Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Second Congress

Second Session

(51 persons present)[8]

The discussion on the agenda was continued.

Lenin: I should like to make an observation. It would be wrong, it is claimed, to take the question of the Bund as the first item on the agenda, since the reports should be taken first, then the programme, and the Bund should come third. The arguments in favour of this procedure will not stand up to criticism. They amount to assuming that the Party as a whole has not yet reached agreement on the programme, and that it is possible that precisely on this question we may suffer a split. I find this amazing. It is true that we have not yet adopted the programme, but the supposition that a split may take place over the programme is conjectural in the highest degree. No such tendencies have been observable in the Party, at least in its publications, and these have recently given the fullest reflection to opinions in the Party. There are reasons both formal and moral for making the question of the Bund the first item on the agenda. Formally, we take our stand on the Manifesto of 1898, but the Bund has expressed a desire for a radical change in the organisation of our Party. Morally, many other organisations have expressed their disagreement with the Bund on this question, and this has led to sharp differences, giving rise even to polemics. The Congress cannot, therefore, get down to harmonious work until these differences have been resolved. As to the delegates’ reports, it is possible that they may not be heard in Pleno at all. Consequently, I support the order of dealing with the questions on the agenda which has been approved by the Organising Committee.

Akimov: I support Lieber’s proposal. It seems to me to be quite impossible for us to discuss the question of the position of the Bund in the Party before we have decided the question of the way the Party is to be organised. The Bund has its own democratic, republican form of organisation. If our Party is to be organised according to a different principle, then I would defend all measures which would preserve, if only for the Bund alone, that excellent form of organisation which I should have liked to see in our Party as a whole. If, however, our organisation is to be democratic in character, I would be against any measures that might segregate the Bund from the Party. Furthermore, I propose that the question of the Central Organ be put after the question of organisation, since we cannot recognise any particular organ as the Party organ until it is known what the relation is to be between the Central Organ and the Central Committee, whether the editorial board is to be elected, whether it is to be given instructions, whether the editorial board is to be responsible for carrying out these instructions, and so on.

Lieber: Comrade Lenin presented the question of the Bund quite wrongly. Party organisations other than Iskra have not expressed their attitude on this question. Besides, to put the question of the Bund at the beginning of the agenda means deciding this question in advance. Lenin did not answer the question which has been raised. The Bund has come to the congress as an autonomous section of the Party. In the 1898 rules nothing was said about organisation. The Bund has now introduced a new proposal, but has introduced it under separate headings of the agenda, for example, on district and national organisations, and so on. We have to construct a complete set of organisational rules for the Party, and, therefore, to treat the question of the Bund on its own means to pre-determine it. A change was introduced at the Fourth Congress of the Bund, which expressed the wish to see the Party organised on federal principles. This idea was presented in general form, and not merely in relation to the Bund. Consequently, I propose to the congress that the question of the Bund be not taken as the first point on the agenda.

Makhov: Assuming as I did that the Bund had insisted that the ‘question of the Bund’ be taken first, I had to reconcile myself to this order of dealing with the questions before the congress as, so to speak, a regrettable necessity. It turns out, however, that the representatives of the Bund not only do not claim a right to the congress’s exclusive attention, but even protest against being given this privilege. Considering, for my part, that it is not possible to settle the Bund question without first proceeding from certain theoretical presuppositions which govern all questions of theory and practice, it seems to me that, with the agenda as it has been recommended to us, we shall perforce have to expound some ideas of a general character. I consider that to discuss the question of the Bund as the first item on the agenda will entail a waste of time. If it is necessary to finish with the Bund as soon as possible, then ..

Chairman: Nobody has formulated the question like that.

