V. I. Lenin

A Word to the Bolsheviks of St. Petersburg

Published: Proletary No. 49, October 3 (16), 1909. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 16, pages 65-75.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) © 2004 Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.  

By the time this issue of Proletary reaches Russia the election campaign in St. Petersburg will be over. Hence it is quite in place now to discuss with the St. Petersburg Bolsheviks—and all the Russian Social-Democrats—the struggle with the ultimatumists, which almost came to the point of a total split in St. Petersburg during the election and which is of tremendous significance for the whole Social-Democratic Labour Party in Russia.

First of all the four stages of this struggle have to be clearly established, after which we shall dwell on the significance of the struggle and on certain differences of opinion between ourselves and a section of the Bolsheviks in St. Petersburg. These four stages are as follows: 1) At the Conference of the enlarged editorial board of Proletary held abroad the attitude of the Bolsheviks to otzovism and ultimatumism was definitely stated, and the fact of Comrade Maximov’s splitting off was also noted (Proletary No. 46 and its Supplement {1} ). 2) In a special leaflet likewise printed and circulated abroad, entitled “Report of the Members Removed from the Enlarged Editorial Board of Proletary to the Bolshevik Comrades”, Comrades Maximov and Nikolayev (condition ally and partially supported by Comrades Marat and Domov) set out their views on the policy of Proletary as a “Menshevik” policy, etc., and defended their ultimatumism. An analysis of this leaflet was given in a special supplement to Proletary No. 47–48.{2} 3) At the very beginning of the election campaign in St. Petersburg the Executive Committee of, the St. Petersburg Committee of our Party adopted an ultimatumist   resolution on the election. The text of this resolution is given elsewhere in this issue. 4) The adoption of this resolution raised a regular storm in Bolshevik Party circles in St. Petersburg. The storm raged, if you will permit the expression, from above and from below. “From above”—the indignation and protests of the representatives of the Central Committee and members of the enlarged editorial board of Proletary. “From below”—the calling of a non-official inter-district meeting of Social-Democratic workers and functionaries in St. Petersburg. The meeting adopted a resolution (see text in this issue) of solidarity with the editorial board of Proletary, but sharply censured the “splitting actions” of both this editorial board and of the otzovist ultimatumists. Then a new meeting of the St. Petersburg Committee and Executive Committee was held and the ultimatumist resolution was rescinded. A new resolution was adopted in harmony with the policy of Proletary. The text of this resolution is quoted in full in the Current Events column of the present issue.

Such, in the main, is the picture of events. The significance of the notorious “ultimatumism” in our Party has now been completely demonstrated in practice and all Russian Social-Democrats should ponder carefully over the questions in dispute. Further, the censure which a section of our comrades in St. Petersburg passed on our “splitting” policy gives us a welcome opportunity to explain ourselves definitively to every Bolshevik on this, important question as well. It is better to “explain ourselves” fully now than to arouse new friction and “misunderstandings” at every step in our practical Work.

First of all let; us establish what exactly was the stand point we adopted on the question of a split immediately after the Conference of the enlarged editorial board of Proletary. The “Communication” on this Conference (Supplement to Proletary No. 46{3} ) states from the outset that ultimatumism, as the trend proposing that an ultimatum should be presented to the Social-Democratic group in the Duma, is vacillating between otzovism and Bolshevism. One of our ultimatumists abroad—says the “Communication”—“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”.

“It is of course possible,” the “Communication” continues, “to get along with ultimatumists like this within one and the same wing of the Party.... In the case of such Bolshevik ultimatumists a split is out of the question.” It would be ridiculous even to speak of such a thing.

Further on, on the second page of the “Communication” we read:

“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.”

It would be impossible to express oneself more clearly, one would think. The splitting off of Comrade Maximov, who refuses to submit to the resolutions of the Conference, is inevitable. As for the vacillating, indefinite otzovist-ultimatumist elements, far from declaring a split with them we emphatically warned against it.

Now look at the second stage of the struggle. Comrade Maximov and Co. publish a leaflet abroad, in which on the one hand we are accused of a split, while on the other hand the policy of the new Proletary (which is supposed to have betrayed the old Proletary, the old Bolshevism) is declared Menshevist, “Duma-ist” and so forth. Is it not absurd to complain of a split in the factions i. e., in a union of kindred minds within a party, if you yourselves admit that there is no unanimity? Defending their ultimatumism Comrade Maximov and Co. wrote in their leaflet that “the Party cannot then [i. e., in the conditions of acute and increasing reaction characteristic of the present time] carry out a big and spectacular election campaign, nor obtain worth-while parliamentary representation”—that the “question of the actual usefulness of taking part in a pseudo-parliamentary institution then becomes doubtful and disputable”—that “in essence” Proletary was “going over to the Menshevik point of view of parliamentarism at any price”. These phrases are accompanied by an evasive defence of otzovism (“the   otzovists have never [!!!] expressed anti-parliamentary sentiments at all”) and an evasive repudiation of otzovism (We are not otzovists; the Party must not liquidate the, Social-Democratic group in the Duma now; “the Party must”... “decide whether in the last analysis the whole undertaking—participation in the Third Duma—has not been disadvantageous to it”, as though the Party had not decided this question already!).

This evasiveness of Maximov and Co. has deceived and still deceives many people. They say: “Well, what harm can the Party or even the faction suffer from people who do not at all refuse to carry out the Party’s decisions but only cautiously defend their own somewhat different point of view on tactics?”

Such a reaction to the propaganda of Maximov and Co. is very widespread among the unthinking public who give credence to words without taking into account the concrete political significance of evasive, guarded, diplomatic phrases in the circumstances of the present Party situation. Now they have received an excellent lesson.

Maximov and Co.’s leaflet is dated July 3 (16), 1909. In August the Executive Committee of the St. Petersburg Committee passed the following resolution by three ultimatumist votes to two on the prospective election, campaign in St. Petersburg (which is now over).

“On the question of the election the Executive Committee, without attaching special importance to the State Duma and our group there, but being guided by the general Party decision, resolves to take part in the election, not investing all the available forces, but merely putting forward its own candidates to gather the Social-Democratic votes and organising an election committee subordinated to the Executive Committee of the St. Petersburg Committee through its representative.”

Let readers compare this resolution with Maximov’s foreign leaflet. A comparison of these two documents is the best and surest way of opening the eyes of the public to the true character of Maximov’s group abroad. This resolution, just like Maximov’s leaflet, professes submission to the Party but, again just like Maximov, in principle defends ultimatumism. We do not at all mean to say that the St. Petersburg ultimatumists have been guided directly by   Maximov’s leaflet—we have no data on this subject. And it is not important. We assert that the ideological affinity of the political stand here is indubitable. We assert that this is a particularly clear example of the application of “cautious”, “diplomatic”, tactical, evasive—call it what you will—ultimatumism in practice, an application that, to any person who is close to Party work, is familiar from a hundred analogous cases which are less “striking”, are not authenticated by official document5 and concern matters that a Social-Democrat cannot tell to the public for reasons of secrecy, etc. Of course, the St. Petersburg resolution is less skilful as regards literary technique than Maximov’s leaflet. But in practice the views of Maximov will always (or in 999 cases out of a thousand) be applied in the local organisations not by Maximov himself but by his less “skilful” supporters. What concerns the Party is not who is more “skilful” in covering up tracks, but what is the actual content of Party work, what is the actual trend imparted to it by particular leaders.

And we ask any impartial person: is it possible for the supporters of Proletary and the authors of such resolutions to work in one faction, i. e., in one union of Party members with kindred opinions? Is it possible to speak seriously of putting into effect the Party decision to utilise the Duma and the Duma tribune when such resolutions are passed by the governing bodies of the local committees?

That the resolution of the Executive Committee did in effect put a spoke in the wheel of the election campaign that had just begun, that this resolution did in effect disrupt the election campaign, was immediately understood by everyone (except the authors of it and the ultimatumists who were enraptured by Maximov’s “art” in covering up the tracks). We have already related how the Bolsheviks in St. Petersburg reacted to this resolution and we shall say more farther on. As for ourselves, we immediately wrote an article entitled “The Otzovist-Ultimatumist Strike-breakers”{5}—strike-breakers because the ultimatumists, by the position they took, were obviously betraying the Social-Democratic election campaign to the Cadets—in which we showed what a downright disgrace it was for Social-Democrats to pass such a resolution and invited the Executive Committee which passed this resolution to immediately withdraw from   Proletary the beading “Organ of the St. Petersburg Committee” if this Executive Committee claimed to voice the views of the St. Petersburg Social-Democrats: we do not want to be hypocritical—said this: article—we have never been and never will be the organ of such ... also-Bolsheviks.

The article was already set up and even in page proof when we received a letter from St. Petersburg informing us that the notorious resolution had been rescinded. We had to postpone publication (as a result No. 47–48 came out a few days later than it should have). Now, fortunately, we have to speak of the ultimatumists resolution not in connection with an election, campaign in process but in an account of something that is past... and it would be well if it were “buried in oblivion”.

Here is the text of the resolution passed by the St. Petersburg Bolsheviks at a non-official meeting called after the adoption of the notorious resolution:

“This non-official inter-district meeting of Social-Democratic workers and functionaries, having discussed the resolutions of the enlarged editorial board of Proletary, expresses complete solidarity with the political line of the resolutions: ‘The Tasks of the Bolsheviks in the Party’, ‘The Attitude to Duma Activities, etc.’ and ‘On Ultimatumism and Otzovism’.

“At the same time the meeting strongly disagrees with the methods of struggle against the ultimatumist comrades pursued by the editorial board in the said resolutions, considering such methods an obstacle to the solution of the basic tasks outlined by the editorial board of Proletary—the rebuilding of the Party.

“The meeting protests no less strongly against the splitting actions of our ultimatumist and otzovist comrades.”

After, this resolution was adopted the St. Petersburg Committee held a new meeting which rescinded the ultimatumist resolution and adopted a new one (see Current Events). This new resolution concludes: “Considering it highly important and essential to utilise the forthcoming election campaign, the St. Petersburg Committee resolves to take an active part in it.”

Before we go on to reply to the comrades who do not agree with what they call, our splitting policy we shall quote some passages from a letter sent by one of these comrades:

... “But if the participants in the meeting (the non-official inter-district meeting), two-thirds of them workers, were unanimous in their estimate of the present period and of our tactical moves resulting   from it, they were no less unanimous in their disapproval of the methods of struggle which the editorial board of Proletary proposed against our tactical opponents—the ultimatumists. They did not agree with the resolutions of Proletary that it is necessary to make a factional break with these comrades, but considered that such a break would be a step endangering the existence of the Party.... I am sure that I correctly express the opinion and sentiment of the meeting if I say: we shall not allow a split. Comrades! You people abroad have conjured up for yourselves a dreadful demon of ultimatumism that in reality does not exist over here. A chance combination in the St. Petersburg, Committee and the Executive Committee produced an ultimatumist majority, the result of which was the adoption of a silly, illiterate resolution which dealt these ultimatumists such a moral blow that they can scarcely recover from it.... At the meeting of the St. Petersburg Committee which adopted this resolution there were no representatives from three districts, and it has now come to light that the representative of the fourth district was not entitled to vote. So there were in effect no representatives from four districts and the one vote which gave the majority to the ultimatumists, is “accounted for”. So it turns out that even with the St. Petersburg Committee meeting under strength the ultimatumists did not have a majority.... As regards the resolution of the St. Petersburg Committee en the election, the meeting resolved to get it reconsidered and there is no doubt that at the very next meeting of the St. Petersburg Committee, where it now appears that we shall be in the majority, a different resolution will be adopted. The ultimatumists themselves are ashamed of their resolution and agree to have it reconsidered. They all agree, the proposer himself not excepted, it seems that it is altogether stupid, but—and I emphasise this—there is nothing criminal in it. The ultimatumist comrades who voted for it voiced their disagreement with the author of the resolution who was really following the advice of the saying that one should behave so as ‘to acquire capital without incurring blame’."

Thus our supporter charges us with spending our time abroad conjuring up a vision of a dreadful demon of ultimatumism, and with impeding (or undermining) the cause of rebuilding the Party by our splitting attacks on the ultimatumists.

The best reply to this “charge” is the history of what took place in St. Petersburg. That is why we have told it in such detail. The facts speak for themselves.

We considered that Comrade Maximov had broken with our faction because he refused to submit to the resolutions of the enlarged editorial board and organised under the guise of the notorious “school” the ideological and organisational centre of a new organisation abroad. For this we are being censured by some of our supporters who in St. Petersburg had to use the most drastic measures (a special non-official meeting of influential workers and the reconsideration of a   resolution already adopted!) to rescind an “altogether stupid” resolution that reproduced the views of Maximov!!

No, comrades, when you accuse us of splitting and of “conjuring-up demons” you only prove over and over again that it was imperatively necessary to recognise that Maximov had broken with our faction, you only prove that we should have hopelessly disgraced Bolshevism and done irreparable damage to the Party cause if we had not dissociated ourselves from Maximov on the eve of the election in St. Petersburg. Your deeds, comrades who accuse us of a split, contradict your words.

You “differ only” with our methods of combating the ultimatumists. We do not differ at all with your methods of combating the ultimatumists, we whole-heartedly and entirely approve of both your methods and the victory you won by them—but we are most profoundly convinced at the same time that your methods are nothing more than the practical application of “our” methods to a certain Party milieu.

In what do our “bad” methods consist? In the tact that we called for a dissociation from Maximov and Co.? In what do your good methods consist?. In the fact that you condemned as “altogether stupid” a resolution wholly advocating Maximov’s views, called a special meeting, raised a campaign against this resolution, with the result that the authors themselves became ashamed of it, that it was rescinded and another resolution passed in its stead, not ultimatumist but Bolshevist.

Your “campaign”, comrades, does not cut across our campaign but is a continuation of it.

“But we do not admit that anyone has broken away,” you will say. Very well. If you want to “refute” our, bad method, try to do abroad what you have done in St. Petersburg. Try to secure that Maximov and his supporters (if only at the site of the celebrated Yerogin “school”) admit that the ideological content of Maximov’s leaflet (“Report to the Bolshevik Comrades”) is “altogether stupid”, to secure that Maximov and his clique become “ashamed” of this leaflet, that the notorious “school” issue a leaflet with a diametrically opposite ideological content.[4] If you could secure this you   would really refute our methods of struggle and we should gladly admit that “your” methods were better.

In St. Petersburg there was vital, urgent, general Party business in hand: the election. In St. Petersburg the Social-Democratic proletariat immediately called the ultimatumists to order in such a tone that they obeyed at once: the Party spirit prevailed, the proximity of the proletarian masses exerted a favourable influence; it at once became clear to all that the ultimatumist resolution made work impossible. The ultimatumists were immediately presented with an ultimatum, and the St. Petersburg ultimatumists (to their honour be it said) replied to this ultimatum of the Bolsheviks by submitting to the Party, by submitting to the Bolsheviks, and not by waging a struggle against the Bolsheviks (at least, not at the election; whether they will refrain from a struggle after the election remains to be seen).

Maximov and Co. are ultimatumists not only in sentiment. They are trying to make ultimatumism a whole political line. They are building a complete system of ultimatumist policy (we say nothing of their friendship with the god-builders, for which the St. Petersburg ultimatumists are probably not to blame), they are creating a new trend on this basis, they have begun to wage systematic war against   Bolshevism. Of course these inspirers of the otzovists, too, will suffer (and are already suffering) defeat, but to rid our faction and Party more rapidly of the disease of otzovism-ultimatumism, more drastic methods are required and the more decisively we combat the overt and covert otzovists the sooner we shall be able to rid the Party of this disease.

“An accidental majority” of the ultimatumists—say our friends in St. Petersburg. You are profoundly mistaken, comrades. What you see at present among you is a small particle of the general phenomenon and you call it “accidental” because you do not see its connection with the whole. Recall the facts. In the spring of 1908 otzovism raises its head in the Central Region and collects 14 votes (out of 32) at the Moscow City Conference. In the summer and autumn of 1908 the otzovist campaign in Moscow: Rabocheye Znamya opens a discussion and refutes otzovism. In August 1908 Proletary too takes up the controversy. The autumn of 1908: the otzovists form a separate “trend” at the Party’s All-Russian Conference. The spring of 1909: the otzovists’ campaign in Moscow (see Proletary No. 47–48, “Conference of the Moscow Area Organisation”). The summer of 1909: the ultimatumist resolution of the Executive Committee of the St. Petersburg Committee.

