Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Second Congress

Ninth Session

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

After the reading and approval of the minutes of the fourth session, the congress continued its general discussion of the programme.

Gorin: I do not intend to offer any criticism of the draft programme which has been presented to us. It gives a good formulation of the principles of Social-Democracy. But I do find a few inexactitudes in it. It is desirable that our programme should be distinguished not only by consistency of principle but also by meritorious editing, so as not to offer any handle to idle criticism. In the third paragraph I suggest that, instead of the words: ‘On the basis of capitalist production-relations’ we put: ‘On the basis of the predominance of capitalist production-relations.’ This formulation will be more appropriate for describing present-day bourgeois society, within which petty production has been retained. In the fourth paragraph, after the words: large-scale enterprises’ I would add: ‘and the simultaneous increase in the amount of social capital, which continually narrows the sphere in which the latter can be invested’. ‘The economic weight of large enterprises’, taken by itself, is a necessary but not a sufficient cause for the squeezing-out of small producers. This happens insofar as the simultaneous increase in capital cramps the spheres where this capital was invested previously, forcing it to invade those sphere which are occupied by small-scale production.

To the fourth paragraph I would add at the end: ‘besides the direct tendency toward this which is due to the constant cheapening of the means of reproducing the commodity labour-power’. After all, the increase in the level of exploitation depends first and foremost on the cheapening of the workers’ means of subsistence.

Only supplementary to this is the influence, tending in the same direction, produced by the fall in demand for labour-power, relative to the supply. I agree with the law of the relative decline in the demand for labour-power, recognised in this paragraph, insofar as this implies growth in the reserve army of labour as compared with the ‘field army’, and insofar as this growth is dependent on the fact that the labour-force as a whole is recruited at the time of absolute production, that is, when society’s productive forces are strained to the utmost, and then part of this force is put in reserve when production falls to the level determined by social demand. My remaining editorial improvements I propose to hand to the special commission.

Martynov: Comrade Martov and Gorin have replied to me. Comrade Martov upholds the proposition which I criticised and Comrade Gorin has criticised the propositions I put forward. Let me begin with Comrade Martov’s objections to what I said. First of all, he declared that I wilfully interpreted the passage from the programme which I quoted in the sense of the thesis propounded by Comrade Lenin in the pamphlet What Is To Be Done? He said that the expression quoted by me should be understood in the broad sense of the class struggle of the proletariat, and not in the sense of the trade-union struggle alone, especially as, in the programme, discontent with the existing order is even ascribed to the entire mass of working people. I will answer that. In the first place, the discontent of the petty-bourgeoisie with the existing order can have nothing in common with the class-consciousness of the proletariat. In the second place, my interpretation is supported not only by the passage I quoted but also by some other passages in the programme, on which I will not dwell now. Then, Comrade Martov tried to defend Comrade Lenin’s thesis. He tried to use the passage I quoted from The Eighteenth Brumaire in the spirit of Comrade Lenin. He showed, on the basis of Marx’s words, that the ideologists of a particular class may, by their social origin, belong to a different class. I do not dispute this, of course. But why did Comrade Martov not explain to us how, if one takes Comrade Lenin’s view, it is possible to agree with the second part of Marx’s sentence: ‘a social class is driven practically to the same conclusions as those to which its ideologists are driven theoretically’?

Then Comrade Martov told us that in Comrade Lenin’s pamphlet the question is considered on a plane different from that of the programme. In the latter what is meant is the tendency of the working class, in the former the internal process by which this tendency is elaborated. Recognising that the working class has an inevitable tendency towards socialism does not mean denying that this tendency is realised through influence by the intelligentsia on the working-class masses. I agree with that. But I claim that Comrade Lenin describes falsely the process whereby the tendency of the working class towards socialism is elaborated. In order to defend Comrade Lenin’s theory, Comrade Martov has first touched it up. He says that among the masses of the proletariat there are opposing tendencies—towards socialism and towards ‘bourgeoisness’—and that the intelligentsia carries out an artificial choice between these tendencies. I say that, even in this corrected form, Comrade Lenin’s theory is wrong. In general the working-class movement has no tendency towards bourgeois ideology. It bears a bourgeois imprint insofar as it has not yet freed itself from the influence of the bourgeois atmosphere in which it has grown up and in which it develops. Comrade Lenin asserts that the spontaneous movement of the working class is not that which breaks away from bourgeois ideology but that which subordinates itself to bourgeois ideology.