Trotsky: Lieber pointed out that the First Congress provided only the main outlines of our programme, tactics and organisation. It is for the Second Congress to decide a number of questions which come under these three headings. Consequently, he says, the question of the place of the Bund in the Party does not call for separate treatment: it belongs under the heading of Party organisation. I do not share this view. The First Congress provided, to be sure, only the ‘main outlines’ of Party organisation, but these it did provide. We start from them. Since profound differences have flared up in the Party regarding these ‘main outlines’, in the interests of future work we must settle these differences before we do anything else. If differences had accumulated within the Party regarding fundamental questions of programme and tactics (the class character of the Party, terrorism, and so on) we would have put them at the top of the agenda, since there would be no sense in discussing together the elaboration in detail of our programme, tactics and organisation if we differed among ourselves on the fundamentals of Party life. But such a fundamental difference as this exists on the organisation question alone: are we to have a united organisation with some degree of independence for the sections (‘autonomy’), or an association of independent organisations (‘federation’)? Once this question had arisen before us, as it has arisen, we were obliged to settle it; we could not postpone dealing with it.

Martov: One circumstance is being lost sight of. If the congress were to agree to a federal form of organisation, we should thereby break up into a number of independent organisations, and the Russian comrades would be faced with the task of organising themselves all over again, so as to be on an equal footing with the Bund, when discussing questions common to the whole Party. I appreciate the difficulties mentioned by Comrades Akimov and Makhov, but they must waive them in the interests of saving their strength for later debates.

Lvov: Lieber said that the Bund had decided the question of federation in principle only. That is not true. The Bund has applied this decision in its relations with the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad. It is also untrue that no Russian organisations apart from Iskra have defined their attitude to the Bund. They have made statements expressing solidarity with Iskra.

Akimov repeated his previous arguments against discussing the question of the Bund as the first point on the agenda, and said that, in the case envisaged by Martov, they would be deprived of the possibility of discussing Party organisations with such experienced comrades as the representatives of the Bund.

Makhov: Previous speakers have recognised, just as I do, that t discuss the question of the Bund first and foremost is illogical. Comrade Trotsky has put forward no other grounds for dealing with the Bund question first than that this question is a sore spot. I think that there may prove to be more sore spots than we suppose—for example, the question of a democratic structure or, on the contrary, centralism—so to put the question of the Bund at the top of the list for that reason does not stand up to criticism.

Plekhanov: Comrade Martov agreed with Akimov that there is a certain illogicality in dealing first with the Bund question. Actually, there is nothing illogical in this. There is only an appearance of illogicality, created by the situation. Either our congress is an ordinary congress, or it is a constituent congress. If it is an ordinary congress, and of this there cannot be the slightest doubt, then the life of the Party must follow the course that was laid down for it by the First Congress. If some people want to alter radically the Party’s way of life, then first of all we must decide whether we agree with this. We are faced by a choice: autonomy or federation? This difference is primarily organisational. But every quantitative difference gradually grows into a qualitative one.

Lieber (on a point of order) says that Plekhanov has renamed the point about the position of the Bund in the Party by calling it a point about autonomy or federation.

Plekhanov: It’s all the same: what the question comes down to is the Bund.

The list of speakers was closed. By a majority of 30 to 10 it was decided to discuss the question of the Bund as the first item on the agenda.

Akimov repeated his view that it was desirable to examine the question of the Central Organ only after the question of Party organisation had been settled.

Martov: Point 3 on the list [Point 4 of the agenda.] speaks only of the designation of an organ, and the organisational relations between the Central Organ and the Central Committee have to be considered specially, when we discuss the question of Party organisation in general.

Akimov: What is meant by ‘the designation of an organ’? Will an already existing organ be recognised as the Party organ, or will the editorial board be elected?

Yegorov: What has caused the question of the Central Organ to be put third on the agenda? Previously this was an important question because it was not clear what the attitude of the majority was on what the Central Organ should be. Now, when ideological unity has been established in the Party, this question can be discussed in connection with Party organisation.

