Publisher: New Park, London
Source: First published in 1903 as Vtoroi S’ezd Ros. Sots. Dem. R.P. Otchet Sibirskoi Delegatsii
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive, 2002
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Robert Barrois and D. Walters in 2003.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 1999, 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
I did not immediately decide to publish this work. It was designed for the committees of our party, in the two days following the end of the congress. It was written in haste for agitational ends which brooked of no delay. The burning nature of the questions I raise in this pamphlet has brought it a wider circulation than I expected. It is however only in the form of a report which I have presented as a delegate to the congress of the organization from the Siberian Union. Copies were made of what I had written, and copies of copies in abundance – in Friar Lawrence’s words – with passages missed out, added in and rewritten. This natural process has reached such a point that the intervention of Joseph Gutenberg seems almost inevitable.
But it is not only “copying errors” which impel me to publish my report. There are also more important reasons. The differences on organizational questions which emerged at the congress did not disappear again once the chairman had spoken the closing words. These differences fused together outside the conference hall and have spread throughout the Party. Today, with the official statement on the congress, the differences have definitively come out of hiding. They can neither be silenced nor side-stepped; we must go through them.
All the elements in the Party, consciously, semi-consciously or unconsciously, are grouped around two tendencies. These differences turn into clashes, the more easily since they are differences on organizational questions. In the process of this practice the two tendencies are increasingly clearly defined – but at an unequal rate. If the more complex, “dialectical” conception of party organization to which the author of this report adheres, could up to now only be outlined in general, the extremely oversimplified organizational conceptions of the opposing party, on the other hand, have had time to take on an almost irreproachably “pure” form (cf. for example the minutes of the Congress of the League); in many respects they have even done a hasty about-turn, without gaining anything thereby.
The report only fixes the starting-point of these two currents, and, from this standpoint, it is above all of “historical” interest. But whoever is seriously concerned about the possible future of these two tendencies (and it cannot but concern every member of the Party), must compare their present state with their recent past; and therefore my report is still topical today and will still be so tomorrow. The author felt a great moral satisfaction on reading an article written not long since in Iskra by a highly authoritative comrade (What Is Not To Be Done, No.52) in which certain specific aspects of disorganizing “centralism” are described in similar terms to those I use in my report.
This is to be explained by the fact that the definitions flow of their own accord from the pen.
In my manuscript, I have suppressed some passages of a secondary or personal nature – which would have had a place in a clandestine address to the committees, but are not suitable for a printed pamphlet. For the rest, the report has been printed exactly as it was written.
You have entrusted us with representing the Siberian Union at the Second Congress of the Party. This mandate has now been carried out. The Second Congress – the object of such passionate expectations and such great hopes, the climax of an immense organizational labour, the starting point of a common political life for the whole of the Party – the Second Congress is already an historical accomplished fact. Let it be said at once: the congress has not justified the hopes placed in it. Not only has it failed to add much new, but it has taken much away. It is difficult for us, while the heat has not yet gone out of the tussles which so unexpectedly arose in the place where, it seemed, they were least to be expected – difficult for us to weigh up the pluses and minuses of the congress, to draw up the political balance sheet of its work. The future historian of glossary/orgs/r/u.htm#russian-social-democratic-labour-party">Russian Social Democracy will do so better and more impartially than we. But we do not either have the right not to make this report. The decisions of the Second Congress are the formal basis which will be our starting point for our party policy, and we shall often refer back to them. And this will be the case for an indefinite period until the Third Congress, comrades! We would not be carrying out all our duties towards you, if we did not seek to shed light on indications which emerged in the work of the congress, with regard not to the subjective logic of our comrades in the congress, so much as to the objective logic of development of our party. We would not have been doing our duty to you, if we had not taken the trouble to explain, better than do the minutes, what was the political meaning and reason for our conduct at the congress. We express the hope that our report will serve as a guide to some comrades, when they go over the voluminous matter in the official minutes. Perhaps also the future historian of our party may make use of this letter as a “human document”.
You know, comrades, how we viewed the congress. In advance, we reserved an honoured place for it in the destiny of our party. But no-one will reproach us with overestimating the creative value of the congress. Not for a single instant did we think the congress was capable of turning water into wine or satisfying the hunger of the masses with a few crusts of bread. The party is not the arithmetical sum of local committees. The party is an organic totality. This is why the congress can create the party only in as much as the party is created by prolonged work, bringing about its technological and ideological unification. It is “by the sweat of our brow” that we carry out this work. A moment comes in which we feel the need to fix our gains formally. This is where the congress comes into its own. It brings into the realm of consciousness everything which had taken place in part behind our backs, it registers the results of our individual and collective efforts, it draws the formal outlines, works out the statutory norms, creates headings, writes in paragraphs. The congress is a register, a controller, but not a creator. As we know, not all comrades were ready to appreciate the congress from this point of view. We are afraid lest exaggerated hope gives way to exaggerated disillusionment and even an illegitimate pessimism. But you, comrades, of course agree with us on this conception of the role of the congress. The measure of this is the resolution which you drew to the attention of the Organizing Committee at the time.
We have said that the congress is only a register. This should not be taken formally. The congress itself must be an integral part of the organic work of uniting the Party. When in long paragraphs we make a register of work already carried out, we are not just performing a formal ritual; we are abstracting, from the analysis of the elements of practice which we bring with us, information which is extremely precious, and laying
down the lines of a better perfected technique for further work – in other words: we are carrying out a labour of self-education, sharing with each other the results of our practical and theoretical experience. The congress was to bring together for several weeks comrades from different places and different branches of party work – and what is especially important, both practical and theoretical workers. The theoreticians were to be confronted with those who have the task of incarnating their conclusions in practice. The practitioners were to carry away new reserves of general ideas to feed their agitational work. It was, P.B. Axelrod who particularly stressed this educative aspect of the congress during discussions he had last year with both Russian and foreign comrades.
It could reasonably be expected that a report on the Second Congress (which was essentially though not formally a founding congress) should, first of all, give an overall picture of the collective working out of the program and the tactical resolutions, a picture of collective work, establishing the basic features of our thought and action, features which give us the right to call ourselves the Social-Democratic Party.
Anybody expecting such an account is wrong.
The congress did indeed give us a program, or more precisely, it adopted without basic corrections the draft program presented by the editorial board of Iskra and Zarya. But although this part of the work was without any doubt positive, there is nothing to be said about it, because in reality the congress only affirmed that in this field “all was going well”. The critical voices of Comrades Martinov and Akimov and a few delegates of the Bund were raised in isolation. As for the resolutions on tactics, we did not have enough time to judge them. With only two or three exceptions, they were drawn up and proposed by the “minority” (see below), which quickly went over them in the draft minutes of the congress; they were adopted by the congress in the last two or three hours of the final session.
If comrades do not find what they were looking for in our report, they should not blame those who have drawn it up. We ourselves did not find what we were looking for in the congress, and of course cannot give out more than we received from it. If the essentials of the report are concerned with recording and describing the voting on certain questions of statutes and elections, it is only because this is where the centre of gravity of the congress lay. During the second half of the sessions, the congress was quite simply turned into an electoral game of chance.