Plekhanov: I want to bring it to the attention of everyone, and of Comrade Martynov in particular, that he has transferred the argument to a terrain on which it is inexpedient to argue, a terrain on which controversy does not justify the effort unproductively expended.[8] The observation which he has directed against the programme is aimed at one phrase in one of the works of one of the editors of the draft programme. Even if we assume that the phrase was unfortunate, that would only show that all the rest of our ideas are excellent. Comrade Martynov’s method reminds me of the censor who said: ‘Give me the Lord’s Prayer, and let me take one phrase from it, and I’ll show you that the author ought to be hanged.’ But all the reproaches directed against this unfortunate phrase, and not by Comrade Martynov alone but by many others, are based on a misunderstanding. Comrade Martynov quotes Engels’s words: ‘Scientific socialism is the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement.’ Comrade Lenin agrees with Engels, too, and, if he didn’t, he ought indeed to be hanged. But Engels’s words amount, after all, only to a general proposition. The question is: who first formulates this ‘theoretical expression’? Lenin was writing not a treatise on the philosophy of history, but a polemical article against the economists who said: we must wait for the working class to catch up, without the help of the ‘revolutionary bacillus’. The latter was forbidden to tell the workers anything, precisely because it was a ‘revolutionary bacillus’, that is, because it possessed theoretical consciousness. But if you eliminate the ‘bacillus’, then you are left with a uniform unconscious mass, into which consciousness has to be injected from without. If you were to be fair to Lenin and read the whole of his book with attention, you would see that that is just what he says in it. Thus, speaking of the trade-union struggle, he develops that very idea that broad socialist consciousness can be introduced only from outside the limits of the direct struggle for improving the conditions which govern the sale of labour-power.

Akimov: I am handing to the commission some corrections to the draft programme, and what I want to do now is to explain the general considerations which have guided me in putting each of them forward.

I fully agree with Comrade Martynov that the point in the draft about which he spoke fully reflects Comrade Lenin’s distinctive views about the anti-socialist ideology of the proletariat as such, and the conclusions to be drawn from this.

I regard as mistaken Comrade Plekhanov’s view that the reference to Lenin’s little book was unfounded. One cannot, he says, criticise a programme on the basis of one phrase in one book by one of the editors of the draft. The phrase of Comrade Lenin’s which Comrade Martynov criticised is no isolated phrase, it expounds the fundamental idea of What Is To Be Done?, and this idea, it seems to me, finds expression in the draft programme. It is an idea that does not coincide at all with what Plekhanov wrote in his commentaries. And I am sure that Plekhanov does not agree with Lenin. [Laughter.] And I think Comrade Lenin himself will not refuse to confirm that this is his view, and not an isolated passage, a casual phrase. Here, for instance, is another extract from the pamphlet What Is To Be Done? Note this statement, that the theory of scientific socialism ‘arose quite independently of the working-class movement’. No, of course, it was not strikers who worked out the theory of scientific socialism. [Laughter.]

I do not agree with Comrade Martynov that only one or two corrections are needed to the paragraph in the draft which he mentioned. It seems to me that a wrong idea runs consistently and undilutedly all through the ‘principles’ section of the draft, from beginning to end. The historical conditions under which this programme appeared have marked the document deeply. It was a period of powerful upsurge of political radicalism in all sections of Russian society. This was reflected in the fact that specifically proletarian forms of struggle were pushed into the background, the role of other strata of the oppressed population was overestimated in our party, and the very methods of struggle brought to the forefront not the class itself but its organisation, the Party, in which, as a result, the Party’s class features and the mass character of its activity were glossed over and concealed.

In a general discussion I cannot mention all the corrections I intend to suggest. I shall refer to only a few of them, by way of commenting on what I have said.

The draft discusses whether or not an absolute worsening of the position of the working class takes place as capitalism develops. This question is connected with the question of the Party’s methods of work. In West-European writings it has been said that the ‘theory of impoverishment’ runs counter to existing methods of agitation. Our programme ought to give a quite definite answer to this question, and thereby provide the Party with a guiding principle in its leadership of the political and economic struggle of the proletariat. In the draft this question is dealt with evasively, and, basically, in the sense that the fight for bettering the position of the proletariat is a side-issue for the Party and of interest to it only as furnishing the conjuncture within which it operates. Thus, in this point of the programme a tendency appears to separate our Party and its interests from the proletariat and the proletariat’s interests.

This appears still more clearly in the paragraph on the tasks of the Party. Here the concepts ‘Party’ and ‘proletariat’ are completely separated and counterposed, with the former as an active collective personage and the second as a passive milieu upon which the Party exercisel influence, because in the propositions in this draft the noun ‘Party’ always appears as the subject and the noun ‘proletariat’ as the object. [Laughter.]

Similarly, the paragraph on the conquest of political power has been formulated in such a way, as compared with the programmes of all other Social-Democratic parties, that it may be interpreted, and has actually been interpreted by Plekhanov, to mean that the role of the leading organisation is to relegate to the background the class it is leading and to separate the former from the latter. Consequently, the formulation of our political tasks is exactly the same as that of Narodnaya Volya.

The point about the non-proletarian strata of the population, if it were put into effect, would make our Party not the party of the proletariat but a party of all the oppressed and exploited strata, that is, a party which would be neither revolutionary nor socialist.

Consequently, all my corrections have the purpose of altering the very spirit of the programme. Many of them are trivial if taken in isolation, but taken together, if they were adopted they would make substantial changes.

Martov: I quite fail to understand where Akimov could have perceived in our programme a tendency to play down the importance of the labour movement. Has this draft not been blamed, on the contrary, for saying too little in its theoretical section about the detailed tasks of the particular political moment in Russia, and dealing mainly with the general tasks of the world movement of the proletariat? It is a queer notion to see in the statements about the other sections of the working people a tendency to draw doser to the Socialist-Revolutionaries. The latter have said, on the contrary, that they would have accepted this item of our programme if, instead of: ‘the point of view of the proletariat’ we had written: ‘the point of view of socialism’. The class character of the Party is expressed clearly enough there. The words ‘of the working class’ are used only in order to avoid repeating the word ‘proletariat’ twice in the same sentence. I don’t know what Akimov means when he says that the programme reflects a contemptuous attitude to the workers’ economic struggle. Is it his wish that instead of speaking about the struggle for the common economic aim of the entire labour movement, the social revolution, we should have spoken about the partial tasks of different groups of the proletariat? The passage dealing with the so-called ‘theory of impoverishment’ states the limits within which it is conceivable to improve the position of the working class under the capitalist system. It shows that the task of this struggle for immediate material improvement is to counteract the degrading tendencies of capitalist development, and the section of the programme which enumerates factory reforms provides the best answer to the reproach that we have ignored the struggle for immediate improvement.

Where has Akimov found evidence of our placing excessive hopes in other social movements? The latter are mentioned only at the end of the draft, where it is said that we shall support any oppositional and revolutionary movement directed against Tsardom. Is Comrade Akimov opposed to that, perhaps? If he thinks that Iskra has now renounced the task of agitating among all strata of the population, then he is mistaken. We hope, on the contrary, that, with the restoration of the Party, we shall be able to widen the sphere of its influence; and I am not without hope that the time will come when Comrade Akimov himself will be detailed by the Party to carry out propaganda among those famous ‘marshals of the nobility’ on account of whom Iskra was subjected to particular reproach.[9]

Karsky: I completely fail to understand how the proletariat on its own, the working class in its day-to-day struggle, the struggle for its immediate interests, could have succeeded in creating the harmonious philosophical system of scientific socialism, embracing a whole philosophy of social development. I completely fail to understand how such a task could be accomplished by a section of society whose field of vision is limited, enclosed within certain bounds, and does not embrace the whole variety of social phenomena. This is the position of the mass of the working class, which cannot, with its own forces alone, on the basis of familiarity only with its own position, create the theory of scientific socialism. This theory could be created, at a certain stage of the development of capitalism, by a genius who had studied and elucidated for himself the laws governing this development. Such a revolution in social philosophy could be accomplished only by someone who took up the standpoint of the proletariat and who at the same time was able to build his edifice upon an historical study of the conditions of modern capitalism. In that sense, of course, the theory of socialism was brought to the working class from without. And it is strange to hear this view objected to. But it appears that those who disagree with us are under the influence of a certain idea regarding ‘spontaneity’ and ‘stages’. Naturally, whoever defends ‘spontaneity’ also defends the idea of the spontaneous elaboration of the theory of socialism, and vice versa.

We always find another question connected with this one, namely, the counterposing of the Party to the working class. Comrade Akimov considers that the Party must not be placed above the working class. This way of posing the question seems to me both incorrect and out of place. From out of the working class there emerges a militant, conscious force, the Party, which is the bearer and promoter of socialist ideals and, as such, the Party cannot but stand higher than ‘the working class’, since the conscious part of this class is the leader of the unconscious or inadequately conscious part.

I regard Comrade Akimov’s objection on the third point, about the ‘theory of impoverishment’ as extremely significant. This theory must occupy a central position in our socialist world-outlook.

Martyrnov: Comrade Karsky said that my idea of the relation between the working class and socialist ideology was that the working class itself arrived at the theory of scientific socialism. I never said anything of the kind. I only said that different strata of the proletariat worked out independently the forms of economic and political class struggle and transformed the ideas of bourgeois socialism into communist ideas. The role of the ideologists was to synthesise these elements of the class struggle, to provide a theoretical foundation for this struggle. This work was accomplished, of course, not by workers, but by Marx and Engels and consisted in the transforming of past philosophical and social theories into the theory of scientific socialism. But Marx and Engels were able to accomplish this theoretical work only after they had broken with radicalism and adopted the standpoint of the proletariat—in other words, joined the movement of that class.

Up to this point we agree with Comrade Akimov’s views. But we draw different conclusions from them. I do not deny either the theory of impoverishment or the dictatorship of the proletariat. I think this needs to be stressed. Later, Comrade Akimov, referring to me, said that the period which followed the period of economism was marked by a major defect, namely, political radicalism. We are not at all of one mind in the way we see that period. The movement, it seems to me, took a step forward then, and did so precisely because it assumed a political form. But at the same time big gaps appeared in the movement: political agitation was, in practice, poorly linked up with socialism; too much emphasis was laid on what united our political interests with those of the bourgeois opposition, and too little on what distinguished us from it.

Lange moved that the programme be voted on en bloc and its final editing referred to a commission.

Trotsky proposed that the list of speakers be closed.

Akimov opposed categorically the idea that the programme be voted on en bloc. If that were done the programme would be deprived of all serious significance. It was probable that every one of the delegates could find some point in the draft programme which they did not agree with. When voting for the programme as a whole they would consider that particular point as not binding upon them.

Martov advocated voting on the programme en bloc after corrections had been made to it and it had been voted on point by point.

Akimov opposed the closing of the list of speakers on such an important question as the programme.

Martov saw no disadvantage in closing the list of speakers. When the programme came back from the commission the discussion would be renewed, point by point.

Martynov asked that, as rapporteur, he be allowed to make his concluding speech.

Martov: Comrade Martynov’s report dealt with one amendment only, and now, when we are having a general discussion, a concluding speech by him would be pointless. It would be much better to let the rapporteur make his concluding speech at the end of the debate on the programme.

Martynov: The concluding speech does not depend on the content of the report, and the standing orders of the congress place no restrictions upon it.

Brouckère was against closing the list of speakers. Lenin and Plekhanov were on the list, and delegates would probably want to reply to what they said.

Trotsky: I did not mean a complete closure of the debate. After the programme has come back from the commission the debate will be resumed, but it will then have a more planned character.

Trotsky’s proposal was adopted, and Comrade Lange’s rejected.

Plekhanov: Comrade Akimov’s views on the theory of impoverishment must logically and inevitably lead to opportunism. In Comrade Akimov’s view, if I understood him correctly [Akimov: ‘That’s just it, you didn’t understand me’], the position of the working class in bourgeois society not only does not worsen absolutely but also does not worsen relatively. Comrade Akimov considers that even in present-day society it is possible for the material position of the proletariat as a whole to improve, and that these gradual improvements in the material conditions of existence of the working class can lead to socialism.

From these statements of Comrade Akimov’s there logically follows denial of the ‘increased dependence of wage-labour upon capital’, of the ‘increased level of exploitation’. From them there logically follows denial of the increase of social inequality, insecurity of existence, unemployment, and so on. Actually, if modern capitalism, the existence of the institution of private property, does not lead to relative, and even absolute, deterioration in the position of the working masses, if it does not lead, on the one hand, to the concentration of capital in a few hands, and, on the other, to the proletarianisation of the masses on an ever wider scale, then we must ask why a spirit of discontent, a revolutionary mood, should grow among the working class, why antagonism between classes should develop, why contradiction between classes should intensify? Denial of the theory of impoverishment is tantamount to tacit acceptance of the theory of opportunism. Bourgeois economists writing in the spirit of Basfiat, such as Giffen or Leroy-Beaulieu and their pupils in the struggle against revolutionary socialism, argue fast and foremost, in the same way as Comrade Akimov, that is, they deny the theory of impoverishment and assure us of a progressive improvement in the position of the working masses, and so on. Bourgeois writers have correctly understood the importance of this theory. On the other hand, denial of this theory has led Bernstein and his supporters to Bernsteinism and Jaurésism, that is, to opportunism. Indeed, if the position of the working class is gradually improving, if such an improvement is even now attainable for wider and wider masses, then, naturally, the reformist socialists have all the chances and every right to appear as the true spokesmen and defenders of the interests of the proletariat, and revolutionary Social-Democracy must take its stand under the banner of opportunism. But no, Comrade Akimov, we are not going to stand under that banner: the steadily developing deterioration, both relative and absolute, in the position of ever broader masses of the proletariat summons us to rally under the banner of revolutionary Social-Democracy. We stand and shall continue to stand beneath that banner.

Gorin: Economism as such has disappeared from the scene. But a tendency remains which might be called a federal relationship with economism. This tendency is incapable of understanding our point of view. Its supporters have understood the statement which has been made that Russian Social-Democracy arose independently of the working-class movement as an assertion made by us in an absolute, metaphysical sense, and they blame us accordingly. What we have said relates to a fact, and does not express any social philosophy or conception of history. We have simply said that Russian Social-Democracy was first of all merely an imported doctrine, which antedated the rise of the labour movement in Russia. But Russian Social-Democracy did not fall from heaven. Having arisen as a populist doctrine along with other Russian revolutionary doctrines, it assumed Social-Democratic form under the pressure of the West-European labour movement and West-European scientific socialism, and only later did Russian Social-Democracy link itself practically with the Russian labour movement.

It is important to dissociate oneself from the vulgar form of materialism which understands the dependence of the ideology of revolutionaries on external circumstances as meaning their dependence on the spontaneous ideology of the proletariat. If it is not vulgar revolutionaries that we have in mind, their ideology was elaborated according to other standards. Let me explain. The average man can be likened to a short-sighted person who sees only a narrow circle around himself and judges the rest of space by analogy with his own little spot. A man with an exceptional mind is long-sighted, and sees everything in space more or less equally clearly. This is why men of genius can break away from the ideology of their own class and take up a universal-human standpoint, influenced only by objective facts and the findings of science. The true ideologists of the proletariat occupy a middle position between such exceptional men and the mass of mankind. They are to a considerable extent objective, but eventually what they work out is a proletarian ideology, in so far as they, to a certain extent, come close to the proletariat economically. The proletariat en masse is not capable of doing this. What would the situation be if the proletariat were left to itself? It would be like the situation that existed on the eve of the bourgeois revolution. The bourgeois revolutionaries possessed no scientific theory. And yet, the bourgeois system arose. Even without ideologists the proletariat would, of course, eventually work towards social revolution, but only in an instinctive way.

Large-scale enterprises grow. In its struggle to overcome crises the bourgeoisie of every branch becomes merged into a single syndicate, with monopoly prices for the goods they produce. The syndicates agree on the norms of exchange. Exchange and commodity relations between capitalists disappear. On the other hand, the syndicate of the capitalists confronts the syndicate of all the workers. The ratio between wages and surplus value is laid down once and for all. Labour-power ceases to be a commodity. It is understood that the syndicate of capitalists can be replaced by the syndicate of workers. The proletariat would put socialism into effect instinctively, but it would not have any theory of socialism. The process would be slow and more painful than if it were helped along by revolutionary ideologists who set a definite aim and foresee what we are moving towards.

Lieber: I also disagree with the idea expressed by Comrade Lenin which has been discussed here. I consider that, among the objective factors under the influence of which the ideology of the Social-Democratic intelligentsia, made up of persons of bourgeois origin, is formed, Comrade Lenin underestimates the influence of proletarian psychology. But since I cannot trace the influence of Comrade Lenin in the draft which has been presented to us, I shall not pursue that subject.

I pass to consideration of two places in the draft in which, it seems to me, the line of demarcation is not drawn sharply enough between our point of view on the proletariat and that of the ‘Socialist-Revolutionaries’. In one passage it is said that the Social-Democrats must reveal to the proletariat ‘the contradiction between the interests of the exploiters and those of the exploited’. In capitalist society it is not only the proletariat that is exploited: what distinguishes the proletariat from the other exploited strata is the specific character of the exploitation to which it is subjected. Further, at the end of this same paragraph it is said: ‘The Party of the working class, the Social-Democratic Party, summons to its ranks all sections of the working and exploited population, in so far as they go over to the standpoint of the proletariat.’ It seems to me that this thesis can give rise to misunderstanding. Can non-proletarian sections of the population, as whole sections, actually go over to the standpoint of the proletariat? I think they never can. Of course, in its fight for its minimum programme the Social-Democratic movement can attract to its side the sympathy of other sections of the populations, which see in it the most resolute defender of democracy; but only the proletariat can and will fight for the maximum programme, for socialism, and only isolated individuals from other sections can resolutely go over to the standpoint of the proletariat.

Lenin: First of all, I must mention the extremely characteristic way in which Comrade Lieber confuses a Marshal of the Nobility with a section of the working and exploited people. This confusion has featured in all the debates. Isolated episodes of our controversy are everywhere being confused with the laying down of basic principles. One cannot deny, as Comrade Lieber does, the possibility of even a section (one or another) of the working and exploited population coming over the side of the proletariat. You will recall that in 1852, referring to the revolt of the French peasants, Marx wrote (in The Eighteenth Brumaire ) that the peasantry acts sometimes as a representative of the past and sometimes as a representative of the future; it is possible to appeal not only to the peasant’s prejudice but also to his judgment.[10] You will further recall that Marx said that the Communards were quite right in declaring that the cause of the Commune was the cause of the peasantry as well.[11] I repeat, it cannot be doubted that, under certain conditions, it is by no means impossible for one section or another of the working people to come over to the side of the proletariat. What matters is to define correctly what these conditions are. And the condition we are concerned with is expressed quite precisely in the words: ‘go over to the point of view of the proletariat’. It is these words that mark off us Social-Democrats most definitely from all allegedly socialist trends in general and from the so-called Socialist-Revolutionaries in particular.

I turn to that disputed passage in my pamphlet What Is To Be Done? which has given rise to so much comment here. It would seem that after all these comments the question has been so well clarified that very little is left for me to add. Obviously, an episode in the struggle against economism has here been confused with a principled presentation of a major theoretical question, namely, the formation of an ideology. Furthermore, this episode has been presented in an absolutely false way.

In support of this last statement I can refer, primarily, to Comrades Akimov and Martynov, who have spoken here. They made it clear that this was indeed an episode in the struggle against economism.

They expressed views which have already, and quite rightly, been described as opportunist. They went so far as to ‘deny’ the theory of impoverishment, to ‘dispute’ the dictatorship of the proletariat, and even to advocate the Erfüllungstheorie,[12] as Comrade Akimov called it. To tell the truth, I don’t know what that means. It may be that Comrade Akimov meant to say Aushöhlungstheorie[13]—the ‘theory of the emptying out’ of capitalism, that is, one of the most popular current notions of the Bernsteinian theory. In his defence of the old basis of economism, Comrade Akimov put forward the incredibly bizarre argument that the word ‘proletariat’ does not figure even once in our programme in the nominative case. At most, exclaimed Comrade Akimov, they let the proletariat appear in the genitive case.[14] And so it appears that the nominative is the most honourable case, while the genitive takes second place in the scale of honour. It only remains to convey this idea—through a special commission, perhaps—to Comrade Ryazanov, so that he may supplement his first learned work on the letters of the alphabet with a second, a treatise on the cases .. .