Lenin: Now that the Congress has decided what is to be the first item on our agenda, the third point is the only moot point so far as the rest of the agenda is concerned. This item reads: ‘Creation of the Central Organ of the Party, or its endorsement’. Some comrades consider that this point should be moved to a later position on the agenda: first, because it is not possible to discuss the Central Organ until decisions have been taken regarding the organisation of the Party in general and of its central body in particular, and so on; and, secondly, because many committees have already expressed their views of the substance of this question. I consider the second argument wrong, for declarations by the committees are not binding on the congress and, formally speaking, possess no deciding vote at the congress. The other objection is wrong because, before settling details of organisation, the Party Rules, and the like, we must finally decide the question of the direction to be taken by the Russian Social-Democratic movement. It is, in fact, this question that has divided us for so long, and we cannot, merely by adopting a programme, eliminate all the differences that divide us on this issue. That can be done only by deciding, immediately after the question of the programme, what kind of Central Organ of the Party we should create from scratch, or what old one we should endorse, with certain modifications. This is why I support the agenda in the form in which it has been approved by the Organising Committee.

At the suggestion of the Chairman, all the points of the agenda were’ adopted en bloc, by 36 to 6, with one abstention.

The congress proceeded to discuss the report of the credentials commission, which had the task of determining the composition of the congress.

Rapporteur (Koltsov): There are 42 delegates at the congress, with 51 mandates. Eight delegates (those from the Baku, Batum and Tiflis Committees, the Mining-and-Metallurgical Association, the Crimean Association, the Nikolayev Committee, the Iskra organisation, and the League of Revolutionary Social-Democrats) have two mandates each. All the other organisations: the Moscow, Tula, Kharkov, Kiev, Odessa, Yekaterinoslav, Don, Saratov and Ufa Committees, the Northern and Siberian Associations, the ‘Emancipation of Labour’ Group, the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad, the Foreign Committee of the Bund[9] and the Yuzhny Rabochy group have each sent two delegates. The only exceptions are the Petersburg Committee and the Petersburg Workers’ Organisation, each of which has one delegate with a single mandate, and the Bund, which has two delegates, with three mandates. All the mandates have been checked and found valid. In addition, there are present at the congress, with the right to a consultative voice, eight members of different organisations invited by the Organising Committee on the basis of the right conferred upon it.

Complaints have been received from the Voronezh Committee and the Borba group. As is known, the Voronezh Committee reacted negatively to the very existence of the Organising Committee. In two proclamations it not only criticised the composition of the OC but also questioned its right to exist. The Voronezh Committee, according to its defenders, attempted to enter into negotiations with the OC about being admitted to the congress: nevertheless, a request for arbitration was received from this Committee only two days before the opening of the Congress. This request could not be met, of course, in view of the impossibility, at this stage, of finding arbiters and witnesses. The commission also questioned the OC and some representatives of neighbouring organisations about the activity of the Voronezh Committee. On the basis of all this the Commission considers it is in a position to propose to the congress the following resolution. [In view of the fact that the Voronezh Committee has not recognised the Organising Committee or the rules on the basis of which the congress has been convened, the Second Congress of the RSDLP finds that the OC was certainly in the right in not inviting this committee to the congress. The arbitration formally proposed by the Voronezh Committee only two days before the congress opened cannot take place owing to the absence at the present time of the conditions needed. As regards the question of the capacity of the Voronezh Committee, the congress cannot find anything incorrect in the conduct of the OC in this connection.]

The other complaint submitted to the commission comes from the Borba group. The following message has been received from this group [see Appendix I]. A letter sent by the Borba group to the OC was not received. A letter sent by this group to the Foreign Bureau of the OC, addressed to Comrade Deutsch, reached him a few days before the congress. As regards the substance of the matter, the commission, after hearing the representatives of the OC, came to the conclusion that the view expressed in the note to one of the paragraphs of the draft rules of the Second Congress of the RSDLP, concerning the importance of the Borba group, is fully in accordance with the facts. The organisations in Russia, with very few exceptions, did not consider at all that this group should be invited, despite the fact that the above-mentioned note had brought its existence to this notice. In view of this the commission could not but take up a negative attitude in this case as well.[Resolution: The Second Congress of the RSDLP, fully agreeing with the opinion of the Organising Committee that the Borba group does not constitute a particular tendency in the Social-Democratic movement, and that it enjoys no influence among the Social-Democratic organisations in Russia, decides that there is no case for inviting this group.]

Besides these complaints, the commission received a letter from a Polish comrade belonging to the Social Democratic Party of Poland and Lithuania, with the following contents. [See Appendix II] As talks have been in progress for some time between the Social Democratic Party of Poland and Lithuania and the OC regarding participation by that Party in our congress, and as, on the other hand, the letter does not make clear the relations which the Polish Social-Democrats wish to have with the Russian Party, the commission decided to propose to the congress the following resolution on this matter. [In view of the decision by the OC and in view of the importance of participation in the Congress by organisations which recognise that ‘the cause of uniting the Social-Democratic Party throughout Russia is a matter of first-rate importance’, the Second Congress of the RSDLP has pleasure in welcoming to the congress comrades from the Social-Democratic movement of Poland and Lithuania, and grants them a consultative voice, before they present to the congress the resolution they have adopted on their relations with the RSDLP.]

All the commission’s decisions were adopted unanimously by four of its members. As regards the fifth member: (1) on the question of the Voronezh Committee, he agreed with the first three points of the resolution, but he proposed to replace the fourth point by one reading: ‘There is insufficient information to come to a decision on the question of the capacity of the Voronezh Committee’; (2) on the question of the Borba group, he said that he knew absolutely nothing about this group, but considered that it should be accorded one consultative voice; (3) finally, on the question of inviting the Polish Social-Democrats, he considered that it was beyond the competence of the commission to decide on this question.

Yegorov: The question of the Borba group is new to me. Accordingly, I request a five-minute recess so that I can discuss it with comrades.

After consulting the Bureau, the chairman announced that a recess would be allowed, but only as an exception to the rule.

When the session resumed, Martynov was the first to speak: Without going into the matter of how the ‘historical services’ rendered by the Borba group are to be evaluated, a matter on which we do not share the group’s own view, and without going into the question of the group’s formal rights to be present at the congress, I urge that it be allowed to attend, simply from the standpoint of the interests of the Party and of the congress: the congress is interested in having an all-sided discussion of the programme, and the participation of this group will contribute to that. It is the only Social-Democratic group which has come up with a criticism of the programme presented by the editors of Zarya and Iskra. Whatever one may think of Ryazanov’s pamphlet, it did cause Comrade Plekhanov to express himself more definitely on two points, namely, attitude to oppositional trends, and the village commune. That criticism therefore proved to be of use even from the viewpoint of those who are completely and absolutely in agreement with the Iskra draft. The objections raised against participation by the Borba group are groundless. We have not invited Svoboda or the ‘Socialist-Revolutionaries’ because they are not Social-Democrats, but where Ryazanov was concerned, Comrade Plekhanov himself said, obliquely, at the end of his article, that he was not guided by motives of difference in principle. Zhizn was not invited because it never showed the appropriate interest, whereas Comrade Plekhanov considered it necessary to come out against Ryazanov in the pages of Iskra, and to set forth objections affecting the substance of the matter. Participation by the Borba group cannot endanger the Party’s organisational unity, since this group is very small and weak:[10] it has only a ‘particular opinion’, within the framework of Social-Democratic principles, and it will be useful for the congress to hear every such opinion and to discuss it.

Plekhanov: As in the letter from the Borba group, so also in Comrade Martynov’s speech, it is stated that I said that Ryazanov’s criticism resulted from personal factors. That is not true. I recall that I was faced with a choice: either Ryazanov’s criticism was a product of his intellectual poverty, or else of a desire on his part to confuse the issue by bringing in considerations of a personal character. The Borba group embraced the first alternative, as it had the right to do. The second alternative remained. But so far as I am concerned, the choice is still open.