Instead of engraving in its consciousness and giving meaning to the organizational work already carried out, the congress wiped it all out and began engraving the tablets of the Law under divine inspiration. It did not take account of the organizations which have actually been formed, grown stronger and gained influence. No! With a free hand, or more exactly with its free hands (there were twenty-four of them) it stuck disparate units together into new groups, and by the intermediary of paragraphs, tried to blow life into them. It believed it was being creative; but in fact it was only destructive.
To your surprise, you will notice that some apparently secondary details of organizational statutes have been projected into the foreground, and the differences on these details have created a “majority” grouped on a very narrow basis, which has nonetheless devoted itself to the liquidation of the old organizations, formed in the struggle and for the struggle. You will notice that what agitated the congress were not the questions concerning the deepening and broadening of the political struggle, but the question of the “reciprocal co-option” of members of the Central Committee and of the editorial board of the central organ. Two-thirds of the organized workers in some towns are outside the direction of local committees: this is not what was the object of heated disputes but the question of whether new members were to be brought onto the Central Committee by a two-thirds majority or unanimously. It was not the question of armed demonstrations which took up precious time; no, it was the question of the “fifth”, the mysterious being which unexpectedly arose at the congress and which has now virtually become a life or death question for revolutionary Social Democracy.
The facts must be taken as given. Beyond these facts, the general causes must be discovered; it must be explained that the debates on “mutual co-option” and “unanimity” were not just formal mental gymnastics, it must be shown that the “fifth man” is not some deus ex machina. Such is our task.
The congress is a register, a controller, but not a creator. This first became apparent with the Bund, which wasted a lot of our time. The attitude of its delegation at the congress can be summed up in a phrase: to present their balance sheet. Of course, you already know that the result was that they left the Party. This act was only for the formal expression of the actual relationship of the Bund and our party – of this “relationship” or more precisely, the absence of it.
The Bund appeared and grew stronger during the anarchic period our party went through. We are ready to give its leaders their due for their energy, in practice. They formed their organizations “in spite of the elements”, but unfortunately, also “in spite of reason” – if not in spite of the narrow reason of the parish interests, at least in spite of reason in terms of the common interests of the whole Party. The efforts expended by them in the narrow field of the “zone of Jewish residence” could, had their work been carried out over a wider field, have given ten times the results.
The Party was a fiction for them, a rubber stamp. And their relationship with the vital tasks of the Party was purely administrative, that is, fictitious. When the Organizing Committee was formed, they sent their delegate to it. That was all their membership of the Party obliged them to do.
The fate of the Bund was dominated by the tragic fate of the Party after 1898. The organizational isolation of the Bund kept the revolutionary energy of its members enclosed in narrow bounds and ruthlessly cut back the political horizon of its leaders – for a long time, as it appears. “The smaller the number of individuals who take part in a given social movement, the less this movement appears as a mass movement – then the less the general and necessary are evident among them, and the more the chance and the personal predominate.” (Kautsky, The Socialist Revolution)
The proletarian party can have no limits except political limits, it can only develop in the framework of the state. It is only in this case that the “general” and the “necessary”, that is to say the principles of Social Democracy, constitute the basis of the movement. The field of action of the Bund is not the state, but the nation. The Bund is the organization of the Jewish proletariat. At the time of the First Congress, this proposition had not a political but a technical meaning (in a “broad” sense). The Bund was the organization of the Party adopted in places where the majority of the population spoke Yiddish. During the period of laxness and fragmentation, the Party has too often played the role of a triumphant fiction; the “chance” and the “particular” have gained the upper hand over the “general” and the “necessary”. An organizational and technical fact has been erected into a national-political “theory”. The Fifth Congress of the Bund, preceding the Second Congress of the Party, put forward a new thesis: “The Bund is a Social-Democratic organization (?) whose activity cannot be closed up in departments; it is the organization of the Jewish proletariat and belongs to the Party in the capacity of sole representative of the Jewish proletariat.” This is how the struggle between the “particular” and the “general” is resolved in the Bund. If however, at least in intention, the Bund was the representative of the interests of the Social-Democratic Party in a party of the Jewish proletariat, it has now turned into a representative of the interests of the Jewish proletariat within the Social-Democratic Party. What is more: “In the territory where the Bund is working, another organization belonging to the Party can only intervene in the name of the local proletariat if it obtains the participation of the Bund.” The class standpoint is subjugated to the national standpoint, the Party is placed under the control of the Bund, the “general” is subjected to the principle of the “particular”. We have done much to eliminate the political psychology of the town – the narrow patriotism of “our town” – and to take the standpoint of the state. The congress was to crown this work. But we came into conflict with the delegation of the Bund, whose political physiognomy bore the stamp of militant provincialism and the parish pump outlook, the weighty heritage of the immediate past period of our revolutionary life. The nationalist tendencies, in terms of the theoretical foundation of organizational separatism, added little that was positive to this picture. The “general” and the “particular” found themselves face to face at the congress. It remained to count the votes. Forty to five (members of the Bund) and three abstentions. And the Bund left the Party.
The congress is only a register, not a creator. The biggest doubts about the justice of this thesis arise when we come to the most dramatic moment of the congress, the moment of energetic and passionate struggle over the working out of the statutes of the Party and the creation of its “centres”: this struggle blew apart the Iskra-ists compact majority which had unanimously repulsed the federalist pretensions of the Bund, designated Iskra as the organ of the Party and adopted the program presented by the editorial boards of Iskra and Zarya. One feels like saying: if the congress is not creative, it is destructive, and capriciously destructive. For who could have supposed that the Iskra-ists congress would pitilessly crush the editorial board of Iskra, that is, of the paper it had just recognized as the Central Organ of the Party? What political astrologer could have foreseen that Comrades Martov and Lenin would intervene in the congress as the leaders of the two enemy factions?
It was like a thunderbolt from the blue. Nonetheless, developments which were so unexpected, and all the more painful for that, were simply an indispensable element in the settling of accounts the Party had to make. The dead dictated their will to the living. Astronomical sums were extracted from us to pay the debts of the immediate past – History, pitiless as Shakespeare’s Shylock, demanded flesh from the living organism of the Party. We had to pay.
We are speaking of the impersonal demands of History.
Obviously, we do not have the intention in doing so of denying Comrade Lenin’s personal responsibility. At the Second Congress of Russian Social Democracy, this man, with all the energy and all the talent typical of him, acted as disorganizer. But to lay all the blame on him would be an inadmissible simplification of the problem. Behind Lenin, during the second period of the congress’s work, there was a new compact majority of hard Iskra-ists, opposed to the soft Iskra-ists. We as delegates of the Siberian Union, were among the soft ones. And now, after seriously weighing what we have done, we do not think we have blemished our revolutionary record.
Yes! the congress was the triumph of the “political tendency” in program and tactics, and of the “centralist” tendency in organization. But this same congress showed that for many comrades, “politics” and “centralism” still only have a purely formal meaning, that they are only the empty antithesis of “Economism” and “dilettantism”. “Political agitation”, a comrade wrote not long ago, “has in the recent period taken on too abstract a nature with us, it is too little linked to the concrete life and daily requirements of the working masses. Our political agitation at times turns into completely hollow political declamation.” (Iskra no 43, “Letter to the Editorial Board”.) Things can be summed up very schematically as follows: formerly we were, or with the best of intentions made ourselves out to be, trade unionists. Now, we are trying to push forward the masses, who have been through the school of trade unionism, into the struggle against tsarism; and to do so through completely hollow phraseology about democracy. In the arsenal of the Social-Democratic agitator, at the present time, there is nothing to be found but sacrosanct “political” formulas, and stereotyped appeals to overthrow the autocracy, formulas and appeals which, through being so abstract, have become devoid of all revolutionary content. Such “politics”, which are often accompanied by suspicion of all industrial struggles (which are considered politically unsound) are only the formal antithesis of “Economism”. And at the same time only translate it into “political” language.
A completely identical development can be established in the field of organizational conceptions. Here too, “dilettantism”, which seemed to have been finally pulverized, has learned the language of “centralism”. Here too, “centralism” itself appears, not as the synthesis of local and general tasks, but just as the logical antithesis of “dilettantism”, as a formal opposite construction. Without fear of philosophical pedantry we can state that the conceptions of many comrades, on tactical as on organizational questions, still remain at the level of metaphysics and not of dialectics.
If beforehand, during the “Economist” period, these comrades could not or would not link the particular industrial interests they served with the general tasks of class politics which they ignored, today, in the “political” period, they show themselves incapable of linking the tasks of revolutionary political struggle (which they basically recognize only formally) with immediate, daily demands, in particular, the limited demands of specific trades. If beforehand, in the period of “dilettantism”, they could not or would not link up in their consciousness the local detailed tasks with the need to create a central fighting apparatus common to the whole Party, now, at the height of “centralism” they make a complete abstraction, in their considerations and resolutions about this apparatus, of all the practical complexity and concrete character of the tasks the Party must carry out; tasks with which the organizational apparatus must conform, tasks which alone permit the existence of this apparatus. This is why, to go ahead a little, uni-linear “centralism”, that is the purely formal centralism put forward by Lenin, found its warmest supporters in certain ex-Economists. They were the ones who turned out to be the hardest Iskra-ists.
The differences did not surface all at one go at the congress. They had accumulated in the course of private discussions and in attempts at conciliation: they remained hidden for a long time. The starting point of the split among the official Iskra-ists (that is, the members of the Iskra organization present at the congress) came on the question of the composition of the Central Committee and the way it was to be appointed. Around this question in turn there piled up a whole series of differences concerning the mutual relationship which should exist between these centres (the Central Organ and the Central Committee). In as much as the private meetings of the Iskra organization – which one of us, the author of this report, attended – failed to bring us nearer to unification, but on the contrary took us further away, it was natural that these differences blindly sought to be resolved. The first point of the statutes – the definition of the concept of “party member” – served as the basis of the first open clash. This conflict in fact emerged on a point having nothing to do directly with the questions which divided us. In spite of all that, the conflict was of a fateful nature: the congress was grouped around the two formulas put forward by the Statutes Commission: Martov’s formula and Lenin’s formula – the formula of soft Iskra-ism and that of hard Iskra-ism. True, many members of the congress were slightly disoriented. People were still asking: who is soft? Who is hard? The result: the voting was somewhat mixed up. The struggle had already become heated. There was a presentiment of what was to come.
Let us recall the two conceptions. Lenin’s formula: “A member of the Party is one who recognizes its program, supports it materially and participates in the activity of one of the organizations of the Party.” Martov’s formula: “A member of the Party is one who recognizes its program, supports it by material means and renders it regular personal collaboration under the direction of one of its organizations.”
We are not going to submit this to a detailed criticism. This work was carried out at the congress and is recorded in the minutes. We should stress one characteristic feature: the totally abstract nature of Comrade Lenin’s position. Control over the members of the Party is necessary. This control can only be assured if it is possible to reach each member. Now, this can only be done if all the members of the Party are formally fixed, that is, registered in the appropriate manner with one of the Party organizations. Then the Central Committee, present everywhere, penetrating into everything and considering everything, can reach each Party member on the scene of the crime. In reality, this is a fairly innocent bureaucratic dream; if the question had remained at that level one could light-heartedly have left the partisans of Lenin’s formula with the platonic satisfaction of feeling that the Second Congress of the RSDLP had discovered the surest statutory remedy for opportunism and intellectual individualism. But, if one moves on from this sterile formalism to the real questions before the Party, Comrade Lenin’s formula then has certain drawbacks. It is a secret to nobody that in a whole number of towns, there is alongside the Party Committee a big organized opposition (in Petersburg, Odessa, Yekaterinoslav, and Voronezh . ). Comrade Lenin’s formula puts the members of all these Workers Organizations outside the Party – while their papers still appear under its patronage. So as not to exclude these groups from the Party, the Central Committee would, under Lenin’s formula, have had to declare them Party organizations. But it will not do so, it cannot do so because they have not been built on principles the Party considers adequate. It remains to be said to the members of these organizations: if you wish, gentlemen, to stay in the Party, dissolve yourselves and join the legitimate organizations of the Party. “Dissolve yourselves!” No doubt about it: this is a very simplistic, typically administrative manner of resolving a serious practical question – a solution which, of course, many qualified Iskra-ists leaned towards. This “centralist” solution does not seem to me to be the product of superior political wisdom. The Workers Organization will worry little about whether it is a member or not, and will not dissolve itself. We think that instead of concerning itself with the verbal dissolution of opposition groups and in general instead of spending its time making “centralizing” gestures, the Central Committee would do better to carry out serious work in the Party; it would do better to re-educate, restructure and make rational use of all possible Workers Organizations which have grown up during the period of decomposition of the Party. For this, the way to start is not by declaring them all outlawed, as Lenin’s Paragraph I would have obliged us to do. On the contrary, Martov’s formula can become an excellent weapon in the hands of the Central Committee (as Martov himself indicated). “If you want to stay in the Party”, it will say to the representatives of the Workers Organizations, “you must place yourself under the direction of the Party organization, the local Committee.” This will be enough to get the Workers Organization to accept a representative of the Committee, who will try to get the “line” carried out which represents the Party’s general view – and do so, of course, by force of his influence alone.
On this point, it may usefully be pointed out that the very “agents” who gave the opponents of Lenin’s organizational plans sleepless nights, are now placed outside the Party by Lenin’s formula. So, for example, the agents of the Central Committee, working under the direction of this organization of the Party, but not entering into its composition, are placed beyond the statutory bounds. Unless that is they are obliged, simply to be in the Party, to form an Organization of Agents of the Central Committee? Comrade Martov’s formula therefore stiff has the advantage of giving a legal cover to the “pariahs” of the Party: the “agents” who have endured so much in the latest internal polemic.
The tripartite organization of the “government” of the Party has been described as monstrous by one member of the congress. This is too harsh: it is simply too complex. It is difficult to foresee to what extent it will prove viable: our party having almost no experience in the field of organization, everything is to be written on a blank sheet of paper.
Everything leads us to think that the monstrous construction of the tripartite centre will serve the needs common to the whole Party better than a single indivisible Central Committee, a prospect seductive because of its very simplicity. The Iskra editorial board has already made itself the natural centre of ideological leadership. Alongside it, there is a need for another, concerned above all with practical, organizational work. The embryo of this centre was the Organizing Committee. Both institutions are completely autonomous, each in its own field.
This is the only way of guaranteeing that the editorial board can evaluate the practice of the Party impartially. Herein lies the guarantee of the independence of the Central Committee, giving it the possibility of emerging as a powerful element in the Party. But it is also a factor for conflict between the autonomous centres of the Party, and these conflicts, as they accumulate, may lead to a split.
At this point there arose the idea of the Council, as a conciliating, unifying organism, built on the principle of a tripartite tribunal. The idea of the Council has been through extraordinary metamorphoses. The congress provided it with a hothouse atmosphere. From being a chamber of conciliation, in a few days it became the supreme body of the Party. At the modest outset of its career, the Council was placed between the Central Committee and the Central Organ; at the congress, it rose above them. It had been proposed that the Council be composed of five members. As a chamber of conciliation, it was to be composed of parity delegations of the Central Committee and the Central Organ (the fifth being co-opted by the other four) and to meet at the demand of one of the centres. As a supreme body, the Council was to be elected in its entirety by the congress itself; to convene the Council, it was enough for two of its members to ask for it. This was the point at which Comrade Lenin stopped in the development of the idea of the Council.
Let us note the basic moments of this development. The independence of the Central Organ from the Central Committee, and to this extent, the categorical denial of the idea of a single centre: this was the point of departure. The inevitability of two centres and therefore of a Council as regulator, was the next stage. The transformation of the Council into a single centre, which was rejected at the outset, was the final stage. The result of these Ovidian metamorphoses: the Central Organ and the Central Committee were guaranteed independence from each other, but only in the sense that they lost this independence to the Council. Let us go on: in Comrade Lenin’s intentions, the congress elects the Council from among the members of the editorial board of the Central Organ and of the Central Committee, no less than two people from each body. In other words: the congress elects three members of the editorial board and two from the Central Committee. The “compact majority” was prepared for all this, and no doubt it would have been possible to get only members of the editorial board elected to the Council: Comrade Lenin did not go that far. He settled for the following scheme: three editors get a deciding vote on the Council, the Council gets a deciding vote over the Editorial Board and the Central Committee. “Thesis”: autonomous Editorial Board and Central Committee. “Antithesis”: three members of the Editorial Board have the right to modify the decisions of the Central Committee. “Synthesis”: there no longer are any. Thus ends the saga of the statutes and the two “independent” centres.
At one of the sessions of the congress, Comrade Plekhanov remarked that the concept of two centres is contrary to mathematical logic. A member of the congress reminded him that there are “two centres” at the head of our party. “Then they are called foci”, Plekhanov immediately objected. This astute reply goes much further than its author realized. Of two foci (in optics) one is always relative; this also apparently applies in certain circumstances to the “foci” of parties.
If the “original” Council had a claim to moral authority, it was only because of the way in which it had been created; if it hoped to have political influence, it was only because it was the inevitable form of conciliation of the work of two independent leading centres. The “new” Council only has a claim to power because it receives it from the formal will of the sovereign congress. This alone is not enough – and Comrade Lenin has well understood that. To carry out its sovereign will, the Council needs material means. But the technical apparatus of power lies – and can only lie – in the hands of the Central Committee. Therefore: if the Central Committee is effectively independent (independent not only of the whole editorial board – deprived by the “new” Council of direct political influence – but also of the three members of the Editorial Board who have obtained a deciding vote on the Council) then the Central Committee, to free itself of the meddling tutelage of the Council, must willy-nilly cut those “abroad” off, so far as possible, from all living links with the practice of the Party in Russia, thus leaving the Council with the purely speculative pleasure of conceiving itself as being the “supreme body in the Party”. The British constitution, it should not be forgotten, “guarantees” the king an enormous extent of power.
Comrade Lenin remembered it, he remembered all too well. And he decided that measures had to be taken to prevent the Central Committee from feeling independent. To this effect, control in principle is insufficient (control, that is, of the Council over the work of the Central Committee). It is indispensable that there be direct control by the Editorial Board over the members of the Central Committee. The formulation is as follows: co-option to the Editorial Board and Central Committee takes place by mutual agreement. In this way, equality is maintained. Now, the former Editorial Board of Iskra has worked with the same staff for three years, while the Central Committee will be obliged – if only because of disappearances – to co-opt new members, and quite often at that; it is not then difficult to understand that under the appearance of “mutual co-option”, under this stylized equality of rights, is hidden the tutelage of the Editorial Board over the Central Committee. Such is the development of the idea of the “autonomy” of the two centres.
Tutelage by the Editorial Board over the members of the Central Committee! But four members of the Editorial Board – Comrades Axelrod, Zasulich, Martov and Starover – do not want such tutelage. They see it only as the surest way to give rise to surface frictions and pointless conflicts between the Central Committee and the Editorial Board. Comrade Lenin is alone in wanting this tutelage “in the name of moral solidarity” (of the two centres). Four members of the Editorial Board oppose “mutual co-option” – this is one reason for carrying out a ruthless operation to get rid of the majority of the old Editorial Board which does not want to follow Lenin on the road of “full powers”. We shall see below that the power struggle which followed made such an operation an absolute necessity for Lenin.
The tutelage of the Editorial Board over the members of the Central Committee was therefore to become one of the guarantees of “moral solidarity” between the two bodies, or to put it more simply: of the personal dependence of the Central Committee in relation to the Editorial Board. Lenin sought another guarantee by demanding unanimity for the co-option of new members on to the Central Committee. It was enough in fact to ntroduce into the Central Committee a “sure” man for him to be able to oppose his veto to anyone possessed of the vice of personal initiative and independence. On this point, Comrade Lenin put two directly opposed opinions to the congress. Firstly, for a “qualified majority” (two-thirds or three quarters), against “unanimity”; some days after, for “unanimity” against the “qualified majority”. This move was certainly determined by the fact that a number of comrades of the rank and file, in whom Lenin could not fail to see possible candidates to the Central Committee, took a clearly negative position on the use Lenin had decided to make of the state of mind of the Iskra-ist congress. If these comrades went on the Central Committee – in that situation – they would inevitably engage in a struggle for the independence of this “relative” focus. In these conditions, the power of the Council would have been completely formal. It is against the possible candidates to the Central Committee that the double battery of “mutual co-option” and “unanimity” was advanced.
The statutes as adopted by the congress look like a mosaic of paragraphs. The point on “mutual co-option” was rejected. “Unanimity” was adopted. Comrade Martov introduced an amendment: if unanimity, necessary for the co-option of a new person to the Central Committee or the Editorial Board is not reached, the majority can transmit the problem to the Council, and after consideration the question is resolved in the said body by a simple majority. The amendment was adopted.
Comrade Lenin’s proposal to elect all the members of the Council at the congress was rejected. It was Martov’s proposal which was adopted: the Editorial Board and the Central Committee each delegate two of their members to the Council. There remained the question of the fifth member. Comrade Martov proposed to let the other four co-opt him. For Comrade Lenin, the congress itself should elect him, otherwise the supreme body of the Party can remain uncompleted, the other four may not agree on the choice of the fifth, the Council would go to pot etc. Comrade Zasulich remarked: 1) that arbitration has always existed; 2) that if four members of the Council were not agreed on the choice of the fifth, the Council thereby would show its inability to regulate the problems which would arise between the two centres. These remarks did not convince Comrade Lenin. The congress adopted his proposition and thus in advance sorted out the question of whether the Editorial Board would have the numerical majority over the Central Committee in the Council.
It was therefore decided to give numerical predominance to the Editorial Board in the Council; but that gave no guarantee of the policy the Council was to follow. In fact, four members of the Editorial Board intervened in the congress as decided opponents of the transformation of the Central Committee into the relative focus. These four, forming the majority of the Editorial Board, could send two of their number onto the Council. The Wille zur Macht, the “will for power” which guides Comrade Lenin therefore came up against a clearly-posed dilemma: either renounce influence on the Council, or be rid of a section of the Editorial Board. To choose the first eventuality would mean beating a retreat. But Comrade Lenin is logical. He chose the second solution. He decided to intervene to get the congress to elect an editorial board of three people, instead of confirming the old editorial board as a whole, as he had at first proposed. Such is the dialectic of the “struggle for power”. His starting point was: to ensure the independence of the Central Organ against possible pressures from the Central Committee. The problem in the second instance: to create statutory guarantees in order to ensure the dependence of the Committee on the Editorial Board. The last deduction: destroy the Editorial Board which is for the independence of the Central Committee.
We are talking about the “struggle for power”. We are not introducing any personal content into these words. The struggle of personalities has taken on a principled character. It has in that sense been de-personalized. This was a consequence of the system. The “state of siege” on which Lenin insisted with such energy, requires “full powers”. The practice of organized distrust demands an iron hand. The system of Terror is crowned by a Robespierre. Comrade Lenin reviewed the members of the Party in his mind, and reached the conclusion that this iron hand could only be himself. And he was right. The hegemony of Social Democracy in the struggle for emancipation meant, according to the “state of siege”, the hegemony of Lenin over Social Democracy. This next step in the “struggle for power” lost its personal character, it appeared as the last link in the system. Lenin’s success was the success of the system. All the more disastrous it may turn out to be for the Party.
We are reaching the moment of the appointment of the supreme bodies of the Party by the congress. At this point, relationships were already defined. The “majority” (of four votes) was already formed. The question of the elections acquired for both parties a meaning of the first order, because in this question was summed up and so to speak personified the struggle of principle between the tactics of normal constitutional order and the tactics of the “state of siege” backed up by dictatorship.
We have already referred to a series of private meetings in the course of which the two tendencies within the Editorial Board and the Iskra organization tried to reach agreement on the manner of conducting the elections and the choice of future members of the Central Committee. These meetings proved one thing only: it was impossible to reach agreement, and the differences had to be discussed in the sessions of the congress. It must be said that the election of the Editorial Board was a problem for nobody. The confirmation of the old Editorial Board of Iskra was taken as understood.
It was not the same with the elections to the Central Committee. Many delegates were uncertain and were waiting to be given an indication. The opinion of the Editorial Board and of the organization of Iskra would have had a deciding weight. But, in the hope of reaching an agreement, we abstained from making our views known on this subject in private conversations, despite being urgently asked to do so by many comrades. At the same time, the other side carried on a frenetic agitation against the candidates we were proposing in the meeting between Iskra-ists. When we realized, it was already too late. A “Majority” had been recruited, fixed and separated from us by a veritable wall.
On the eve of the elections, a preparatory meeting of the 24 votes took place. Comrade Martov asked in writing for himself, for the three other members of the Editorial Board (Zasulich, Axelrod, Starover) and for Comrade Deutsch, a member of the Emancipation of Labour Group, to have permission to attend the meeting; he received a refusal, also in writing.
The next day, comrades, we buried Iskra. The resolution to maintain in being the former editorial board, the founding board of Iskra, was rejected. The proposal to elect a new Editorial Board of three members was adopted by a two-vote majority. All that was left was to carry out the elections. Out of forty votes, twenty refused to participate in the vote. The result: for Comrade Plekhanov, twenty-three votes; for Comrade Martov, twenty-two votes; for Comrade Lenin, twenty-three votes; for Comrade Koltsov, three votes. So Comrade Martov was elected by the hard majority, who were hostile to him: it was an inevitable tribute, paid for the role that Comrade Martov had played on Iskra. The candidature of Comrade Martov had therefore been adopted in this same meeting of the twenty-four votes to which he had been denied access for being “soft”.
Comrade Martov refused to enter the combination of three, created artificially on the ruins of the old Editorial Board. This combination was morally unacceptable to him. Politically it condemned him to remain forever in a minority. Comrades who know Martov’s journalistic role will agree with us: the sovereign “compact majority”, placing Martov in a politically and morally impossible position for working on Iskra, criminally betrayed this paper in the name of the idea of bureaucratic centralism, incarnated in the Council. From then on, Iskra no longer existed. It could only be referred to in the past tense. The Council, which has still accomplished nothing, which is still at the stage of intention, which has still not got down to its administrative work, has been bought at too high a price.
Comrade Koltsov refused to replace Martov – Koltsov, who had been the first to propose the confirmation of the old editorial board of Iskra. After this refusal, the following proposals were made: 1) to proceed to new elections in so far as the first had not produced the required result; 2) to name a single editor; 3) in the light of the new conditions, to maintain the whole of the Iskra editorial board. These three proposals were rejected. The proposal adopted was to let Plekhanov and Lenin form the Editorial Board. The “minority” had only to remind Lenin of his own words: “Four members of the Council may fail to agree on the choice of the fifth. A supreme body of the Party cannot be left to chance.”
The technique of elections at this congress was, as though by chance, perfectly calculated to raise this unexpected call to respect “democracy” on the matter of the nomination of the Editorial Board. This technique in fact led to the most complete adventurism. In fact, the absolute majority was not required in the elections. There was no balloting. After the rejection, any Economist or opportunist could have got onto the Editorial Board; it required one vote only. It might have been a good idea to teach Comrade Lenin this lesson. We did not go so far as that.
In one way or another, then, an editorial board of the Central Organ had been established, an organ which through a misunderstanding had kept the glorious name of Iskra. The “compact” majority had built one of the two “foci”.
It remained to move on to the election of the Central Committee. It had been decided to elect three people to it. There was a secret vote. Everyone wrote three names of his choice on a piece of paper. Comrade Martov pointed out that such a form of voting could not ensure that those elected would be able to function. Let us suppose that the list presented by each of the forty-four voters forms a trio capable of working together. But those elected may prove to be people from different lists: three technicians, three theoreticians, etc. To avoid that it is necessary to vote on openly declared lists supported by a number of signatures, lists of candidates in groups of threes. This procedure is sometimes denigrated by saying that it does not observe the laws of conspiracy. The lists of candidates should not be revealed. As though, in private meetings, all possible candidates had not been gone over! Martov’s proposal was rejected by 24 votes.