As to the direct references that were made to my pamphlet What Is To Be Done? it is not difficult for me to show that they were wrenched out of their contexts. It was said that Lenin does not mention conflicting trends, but categorically affirms that the working-class movement always ‘tends’ to succumb to bourgeois ideology. Really? Didn’t I say that the working-class movement is drawn towards the bourgeois outlook with the benevolent assistance of the Schulze-Delitsches and their like? And what is meant here by ‘their like’? None other than the economists, none other than those who used to say, for example, that bourgeois democracy in Russia is a phantom. Today it is easy to talk so cheaply about bourgeois radicalism and liberalism, when examples of them are apparent to everyone. But was that the case previously?

Lenin, it is said, takes no account whatever of the fact that workers, too, participate in the formation of ideology. Really? Have I not said, time and again, that the shortage of fully conscious workers, worker-leaders and worker-revolutionaries, is precisely the greatest shortcoming in our movement? Did I not say, there, that the training of such worker-revolutionaries must be our immediate task? Is there no mention there of the importance of developing the trade-union movement and creating special trade-union publications? Is not a desperate struggle waged there against any attempt to lower the level to that of the masses, or of the average workers?

To conclude. We all know now that the economists bent the stick in one direction. In order to straighten the stick it was necessary to bend it in the other direction, and that is what I did. I am convinced that the Russian Social-Democratic movement will always vigorously straighten out a stick that has been bent by opportunism of any kind, and that our stick will always, therefore, be the straightest and fittest for action.

Trotsky: The most principled ideas regarding the draft programme presented by Iskra and Zarya have been expressed here by Comrades Martynov and Akimov. But where the former is concerned it has already been said that the general scope of his address was quite incommensurate with his final conclusions. In the words of Shchedrin, he promised us much bloodshed, but, instead, he ate a siskin.[15] Comrade Akimov’s scope was also very wide, but unfortunately it was not at all connected with the draft programme. On one point only did Comrade Akimov, in a quite clear and principled way, come out in opposition to the draft under discussion. That was on the dictatorship of the proletariat. What is wrong with the draft, according to him, is that it improperly shifts the centre of gravity from the day-to-day struggle to the revolutionary dictatorship, from the class to the party … What does this mean? The draft under discussion includes a minimum programme, which is no smaller, in terms of the number of reforms demanded, that the minimum programme of other Social-Democratic parties. But revolutionary Social-Democrats, in fighting for reforms, are carrying out their fundamental reform—a reform of the minds of the proletariat, preparing them for the revolutionary dictatorship. We cannot stress vigorously enough the element of the proletarian dictatorship, for the reforms themselves are not a free political creation by the proletariat, but concessions made to the proletariat by the ruling classes, and made only under the threat of social revolution. Comrade Akimov tried to line up the draft under discussion with the programmatic position of the Socialist-Revolutionaries. This charge can return upon him a hundredfold. It is the Socialist-Revolutionaries who ‘shift the centre of gravity’ from the social revolution, which they describe as a ‘fantastic leap’, to the day-to-day struggle, which they conceive as a ‘planned ascent’ into the realm of socialism. I could furnish Comrade Akimov with some appropriate quotations, for his information. He fears the dictatorship of the proletariat as a Jacobin action. He forgets that this dictatorship will become possible only when the Social-Democratic Party and the working class—the counterposing of which one to the other worries him so much—have come closer than now to identification one with the other. The dictatorship of the proletariat will not be a conspiratorial ‘seizure of power’ but the political rule of the organised working class, constituting the majority of the nation. By denying this dictatorship Comrade Akimov falls into ordinary social-reformism.

Plekhanov: Comrade Lieber asked whether it is possible for any social stratum to come over as a whole to the side of the proletariat. This was put forward as an objection to what appears in our programme. But the programme does not deal with that question. It speaks conditionally: we, the Party of the proletariat, invite into our ranks all other strata of the working population in so far as they come over to our standpoint. Comrade Lieber thinks that we are expressing ourselves here with insufficient precision. But the Communist Manifesto says the same thing: all other strata become revolutionary only in so far as they come over to the standpoint of the proletariat.[16] Comrade Lieber wanted to be more orthodox than Marx himself. This happens to individuals, but the Party as a whole has not the slightest need of it. We expressed ourselves precisely enough to mark off our views from those of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, for instance. The latter want to enlist the peasants on their side without bringing them over to the standpoint of the proletariat. We, however, say that the peasantry cannot march with us unless they abandon their peasant standpoint. This constitutes the principal line of demarcation between us and the Socialist-Revolutionaries.