Akimov: Comrade Lenin said that there are no programmatic differences in our Party. That is not true. Everyone knows that such differences do exist, and it would be extremely useful if the different views could find expression at this congress. From this standpoint, it would be desirable to have the Borba group here. This is all the more important because, in general, those groups which do not see eye to eye with the majority in the Party did not have an adequate say in the preparation of the Congress. The rapporteur mentioned that in several cases communications addressed to the OC failed to reach them, and this is understandable, since none of the groups which do not share the views of the majority were represented on the OC. The St Petersburg Committee had the right to be represented there. Two organisations exist in St Petersburg, both calling themselves the St Petersburg Committee, but only one of these was represented on the OC. The other, the ‘Union of Struggle’, which was recognised by the arbitration tribunal to be the continuation of the old Committee, and which does not agree with the majority line, was not so represented. In the same way, the ‘Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad’, which was entitled, by the decision of the 1902 conference, to be represented in the foreign section of the OC, did not in fact participate in the OC and the Union’s proposal to establish a foreign section was rejected by’ the OC. The Voronezh Committee has been eliminated from participation in the congress. If the Borba group suffers a like fate, then all the groups which have in one way or another opposed the prevailing tendency will have been more or less ousted from taking part in the work of the congress. Furthermore, the Borba group has issued as many as three booklets dealing with the drawing-up of the programme, and its presence here would therefore be all the more useful, since no other publications dealing with this matter have appeared. All Party organisations must submit to the decisions of the congress, but they have an inalienable right to be heard, and to be allowed to defend their views before the Party.

Lange: If we allowed the Borba group to attend the congress we should have to admit every publisher and every author who has brought out a book or a pamphlet. We are devoting more time to this question than it deserves.

Martov: To be invited to the congress it is not enough to have said something about the programme. Other Social-Democrats too have sent in critical notes (X,[11] the South-Russia group, and others). These critical notes are being published, so that comrades can become acquainted with them. Thus, the Borba group’s contribution to the work of unifying the Party, through publishing its criticism, has already been provided for, just as in the case of other criticisms. Consequently Borba has been ‘heard’ by the Party, as Akimov pleaded it should. If our ideal is that as many as possible of all the groups should be present at the congress, but this ideal cannot be realised owing to conditions in Russia, it follows that we must take care that there is no imbalance between the representation of those Social Democrats who live in Russia and those who live abroad. A number o groups in Russia which do not meet the conditions laid down have submitted without protest to their exclusion from the list of participants in the congress. Would it be a good thing to give privileged treatment to a small group which, thanks to its origin outside Russia, is able to press insistently for admission to the congress, though its presence here would in no way be more useful than that of those groups inside Russia which have been refused this right? The fact mentioned in the letter from Borba that, during the year and a halt that Borba has been in existence, it has not obtained a sufficient number of supporters inside Russia for its point of view to be expressed at the congress by any Russian organisation speaks more eloquently than anything else of the ephemeral nature of this group. The Borba group does indeed, as Akimov said, include ‘old comrades of ours’, for the members of Borba have at different times been everybody’s comrades, moving from organisation to organisation and not settling anywhere. The Borba group is the embodiment of that period of organisational chaos in the history of our Party which was marked by a disunity not justified by any considerations of principle. I move that the commission’s resolution be voted on.

The list of speakers was closed.

Brouckère: I rise to defend the interests of the Voronezh Committee. I am not satisfied and I am not happy. What the OC has told us is not true. It never approached the Voronezh Committee directly. The OC justifies its conduct by saying that the Voronezh Committee does not recognise it. That is not true. The Voronezh Committee expressed its opinion about the unsatisfactory make-up of the OC. The OC may have taken offence at this, but it had no right to ignore a Social-Democratic Committee. After the OC had been recognised by the majority it could not be regarded as being still a private body. The Borba group could have been invited to the congress, in view of the lack of critical pamphlets, other than theirs, about the programme.

Pavlovich: The congress is not a gathering for discussion but for practical work by revolutionaries, and so I regard the arguments on behalf of Borba as worthless.

Sorokin: I condemn the method of ‘unification’ practised by Borba. Borba had no differences of principle to justify its action, and the break with Iskra is due to Nevzorov’s desire to be one of the editors. The congress should sharply condemn this sort of unification by separation. And Borba ’s persistence—I do not want to say, straight out, Borba’s impudence …

The chairman checked the speaker.

Sorokin (continuing): … but we ought to condemn such audacity as they have shown.

Trotsky: All who have spoken in favour of Borba have made the reservation that, personally, they do not share this group’s views, and even that they do not regard them as valuable. Consequently, each speaker was arguing that these views were of interest to somebody else, though not to himself. However, Comrade Martynov did utter one quite concrete argument in favour of inviting the Borba group. This group is weak, he said, and to invite it would therefore not bring any risk of a split. So, then, an invitation to the congress should be a sort of certificate of weakness. This view is unacceptable, of course, even though Borba ’s weakness is beyond question. This group is weak both practically and from the moral and political standpoint. In practice, because it has not found any committee to give it representation. From the moral and political standpoint, because its position has never been one of principle, but has always been determined by the conjuncture of the given moment. At the height of Iskra ’s struggle against economism the Borba group took up a conciliatory attitude. It seemed to them that Iskra was exaggerating the differences. When the revolutionary Social-Democratic trend got the upper hand, Borba made a sharp turn-round, and, in Ryazanov’s book, accused Iskra of economism. One of the representatives of revolutionary Social-Democracy even turned out to be a typical economist, though a very talented one. In this weathercock behaviour lies the root of the moral and political weakness of Borba. But people don’t get awarded certificates for such weakness. It calls, rather, for punishment. This punishment takel the form of denial of an invitation to the congress. Such a sentence will serve not only as a moral condemnation of Borba but also as a warning to every other group who want, in the interests of their political career, to thrust their group physiognomy through any ideological crack that may appear, exploiting the tragic situation of our Party. [Applause.]

Martov (on a point of order) proposed that the vote be taken on the report as a whole.

Lieber (on a point of order): This proposal cannot be adopted. We may agree with the conclusion, while not agreeing with the reasons given.

Yegorov: I propose that the last word be accorded to the OC, since otherwise I shall be put in a difficult position as regards voting on this question.

Martov: When the Organising Committee’s report was read, it was subjected to a number of reproaches, to which it should reply. This omission must be put right. The OC must be allowed to speak, otherwise we cannot take the vote.

Lenin: This goes without saying. The point is that during the recess the OC held a meeting, which brought a new factor into the discussion procedure.

A proposal was introduced and adopted regarding closure of the list of speakers on the question of Borba.

Yegorov: The meeting of the OC held during the recess did not violate the procedure of the congress, as Comrade Lenin claims. No one has the right to forbid the OC to meet during recesses. I insist that the decision which the OC has just taken be heard. It can have a bearing on the vote.

Lenin: The list of speakers has been closed. The discussion is finished. We are going to vote on the question of the Borba group. Comrade Yegorov’s demand cannot, therefore, be met.

Yegorov: I propose that the OC’s statement be heard before we vote. Chairman: The debate is over, and I do not understand how Comrade Yegorov can persist in his demand. In any case, the Bureau will discuss this matter.

The session was closed.



[8] ‘51 persons present’ is a mistake by the secretaries. There were at the 2nd session 50 persons altogether—42 delegates, with 51 deciding votes, and 8 persons with consultative voice.

[9] At the time of the credentials report at the second session, Goldblatt not having arrived yet, the other delegate from the Foreign Committee of the Bund was temporarily credited with two votes, pending his partner’s arrival.

[10] The Borba group consisted of Ryazanov, Nevzorov (i.e. Nakhamkes, also known as Steklov) and Danevich (Le., E.L. Gurevich).

[11] ‘X’ was P. P. Maslov. Lenin’s ‘Reply to Criticism of our Draft Programme’ June 1903, in Collected Works, Vol. 6, deals with his critique.