Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Second Congress

Fifteenth Session

(Present: 43 delegates with 51 mandates and 12[22] persons with consultative voice.)

Karsky: The misunderstanding with regard to the Council, it seems to me, is removed by the fact that each of the central institutions is to choose two men, and they are jointly to choose the fifth. This being so, the Central Committee is not reduced to the role of a salesman, as Comrade Akimov is so afraid might happen. His proposal regarding the local committees would raise a Chinese wall between the CC and the local committees, and is therefore absolutely unacceptable. As to the local associations, I think that they cannot be put on a par with local committees, and their number of votes should be more than two.

Lange: It is appropriate to touch on the question of a popular organ in the draft rules. This is a separate question from that of Party publications, and ought to be taken up in connection with the question of the Central Organ.

Goldblatt: It would be quite mistaken to reduce the disputes to which the proposed rules have given rise to differences between defenders and opponents of centralisation. We in the Bund have applied centralisation with complete consistency, we are all convinced supporters of it, and yet I unhesitatingly call Comrade Lenin’s proposal monstrous. The centralist principle presupposes control by the higher organs of the Party over the lower ones, with observation and guidance of the latter, but in no case can it or ought it to lead to their destruction. Control can be combined with the continued existence of the institutions subject to it provided that some limits are laid down for the exercise of this control and that there is some definition of the competence of the organisations which are subject to it. Control by the central organs must consist only of checking that Party organisations do not violate congress decisions, and do not act counter to the Party’s programme and fundamental principles. Given certain temporary or local conditions the power of the centre may be somewhat widened, but this is what must be the basic principle, at least. The principle upon which Lenin’s draft is based is quite different, however. It is permeated through and through with the desire to give the centre unrestricted powers and the unrestricted right to interfere in everything that any particular organisation may be doing. It sets absolutely no limits to this interference and destroys any and every competence so far as the various subordinate organisations are concerned, subverting their very capacity to exist. No organisation can exist if it be allowed only one right—to submit without a murmur to orders from above. The centre proposed by the draft would find itself in a vacuum, it would have no peripheral organisations around it, but only an amorphous mass in which its executive agents would move. No organisation can survive on such principles as that. I can only express amazement that not a single delegate from a committee has protested against such a monstrous proposal. However, that is their business: it is not for me to take on the role of advocate for committees which have not found it necessary or possible to safeguard their own raison d’étre.

I turn now in particular to the question-of the position in the Party which the proposed rules would assign to the Bund. Comrade Martov tried to show that adoption of these rules would not predetermine the question of the rights of the Bund. Comrade Lenin refuted this view quite clearly. He explained to us that he wants his draft rules adopted in advance merely so that points may then be devised, defining the position of the Bund, which will be based on these rules, as conclusions drawn directly from the principles expressed in these rules. In view of this explanation given by Comrade Lenin I think it necessary to say that adoption of these rules excludes beforehand any possibility that the points which we have put forward may be adopted, despite the fact that this way of pre-determining the question is being followed without any discussion of the points at issue. There can be no doubt that Comrade Lenin’s rules exclude adoption of these points, since his rules leave wholly unprotected the very existence of the Bund, which could at any moment be dissolved at the discretion of the Central Committee, and also the Bund’s freedom to dispose of the affairs of its own organisation, in which the Central Committee could, as Comrade Lenin has explained, interfere without any restriction, and so on. I should like to know the view on this matter held by the author of the draft, and I put the following questions to Comrade Lenin. Does he not agree that his rules make it impossible to adopt the points put forward by the delegates from the Bund? Does he not agree that his rules clearly imply that the Central Committee of the Party has the right to change the composition of the Central Committee of the Bund, to dissolve it, to overrule decisions by congresses of the Bund, and so on and so forth? I await a definite answer to these questions.

In conclusion I draw the attention of those who want to make it impossible for our proposals to be adopted, without having discussed them, to the extreme seriousness of this moment. If our proposals, representing the minimum conditions for the Bund’s existence, are rejected, this will thereby decide the question of the Bund’s departure from the Party. I say this in my personal capacity, and the entire Bundist delegation will say the same.

Lieber: I hear many comrades uttering cries of indignation and astonishment at what my co-delegate Goldblatt has said, but this is quite pointless. Already when I introduced our ‘draft’ I made a similar statement, saying that our draft includes positions of principle with-out the adoption of which the Bund cannot remain in the Party. After this brief explanation, I turn to deal with the substance of the matter. We have said again and again that the way the question of the Bund is dealt with in Comrade Lenin’s proposed organisational rules predetermines the question of the Bund, and it is useless for Comrade Martov to deny this. When I suggested to Comrade Lenin that the words ‘national organisations’ be deleted from the relevant point in the rules, he refused, as he considered that everything he had said in this point must apply to that kind of organisation as well. Thus, without having yet discussed the question of national organisations, they present us, in Comrade Lenin’s draft, with an already predetermined answer to this question, and this is done, of course, quite deliberately.

We are told that the Bund will be treated as an exception. But we do not want this, we do not want a principle to be adopted according to which the Party’s Central Committee could at any moment dissolve the Central Committee of the Bund, or even completely abolish it. It may be, of course, that they will not attempt to do this immediately—nevertheless, here a certain procedure is being indicated, here a certain way is being defined, which could lead to the suppression of the Bund, that ‘historical abnormality’, as Comrade Martov called it.

And here indignation is expressed about our ‘ultimatums’. Let us leave aside, however, the question whether or not there has been any ‘ultimatum’ in this case. Would not any organisation at all, without any question of ultimatums, break away if principles were adopted at the congress, against its own opinion, which contradicted the very foundations of its existence? Would not the editors of Iskra, for instance, break away, if their organisational principle were to be rejected, and what has been called ‘democratisation’ adopted? They are not going to do that here, of course, because they have a very large majority on their side. But we are not so placed. What does Comrade Lenin offer us? He has drawn up a death sentence on us, but he defers the execution of it for a certain period, the decision as to the time for execution of this death sentence being left to the Central Committee. But are you so naive, comrades, as to suppose for one moment that if such rules are adopted we shall remain in the Party? That we shall willingly sign our own death warrant? No, this will never happen. We are not yet ready to die: on the contrary, we feel a fresh access of strength! And we are sure that if our comrades are capable of seeing matters from the standpoint of the real interests of the Russian Social-Democratic movement, and not of some phantom organisation of generals without an army, they will approve our conduct and our attitude to the rules that have been presented to us.

Lenin: I will make my concluding speech after the commission has done its work on the rules.

Elected to the commission were: Lenin, Martov, Yegorov, Popov and Glebov.

* * *

The congress proceeded to discuss the Programme, beginning with discussion of the general part, taken point by point.

The commission had left the first paragraph as it stood (see the Iskra-Zarya draft).

Martynov proposed that the first paragraph be formulated thus: ‘the close ties between the capitalist countries of the civilised world, and the common interests of the proletariat, had to make, and did make, the movement international,’ and so on.

Akimov: When I began to study the draft programme which we are now discussing, I wrote out each of its separate theses on separate sheets of paper. Then I set myself to find the corresponding theses in the Gotha and Erfurt, Hainfeld and Vienna, Guesdist, Belgian, Italian and Swedish programmes, and the Rules of the International. I found that on almost every point this draft differed from all the other programmes, sometimes markedly, sometimes only in the expressions used. Comparing all these variations, I noticed that they all presented one and the same aspect and were permeated with one and the same tendency, namely: denial that the proletariat exercises any creative power in the development of Social-Democracy, minimisation of the active role of the proletariat.

Sometimes these variations—as, for example, in the case we are now considering—are not particularly important, but they nevertheless ought to be put right, because they manifest a tendency, and this tendency is a mistaken one.

In the first point of the draft the causes of the international character of our movement are described. This international character is due to two causes. In the first place, the uniformity of interests and of conditions of life among the proletarians of different countries, regardless of the different political forms under which they have to struggle. In the second place, the mutual dependence in economic life between all the capitalist countries.

