Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Second Congress

Fourth Session

(Present: 42 delegates with 51 deciding votes, and 8 persons with consultative voice.)

The chairman, after making some announcements, read a request from the Caucasian delegates to allow a comrade of theirs who had taken part in the Social-Democratic movement from the start to attend the congress with the right to a consultative voice.

Martov proposed that the OC be asked about this.

Makhov, while having nothing against inviting new comrades, said that the congress only lost time by discussing such questions.

Popov: In order that the OC might reply to a question about inviting a new comrade it would be necessary to rescind the resolution passed yesterday, since that meant that the OC had no power to influence the composition of the congress once it had been constituted. To express an opinion on an invitation to a new comrade would signify influencing the composition of the congress.

Karsky: If the OC no longer has the right to influence the composition of the congress, that does not mean that it is obliged to lose its memory.

Lieber proposed that the discussion be closed.

This proposal was adopted.

The proposal of the Caucasian delegates that their comrade be invited, with the right to a consultative voice, was then approved. [14]

The following declaration by Comrade Martynov was read: ‘I must make a correction to the speech by the representative of the OC, Comrade Popov. He said: “I did not know that the Voronezh Committee and the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad were one and the same.” I draw attention to this because in accordance with the rules of the congress, Comrade Akimov always speaks in his own name, and not in that of the Union. Besides, Comrade Akimov did not say that.’

Martov proposed the election of a commission to work on problems of the programme. In view of the need for serious preparatory work, they might already at this stage begin compiling the list of candidates.

Akimov considered this procedure inappropriate. What was needed first was a general discussion, and then there would be elected to the commission representatives to the different tendencies which had become manifest during the discussion.

Karsky: It is not necessary to wait for the discussion for the tendencies to show themselves, as these are already very clear. Besides, after the discussion little time will be left for the work of the commission.

The Bureau agreed with Comrade Akimov’s view.

The congress proceeded to discuss the second point on its agenda—the place of the Bund in the Party.

Lieber (rapporteur): I have a hard task to perform in setting forth the grounds for the proposal made by the Bund. In the first place, the majority of the delegates have obviously formed a definite opinion about the matter under discussion, and in the second place, organisational questions, in the sense of questions of national and district organisation, have not been gone into in our publications. True, there has been a fierce polemic on the matter, but essentially nothing was said in it. Let me briefly recall the history of this question. On the basis of the Manifesto of 1898, the Bund entered the RSDLP in accordance with the principle of autonomy. As we know, soon after the 1898 congress the Russian Party ceased to exist legally, and so the organisational relations between the sections of the Party were determined in an absolutely casual way. The different sections acted independently of each other. And, juridically speaking, no forms of relationship between the Bund and the other Party organisations were ever laid down. Then, at the Fourth Congress of the Bund the question was raised of giving proper form to these relations—the question of the principles on which the Russian Party should be organised. A resolution which you know about was adopted dealing with this question. At the Fifth Congress of the Bund, held not long ago[15]—a report on which we have not yet been able to give, owing to he non-adoption of the agenda we suggested—this question of the position of the Bund in the Party came up for discussion again, and the congress drew up an agreement, which I will now proceed to explain.

The Manifesto of 1898 laid down the principles governing Party organisation and the relation of the Bund to this. But no formal expression was given to these principles. And now, when we bring forward a set of rules worked out by the Fifth Congress of the Bund, we are not introducing changes, but merely proposing rules* which constitute a realisation and a further logical development of the principles of the Manifesto of the First Party Congress. We do not agree with the expression ‘autonomy’, because it is indefinite, and it can cover a variety of contents. But we do not advocate the term ‘federation’ either, for this is also too vague. And in fact, if we analyse the point in the Manifesto of the First Congress concerning the Bund (the Bund is an autonomous section of the All-Russia Party) we come to the conclusion that a different, much wider content is given to the concept of ‘autonomy’ by the Polish Socialist Party when it demands this of the German Social-Democratic Party.

* Article 1. The position of the Bund in the Party is defined by the following points.

Article 2. The Bund is the Social-Democratic organisation of the Jewish proletariat, not restricted in its activity by any geographical limits, and it enters the Party as the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat.

Article 3. To the Central Committee of the Party, the Foreign Committee of the Party and the Party congresses the Bund elects its own representation to express itself as such on those questions which fall within the competence of the congresses of the Bund. The mode of representation of the Bund must be based on principles which are identical for all sections constituting the Party.

