau, Nizhni-Novgorod, Kaluga, Voronezh, and Kazan were represented, as were the combat organisations of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Saratov, and the Urals. In addition, the Conference was attended by representatives of the Technical Bureau of the Central Committee, the Southern Technical Bureau and the revolutionary section of Finnish Social-Democrats. Among the delegates were Y M. Yaroslavsky, H. S. Zemlyachka, I. A. Sammer (Lyubich, Ostapchenko), I. Kh. Lalayants, and M. N. Lyadov.

The Conference discussed the following questions: (1) report of the organising bureau; (2) reports of delegates; (3) on past attempts at insurrection; (4) assessment of the situation obtaining; (5) the nature of an armed uprising; (6) the tasks of the military and combat organisations; (7) the nature of the work of military organisations; (8) the attitude to combat organisations of other parties and of non-party people; (9) the establishment of military and combat centres in connection with the organisation of an armed uprising; (10) the attitude of military and combat organisations to general-proletarian organisations; (11) report to the Party Congress; (12) rates of representation at the Congress; (13) the Central Organ and literature; (14) the attitude to the Conference of military organisations convened by the Central Committee; (15) elections.

The Conference adopted a number of resolutions—on the situation obtaining; on the role of the Party in an armed uprising (this resolution was adopted unanimously at a private session as representing only the opinion of Party members present at the Conference); tasks of the military organisations; tasks of the combat groups; on the attitude to combat organisations of other parties and those composed of non-party people; on the role of the military and combat organisations in an insurrection; on work among officers; on expropriations; on the attitude to the Conference convened by the Central Committee; on the report to the Congress; on the rate of representation at the Congress; on the provisional bureau of military and combat organisations; on the literary organ and publishing; on local and regional literature; on the establishment of an all-Russian military and combat organisation; on the absence of a representative from the Central Committee. The Conference elected a Provisional Bureau to convene an all-Russian military conference which existed for only two months.

The resolutions of the Conference were published in Proletary, No. 9, on December 7, 1906 and the minutes were published in St. Petersburg in 1907.

[4] Dnevnik Sotsial-Demokrata (A Social-Democrat’s Diary)—a journal published irregularly by Plekhanov in Geneva from March   1905 to April 1912, with long intervals between issues. Sixteen issues appeared. Publication was resumed in 1916 in St. Petersburg, but only one issue appeared. In the first eight issues (1905-06) Plekhanov pursued an extreme-Right Menshevik opportunist policy, defending a bloc between Social-Democrats and the liberal bourgeoisie, denying the alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry, and condemning the December armed uprising. In the period 1909-12, Plekhanov came out in defence of Party under ground organisations against the Menshevik liquidators (issues 9 to 16 of the Dnevnik). On basic tactical questions, however, he retained his Menshevik views. In issue No. I of the Dnevnik for 1916, Plekhanov’s social-chauvinist views were clearly expressed.

Lenin criticised Plekhanov sharply for his opportunism and deviation from revolutionary Marxism.

[5] Izarov—I. Kh. Lalayants.

[6] Varin—V. Y. Fridolin, who supported the Bolsheviks in 1907.

[7] Ilyan—Y. M. Yaroslavsky.

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