The ties between different localities were regarded by Marx as merely the final factor giving unity to a struggle which was homogeneous even without them. He writes inter alia, in the Manifesto, of ‘the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one, national struggle between classes.’ Later, Marx generalises this idea, passing from the national to the international movement: ‘National differences and antagonisms between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto.’

Accordingly, in the Rules of the International, Marx stresses the unity of interests of those nations in which a labour movement has arisen: ‘The emancipation of labour is neither a local nor a national, but a social problem, embracing all countries in which modern society exists.’

In exactly the same way the Erfurt Programme says: ‘The interests of the working class are identical in all countries where capitalist production exists.’ The Vienna Programme says: ‘The fight against oppression must be international, like the oppression itself : that is, in countries where the same form of oppression, namely, capitalism, prevails, the movement likewise arises as a uniform, international movement. This passage in the programme was already present in the Hainfeld text.

In the Iskra draft only one factor is mentioned, namely, the link established between peoples by exchange. The other factor, namely, that which is alone mentioned in the other programmes, is not to be found in this draft.

This one-sided explanation of the international character of our movement is typical of the whole draft. Completely omitted from it are those factors which create the distinctive, sharply defined psychology of the proletariat and stimulate the latter’s class-consciousness. The first point in the draft should therefore be corrected.

Rusov: I suggest that we take all Comrade Akimov’s amendments together, since they essentially belong together, differing in principle from the Iskra programme.

Akimov (on a point of order): It was physically impossible for me to defend my amendments in the commission, as I was restricted to five minutes, and I am not presenting all of them now. I could, indeed, set forth the whole lot here, but that would take me two or two-and-a-half hours.

Martov: I speak as a delegate concerned for the success of our congress. Why could Comrade Akimov not have set out his counterdraft in the Russian press in the course of the year? I do not know what the solution is, but I do point out the great inconvenience of turning the congress into an academic session.

Chairman: Comrade Akimov quite correctly observed that these are important questions. And for that reason we must take a practical step so as not to waste time. And this practical step is the congress standing orders, which must be strictly obeyed. In the standing orders it is laid down that everyone has the right to speak for ten minutes. I interpret this as meaning that a delegate can speak for ten minutes about the whole programme.

Akimov asked that the standing order in question be read out, and, receiving no answer, made the following declaration: ‘I request that it be recorded in the minutes that the Chairman, when putting to the vote his interpretation of a standing order, refused my request that the text of the standing order be read out. The Chairman invited me to apply to the secretary.’

Martov: I propose that delegates be allowed to speak once, for five minutes, on each point.

Martov’s proposal was adopted.

The first paragraph of the programme was voted on and adopted, with 42 votes (see the Iskra-Zarya draft programme).

Akimov: I regard it as quite impossible to discuss the programme point by point under such restrictions. It is not possible to develop one’s idea in five minutes, and it is useless to formulate it if one is not to be allowed to speak a second time in order to answer objections. What Plekhanov said about the numerousness of the amendments I have put forward is without foundation. I did indeed submit 21 amendments to the commission, but I want to defend before the congress only five or six of these, which are of especially great importance on grounds of principle.

According to the standing order, I have the right to speak three times, for ten minutes, on each amendment, that is, for half an hour altogether. Six amendments would take three hours altogether, if I made full use of my rights in connection with each amendment. Very few amendments have been moved apart from mine, and most of them, as their authors testify, are not concerned with matters of principle. It is therefore possible for the congress to listen to my explanations of my amendments. Martov’s statement that I ought to have set forth my views earlier, in the press, is also pointless. I was bound by organisational discipline: now I am able and wish to defend my views.

Akimov then made the following declaration: ‘According to the standing orders of the Congress, every member has the right to speak three times on each question which is to be voted on, and to speak for ten minutes on each occasion.

‘When, during the general discussion of the programme, a proposal was made that the list of speakers be closed, the chairman stated, at Comrade Makhov’s request,[23] that, after the draft had been discussed in commission, and when it was being discussed point-by-point, speakers would again be allowed to express their views, about the programme generally.

‘The congress majority is now depriving the minority of the possibility of defending its amendments by restricting to five minutes, contrary to standing orders and to the chairman’s previous statements, the time allowed for speakers to defend their amendments—that is, to a period of time in which it is not physically possible to set forth any substantial arguments in favour of the amendments being moved.

‘Taking account of the fact that the congress majority has coerced the minority by refusing to hear its arguments against the draft, I decline to move my amendments to the draft, since I have been deprived of my right to defend these amendments.’

The second paragraph of the programme was approved, with 44 votes, but with the words ‘their Party’ changed to ‘themselves’.

As regards the third paragraph, the commission proposed that the first sentence be separated off as a paragraph on its own, and that after the words ‘nature of’ the words ‘present-day’ be inserted. In this form the third paragraph was adopted with 43 votes.

The remaining part of the third paragraph (now 3a) was adopted unanimously.

Martynov moved an amendment to the fourth paragraph, to replace the last sentence by the following phrase: ‘standing in direct or indirect dependence upon capital’.

The amendment was rejected and the fourth paragraph adopted with 39 votes.

The fifth paragraph was adopted unanimously.

In the sixth paragraph the commission proposed that the words ‘or even’ be replaced by: ‘and sometimes also’.[24]

The sixth paragraph, as amended by the commission, was adopted by 27 votes to 11.

The seventh paragraph was adopted, with 41 votes.

The commission amended (by two votes to one) the eighth paragraph by inserting, after the words: ‘numbers and cohesion’, the word ‘consciousness’ .

Lenin: This insertion is a change for the worse. It gives the impression that consciousness grows spontaneously. In international

Social-Democracy there is no conscious activity of the workers independent of the influence of the Social-Democrats.

Gorin: I consider this insertion inappropriate, as what is being spoken of here is a process of spontaneous growth, which must be distinguished from a particular process—the acceleration of a natural process.

Martov: Comrade Gorin is quite right. Theoretically we cannot isolate spontaneous growth from conscious influence (the activity of the midwife), but in the programme of the Party’s activity we have to distinguish between them. If consciousness is not given a socialist character, then what is produced is a muddle, methodologically incorrect and architecturally inconsistent. If consciousness is treated as something spontaneous, this is theoretically incorrect, because that is not consciousness.

Lieber: ‘Discontent’, if this is understood as something unconscious, does not grow but declines. As a conscious process, however, it grows.

Martynov: This thesis is formulated so unclearly that even those who wrote it interpret it in different ways. But every passage in the programme must be capable of only a single, definite and clear-cut interpretation. Here we need to conceive the entire process as a whole, including the activity of Social-Democracy as well, and by do ing so we do not in any way belittle the active role of Social-Democracy.

A vote was taken. The amendment was rejected and the original drafting approved by a majority.

The ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth paragraphs were approved with-out alteration.

In the thirteenth paragraph, atMartov’s suggestion, the words: ‘at every step survivals are still encountered’ was replaced by: ‘there are still very many survivals’. The word ‘social’ before ‘order’, was deleted.[21]

Paragraph 14 was adopted in its original form. In Paragraph 19, at the suggestion of Lieber and Plekhanov, the word ‘democratic’ was inserted before ‘republic’, and the phrase at the end was altered to read: ‘the constitution of which would ensure …’

The session was closed.



[21] The 13th session was the last to be held in Brussels. Zemlyachka (‘Osipov’) had been arrested and deported, and the congress decided to move to London, where they would not be harassed by the police. There was an interval of five days between the 13th session and the 14th, the first to meet in London.

[22] The congress was joined by two London-based Social-Democrats, who were given consultative voice—Takhtarev (‘Strakhov’) and his wife Yakubova (‘Yuzhin’).

[23] In a lamentable failure of ‘security’, the minutes allow Akimov to refer to ‘Makhov’ as ‘Mitsov’, which was another of Kalafati’s pseudonyms. This has been corrected in the text of the present edition.

[24] The amendment substituting ‘and sometimes also’ for ‘or even’—see Appendix