In the face of these facts to speak of the ultimatumist majority as “accidental” is sheer naïveté. In some localities very marked variations in the make-up of our organisations are inevitable, while reaction is so strong and the member ship of the Social-Democratic organisations is so weak, as is the ease now; Today the Bolsheviks declare “accidental” an ultimatumist majority in X. Tomorrow the ultimatumists declare “accidental” a Bolshevik majority in Y. There are hosts of people ready to squabble on this score—but we are not among them. It must be understood that these squabbles and wrangles are a product of a deep-seated ideological divergence. Only if we understand this can we help the Social-Democrats to replace fruitless and degrading squabbles (over “accidental” majorities, organisational conflicts, money matters,, contacts, etc.) by an explanation of the ideological causes of the divergence. We know perfectly well that in many towns the struggle between the ultimatumists and the Bolsheviks has spread to the most diverse   branches of work, and has sown discord and disorder also in activities in legal unions, associations, congresses and assemblies. We have letters from the “field of battle” about this discord and disorder—unfortunately, the requirements of secrecy allow us to publish only a tenth, if not a hundredth, part of what we have received on this subject. We declare most categorically that the fight against the ultimatumists in St. Petersburg election was no accident, but was one of the innumerable symptoms of a general disease.

Hence we repeat over and over again to all our Bolshevik comrades to all workers who cherish the cause of revolutionary Social-Democracy: there is nothing more erroneous and harmful than attempts to conceal this disease. We must lay bare for all to see the causes, the nature and the significance of our difference with the supporters of otzovism, ultimatumism and, god-building. The Bolshevik faction, i. e., the union of like-minded Bolsheviks, who want to lead the Party along the line set by Proletary and known to all, must be clearly separated, demarcated from the new faction which today leads its supporters inevitably to “accidental” anarchist phrases in the platforms of the Moscow and St. Petersburg otzovists, tomorrow to an “accidental” caricature of: Bolshevism in Maximov’s leaflet, and the day after that to an accidentally “stupid” resolution in St. Petersburg. We must understand this disease and energetically co-operate to cure it. Where it can be treated by the St. Petersburg method, i. e., by an immediate and successful appeal to the Social-Democratic consciousness of the advanced workers, such treatment is the best of all, there no one has ever preached splitting off and demarcation at all costs. But wherever, due to various conditions, centres and circles are being formed on anything like a permanent basis for the propagation of the ideas of the new faction, demarcation is essential, There demarcation from the new faction is an earnest of practical unity of work in the ranks of the Party, for in St. Petersburg the Party practical workers themselves have just admitted that such work is impossible under the banner of ultimatumism.


{1} See present edition, Vol. 15, pp. 425-33, 442-60.—Ed.

{2} See pp. 29-61 of this volume.—Ed.

{3} See present edition, Vol. 15, pp. 425-33.—Ed.

[4] Here, incidentally, is an illustration how Maximov and the notorious “school” cover their tracks. The school issued a printed leaflet,   dated August 26, t909, containing, the programme of the school, a letter from Kautsky (who very mildly advises that philosophical differences should “not be brought to the fore”, and declares that he “does not consider justified the sharp criticism of the Social-Democratic group in the Duma”, not to speak of “ultimatumism"!), a letter of Lenin’s (see present edition, Vol. 45, pp. 468-69—Ed.) and a resolution passed by the school Council. This droll Council declares that “factional strife has absolutely no relation to its (the school’s) aims and objects, which strictly coincide with the general aims and objects of the Party”. We read the signatories to the leaflet. Lecturers: Maximov, Gorky, Lyadov, Lunacharsky, Mikhail, Alexinsky. Only think: a school with such a roster of lecturers “has absolutely no relation” to “factional strife”. Listen, my dear comrades: ... invent, but don’t stretch it too far!—We shall be told that the school has “invited” other lecturers too. In the first place, it did so, knowing that these others would practically never be able to come. In the second place, it sent out invitations, but.... “But the school could not offer them (the other lecturers) travelling expenses and maintenance during the period of the lectures.” (Leaflet of August 26, 19O9). Nice that, is It not? We are absolutely not factionalists, but we “cannot offer” travelling expenses to anyone but our “own” people.... —Lenin

{5} Lenin’s work The Otzovist-Ultimatumist Strike-breakers has not been found.

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