As regards Comrade Akimov, this is what I notice. He says that our whole draft is permeated with the spirit of that phrase of Lenin’s which has been quoted so often. But this can be said only by someone who has understood neither Lenin’s phrase nor our draft. Actually, what is the idea that underlies our programme? Underlying it is the fundamental idea of Marx’s historical theory, the idea that the development of the productive forces determines the development of production-relations, which in their turn determine the entire development of society. What has Lenin’s phrase to do with that? Altogether, Comrade Akimov’s speech amazed me. Napoleon had a passion for making his Marshals divorce their wives: some gave in to him on this matter, even though they loved their wives. Comrade Akimov is like Napoleon in this respect—he wants, at any cost, to divorce me from Lenin. But I shall show more character than those Marshals of Napoleon’s. I shall not divorce Lenin and I hope he does not intend to divorce me. [Comrade Lenin laughingly shakes his head.] Let us now finally turn to Comrade Martynov. He says: socialism is worked out by the whole proletariat, including its conscious section, that is, he explains, all those who have come over to its side. If Comrade Martynov wants to say that, I see no reason to divorce him, any more than to divorce Lenin. By this formula the proletariat is made to include also the well-known bacillus—and then there is nothing to argue about. It only remains to ask Comrade Akimov to explain to us, at last, what case we should use when speaking of the proletariat in general, and of the bacillus in particular.

The session was closed.



[8] Not long after this, Plekhanov wrote an article in Iskra, nos 70 and 71 (July 27 and August 1, 1904) in which he expounded what was substantially the line of Martynov’s criticism of What Is To Be Done? For a French translation of this article, see the edition of What Is To Be Done? (Que Faire? ) by J.-J. Marie, Paris, 1%6, Appendix 6.

[9] In his ‘Review of Home Affairs’ in Zarya, December 1901, Lenin had discussed expressions of discontent with the Government’s policy towards the Zemstvos which had been uttered by some Marshals of the Nobility, and ended the article thus: ‘Taking our leave of the marshals of the nobility, we say, Au revoir, gentlemen, our allies of tomorrow!’ (Collected Works, Vol. 9, p.301). See also his ‘Political Agitation and the “Class Point of View“,’ in Iskra, February 1902 (ibid., pp.337-343).

[10] Lenin refers to this passage in The Eighteenth Brumaire : ‘The Bonaparte dynasty represents not the revolutionary but the conservative peasant … It represents not the enlightenment but the superstition of the peasant; not his judgement, but his prejudice; not his future, but his past …’

[11] The passage referred to by Lenin comes in the Address of the General Council … on the Civil War in France, in which Marx writes: ‘The Commune was perfectly right in telling the peasants that “its victory was their only hope“.’

[12] ErfĤllungstheorie —‘theory of filling’: the theory that, as capitalism and the labour movement grow, the proletariat becomes automatically ‘filled’ with socialist consciousness.

[13] Aushöhlungstheorie —‘theory of emptying’: the theory that class contradictions under capitalism are gradually reduced by successful trade-union struggle, co-operative societies, etc.

[14] In Russian the accusative form, for masculine personal objects, is the same as the genitive.

In Ryazanov’s critique of the Iskra draft programme he had objected to the phrase: ‘Crises and periods of industrial stagnation.’ The Russian for ‘and’ is the single letter ‘i’. (This was presumably the origin of one of Ryazanov’s nicknames in the Party, Bukvoyed, meaning ‘pedant’.)

[15] ‘… but, instead, he ate a siskin.’ The allusion is to Saltykov-Shchedrin’s story Bears in Government. A bear, appointed by the Lion, King of Beasts, to the post of Governor of the Forest, talks about putting down opposition by means of large-scale bloodshed. When he is lying in a drunken stupor, a siskin settles on him: this wakes him up and, thinking ‘That’s an oppositionist!’ the bear grabs the little bird and swallows it. A blackbird who saw what happened tells the other creatures, and they all mock the bear. He becomes known as ‘the siskin-eater’, loses the Lion’s confidence, and ends his days in obscurity.

[16] In the standard English translation of the Communist Manifesto the phrase about the lower middle class, the peasantry, etc., runs: ‘If by chance they are revolutionary, they are so only in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests; they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.’