V. I.   Lenin

Conference of the Extended Editorial Board of Proletary

June 8–17 (21–80), 1909


Report on the Conference of the Extended Editorial Board of Proletary

Elsewhere in this issue the reader will find the text of the resolutions adopted at the recent conference of the extended Editorial Board of Proletary. The conference was constituted as follows: four members of the Proletary Editorial Board, three representatives of the Bolsheviks working in local organisations—St. Petersburg, Moscow regional (Central Russia) and the Urals—and five Bolshevik members of the Central Committee.

The debates which developed at the conference are unquestionably of great importance to the whole Party. They defined more exactly and, to some extent, more completely, that line of policy which the leading organ of the Bolshevik section of the Party has been systematically pursuing in recent times and which, of late, has aroused a number of attacks by some of our comrades who consider themselves Bolsheviks. The necessary explanation took place at the conference, at which the opposition was represented by two comrades.

In view of all this the editors of Proletary will make every effort to prepare and publish the fullest possible minutes of the conference. In the present report however we simply want to deal briefly with those points which, if interpreted in a certain way, might give rise—and are already giving rise among comrades abroad—to misapprehensions. The comprehensive and explicitly formulated resolutions of the conference really speak for themselves; the minutes of the conference will provide enough material for a thorough understanding of the resolutions as a whole. The purpose of this report is chiefly to point out the implications   of the decisions arid resolutions for members of the Bolshevik section.

We shall start with the resolution “On Otzovism and Ultimatumism”.

That part of the resolution which is directed expressly against otzovism encountered no serious objections on the part of the representatives of the opposition at the conference. Both these representatives admitted that otzovism, inasmuch as it was shaping into a definite trend, was deviating further and further from Social-Democracy, that some representatives of otzovism, notably its recognised leader Comrade St.,[3] have even managed to acquire a “certain tinge of anarchism”. The conference unanimously recognised that a persistent and systematic struggle against otzovism as a trend was imperative. With ultimatumism matters were different.

Both representatives of the opposition at the conference called themselves ultimatumists. And both of them, in a written statement submitted when the resolution was being voted on, declared that they were ultimatumists, that the resolution proposed to repudiate ultimatumism, that this would mean repudiating themselves, which was something they could not subscribe to. Later, when several other resolutions were adopted against the votes of the opposition, the two representatives of the opposition stated in writing that they considered the resolutions of the conference irregular, that, in adopting them, the conference was declaring a split in the Bolshevik section, and that they would not submit to these resolutions or put them into practice. Later we shall dwell in greater detail on this incident, be cause it formally completed the breakaway of one of the representatives of the opposition, Comrade Maximov, from the extended editorial board of Proletary. Here we want to approach it from another angle.

In assessing ultimatumism, just as, incidentally, in assessing that consistent ultimatumism which goes by the name of otzovism, we have unfortunately to deal not so much with writings as with legend. Neither ultimatumism nor otzovism have yet found expression in any more or less integral “platform”. So ultimatumism must be considered in its only concrete expression—the demand that the Social-Democratic   group in the Duma be presented with an ultimatum to act in a strict Party spirit and obey all the instructions of the Party centres, or else give up their mandates. To maintain, however, that such a description of ultimatumism is quite correct and accurate is, apparently, wrong. And for the following reason. Comrade Marat, one of the two ultimatumists who attended the conference, stated that this description did not apply to him. He, Comrade Marat, admitted that there had been a great improvement lately in the work of the Social-Democratic group in the Duma, and that he did not intend to present an ultimatum to it now, immediately. He merely thought that the Party should bring pressure to bear on the Duma group by every possible means, the afore-mentioned ultimatum being one of them.

It is of course possible to get along with ultimatumists like this within one and the same wing of the Party. Such an ultimatumist is bound to reduce his ultimatumism to zero as the work of the Duma group improves. Such ultimatumism does not preclude but, on the contrary, implies prolonged work of the Party with and on the Duma group, prolonged and persistent work of the Party in the sense of skilfully making use of activity in the Duma for the purpose of agitation and organisation. Since there are clear signs of an improvement in the activities of the Duma group, work must be continued perseveringly and persistently in the same direction. Ultimatumism will thereby gradually lose its objective meaning. In the case of such Bolshevik ultimatumists a split is out of the question. In their case it is scarcely justifiable even to draw the line of demarcation prescribed in the resolution “On Otzovism and Ultimatumism” and in the resolution “The Tasks of the Bolsheviks in the Party”. Such ultimatumism is nothing more than a shade of opinion in formulating and settling one definite practical question; there is no marked difference of principle here.

The ultimatumism which the resolution describes as an ideological trend in the Party which Bolshevism must disown, is a different thing. This ultimatumism—and it undoubtedly exists—rules out prolonged work on the Duma group by the Party and its central bodies, it rules out prolonged, patient Party activity among the workers   in the sense of skilfully utilising the wealth of agitational material provided by the Third Duma. This ultimatumism rules out constructive, creative Party work on the Duma group. This ultimatumism has only one weapon—the ultimatum which the Party must hang over the head of its Duma group like the sword of Damocles, and which the H. S. D. L. P. must accept as a substitute for all that experience in the genuinely revolutionary use of parliamentarism which the social-Democrats in Western Europe have accumulated by dint of long persistent practice. To draw a line between that ultimatumism and otzovism is impossible. They are linked inseverably by their common spirit of adventurism. And Bolshevism, as the revolutionary trend in Russian Social-Democracy, must dissociate itself from one and the other alike.

But what do we mean, what did the conference mean by this “dissociation"? Are there any grounds for asserting that the conference proclaimed a split in the Bolshevik section, as some representatives of the opposition would have us believe? There are no such grounds. The conference stated in its resolutions that tendencies were beginning to appear within the Bolshevik section which run counter to Bolshevism with its specific tactical principles. In our Party Bolshevism is represented by the Bolshevik section. But a section is not a party. A party can contain a whole gamut of opinions and shades of opinion, the extremes of which may be sharply contradictory. In the German party, side by side with the pronouncedly revolutionary wing of Kautsky, we see the ultra-revisionist wing of Bernstein. That is not the case within a section. A section in a party is a group of like-minded persons formed for the purpose primarily of influencing the party in a definite direction, for the purpose of securing acceptance for their principles in the party in the purest possible form. For this, real unanimity of opinion is necessary. The different standards we set for party unity and sectional unity must be grasped by everyone who wants to know how the question of the internal discord in the Bolshevik section really stands. The conference did not declare a split in the section. It would be a profound mistake for any local functionary to understand the resolutions of the conference as an instruction to expel otzovist-minded workers, let   alone bring about an immediate split in organisations where there are otzovist elements. We warn local functionaries in all seriousness against such actions. Otzovism, as a coherent, independent trend does not exist among the mass of the workers. The attempts of the otzovists at self-determination and a complete statement of their views lead inevitably to syndicalism and anarchism. Persons who advocate these trends with any persistence exclude themselves automatically from section and Party alike. To put otzovist-minded workers’ groups in this category, however large these groups may be, would be absurd. This kind of otzovism is largely a result of being uninformed about the work of the Duma group. The best way to combat this kind of otzovism is, first, wide publicity among the workers to keep them fully informed on the work of the Duma group and, secondly, to afford the workers opportunities to come into regular contact with the group and influence it. Otzovist sentiment in St. Peters burg, for instance, could be counteracted to a large extent by arranging a number of talks between our comrades in the Duma and the workers of St. Petersburg. Thus all efforts should be concentrated on avoiding an organisational split with the otzovists. Any ideological campaign against otzovism and its kindred doctrine syndicalism, conducted more or less persistently and consistently, would soon make all talk of an organisational split absolutely superfluous or, at worst, result in a few otzovists or groups of otzovists breaking away from the Bolshevik section and the Party.

That, incidentally, was how matters stood at the conference of the extended editorial board of Proletary. Comrade Maximov’s ultimatumism proved to be utterly irreconcilable with the Bolshevik line, which was formulated once again by the conference. After the resolutions on key issues were adopted he declared that he considered them irregular, although they had been carried by ten votes to two, some of them against a single dissentient vote (Maximov’s) with one abstention (for example, the resolution “On Otzovism and Ultimatumism” as a whole). At this the conference passed a resolution disclaiming all responsibility for the political actions of Comrade Maximov. The thing was clear: once Comrade Maximov flatly rejected all the resolutions on key issues adopted by such a large majority of the conference,   he had to realise that there was not between the conference and himself that unanimity of opinion which is an elementary condition for the existence of a section within a party. But Comrade Maximov did not stop there: he emphatically declared not only that he had no intention of carrying out these resolutions, but that he would not submit to them. The conference had no choice but to disclaim all responsibility for the political activities of Comrade Maximov. In doing so, however, it declared (see the statement of the St. Petersburg delegate M. T.[4] and others) “that the question here is not of a split in the section but of Comrade Maximov’s breakaway from the extended editorial board of Proletary”.[1]

We also find it necessary to draw all the attention of Party comrades to other resolutions of the conference: “The Tasks of the Bolsheviks in the Party”, and “The Attitude to Duma Activities Among the Other Fields of Party Work”. The important thing here is correctly to understand the formulation of the question of the “Party line” of the Bolsheviks, and of the attitude to legal opportunities in general and to the Duma as a platform in particular.

Our immediate task is to preserve and consolidate the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. The very fulfilment of this great task involves one extremely important element: the combating of both varieties of liquidationism—liquidationism on the right and liquidationism on the left. The liquidators on the right say that no illegal R.S.D.L.P. is needed, that Social-Democratic activities should he centred exclusively or almost exclusively on legal opportunities. The liquidators on the left go to the other extreme:   legal avenues of Party work do not exist for them, illegality at any price is their “be all and end all”. Both, in approximately equal degree, are liquidators of the R. S. D. L. P., for without methodical judicious combination of legal and illegal work in the present situation that history has imposed upon us, the “preservation and consolidation of the R.S.D.L.P.” is inconceivable. Liquidationism on the right, as we know, is rampant particularly in the Menshevik section, and partly in the Bund. But among the Mensheviks there have lately been significant signs of a return to partyism, which must be welcomed: “the minority of the [Menshevik] section”,[5] to quote the conference resolution, “after running the full gauntlet of liquidationism, are now voicing their protest against it, and seeking anew solid party ground for their activities."[2]

What then are the tasks of the Bolsheviks in relation to this as yet small section of the Mensheviks who are fighting against liquidationism on the right? The Bolsheviks must undoubtedly seek rapprochement with this section of the membership, those who are Marxists and partyists. There is no question whatever of sinking our tactical differences with the Mensheviks. We are fighting and shall continue to fight most strenuously against Menshevik deviations from the policy of revolutionary. Social-Democracy. Nor, need less to say, is there any question of the Bolshevik section dissolving its identity in the Party. The Bolsheviks have done a good deal to entrench their positions in the Party, but much remains to be done in the same direction. The Bolshevik section as a definite ideological trend in the Party must exist as before. But one thing must be borne firmly in mind: the responsibility of “preserving and consolidating” the R.S.D.L.P., of which the resolution of the conference speaks, now rests primarily, if not entirely, on the Bolshevik section. All, or practically all, the Party work in progress, particularly in the localities, is now being shouldered by   the Bolsheviks. And to them, as firm and consistent guardians of Party principle, now falls a highly important task. They must enlist in the cause of building up the Party all elements who are fitted to serve it. And in this hour of adversity it would be truly a crime on our part not to extend our hand to pro-Party people in other groups, who are coming out in defence of Marxism and partyism against liquidationism.

This stand was recognised by the great majority at the conference, including all the representatives of the Bolsheviks from the local organisations. The opposition wavered, hesitating to take a definite stand, either for or against us. Yet it was for this line that Comrade Maximov accused the conference of “betraying Bolshevism”, of adopting the Menshevik point of view. etc. We had only one reply to make to this: “Say that publicly in the press, before the whole Party membership and the whole Bolshevik section, and the sooner the better; that will enable us once again to expose the true value of your ’revolutionariness’, the true nature of your ’protection’ of Bolshevism."

We ask comrades to take note of the conference resolution on “The Attitude to Duma Activities, etc.” We have already indicated above how intimately the question of “legal opportunities” is bound up with liquidationism of various shades. To fight liquidationism on the left is just as imperative now as to fight liquidationism on the right. The parliamentary cretinism, which would reduce the whole Party organisation to a congregation of workers at the shrine of “legal opportunities”, and of Duma activities in particular, is as profoundly alien to the principles of revolutionary Social-Democracy as the otzovism that cannot understand the value of legal opportunities to the Party, in the interests of the Party. In the conference resolutions the use of legal opportunities for the benefit of the Party is regarded as being of immense importance. But nowhere in these resolutions are legal opportunities and their use treated as an end in itself. They are everywhere placed in direct association with the aims and methods of illegal activity. And this association deserves particular attention at the present time. Certain practical suggestions are given on this score in the resolution. But they are only suggestions. Broadly speaking,   it is not so much now a question of what place “legal opportunities” should occupy among other fields of Party work, but of how to utilise them with greatest benefit to the Party. During its long years of work underground, the Party has accumulated enormous experience in illegal work. This cannot be said of the other sphere—the use of legal opportunities. Here the Party, and the Bolsheviks in particular, have not been active enough. More attention, more initiative and more effort must be turned to making use of this field than has hitherto been the case. We must learn to utilise legal opportunities, learn just as zealously as we have been learning to use illegal methods of work. And it is for the purpose of using the legal opportunities for the benefit of the Party that the conference calls upon all to whom the interests of the R. S. D. L. P. are dear to put their shoulder to the wheel.

Our attitude to illegal Party work remains unchanged, as of course it must. Our main task is to preserve and consolidate the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, and everything else must be subordinated to it. Only after this consolidation has been achieved shall we be able to utilise these same legal opportunities in the interests of the Party. The utmost attention must be paid to those workers’ groups which are being formed in the industrial centres, which must take over, and are gradually taking over, the general direction of Party work. All our efforts in all fields of our activity should be aimed at making real Social-Democratic Party cadres out of these groups. Only on this basis is it really possible to preserve and consolidate the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.

Supplement to Proletary, No. 46, July 3 (16), 1909
Published according to the Supplement



[1] Comrade Marat also made a statement to the effect that he would not carry out the resolutions of the conference, but would submit to them. In a special statement, Comrade Marat made the reservation that, while he recognised the necessity of a comradely ideological struggle against otzovism, he did not believe that the struggle should take organisational forms or that it involved a split in the Bolshevik section. As to the question in general of an organisational split, it is evident from the conference resolution (“On the Party School Set up Abroad at X—”[6]) that a step towards a split was made in this case by the otzovists and the adherents of god-building,[7] because this school is undoubtedly an attempt to form a new ideological and organisational centre for a new section of the Party. —Lenin

[2] By the “split in the Editorial Board” of Golos Sotsial-Demokrata the resolution has in mind Comrade Plekhanov’s resignation from that body, to which Plekhanov himself says he was driven by nothing more nor less than the liquidationist tendencies of the Editorial Board. —Lenin

[3] St.—Stanislav Volsky—A. V. Sokolov, leader of the Moscow otzovists.

[4] M. T.—M. P. Tomsky.

[6] On the Party School Set Up Abroad—an anti-Party school set up by Bogdanov (Maximov), Alexinsky and Lunacharsky on Capri (Italy) in 1909 with the assistance of Maxim Gorky. The school was the factional centre of the otzovists, ultimatumists and god-builders, who united to fight Bolshevism.

Under the guise of pro-Party activities the Bogdanovites got some of the local Social-Democratic organisations to send thirteen students to attend the school.

The school existed about four months (August-December). In November 1909 some of the students headed by the worker N. Y. Vilonov emphatically dissociated themselves from the Bogdanovites when the factional nature of this school became clear to them. They sent to the editors of Proletary a protest against the anti-Party activities of the lecturers, for which they w&re expelled from the school. On Lenin’s invitation they came to Paris, where they attended a cycle of lectures including lectures by Lenin   "The Present Moment and Our Tasks” and “The Agrarian Policy of Stolypin”. In December 1909 the group of students who remained on Capri formed, together with the lecturers, the anti-Party group “Vperyod”.

The conference of the extended editorial board of Proletary condemned the Capri school, which it qualified as “the new centre of a faction that was breaking away from the Bolsheviks”. p. 432

[7] God-building—a religious-philosophical literary trend, hostile to Marxism, which in the period of Stolypin reaction arose among a section of the Party intellectuals who had moved away from Marxism after the defeat of the Revolution of 1905-07.

The god-builders (Lunacharsky, Bazarov and others) advocated the creation of a new “socialist” religion and tried to reconcile Marxism with religion. At one time Maxim Gorky supported them. An extended meeting of the editorial board of Proletary condemned god-building and declared in a special resolution that the Bolshevik group in the Party had nothing in common with “such a distortion of scientific socialism”.

The reactionary nature of god-building was exposed by Lenin in his book Materialism and Empirio-criticism (see present edition Vol. 14) and in his letters to Gorky in February-April 1908 and November-December 1913.

[5] This refers to the pro-Party Mensheviks, headed by Plekhanov, who came out against the liquidators during the years of reaction. In December 1908 Plekhanov resigned from the editorial board of the liquidators’ newspaper Golos Sotsial-Demokrata, and in 1909 he resumed publication of Dnevnik Sotsial-Demokrata (Social-Democrat’s Diary) for the purpose of fighting liquidationism. While adhering to Menshevism, the Plekhanovites at the same time stood for preserving and strengthening the illegal Party organisation, and consented to form a bloc with the Bolsheviks for that purpose. In 1909 groups of pro-Party Mensheviks were formed in Paris, Geneva, San Remo, Nice and other cities. In St. Petersburg, Moscow, Ekaterinoslav, Kharkov, Kiev and Baku many Menshevik workers came out against the liquidators in favour of a revival of the illegal R.S.D.L.P.

Lenin called on the Bolsheviks to seek closer alignment with the pro-Party Mensheviks, saying that an agreement with them was possible on the basis of a struggle for the Party against liquidationism, “without any ideological compromises, without any glossing over of tactical and other differences of opinion within the limits of the Party line” (see present edition, Vol. 16, p. 101). The pro-Party Mensheviks participated with the Bolsheviks in the local Party committees, and contributed to the Bolshevik publications: Rabochaya Gazeta (Workers’ Gazette), Zvezda (Star), and the Central Organ of the Party Sotsial-Demokrat. Lenin’s tactics of alignment with the Plekhanovites, which were supported by the majority of the Menshevik workers in Russia, helped to extend   the influence of the Bolsheviks in the legal organisations of the workers and oust the liquidators from them.

At the end of 1911 Plekhanov broke the bloc with the Bolsheviks. On the pretext of combating “factionalism” and a split in the R.S.D.L.P. he tried to reconcile the Bolsheviks with the opportunists. In 1912 the Plekhanovites, together with the Trotskyists, the Bundists and the liquidators, came out against the decisions of the Prague Conference of the R.S.D.L.P.

  | Speech on the Question of the Tasks of the Bolsheviks in the Party, June 11 (24)  

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