Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Second Congress

Sixteenth Session

(Present: 43 delegates with 91 mandates and 12 persons with consultative voice)

Discussion of the general political part of the Party programme.

Article 1 of the commission’s draft read: Sovereignty of the people, that is, concentration of supreme state power wholly in the hands of a legislative assembly forming a single chamber and composed of representatives of the people.’

Trotsky proposed a stylistic amendment, namely, that the last part of this article should read: ‘in the hands of a legislative assembly consisting of representatives of the people and forming a single chamber.’

Lyadov proposed that the commission’s formulation be retained, but with the words ‘single and undivided’ inserted before legislative assembly’.

Strakhov proposed that the words ‘sovereignty of the people’ be replaced by ‘supremacy of the people’, because the latter expression defined better the idea which had to be expressed in this instance. What was meant here, of course, was the sovereignty of parliament, or, more correctly, the supremacy of the people exercised through the sovereignty of parliament. Consequently, the expression ‘sovereignty of the people’ was unfortunate, and juridically incorrect in the given context.

Gusev supported Comrade Strakhov’s amendment, but for other reasons. In all our proclamations we cry: ‘Down with autocracy!’ [The Russian word usually translated, as here, by autocracy’, is also the word used in the draft programme for sovereignty’—Trans.] and by doing so we seek to make the very word ‘autocracy’ hateful to the people.

Lenin considered Strakhov’s amendment infelicitous, since what the commission’s formulation stressed was the will of the people.

Gorin proposed that Article I be worded like this: ‘Sovereignty … in the hands of a single-chambered assembly … of the people.’

Martov objected to Comrade Gusev’s argument, saying that, on the contrary, it was of agitational significance to counterpose the sovereignty of the people to the autocracy [or: sovereignty—Trans.] of the Tsar.

Voting on the amendments went as follows:

1) Comrade Lyadov’s: rejected by a big majority.

2) Comrade Trotsky’s: adopted by 20 to 7.

3) Comrade Gorin’s: rejected by a majority, with only one vote cast for it.

4) Comrade Strakhov’s: rejected by 29 to 8.

The whole paragraph, as drafted by the commission, but with Trotsky’s amendment, was approved.

The rapporteur of the commission, Yegorov, read Article 2: ‘Universal, equal and direct suffrage in elections both to the legislative assembly and to all local organs of self-government, for all citizens and citizenesses who have attained the age of 20; secret ballot at elections; the right of every voter to be elected to any representative institution; proportional representation; payment of the people’s representatives.’

Martov proposed that the point about proportional representation be deleted.

Muravyov thought that citizens and citizenesses’ would read better as ‘citizens of either sex’.

Koltsov proposed that the words: ‘biennial parliaments’ be inserted, as this would provide opportunities for frequent agitation.

Karsky proposed to add, after the word ‘citizenesses’, ‘without distinction of nation or religion’.

Yegorov supported retention of the point about proportional representation, as this would give the most accurate expression of the relation between social forces. As regards biennial parliaments, it seemed to him impossible to demonstrate on grounds of principle the expediency of precisely this periodisation. Circumstances might arise in which it would be awkward for the Party to have bound itself to a biennial parliament.

Popov supported Comrade Koltsov’s proposal, mentioning that in Europe the Social-Democrats fought to shorten the period between parliamentary elections, so as the better to ensure the responsibility of deputies to the people.

Trotsky: I support Martov’s proposal that the demand for proportional representation be deleted, because this demand has no basis in principle. Cases may occur, with uniform electoral areas, when we shall not demand proportional representation, since this would ensure that every shade of political tendency could secure representation, which would reinforce a policy of groups and nuances, preventing the formation of large political parties..

Starover thought that Social-Democrats should fight for short parliaments, but that it was inexpedient to prescribe a particular duration.

Fomin: I cannot agree with Comrade Trotsky’s objection to proportional representation. The experience of those countries where it exists does not in the least confirm the fears which he expressed. Thus, in Belgium, where there is a system of proportional representation (even though distorted by plural voting) we see an almost complete absence of petty political groups and factions, whereas in Germany, where proportional representation does not obtain, such factions are numerous.

Gusev said that in Belgium the existence of the plural vote greatly obscured the significance of proportional representation. The example of Belgium was therefore not happily chosen, and proved nothing.

Posadovsky: The statements which have been made here for and against the amendments seem to me to represent not a dispute about details but a serious difference. There can be no doubt that we do not agree on the following basic question: should we subordinate our future Policy to certain fundamental democratic principles and attribute absolute value to them, or should all democratic principles be exclusively subordinated to the interests of our Party? I am decidedly in favour of the latter. There is not a single one among the principles of democracy which we ┬░light not to subordinate to the interests of our Party. [Exclamations: ‘Not inviolability of the person?’] No, not inviolability of the person!

As a revolutionary party striving to achieve our ultimate aim, the social revolution, we must consider democratic principles exclusively from the standpoint of the most rapid achievement of that aim, from the standpoint of the interests of our Party. If any particular demand is against our interests, we must not include it.

Consequently, I oppose the amendments which have been proposed, as being capable of restricting our freedom of action in the future.

Plekhanov: I fully associate myself with what Comrade Posadovsky has said. Every particular democratic principle must be considered not in itself, abstractly, but in its relation to that principle which can be called the basic principle of democracy, namely, the principle called: salus populi suprema lex. Translated into the language of the revolutionary, this means that the success of the revolution is the highest law. And if, for the sake of the revolution’s success, we need temporarily to restrict the functioning of a particular democratic principle, then it would be criminal to refrain from imposing that restriction. My personal view is that even the principle of universal suffrage must be looked at from the standpoint of what I have called the basic principle of democracy. Hypothetically, a case is conceivable where we Social-Democrats would oppose universal suffrage. There was a time when the bourgeoisie of the Italian republics deprived members of the nobility of political rights. The revolutionary proletariat may restrict the political rights of the upper classes in the same way as the upper classes used to restrict its political rights. The appropriateness of such a measure can be decided only from the standpoint of the rule: salus revolutiae suprema lex. [25] And we must take the same attitude where the question of the length of parliaments is concerned. If, in an outburst of revolutionary enthusiasm, the people should elect a very good parliament—a sort of Chambre Introuvable[26]—it would suit us to try and make that a Long Parliament; but if the elections turned out badly for us, we should have to try to disperse the resulting parliament not after two years but, if possible, after two weeks.

Applause. From some benches, hissing. Voices: ‘You should not hiss!’

Plekhanov: Why not? I strongly request the comrades not to restrain themselves.

Yegorov rises and says: Since such speeches call forth applause, I am obliged to hiss.

Yegorov: Comrade Plekhanov did not pay heed to the fact that the laws of war are one thing and constitutional laws are another. We are writing our programme with a constitution in mind.

Goldblatt saw in Comrade Plekhanov’s words an imitation of bourgeois tactics. To be logical we ought, on the basis of what Plekhanov said, to strike the demand for universal suffrage out of our programme.

Voting on the amendments was as follows:

1) Muravyov’s: rejected by a big majority.

2) Martov’s: adopted by 16 to 10.

3) Koltsov’s: adopted by 22 to 14.

Article 2, as amended by Martov and Koltsov, was approved by a big majority.

Article 3, as edited by the commission, read: ‘Extensive local and regional self-government.’

Lenin opposed the word ‘regional’, as it was very vague and might be interpreted to mean that the Social-Democrats wanted to split the whole state up into small regions.

Lieber supported the word ‘regional’, since the words local self-government’ meant self-government for towns and villages: a region was a union of towns and villages.

Martov disagreed with Comrade Lieber’s argument, as it had nothing in common with Social-Democratic reasoning. We cannot be in favour of unauthorised unions of communes. But the huge extent of Russia, and experience of our centralised administration, gives us grounds for regarding as necessary and appropriate the existence of regional self-government for such large entities as Finland, Poland, Lithuania and Caucasia. Martov therefore moved an amendment to the resolution, proposing that Articie 3 should read, as a whole: ‘Extensive local self-government; regional self-government for those border districts which in respect of conditions of life and make-up of Population differ from the strictly-Russian localities.’

Kostrov supported Comrade Martov’s proposal and considered that to include it in the Party programme would possess extensive agitational significance and attract new forces to the Party. In some places, including their own Caucasia, the idea of regional self-government was very popular.

Karsky considered that regional self-government was needed precisely because some localities were very distinctive in their conditions of life and could develop only if granted autonomy.

Rusov: I support Comrade Martov’s proposal to insert a demand for regional self-government, and the need for special mention to be made of our border districts. The variety in conditions of life and make-up of population creates a situation in these border districts such that local institutions are needed to correspond to these conditions. That the central districts and the border districts cannot be brought under one heading has been recognised even by the Russian autocracy, though it implements this recognition in a distorted way. The Polish comrades supported their demand for Polish autonomy by the need for extensive self-government, in order to safeguard the possibility of cultural development, and so this point will give them full satisfaction. This demand will also answer the nationalists who think that the problem of the border districts can be solved only by their political isolation. Finally, this decision, which does not run counter to our basic principles, provides us with a weapon for the fight against the nationalist organisations which have recently appeared—Gruziya,[27] for example. By calling for autonomy for Georgia in order to ensure the development of national culture they want to organise all classes of society under the national flag. If we were to declare once more that the safeguarding of national culture is not contrary to the interests of the entire proletariat of Russia, that would powerfully insure the workers against the influence of such elements. While having principled significance in the sense of providing a solution to the problem of the border districts, inclusion of this additional point in the programme would also bring the practical results I have mentioned. I therefore direct the comrades’ attention specially to this proposal.

Trotsky: I am against Comrade Martov’s amendment. In so far as it is of purely technical significance, it is superfluous: local self-government can embrace ‘regions’ as well—the expression does not predetermine the limits of the area concerned. In so far as it possesses significance on the plane of principle it is covered by Point 7 of the political programme.

Martynov considered that the word ‘self-determination’ could not be given a wide interpretation: it meant merely the right for a nation to secede and form a separate political entity, and not at all regional self-government.

Strakhov proposed that the word ‘regional’ be deleted as superfluous in this article, and as only introducing confusion into the concept of extensive local self-government.

The discussion on Article 3 ended and votes were taken:

1) The Lenin-Strakhov amendment, for Article 3 to read: ‘extensive local self-government’, was rejected by 26 to 14.

2) The commission’s proposal was rejected by 29 to 17.

3) Comrade Martov’s proposal was adopted by 28 to a small number of votes.

The commission’s version of Article4 was read: ‘Inviolability of person and domicile.’

This was adopted unanimously, without discussion. Article 9 coincided with Article 4 of the old draft.

Lieber proposed that after the words ‘of publication’ the words ‘and of language’ be added. [Laughter.] Even though this arouses mirth I regard it as important from the standpoint of principle. In the commission Comrade Lenin proposed that this mention of language’ be shifted to Article 6. Such a transfer was considered inappropriate, since it is not the case that a citizen is victimised for using a language but that the very right to use a language is subjected to discrimination, and the freedom of any citizen to speak his own language, should this differ from the state language, in any institution, is inhibited. Thus, for example, