Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Second Congress

Fourteenth Session

(Present: 43 delegates with 51 mandates and 10 [The comrades from the Polish Social-Democratic Party were not present. Comrade Glebov, who had been invited by the OC before the congress opened, was present.] with consultative voice)

On behalf of the credentials commission Comrade Lenin proposed that two comrades be invited to attend with consultative voice.

The congress adopted this proposal unanimously. The statement by the Polish comrades was read.[See Appendix IX. § See Appendix XI.]

It was decided to discuss this statement in conjunction with the report from the commission for negotiations with the Polish comrades, which was deferred to the 8th item of the agenda.

A proposal by Comrade Popov to proceed immediately to discuss the organisational rules was approved.

Lenin (the rapporteur) gave an explanation of the draft rules submitted by him. § The basic idea of the rules, he said, was that of a division of functions. Hence, for example, the division into two central bodies was not due to their geographical separation (one in Russia, the other abroad) but was a logical consequence of a division of functions. The function of the Central Committee was to provide practical leadership, that of the Central Organ to exercise ideological leadership. To co-ordinate the activities of these two centres, to preclude disparity between them, and, to some extent, to settle disputes, a Council was needed, which should not in the least be a mere arbitration board. The paragraphs in the rules dealing with relations between the Central Committee and the local committees and defining the Central Committee’s sphere of competence could not and should not enumerate all the points falling within that sphere. Such an enumeration was impossible and inappropriate, for it was inconceivable for all possible cases to be foreseen, and, moreover, points not enumerated might appear to be outside the competence of the Central Committee. The Central Committee must be allowed to determine for itself the sphere of its own competence, since any local matter might affect the interests of the Party as a whole, and the Central Committee should be in a position to intervene in local affairs, even, perhaps, going against local interests, if such action was in the interests of the Party as a whole.

Popov: In presenting his report, Comrade Lenin twice referred to the draft rules which I drew up. I am not presenting this draft to the congress because it was composed in too great a hurry, and also because I cannot see any need to compose a special draft of the rules as a whole. The changes I want to propose relate almost entirely to the central point in the rules, namely, the question of the organisation of the Party’s central institutions. In private conversation with some members of the congress I have advocated complete merging in a single centre of the editorial board of the Central Organ and the Central Committee. I have given as reasons for this merger (1) that the division of the Party leadership between ‘practical’ and ‘spiritual’ is artificial, that leadership is essentially one, and that unity in leadership can be achieved only when it proceeds from a single centre, and (2) that participation by the editorial board in the work of the Central Committee will ensure that the latter body is able to carry out the duties entrusted to it. As you see, I want a merger between the Central Organ and the Central Committee not so that the CC may take part in the work of the editorial board, but the other way round.

I draw your attention to this point because Comrade Akimov has several times at this congress declared himself in favour of ‘the strictest centralisation’. The centralisation that Comrade Akimov will defend is of a quite special sort. By certain remarks he has made known that it is to be combined with the principle of democratic election to the local committees. Over there, in Russia, Comrade Akimov will defend the principle of election, so as to weaken the influence of the Central Committee; here, at the Party’s summit, he will defend ‘the strictest centralisation’, so as to weaken the influence of the Central Organ, and in this lies the whole significance of the system he advocates. Not only do I not favour that sort of centralisation, but I am ready to combat it in every way, because it is the banner of opportunism. But, as before, I insist that if we want unity in the leadership of the Party, we must establish a single directing centre. If we cannot merge the editorial board of the Central Organ and the Central Committee in a single institution—whether because this is unattainable in practice, since the editorial board has to be abroad whereas the CC has to be in Russia, or because we fear a barbarian incursion into the editorial board: if, I repeat, we cannot completely merge the Central Organ and the Central Committee in a single institution, then we must nevertheless ensure in some way or other that the leadership of our Party proceeds from a single centre. The draft seeks to achieve this unity by creating a third centre, but the role of this centre is defined in the draft in an extremely unclear and imprecise way. In the first place, the Party Council is described as the ‘supreme’ institution. ‘Supreme’ means the same as ‘sovereign’, in other words, answerable to nobody. Only a congress can be that. There cannot be two supreme, that is, sovereign organs, and therefore the Council must be answerable to the congress, unless we confine the activity of the Council to merely judicial functions. Again, it seems to me—and the draft appears to concur on this point—the Council ought, besides functioning as a chamber of conciliation, to have the right to give instructions to the Central Committee, and also, perhaps, to the editors of the Central Organ. And, once we have given the Council the right to give guiding instructions to the CC, we must then give it also the right to see that these instructions are carried out. We must make the CC responsible to the Council, and along with this must give the Council the right to overrule decisions by the CC. Thus, we assign to the Council the functions of the Central Committee, and reduce the latter to the role of an Executive Committee. I have nothing against that: I merely want to see it expressed quite clearly in the Party rules.

In this way leadership in the Party will be exercised from a single centre. If it seems to you that by doing this we jeopardise the inviolability of the editorial board, then let three members of this single centre be drawn from the editorial board, and two from the CC. This is a secondary matter: what is important is that the leadership, the supreme leadership of the Party, shall proceed from a single source. The tasks before the Central Committee are enormous. Complete chaos still reigns in the organisation, and the CC will need to begin by getting itself organised, creating the machinery through which it will exercise its functions. Comrade Trotsky has said in private conversation that life itself has given rise to two centres—the editorial board abroad, and, inside Russia, if not a Central Committee, then at least an Organising Committee. I always agree with Comrade Trotsky fifty per cent. Life has created one centre only—the editorial board—because the OC has not given leadership to anybody: its role has been that of a commission for convening the congress and that of organising the purely technical side of things. Now we are setting up a Central Committee. It will be confronted with a tremendous task. It would be naive to suppose that it will carry out this task without making any mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, and we can to some extent even foresee what they will be. It seems to me that we can fear, in the first place, that the CC will lose perspective in the Party’s work, getting absorbed in trivialities and forgetting the overall plan. This is quite natural when there is no machinery for general organisation, when every little detail has to be organised. Participation by the editorial board in the general leadership of the Party could undoubtedly pre-vent this from happening. Another method that would be of great benefit to the CC would be for the congress to give instructions regarding the CC’s function. This is why I propose that the paragraph dealing with the responsibilities of the CC should contain a more precise indication of its field of work. I have tried to formulate the relation between the highest institutions of the Party, and their tasks, in eight paragraphs, which I am submitting to the commission together with some other amendments.

Yegorov: In amending his draft, Comrade Lenin took a step towards Comrade Popov’s draft, but it was a very little step. If Comrade Lenin wanted to be thoroughly consistent he ought to have admitted that, in his draft, both the Central Committee and the Central Organ are merely executive organs, while the overall leading organ, which governs and directs, is the Council. In view of the important and responsible role which has been given to the Council, it is necessary that the Central Organ and the Central Committee be represented in it on an absolutely equal footing. Therefore, the fifth member of the Council must be drawn from elsewhere than the editorial board and the Central Committee. The essential defect of Comrade Lenin’s draft is that it recognises some organisations which are nowhere actually enumerated. Suppose, for example, that the congress recognises it as desirable that a popular organ be established but then, perhaps, the editors of this organ are not given the right to take part in the congress? I think that the rules should be drawn up in more general terms. I think that Comrade Lenin is wrong in his view that the limits of the competence of the CC ought not to be precisely defined. This view results from confusion between two questions, centralisation and interference. In practice the lack of definition of the sphere of competence of the CC will lead to many conflicts.

Lieber: Comrade Lenin has told us, in connection with his rules, that he has bent the stick in the other direction. That is true, but one can say that a stick has never been bent so vigorously. To use Comrade Trotsky’s expression, one could say that Comrade Lenin’s draft rules constitute ‘organised distrust’. And indeed the central organs are set up in such a way as though nothing had existed previously, as though no centres had grown out of the work of the comrades in Russia, but these centres were being created by the rules. The second characteristic feature of this proposed draft of rules for a centralised party is its decentralising tendency. There can be no doubt that there are two centres in the draft, and not one, as some people have supposed, and this is the biggest defect in it. The Council should be called the CC, while what Comrade Lenin called the CC and the Central Organ are transformed into executive groups of the Party. The Central Committee ought to direct all the general affairs of the Party, just as the Central Committee of the Bund does. One can only be amazed that Comrade Lenin can propose a division between the functions of ideological and practical leadership, when he knows well what harm results from separation between practical workers and theoreticians. And from the example of Iskra, which Comrade Lenin uses to prove the need for separation between these two functions, we see, on the contrary, that this separation is inconceivable, for Iskra has been not only an ideological centre but also a practical one. Assigning the function of practical leadership as the sphere of activity of the Central Committee, while depriving it of other functions, would reduce its role to that of a salesman.

Akimov asked how local committees were to be formed. Would they, for example, be appointed by the CC?

Lenin explained that it was quite unnecessary to include a special point dealing with this matter, since we already had a number of committees, and so there could be no question of creating them.

Martov added that Comrade Akimov’s question was relevant to another item in the agenda—confirmation of the list of Party organisations. As for subsequent changes in the composition of Party organisations, this was something that should be entrusted to the CC. While agreeing with Comrade Lieber’s views on general organisational questions, I cannot agree with the conclusions which he draws from them; on the contrary, I associate myself with Comrade Lenin’s conclusions. Only on two points do I disagree with him. On the first of these, the method of constituting the Council, it would be much better to elect two persons from each centre, who would then jointly choose the fifth member, drawn from the CC or the Central Organ. It is quite impossible to seek this fifth member from somewhere outside the two centres, as Comrade Yegorov proposes. In the first place, shall we find such a person outside the centres in which our best forces are concentrated? And in the second place, if we do find him, will he be independent enough? The second question on which I do not agree with Comrade Lenin is that I am opposed to unanimous co-option. I consider that we could lay it down that four-fifths, or, even better, two-thirds of the votes should suffice.

Akimov: I regard the present draft as unsatisfactory in two respects. First, no points have been formulated at all regarding the organisation of local committees and their sphere of competence. On the latter point there is even conscious and deliberate silence. According to the draft, the local committees are to be nothing but agents for the Central Committee, which can always replace them. The Central Committee is given the right to alter the composition of local committees, and that right is sufficient for it not to need any other rights. This plan will certainly lead to some organisations finding themselves outside the Party. For example, suppose the elected Petersburg Committee is replaced by a new one which is not in conformity with the wishes of the majority in that organisation. A split will result. The only acceptable plan, which I propose, is to allow the committees themselves the right to modify their composition. In proposing this I am quite sure beforehand that it will not be adopted, and that it will receive, maybe, no more than two or three votes. It seems to Comrade Popov that to propose a draft which will certainly not be adopted is to behave like Dobchinsky, who wanted all Russia to hear of him, and he cannot explain such conduct otherwise than by base motives. I am surprised that Comrade Popov cannot appreciate that there could be other motives. The second point on which I find the draft unsatisfactory is the matter of the Council. Under the draft, the Central Organ is ensured predominance on the council if only because the composition of the editorial board is constant whereas that of the Central Committee is changeable. Thanks to this circumstance, it could happen that the Central Organ might differ in its views from those of the comrades in Russia, which could lead to a split.

Popov: Comrade Akimov said that I ascribed base motives to him. That is not true: I merely remarked that he was behaving like a Dobchinsky. Having made that observation, I pass to the substance of the matter. It has become clear from the discussion that there are two trends where the question of organisation is concerned. All are agreed that to merge the Central Organ and the CC in a single centre is impossible and that therefore we need the institution of a Council, but we differ on the question of the Council’s role. According to the draft presented by Comrades Yegorov and Martov the Council should be merely an arbitration board, but according to Lenin’s draft it should be the directing body. I propose that it be regarded as the directing centre of the Party, in which case it will be entirely unimportant whether there are more representatives on the Council from the Central Organ or from the Central Committee.

Trotsky: Comrade Akimov asked about the relations between the local committees and the CC and the latter’s sphere of competence. The rules, he said, do not define the jurisdiction of the CC with sufficient precision. I cannot agree with him. On the contrary, this definition is precise and means that, inasmuch as the Party is a single entity, it must he ensured control over the local committees. Comrade Lieber said, borrowing my expression, that the rules were ‘organised distrust’. That is true. But I used this expression in reference to the rules proposed by the Bund spokesmen, which represented organised distrust on the part of a section of the Party towards the whole Party. Our rules, on the other hand, represent the organised distrust of the Party towards all its sections, that is, control over all local, district, national and other organisations, the CC would be reduced when the Council came into being. He forgot that in the Council there will not only be strangers but also members of the CC and also that, in general, the influence exercised by the CC cannot be established by rules. It depends entirely on the CC’s own activity, and is only safeguarded by the rules.

Akimov: I again direct your attention to the question of the local committees. They should be allowed greater freedom of action, and no decision taken by the CC, the Central Organ or the Council should be allowed to go into effect otherwise than through the local committees. The local committees should be elected by the active workers in their localities, just as the CC is elected by the representatives of all the active organisations in Russia. And if even this cannot be allowed, then let the number of members that the CC may appoint to local committees be limited—all other members to be co-opted by the committees themselves. Otherwise the Central Committee could entirely annihilate a local committee—say, the Voronezh Committee. But, even so, it would not achieve its aim by doing this, since, although such committees had been disbanded and were only a minor-ity in the Party as a whole, in the area where they were active they would continue to express the views of the majority of comrades who elected them.

It was proposed that the list of speakers be closed.

Goldblatt and Lieber said that the question of the Bund came into the matter that was under discussion, as the congress had decided, and the list of speakers ought not to be closed until this question had been discussed. To do so would mean violating the congress’s own decision.

Martov: The question of the Bund has to be discussed separately. The rules provide general indication and do not deal with detailed relationships. The comrades from the Bund are wrong in getting so worked up about this matter, as though the congress were laying a trap for them.

Glebov: There is no need to list the functions of the Central Committee in the rules, which should be drawn up in general terms. Local organisations should be given the right to appeal to the Council when they are disbanded. Comrade Lieber was afraid that the influence of

The proposal that the list of speakers be closed was adopted.

Yegorov: I note that the closing of the list of speakers was a formal violation by the congress of its own decision regarding the second item of the agenda.

The representative of the Bund made the following statement: ‘We ask that it be recorded in the minutes that the decision of the congress to transfer the question of the Bund to the sixth item of the agenda remained unfulfilled, as the general debate was terminated before this question had been brought up for discussion.’ Signed: Lieber, Yudin, Goldblatt, Hofman, Abramson.

The session was closed.