Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Second Congress

Seventh Session

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

The minutes of the third session were read and approved.

Lvov announced that a telegram had been received about the confirmation by the Mining and Metallurgical Association of a second delegate, and proposed that the congress allow this delegate to attend the session. He supported this proposal by saying that he had approached Comrade Deutsch on the matter, and Deutsch had asked a member of the OC to check the delegate’s credentials.

Deutsch confirmed this statement.

Yegorov: According to the rules of the congress, delegates certified and confirmed by the OC cannot be replaced by others. A departure from this rule can, however, be allowed: after all, the OC must, as a rule, know the delegate already. I propose that this question be referred to the credentials commission.

Reference of this matter to the commission was approved by the congress, which then proceeded to continue the discussion on Point 2 of the Agenda.

Lieber: Before we go on with the debate, I ask to be allowed to make a statement and move a motion. [Permission was given.] Comrades, we have taken note of all the discussion that we have had here, and, although our view regarding all the points in the rules we have proposed remains unaltered, in the interests of unity, which, as we have repeatedly said, is extremely dear to us, we have decided to make considerable modifications in our draft rules, and to those I request you to give your attention. [Amended rules put forward by the delegates of the Bund:

1. The position of the Bund in the Party is defined by the following points:
2. The Bund is the Social-Democratic organisation of the Jewish proletariat, unrestricted in its activity by any territorial limits, and enters the Party as the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat.
3. The Bund elects its representation in the central committee of the Party, the Foreign Committee of the Party, and the Party congresses.
4. The programme of the Bund is the programme common to the whole Party.
5. The Bund holds its own congress to decide all questions of special concern to the Jewish proletariat, and has its own Central Committee and Foreign Committee.
6. The Bund is authorised to settle freely the internal affairs of its own organisation.
7. The Bund has unrestricted right of publication, both in Yiddish and in other languages.
8. The Party congress has the right to overrule any decisions of congresses of the Bund.
9. All the above points are to be considered fundamental, and can be altered, added to or deleted only by a majority consisting of two thirds of the votes of those participating 1n Party congresses.]

In the third point, as you will see, we have struck out the words about the capacity in which our representatives in the central organs will speak. These words gave rise to a lot of dispute and by removing them we once more emphasise our idea that these representatives of the Bund, once they have become members of the central organs, will speak there as members of the Party as a whole. As regards the other points, let me mention the correction made to point 9. We were told that in this point as it was previously worded, the ‘treaty’ character of the rules presented by us was especially marked, and so we have altered this, making it possible now for our rules to be countermanded by the votes of two-thirds of the participants in a congress. We propose this qualified majority only so as to provide some sort of guarantee of the durability of these rules. I would observe that if this point is directed against anybody, it is directed rather against ourselves, since it would probably be difficult for us to get these two-thirds of the votes for our proposals. And so, comrades, as you see, we have done everything possible to ensure unity. We cannot go any further. Without the points that are left it will be impossible for the Bund even to exist. [In reply to a question from the chairman as to whether this statement was to be understood as the presentation of an ultimatum, Lieber continued:] I regard the chairman’s question as quite unnecessary. We know the rules of the congress perfectly well, and are present here, like the rest of the comrades, without any imperative mandate. I merely said that, in our view, unless these points are accepted, it will be impossible for the Bund to continue to exist. That is our common conviction.

Chairman: I am not arguing. I merely ask that Comrade Lieber’s explanation be recorded in the minutes.

Akimov: In my speech yesterday I said that the question of the position of the Bund in the Party had arisen as a result of the Bund’s understandable endeavour to ensure for itself the possibility of carrying out two tasks: a national one and an organisational one. The objection was made that it was superfluous to mention the merits of this nation in the history of mankind; but I think there is point in mentioning this, in order to counterpose my view to that of Comrade Yegorov, who seemed when speaking about the national rights of the Jews to show hardly any sympathy for this nation. The Jews are a nation like any other, and therefore the point in our programme which guarantees the right of self-determination to all nations must be applicable to them. The changes which the comrades from the Bund have introduced into their proposal have only confirmed my view that they had no nationalistic tendencies, but merely the motives of which I have spoken. I agree that in their endeavour to ensure the conditions they need for their activity, the Bund did allow unacceptable separatist tendencies to appear in certain points in their rules. But I consider their proposal in its new form to be wholly acceptable, and I shall speak in favour of many of its points, when we discuss Party organisation in general, as being suitable for all sections of the Party. I would only propose that the expression ‘representation of the Bund’ be replaced by ‘representatives of the Bund’. This will provide the Bund with a necessary and sufficient guarantee that its interests will be adequately represented in all the Party’s organs.

Martov: The new proposal introduced by the comrades from the Bund alters the question which is before us in discussing Point 2 of the Agenda. The previous rules gave an integral and clear, principled answer to the question of the place of the Bund. Therefore, in our resolution of principle we included a principled evaluation of the rules as they were first presented. The second version gives no such precise answer. In it the principle of autonomy is interwoven with the federalist principle. We cannot now discuss and vote on the details of a proposal for one section of the rules of the Party, for these details must be determined by the nature of the Party’s organisation in general. As we do not at present know what form this organisation is to take, we cannot decide on these details. If, therefore, the comrades from the Bund will not withdraw their new draft from discussion under Point 2 of the Agenda, then we shall have, in our resolution of principle, in one way or another to reject the new rules altogether! If the Bund wants us to discuss them in detail, then it must withdraw them now. If the Bund will not do this, then we shall say, deleting from our proposed resolution the words referring to the first set of rules: ‘even as expressed in amended form’.

Lieber: Martov’s proposal cannot be accepted. He says that federal relations are proposed in our draft. I say that this is not so, although I am in favour of federation. And in view of the fact that the resolution of principle prejudges the question of the new rules we have presented, I insist on a detailed examination of these new rules. How, indeed, can we adopt a general resolution if we have not yet analysed whether the federal principle is embodied in the new rules, and nobody has spoken against federalism on grounds of principle? We have not prejudged the question either, and do not want to smuggle the federal principle in as contraband, so that it is pointless for Martov to stand at the customs-barrier proposing that a bull be promulgated against us.

Plekhanov: Lieber’s practical proposal amounts to this, that we should not adopt a decision of principle. I protest against this proposal. I am not thinking of arguing against a definite proposal by the Bund. We want agreement with this Party organisation, but, unfortunately, a question has arisen in our Party publications: autonomy or federation? This question seemed to the congress so important that it decided to place discussion of it first on the agenda. And after two days of debate, after we have heard Lieber’s thoughts on the delights of federation, it would be strange not to strike the balance of what we have arrived at. Since the majority have expressed themselves against the federal principle, it would be strange, pointless and illogical to refrain from passing a resolution. Since the federal principle is seen as being harmful, bringing disruption and death, a resolution ought to be passed, and in it we should say that we reject federation. Martov was right when he said that, without discussing the details of the rules, we ought to say in the resolution of principle: in so far as the federal principle is present in the proposal presented by the comrades from the Bund, to that extent we reject it. Although the new proposal includes concessions, its basis is still the federal principle—at least, that is my personal opinion. If we declare against federalism, we thereby declare against the points referred to, while postponing discussion of the details of the suggested rules until we come to Point 6 of the agenda.

Martov: Comrade Lieber does not respect the agenda which we agreed upon. We understood that the rules as first presented were the Bund’s answer to the question about ‘the position of the Bund in the Party’. The second version does not provide an answer to this question. Therefore I propose that it be withdrawn, and brought forward again when we are working out the general Party rules. At present it can be adopted or rejected only as a whole. But since we cannot do that, as the second version gives no direct answer to the question before us, the Bund should withdraw it. In our resolution of principle we are answering not only the Bund but other organisations as well.

Hofman: I must observe that Comrades Plekhanov and Martov have tried to alter the agenda. We urged that the question of the Bund be discussed in connection with the question of Party organisation. But the congress majority decided to deal with it as the first point on the agenda. They told us that there was a radical difference in the Party on the organisation question, which must first of all be eliminated at all costs, and this was how the need to separate the question of the Bund from the general question of the organisation of the Party was justified. The question was taken separately—and now they want to transfer it to the heading of ‘organisation’. The first point on the agenda is called: ‘The place of the Bund in the Party’. The place of the Bund can be defined only in a concrete way, and we have presented a perfectly concrete proposal under this heading, and until this proposal has been discussed we cannot proceed to the next point on the agenda. It is permissible during a debate to adopt a resolution of principle, but the congress has no right to strike out the question of the Bund and replace it by the question of principle: ‘autonomy or federation’. The congress majority can, of course, act as it thinks fit and force a change in the agenda. There is no way of stopping that. But it would be wrong for it so to act.

Now a few words about Comrade Martov’s resolution. We have been reproached with desiring to bring about an organisational revolution. I shall now show that this is what Point 3 of Martov’s resolution aims to do, when it says: ‘This unity in no way excludes the independence of the Jewish workers’ movement in all matters relating to the particular tacks of agitation among the Jewish population which are determined by special features of language and conditions of life.’ The Manifesto speaks of autonomy in relation to questions specially affecting the Jewish proletariat. Now they want to narrow this independence and reduce it to the technical autonomy possessed by every committee. They want to put the Bund on the same footing as an ordinary committee, with only this difference, that the Bund’s technical autonomy is to apply over a larger area. This is equivalent to effecting an organisational revolution. If it is desired to discuss Martov’s resolution, then it ought to be clearly stipulated in that resolution that adopting it does not exclude the possibility of discussing the rules we introduced.