In the election to the Central Committee, 24 voters took part in the voting. The twenty others refused. The chairman of the session was given the task of counting the votes and announcing the name of one of the comrades elected. A problem arose: was the congress to be told the number of votes each of the three members of the Central Committee had obtained? The “majority” was against; unfortunately this time, there was no invoking conspiracy which had served as a cover for the “majority” when the lists of candidates were drawn up. The question was put to the vote and the congress was divided in two. Only 22 wanted to conceal the figures: one of the delegates of the “majority” cast both his votes on the side of the “minority”. So it was enough for one delegate to withdraw, and there would no longer have been a victorious “majority”, it would be the end of the “majority” which crushed the Editorial Board of Iskra! So the proposal to conceal the result of the vote, which was an exception to the general rules of the congress, was rejected. The Chairman named one of the newly elected members of the Central Committee and declared that all three were elected by 24 votes out of 24; and this during a secret vote with open collective candidatures! In this way, comrades, the second “focus” was established, to use Comrade Plekhanov’s felicitous expression.
The fifth member of the Council was still to be elected: the question was raised whether the name of the candidate elected would be revealed after the vote. Delegate N, a member of the “majority”, proposed it should be stated, in as much as the fifth member of the Council would naturally be an “emigré”. So is it already decided? asked someone from the “minority”. But the “compact majority” voted against publishing the name of the fifth man. The result: a comrade was elected by 21 votes, 2 blank papers, against one vote for another comrade. 20 people did not take part in the voting.
The elections were over.
24 to 20! The genuine Iskra-ists against the “coalition’! We shall not go through the roll-call of the “majority”: apart from Comrades Plekhanov and Lenin, we find among them no well-known name connected with the revolutionary tendency of Social Democracy.
Let us say a few words about the composition of the “minority”. We are sick of hearing about the representative of the Petersburg Workers Organization who, like us, refused to take part in the voting to elect the Editorial Board, the Central Committee and the fifth person. Being an opponent of the principle of centralism and of the ideas of Iskra in general, this comrade was as little inclined to vote for the editorial board as a whole as for any one of its members. If this comrade’s opposition to “centralism” was expressed externally in the same form as our protest against the organized operation of making a mockery of “centralism”, that is, by refusing to take part in the voting, it changes nothing basically, we hope. Moreover, if the political meddlers are not satisfied by our explanation, we may have the pleasure of informing them that the delegate of the Petersburg Workers Organization voted in favour of the Paragraph I of the Statutes drawn up by Lenin.
At the time of the elections, the Bund delegates were no longer present at the congress. During the examination of the statutes, they abstained for the majority of the time, except on one or two questions on which they supported us against the “compact majority” which was being formed. There have been attempts to make a bogey of this support, but without grounds. We understand very well indeed what the deficiencies of the Bund leaders are politically. But no-one will fail to recognize that they have something most Russian comrades lack: experience of organization.
Let us go on. With us were the delegates from Nikolayev, the Crimea, Kharkov, the Mining Union, Siberia (two votes), Moscow, Rostov, Ufa and Odessa (one vote). All these committees and organizations had in their time recognized Iskra as their leading organ.
You know, comrades, that the Yuzhny Rabochy group had for a long time before the congress been united with the Iskra Organization.
The resolution on recognizing Iskra as the central organ of the Party had been adopted at the congress of the Yuzhny Rabochy group. The two delegates of the group were with us.
You, comrades, know the role of the Iskra organization in the work of the Party in general and the preparation of the Second Congress in particular. The sole delegate of this organization, Comrade Martov (two votes) was with us.
The Emancipation of Labour Group does not, I think, need any introduction. One of their delegates, Deutsch, was with us.
The Iskra editorial board: four members out of six were with us. Unfortunately, three of them had only a consultative vote! This right, according to the congress standing orders, had been granted to some important members of the Party who had gained no mandate.
Two members of the Organizing Committee, Comrade Koltsov and a comrade from the Caucasus – both with consultative votes – were with us. Unfortunately, the consultative votes of the leading members of the Party, like Comrades Zasulich, Starover and Axelrod, had only a moral character and carried no weight in the voting. And we were defeated.
We have noted above that one of the delegates of the “majority” had come over, after the destruction of Iskra, to our side, and had equalized the “majority” and the “minority”. It should be added that towards the end of the congress, on the very last day of the work, a number of delegates of the majority no longer had the requisite hardness. This explains why in the last session, when the tactical resolutions were hastily being adopted, the “minority” turned out to be already the “majority”. We got through a whole number of resolutions (drawn up by Comrades Axelrod, Martov and Starover), some of them despite the opposition of the “majority”; in the resolution presented by Comrades Lenin and Plekhanov, despite resistance by them, we introduced radical corrections. We elected two members of the “minority” onto the three-person commission named for the publication of the minutes (a commission responsible neither to the Central Committee, nor to the Central Organ). To definitively compromise the hopes of the “compact majority” which had laid waste so much and created so little, it only remained to re-propose the confirmation of the old editorial board of Iskra – or change the name of the Central Organ. We did not go so far as that.
So the basic tactical resolutions adopted by the Second Congress may be described as Iskra-ist (and have been) only in the strictly defined sense that the majority of these resolutions were drafted without the involvement of the new editorial board of Iskra; several of these resolutions were even adopted against their will. Clarity never does any harm.
Such comrades, are the results of the second half of the work of the congress. Its main characteristic was liquidationism. The Editorial Board was liquidated. The Central Committee was liquidated for a long time. There is reason to believe that the very idea of “centralism” which, apparently, was to appear at the congress as victor on the conqueror’s chariot, itself seriously risks being liquidated. Such are the results of the victory of the hard Iskra-ists and the “qualified centralists’!
We did everything that was in our power, comrades.
We defended the inviolability of the former editorial board of Iskra because we considered ourselves to be Iskra-ists and we knew Iskra only as the creation of a collective body. We defended the independence and autonomy of the militant head of the Party, the Central Committee, for we considered ourselves “centralists”.
We have suffered a defeat, because fate decreed the victory not of centralism but of ego-centralism, based on the psychology of the repentant Economists and dilettantes. In this lies the explanation of what happened and the historical justification of the “victors”, for in our view it is not the vanquished but the “victors” who need to justify themselves to the Party.