Note. Local and district organisations are to be treated for this purpose as separate sections.

Competente of the Bund

Article 4. The programme of the Bund is the programme common to the whole Party, which it has the right to supplement for itself on questions arising from the special position of the Jewish proletariat in Russia and the interrelation of social forces within the Jewish nation, with special points which do not run counter to the common Party programme.

Article 5. The Bund holds its own congresses, to decide all questions specially concerning the Jewish proletariat, and has its own Central Committee.

Artide 6. The Bund has the right to decide, being guided by the Party programme, those general questions on which no resolutions have been presented at Party congresses. These decisions have temporary force, until general Party congresses take decisions on the questions concerned.

Article 7. The Bund has freedom to settle the affairs of its own organisation. Article 8. The Bund has the right to unhindered publication, both in Yiddish and in other languages. The Bund has the right to address itself to the proletariat of other nationalities only with the assent of the organs of the corresponding sections of the Party, and to the proletariat of the whole country only with the assent of the Central Committee of the Party.

Note. Other sections of the Party have the right to address the Jewish proletariat only with the assent of the Central Committee of the Bund.

Article 9. (a) The Bund has the right to enter into temporary agreements for practical undertakings with revolutionary organisations which do not belong to the Party, and no special ban on agreements with which has been imposed by Party congress or by the Party’s Central Committee. The Central Committee of the Bund is to inform the Party’s Central Committee of every such agreement. The publication of joint statements with non-Social-Democratic organisations is not permitted. (b) With special permission from the Party’s Central Committee, the Bund has the right to enter into regular agreements with Social-Democratic organisations not belonging to the Party, for joint fulfilment of certain aspects of revolutionary work.

Article 10. The Party Congress has the right to cancel all decisions made by congresses of the Bund except decisions taken on the precise basis of the present constitution. If the Party’s Central Committee regards any action by the CC of the Bund as being in contradiction to decisions taken by the general congresses of the Party, it has the right to demand explanations.

Artide 11. In case of necessity the CC of the Party has the right to deal directly with particular sections of the Bund, but only with the assent of the CC of the Bund. The way in which such dealings are to be effected will be decided in each particular case by the CC of the Bund.

Article 12. All these points are to be considered as fundamental and can be changed, added to or cancelled only by mutual agreement between the sections of the Party.

Note. Local and district organisations are not to be counted as sections of the Party for this purpose.

The point in the Manifesto of the First Congress relating to the Bund is also unclear in that it does not answer the questions: in relation to whom is the organisation autonomous, who is autonomous, and autonomous on what questions?

If the organisation of the Jewish proletariat is autonomous in relation to the Party, that is, to its central organs, then this autonomy should apply to every section of the Party which also enjoys autonomy in its district affairs. In order to answer the second question (who is autonomous?) the sphere of activity of the Bund should have been defined. This was not done. And on this matter two propositions are possible: (1) some have said that the Bund should become a territorial organisation; (2) others have said that the Bund should work among the Jewish proletariat everywhere.

First and foremost, the question arises, why do we need to have an organisation for the Jewish proletariat? It could be justified, in the first place, by those particularly harsh legal conditions under which the entire Jewish proletariat lives, regardless of the language it speaks; secondly, by the fact that the relation of social forces in the Jewish nation is quite distinctive, in that, for example, there are no nobles, no landowners, and no peasants in it. And for this reason any notion of transforming the Bund into a territorial organisation (not to speak of the fact that we are in general against territorial organisations, since they lead to decentralisation) renders it pointless.

To base the need for a special organisation of the Jewish proletariat upon language is unthinkable. For in that case why should the Bund be autonomous? The question of language is a technical one, and it would be simple to set up a technical commission to deal with it.

Consequently, the sole condition determining the autonomous status of the Bund is the limits of the Jewish proletariat as such, taken as a whole. And we think that, in the Party, the Bund should occupy the position of representative of the Jewish proletariat. By this, however, we do not mean to say that other Social-Democratic organisations are not to work among the Jewish proletariat.

The question arises whether it is possible to delimit the range of questions in relation to which the organisation is to be autonomous. According to the Manifesto of the First Congress, ‘the Bund is an organisation possessing autonomy in relation to questions concerning the Jewish proletariat’. What are these questions? Let us take, for example, the question of the legal position of the Jewish proletariat. Is this question not closely bound up with other political questions? And since this is so, then one of two possibilities exists: either the Bund is really autonomous, that is, it has complete freedom to discuss all questions, or the Central Committee is to take a highly rigorist line towards the Bund, confining its freedom within narrow bounds.

Here another question also arises: is the congress of the Bund the highest instance where questions concerning the Jewish proletariat are involved? To this question we answer ‘no’. The Bund must possess competence on all questions, but there will be a higher institution checking on it.

The usual reply to this is that, if this is so, then why have an independent organisation for the Jewish proletariat? But those who ask that question forget that the Jewish proletariat is very much more strongly interested in the struggle against the exceptional restrictions which are imposed upon it than the rest of the proletariat is, and for this reason it is also a more active fighter against this oppression.

And so, by virtue of all the considerations mentioned, we do not find it possible to organise the Party on the principle of autonomy. What should be the relations between the different sections of the Party? I say that they should be based on the principle of federation. One section of the Party should represent the totality of the Russian committees, while the other should be the Bund, organised as a separate Union. It is usually objected that these two sections are unequal, incommensurable, and so their unification on federal principles would be extremely difficult to arrange. In Austria, however, it has been found quite feasible to form a federal union of national Social-Democratic organisations on principles of equality. On grounds of principle we too could demand the same.

Our opponents think that federation and decentralisation are synonymous. This is not so. In our view there is no higher form of centralisation than federation. And it is quite untrue that autonomy is a more centralistic form than federation. The proletariat of a particular nation has a tendency towards centralism only when it looks to the centre for the solution of all its problems and, in particular, of its national needs. By building an autonomous organisation on the principle of separating these national needs from the centre, we thereby not only do away with its centralistic tendency but also divert it from those strivings which are common to the proletariat as a whole, and focus its attention on narrowly national questions and its own organisation. Such a separation of general questions from national ones is harmful. Federal organisation does away with this distinction and is therefore the best way of ensuring centralisation.

Lieber then proceeded to read the more detailed argument for the rules which had been drawn up by the Fifth Congress of the Bund.

Martov (co-rapporteur) : After the report we have just heard no-one can be in any doubt that the congress acted very wisely in putting the question of the Bund at the top of the agenda. As we have seen, there is a section of the Party which talks in terms of a treaty between two independent organisations—Jewish and non- Jewish. Formulating it like this is, in my view, much more precise than talking about mutual relations between different national organisations. The Fifth Congress of the Bund also engaged in drawing up a draft treaty between the Jewish proletariat and the rest of the proletariat of Russia. For the representatives of the Bund the present congress is, evidently, a constituent congress. And yet no longer ago than yesterday, when the matter before us was that of inviting the Polish comrades, they insisted that this was not a constituent congress but an ordinary one. I say that the representatives of the Bund see the present congress as a constituent one, because they talk of a treaty between two sections of the Party, of which there can be no question at an ordinary congress, where only union with other parties can be discussed, but not a treaty between sections of the Party itself. Until lately the Bund was a section of the Party, and evidently regarded itself as such, since it took part in the Organising Committee, which recognised that the congress was an ordinary one and constituted a congress not of separate national organisations but of sections of the Party. Comrade Lieber said: ‘We are not introducing changes but merely proposing rules. The First Party congress merely laid down the principle governing the relation between the Bund and the All-Russia Party, and now we are for the first time formulating rules.’ That is true, and I am not going to deny it; but these rules which have been presented to us turn upside down the basis of Party organisation established by the 1898 congress. In the Manifesto of the First Congress it is quite precisely laid down that the organisations whose representatives were present there merged into a single organisation. The autonomy which was given to the Bund at the First Congress was not an exception, since such autonomy was given to all the committees, though within narrower limits.

The Fourth Congress of the Bund passed the resolution which we know. [See Appendix IV But this resolution did not contain the word ‘future’, which Comrade Lieber added when he quoted it. This word made its appearance only in 1903. In the letter from the Central Committee of the Bund to Iskra it was explained that the Bund intended presenting to the Party Congress this resolution about a federal structure for the Party. But when the question of convening the Congress became a practical one, the Bund comrades assembled in a Fifth Congress, re-worked the resolution of their Fourth Congress, and now talk to us about a treaty—that was the expression used by Comrade Lieber. And when we discussed the agenda, it was precisely on the question of the Bund that the comrades from the Bund saw themselves not as a free negotiating party, not as a separate, independent organisation, but as a section of the Party, and on this basis objected to the placing of this question on its own at the head of the agenda.

I do not consider it possible for the congress to undertake to examine the draft treaty which has been presented to us, and on which no preliminary discussion through the Party’s organs has taken place.

And I will now show that the draft put before us is a treaty that we cannot and ought not to consider. Underlying this draft is the presupposition that the Jewish proletariat needs an independent political organisation to represent its national interests among the Social-Democrats of Russia. Independently of the question of organising the Party on the principle of federation or that of autonomy, we cannot allow that any section of the Party can represent the group, trade or national interests of any section of the proletariat. National differences play a subordinate role in relation to common class interests. What sort of organisation would we have if, for instance, in one and the same workshop, workers of different nationalities thought first and foremost of the representation of their national interests?

The particularly harsh legal conditions in which the Jewish proletariat has to live should not serve as a basis for separating it off; this fact can serve only as an argument for a wider degree of autonomy for the organisation which leads the struggle of the Jewish proletariat. However, wide autonomy has nothing in common with the principle of granting the right of representation to national organisations.

The Bund’s situation is contradictory. But this does not compromise either the Bund or the Russian Party, since the contradiction was the result of a number of unfortunate historical circumstances. And this abnormal situation cannot be eliminated by means of one heroic resolution. We are well aware of this, but precisely for that reason we must not shut our eyes to this abnormal situation, we must not ignore it.

The notion that federation is the best means for ensuring centralisation, on which Comrade Lieber was so insistent, was not supported by any kind of proof. Comrade Lieber merely showed us that relations of autonomy can be and are abnormal.

I now turn to consider the Bund’s proposed rules. Let us take Article 2. What would become of us if the field of action of each organisation making up the Party was to be unrestricted by any limits? But, according to the proposal of those who composed this draft, the field of activity of the Bund is to be bounded only by the frontier of the Russian Empire. If that were permitted, the organisation of the Party would not even be federal in character.

Then, Article 3. It would have been more consistent to apply this norm to all sections of our Party. If it is inadmissible for the representatives of the Jewish proletariat to be over borne by the majority then, clearly, this is likewise inadmissible in the case of the Kiev, Petersburg or any other committee. Then it would be necessary for the Central Committee to be made up of representatives of all the organisations, and to be transformed into an institution very similar to the Polish Sejm, in which the veto of any one member could disqualify the Sejm from taking a particular decision.

Article 5 runs counter to all endeavours to centralise the Party. Making the CC of the Bund a barrier between the CC of the Party and local Party groups means bringing terrible disorganisation into the Party. And, again, consistency would require that this norm be applied to all sections of the Party. What would happen then?

Article 12 says very plainly that what we have before us is a treaty, since, if we accept these rules, we can only suggest modifications in them, which would have to be introduced by agreement with the Bund, but we are not allowed to delete any points.

These are the rules which have been put before us. And so, before proceeding to discuss them, before deciding on the relation of the Bund to the Party, we need to get an answer to this question: with whom are we dealing, with a section of the Party or with a free negotiating party which has offered us a treaty, in relation to which we too are a free negotiating party?

I will now explain the resolution I have presented. [Martov’s resolution: ‘Considering: (a) that the closest unity of the Jewish proletariat with the proletariat of those races amidst which it lives is absolutely necessary in the interests of its struggle for political and economic liberation: (b) that only such very close unity guarantees success for the Social-Democrats in the struggle against all forms of chauvinism and anti-semitism; and (c) that such unity in no way rules out independence for the Jewish workers’ movement in all matters concerned with special tasks of agitation among the Jewish population which arise from differences in language and living conditions—the Second Congress of the RSDLP expresses its profound conviction that restructuring the organisational relations between the Jewish proletariat and the Russian proletariat on federal lines would constitute a substantial obstacle in the way of fuller organisational rapprochement between conscious proletarians of different races, and would inevitably do enormous harm to the interests of the proletariat generally and of the Jewish proletariat of Russia in particular; and, therefore, emphatically rejecting as absolutely inadmissible in principle any possibility of federal relations between the RSDLP and the Bund, as a component section of the Party, the congress resolves that the Bund occupies, within the united RSDLP, the position of an autonomous component, the limits to its autonomy to be defined when the general Party rules are elaborated. In view of the above, the congress, regarding the “Rules” proposed by the Bund delegates as a draft for a section of the general Party rules, defers discussion of the draft until Point 6 of the agenda, and proceeds to next business.’] In the first point we stress that the solution of all political and social questions is possible only if we have the closest unity of the entire proletariat. In the second point we repeat what was said at the international congress in Brussels in 1891. In the third point it is stated that a certain degree of independence for the organisation of the Jewish proletariat is in no way excluded. But the widening of the autonomy of the Bund is motivated not by national demands but merely by the conveniences of revolutionary agitation. Finally, we say in conclusion that we reject any attempt to restructure the Party on federal principles, as erecting an obstacle to further rapprochement between the Jewish and the Russian proletariats.

