Peter Sedgwick

Letter from Afar

From IS Internal Bulletin, date uncertain.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(note from Peter Sedgwick
The following message has been received on the York ouija-board:)

Comrade Editor,

I would err grievously in my revolutionary duty, not only to the Party comrades out also to the non-Party masses of the entire world, if I failed to reply to the arch-bureaucratic contribution of Comrade Trotsky in the latest Internal Bulletin, Comrade Trotsky, as I have pointed out before, distinguished himself by an excessively administrative approach to Party matters, and he has never at any stage, I think, engaged himself in the real, Soviet work of building the Party, side by side with the class-conscious workers against the renegades of social-patriotism, the Lieberdans and the. Scheidemanns and the Wilsons and all of that ilk. It is true that ever since October there has been no better Bolshevik; but in my opinion he lacks experience in the elementary tasks of persuading and winning the Party comrades to his position, and he is apt to make up for this inexperience by an excessive over-confidence and high-handedness in matters of detail. (It is true that in the first stages of our revolution, when we had already assembled and won many elements of politically conscious workers to our Party, he did valiant service with the masses of Russia, but then we had the basic beginnings of the power of the Soviets already at hand and working, au the time when he entered the Party – and since then, I am bound to say, he has built no party or grouping of any consequence.) His contribution on the referendum question is presented in the spirit of the szalchik – he is not alone in this, we have far too many comrades who argue like thorough Szalchiki, and it will require years of work to rid ourselves of this szalchik obstructiveness. To make things clearer I shall quote what I have actually written on the subject of democratic centralism.

In January 1907, after the principle of democratic centralism had first been introduced into our Party constitution, I had to insist on the strictest observance of the mandate principle at the conference of the St. Petersburg party committee. Any delegate who attended the meeting without written evidence that his local had mandated him after a full discussion on all matters that were to be voted upon was forced to surrender his credential. In the end, we permitted these delegates to vote, but at a reduced weighting compared with those delegates who could show evidence of mandating and discussion. Moreover, I pointed out the indispensability of referendums “of the opinion of every member without exception, in the most important cases at any rate, and especially when it is a question of a political action in which the masses act independently.” In the absence of referenda on the grounds of practical difficulty, mandating on the basis of votes conducted in the Party districts was essential: for “Democracy does not mean that the masses must trust their individual representatives because they know them: it means that the masses themselves must vote intelligently on the very substance of the very important questions at issue.”

The comrades may refer to the English edition of my Collected Works put out by the bourgeois firm of Lawrence and Wishart, Volume 11, pages 434, 441, 438-9.

I maintained this principle for years later: thus I had the terms of the Brest-Litovsk peace put in February 1918 to all gubernia and uyezd Soviets and all gurbernia, uyezd and volost land committees, with the returns from each Soviet to be reckoned into the total of “For” and “Against” before the Seventh Party Congress Party Congress. (See the notes to my Collected Works, Volume 27, p.559.)

How different is Comrade Trotsky’s conception of “democratic centralism”!


Last updated on 16.1.2005