The “majority” in the second half of the congress showed much Wille zur Macht against itself. The deeds and gestures of the “majority” clearly showed that when this “will for power” was turned inside out, its psychological lining consisted, not of a developed feeling for Party discipline, but a feeling of being lost, a feeling resulting from the downfall of anarchic dilettantism. “Come to rule and govern over us” – that is how the state of mind of the “majority” can be judged. Narrow activism, which had proved its impracticability, had been replaced by total distrust of the rank-and-file members and a senseless faith in the omnipotence of the Editorial Board in exile. This faith born of despair, moreover, was manifest in scarcely veiled form, not at the congress, but far away, where the Volga runs into the Caspian, in Astrakhan, to be precise. The local committee, in the person of its delegation to the congress (unfortunately their statement was not read to the congress for lack of time) proposed, since members in Russia are permanently exposed to arrest, to call the Editorial Board “the Central Committee of the Party”; according to them, the Editorial Board should lead Russia from abroad through the medium of agents. So, the leading active centre of the Party had to be subjected to that in exile, to safeguard their fidelity to principles. So? This completely wild project – you have only to think of the Rostov events, the Kishinev pogrom, the general strikes in the South – was in fact, in slightly less clear form, sanctioned at the congress by the “majority”. The Central Committee created by the Second Congress was nothing but an agency placed under the administration of the Council, which in turn was only a second adjunct of the Editorial Board. Obviously such a Central Committee runs no risk of becoming a political leadership. It cannot be expected that it will begin to think and act independently. Creative work presupposes free initiative; this may lead to “insubordination”: The role of the Central Committee, according to Lenin, is something quite different. It must be the watchdog of centralism. It dissolves oppositions and closes the gates of the Party. To express to the congress the meaning of the Central Committee, Comrade Lenin held up his fist (I am not speaking metaphorically) as the political symbol of the Central Committee. We do not know if this mimicry of centralism is entered in the minutes. Let us hope so, for the fist would crown the whole construction.
When a journalist accused Iskra of betraying orthodoxy and described Comrade Martov as a “typical opportunist”, he was, as Comrade Plekhanov said, speculating on “the intellectual poverty of other readers” (Iskra No.43). On intellectual poverty of a certain kind, we should add. On the intellectual poverty of Bernsteinism and bankrupt “Economism”, which have gone through a period of repentance in which they have built themselves up a new orthodoxy.
Becoming aware of their theoretical excesses and practical impotence before the imperatives of political life, they began to burn up everything they had worshipped and worship what they had burned. On such a mentality, words like “Economism” and “opportunism” have a hypnotic influence. The journalist mentioned tried to use this all powerful weapon. But unhappy are those who come too soon. He did not succeed. Not until the congress did we hear it said that between “genuine” opportunism and pure Iskra-ism there is soft or Girondin Iskra-ism. Our converts burned to be of service. They were flung the slogan: “The fatherland is in danger! The gates of the Party are wide open!”
And soon two-thirds of the Editorial Board were recognized as suspect. In the orthodox Montagne, a purging process began. “The fatherland is in danger! Caveant consules!” (Let the consuls beware!); and Comrade Lenin transformed the modest Council into an all powerful Committee of Public Safety, in order to take on himself the role of the Incorruptible. Everything which was in his way had to be swept aside. The perspective of the destruction of the Iskra-ist Montagne did not stop Comrade Lenin. It was simply a question of establishing, through the intermediary of the Council, and without resistance, a “Republic of Virtue and Terror”.
Robespierre’s dictatorship through the intermediary of the Committee of Public Safety could only hold if “loyal” people were selected on the Committee itself, and if creatures of the Incorruptible were placed in all important state posts. Otherwise, the all-powerful dictatorship would have remained suspended in mid-air. The first condition was provided, in our caricature of Robespierre’s career, by the liquidation of the old Editorial Board. A second condition was also ensured: the appropriate selection of the members of the Central Committee, and for the rest, the establishment of the filter of “unanimity” and “mutual co-option”.
The nomination of all other “dignitaries” depends on the Central Committee; the work of the latter is placed under the watchful control of the Council. Here, comrades, is the administrative apparatus which is to govern the Republic of orthodox “Virtue” and centralist “Terror”.
Such a régime cannot last forever. The system of Terror ends up in reaction. The Parisian proletariat had raised up Robespierre, hoping he would drag them out of their poverty. But the dictator gave out too many executions and not enough bread. Robespierre fell, dragging with him the Montagne, and with them, the cause of democracy in general.
A grave danger threatens us at the present time; the inevitable and fast approaching collapse of Leninist “centralism” carries with it the danger of compromising the idea of centralism in general in the eyes of many Russian comrades. The hopes placed in the Party’s “government” were high, infinitely too high. The Committees were sure it would give them men, literature, orders, material means. Now, a régime which to survive begins by driving out the best members in the fields of theory and practice, promises too many executions and too little bread. It will inevitably create disillusionment which may turn out to be fatal, not just for the Robespierres and the islands of centralism, but also for the idea of a single combat organization in general. It is the “Thermidorians” of socialist opportunism who will then be masters of the situation, and the gates of the Party then really will be open wide.
May it not come to that.
The congress is over. The delegates have gone home. “So we have begun to count our wounds.” There are many of them. There are few comrades. Moreover here we are referring to the early times, when the hypnosis of “centralism” had not yet. begun to fade – thanks in part to the propaganda of the “opposition” and especially to the self-purging organizational “work” of the “majority”.
The Editorial Board created by 24 votes had turned out to be unviable. Comrade Martov left it at the congress itself. Comrade Lenin, inspirer of the “reform”, after the congress. It is quite evident that leading bodies of a newspaper cannot just be created by “votes”.
With Comrade Lenin’s departure from the Editorial Board, the organizational conceptions of the “majority” – as regards the mutual relations between the centres – were completely inverted. But this is the beginning of a new, as yet unwritten chapter of the history of our party.
Of course, the organizational differences appeared on the first day within the restricted framework of relations between the Central Committee and the Central Organ. A whole series of concrete questions concerning the relations between the Central Committee and the local committees have arisen in front of the Party. And on almost all these questions, the “opposition” has given one answer and the “majority” another.
The immediate task of the “minority” is to formulate precisely and characterize in detail its organizational conceptions. Meanwhile, the author limits himself to referring to a document he wrote two years ago.
The starting point of this document is the following: “We have found ourselves, to use the comparison once more, in the situation of the sorcerers’ apprentices who, by repeating complete formulas, aroused an enormous force, and who when it was necessary to dominate it, found themselves completely incapable of it. There was only one way forward: a common organization for the whole Party, with a Central Committee at its head. A congress convened to this end cannot resolve the question. It is indispensable to create the centre first before proclaiming it.” Such were the essentials of this unpublished document. The author often likes to remember that some comrades who two years ago found this document “Narodovolyist” (because of its “non-democratic” tendencies) have today gone so far on the road of centralism that the author of the Report seems to them to be contaminated by “anti-centralist” prejudices. Such is the speed with which our party is advancing on the road of progress!
“If one of the local organizations”, the document says, “refuses to recognize the full powers of the Central Committee, the CC will have the strength (N.B. and the right not to recognize this organization.) It will cut it off from the revolutionary world by breaking its links with it; it will stop sending it literature and other working material; it will despatch into the field of its activity a team of its own and, having supplied it with all the necessary means for action, declare it to be the local committee.
“But such a bold measure”, the document continues, “is only to be applied in exceptional cases. As a general rule, the employment of means of material repression would be absurd: it would mean that the Central Committee would endeavour to go against a stream which bears away the whole Party, an un-achievable dream!
“But if the Central Committee is possessed of organizational tact and understands the tasks of the movement, conflicts between it and the local committees are impossible, because in the event of normal development of relationships, the dispositions of the Central Committee are only the formulation of the common requirements of the whole Party. Seeing to it that the local committees go in step with the Party, the Central Committee will abstain from all intrusion in the affairs of local organizations.”
These ideas are extremely elementary but, in our “centralist” times, they should at least be printed in italics.
This report was already corrected when the Letter to the Editorial Board of Iskra appeared, written by Comrade Lenin in order to explain why he left the Editorial Board. It is a very strange document.
Comrade Lenin complains that the “minority” has created a “clandestine (sic!) literature with which it inundates the emigrés, and the committees, and some of which is already beginning to get abroad out of Russia”. In this “clandestine” (or anonymous?) literature is included among other things the Report of the Siberian Delegation. What exactly does Comrade Lenin mean by that? Is he blaming us for not having made the report public? But it was impossible to do so before the publication of the statement on the Party congress. Unless Comrade Lenin means to say that the report was only circulating among certain groups and certain people? If this is what he means, does he not think, after he has allowed himself to quote “clandestine” documents which have “reached” him, that it is obligatory upon him to publish his own somewhat “clandestine” documents? Unless he is quite simply not prepared to recognize this right to the “minority’? We hope that Comrade Lenin will give us the explanations required.
The clandestine literature is full of “the most amusing accusations” against Lenin; he is accused of “autocracy”, of having created a “Robespierre-style régime of executions” (sic!). We are prepared to rejoice that Comrade Lenin has been “amused” by the “amusing” reproaches in the “clandestine” literature. Only it is in vain for him to take the “Robespierre-style” executions so seriously. The “clandestine” Report of the Siberian delegate speaks of a caricature of Robespierre. It is as different from its great model as vulgar farce in general is from historical tragedy. We are ready to recognize that there really is nothing more amusing than an “autocracy” which governs no-one and “executions” which permit those “executed” to carry out important functions in the Party.
Comrade Lenin thinks, or at least writes, that the organizational differences are “presented by us in such a way as to embellish the position of the ‘minority’ and the course of the struggle to transform the composition of the personnel of the ‘centres’.” Comrades Lenin knows of no “bureaucratic centralism”. But he does know of infinite intrigues machinated by the “minority’ in order to penetrate into the centres of the Party. Everyone sees only what it is given to him to see.
But we think that in the fairly near future a pamphlet will appear which will begin:
“In our Social-Democratic literature abroad, there has for some time been a discussion going on which is quite bizarre to any reader not informed about it. Its theme is: is there or is there not in young Russian Social Democracy a tendency known by the name of bureaucratic centralism? In the opinion of one of contending parties, P. Axelrod for instance, not only does such a tendency exist but it can in certain circumstances have a very harmful effect on the future development of the Party. The other side, Comrade Lenin’s, however, does not want to agree with Comrade Axelrod. They think his opinion has no basis at all.
“A man who keeps out of the internal affairs of our party could think such a dispute totally without interest, all the more because the parties to the struggle often express themselves in semi-allusions, and there are few who can understand them. In effect, this dispute is of great importance. That is why the ‘minority’ considers it useful to collaborate in the resolution of this discussion by publishing the following collection of material.”
Comrade Lenin will perhaps remember: this is how he began the Vademecum devoted to Rabocheye Dyelo. All we had to do was to replace “Economism” with “bureaucratic centralism” and, in place of the Editorial Board of Rabocheye Dyelo, put Comrade Lenin’s name. As for Comrade Axelrod, we did not have to replace him. He was the first to see what “Economism” was and to formulate “amusing” reproaches against “bureaucratic centralism”. Let us also add that the events which have followed, as the Vademecum says, have given brilliant and irrefutable proof of the “farsightedness and weight of P. Axelrod’s views”.
How did the comrades of Rabocheye Dyelo reply to Comrade Axelrod’s accusations? They confirmed that “their dispute with the Emancipation of Labour Group was provoked not by programmatic differences, but because this group was opposed to any change in the composition of the editorial board. This is their official version of the truth.
Comrade Lenin denies the existence of serious organizational differences. He has apparently hastened to forget what he himself declared at the Party congress, on the tactics of the “state of siege”, and at the Congress of the League on the need to expel the Bundophiles, the Rabocheyedyelists and the Yuzhnorabochists.
Comrade Lenin denies the differences. Does he not think he is then obliged to explain to the Party the unprincipled reasons which impelled him to demand the congress destroyed the old Editorial Board? Now we hear Comrade Lenin saying that: “In the opinion of the majority, it is possible and necessary to make its views prevail in the Party, whether the composition of the centres is changed or not.”
Now Comrade Lenin himself demanded the “changing of the composition of the centres”, even if, as he now says, he was not in doing so “looking to his own interests”, with a view of what was necessary to “make his views prevail in the Party”. Is it not obvious that ultimatums are inadmissible in such conditions of “majority opinion’?
Comrade Lenin always comes back to the question of the coalition between the “Iskra minority” and “Non-Iskra elements”. We must avow ourselves astonished at the stubborn-headedness of Comrade Lenin, all the more because he himself cannot be unaware of the fact that the minutes of the Party congress and the League congress do not allow his statements to stand. The present Report can specify a number of things on this subject.
And then what is the meaning in the present language of Comrade Lenin, of “hard and therefore centralist Iskra-ists”?
Personally, we spent some time trying to understand something out of this, until a comrade clarified us by saying that “the hard and therefore centralist Iskra-ist is one who builds up his conceptions according to the Cartesian principle: ‘I am recognized by the Central Committee, therefore I am’.”
As for the “soft” Iskra-ists, that is, those who are not recognized and therefore scarcely exist, they do not according to Lenin represent anything more than a “circle of emigrés”. It turns out that this circle boycotts the Central Organ, places obstacles in the way of the decisions of the Central Committee and by its “disorganizing activity, holding up all work”, provokes the reaction of a whole series of Party committees. “A circle of emigrés” holding up “all the work” of the Party! Comrade Lenin clashes here with the elementary canons of logic.
To get things back in proportion in his own mind, the reader will only have to remember that we left the congress twenty-two against twenty-two.
Having finished reading Comrade Lenin’s Letter, entitled Why I left the Editorial Board of Iskra, the reader will not fail to ask: “But exactly why did Comrade Lenin leave the Editorial Board of Iskra?”
And if the reader relates this question to what the Letter tells him, he will say to himself:
“Comrade Lenin fought at the congress for a ‘change in the personnel of the Party centres’ – In this struggle, there was no basis of principle. In spite of everything, he succeeded. The Editorial Board of Iskra and the Organizing Committee were destroyed. Now, the most immediate result of this destruction is Lenin himself leaving the Editorial Board. The tactics of Comrade Lenin, ‘who was not guided by considerations of principle’, obviously suffered from a number of lacunae. But this should not happen in such delicate undertakings. It went wrong for Comrade Lenin. It happens to everybody. In this case, the best thing would be to withdraw as discreetly as possible and causing the least possible disturbance.”
And if he thinks that, the reader will be right.
Last updated on: 29.11.2006