Trotsky: I think it not without value to add to the resolution moved by Comrade Martov that this resolution is signed by Jewish comrades who, working in the All-Russia Party, have considered and consider themselves also to be representatives of the Jewish proletariat.[16]

Lieber: Among whom they have never worked.

Trotsky: I request that both my statement and Comrade Lieber’s exclamation be entered in the minutes.

Lieber: I ask that it be recorded in the minutes that the chairman did not stop Comrade Trotsky when by his statement he committed a gross piece of tactlessness.

Chairman: No special entry in the minutes is called for, since it will be obvious from them anyway that I did not stop Comrade Trotsky.

Lieber: I insist on this being entered in the minutes.

Chairman: Then be so good as to submit your statement in writing to the Bureau.

Lieber presented a statement which read as follows. ‘I take note that the chairman did not stop Comrade Trotsky when he mentioned that the persons who introduced the resolution belonged to the Jewish nationality, thereby committing a gross violation of tact and turning the entire dispute on this question into a matter of national passions.’


Chairman: Before continuing with the session I must give the Congress an explanation. I have already had the honour to bring it to the notice of Comrade Lieber that the chairman must indeed check a speaker when the latter makes a tactless observation. But the judge in these cases is the chairman himself, and not any individual member of the assembly. As chairman, I saw nothing tactless in Comrade Trotsky’s statement. What was tactless in it? The fact that he mentioned his own Jewish origin, or the fact that, having mentioned this, he said that he regarded himself as a representative of the Jewish proletariat too? As for making the dispute a matter of national passions, if this innocent statement by Comrade Trotsky can stir national passions, then it is clear that these passions are very close to constituting national fanaticism.

And I had no right to presume the-existence of national fanaticism in any of those present here. But since, through the insistence of Comrade Lieber, I see that my conduct has met with disapproval, I submit this matter to the congress, for discussion, and for my part I propose that it express to the presidium that confidence without which it is impossible for us to continue in session.

Akimov: said that there was no reason to create an incident, and that Comrade Lieber’s statement should be treated as a private comment.

Stein: I do not think Trotsky’s remark was gross tactlessness. It was merely out of place .. .

Chairman: We are not discussing Comrade Trotsky’s remark, but the question of confidence in the presidium.

Lieber: My statement relates not to the conduct of the chairman but to the question whether Comrade Trotsky’s statement was tactless or not.

Akimov moved the following resolution: ‘Having heard Comrade L ieber’s comment on Comrade Trotsky’s speech, and the Chairman’s explanation, the congress passes to next business.’

Lange and Muravyov moved the following resolution: ‘In connection with Comrade Lieber’s statement, the congress votes its confidence in the Bureau and passes to next business.’

Both resolutions were voted on. Comrade Akimov’s resolution was rejected. The resolution moved by Comrades Lange and Muravyov was passed, all the delegates voting for it except five who abstained.

The session was closed.



[14] The Caucasian permitted to attend with consultative voice was Kostrov, i.e. Zhordania.

[15] The 5th Congress of the Bund was held in Zurich in June 1903.

[16] According to the Bund’s own report of this congress, Martov’s resolution was signed by ‘twelve persons—all Jews’.

At the congress of the League Abroad in October 1903 Trotsky revealed that Lenin had sent him a note: ‘Trotsky, would you take the floor after Martov for a little statement regarding the resolution which you have signed [on the Bund] and declare that the Jews who signed it are also representatives of the Jewish proletariat.’ [Protokoly Ligi, p. 69: quoted by Getzler, Martov, p. 76, n. 76.)