Trotsky: I do not understand why the comrades from the Bund are opposing the resolution of principle. We were offered draft rules in which, as the rapporteur himself stated, the principle of federation was embodied. Our discussions, which undoubtedly revealed the congress’s negative attitude to the principle of federation, obliged the comrades from the Bund to withdraw their draft. We, as ‘doctrinaires’, want to consolidate that stage in our debate by means of a resolution. After this—disposing of the question of federation—we shall have taken a step forward.

But, we are asked, why should this resolution of principle be taken in connection with the Bund? In general, though, when do we adopt resolutions of principle? When Party life demands this. We are not academics, we are politicians. We need to express at this moment our attitude to the principle of federation. Why do we link this question with the Bund? Because the Bund has linked itself with this question.

We are ‘doctrinaires’. We examined the first draft of the rules point by point not in order to haggle over it piecemeal but in order, by analysing these points, to reveal the basis of principle underlying the draft, namely, federalism, and to reject this draft en bloc. The comrades of the Bund have presented a new draft. They want us to examine it point by point. Why? So as to adopt it or reject it piecemeal ? As ‘doctrinaires’, we shall not do that. We are ready to look at it, but only in order to check it over from the standpoint of principle, and, depending on what we find, either to reject it altogether or to postpone discussion of it until the time comes to talk about questions of organisation generally.

Comrade Hofman, replying to Comrade Martov, asked with horror: does this mean that you understand autonomy for the Bund as being the same as for local committees, that is, purely technical in character? Yes, as we see it, the Bund’s autonomy is no different in principle from that of any committee. If implementing the general Party programme, in the framework of the tactics approved by our congresses, is to be called a technical matter, then the autonomy of each committee, and of the Bund, is purely technical. But the Bund’s autonomy is wider in so far as the area of its work is wider, and in so far as this work is carried out under the special conditions of a special milieu.

I must also mention one point which inevitably recurs in every speech by a comrade from the Bund, namely, the remark about the inconvenience of the agenda we have adopted. In proof of this they refer to the abnormal course taken by our debate. The Bundist comrades forget that we are not in a position to make a concrete comparison, as we cannot carry out the costly experiment of discussing the matter in the order which the Bund delegation wanted. On the basis of the general considerations which I have set forth, I think and I declare that the agenda we adopted was the right one, since, because of it, all those complications have been brought to light which otherwise would have weighed upon our discussions in a disguised form.

Plekhanov: I make two observations to Comrade Hofman. The first relates to the question of technical autonomy. Everything that goes beyond the limits of this autonomy we regard as federalism, and reject as such. But the limits of technical autonomy can be wider or narrower. And we have no intention of narrowing them. It is said that we have altered the agenda. Actually there has been no alteration. This is seen in the fact that we want to take our stand on principle. The second point in the agenda is entitled: ‘The place of the Bund in the Party’. We want to give this answer: the Bund’s place must not be determined by federal principles. Will that be a digression? No, it will be a clear, categorical and unequivocal reply to the second question on the agenda. This answer will not be to the liking of the Bund, but we are not obliged to please the Bund, and the congress can with a good conscience pass the resolution which has been moved.

Lieber: I support Hofman’s statement, and I repeat that Comrades Plekhanov and Martov are altering the agenda. I will explain. By putting the question as ‘autonomy or federation’, they presuppose that our draft rules must fall under one or other of those headings, whereas a third category is possible. It is not enough to say: we are against federation. We ought also to give a positive answer as to what we do stand for. This answer we have given in our draft rules, but nobody else has given any answer at all. It is said that the question was put in that way in the publications of the Bund, but that is no argument: we shall talk about that when we analyse our publications. In Iskra the question was raised: ‘Does the Jewish proletariat need an independent political party?’ and they answered in the negative, but we are not dealing with that question now.

Martov’s resolution must be rejected, since, while rejecting federation, it offers nothing positive. The answer we have given is no less principled because it is not expressed in one word, as Comrade Plekhanov wants, but in the rules as a whole. We do not accept Martov’s resolution, because it is ‘positive’ only in a very hazy and unclear way. Comrades Plekhanov and Trotsky were more consistent. We will accept a resolution which rejects two or three of our points, but we shall not be so naive as to offer a second time what has already been rejected. I propose that the congress should either not consider the rules at all, or else take them point by point.

The session was closed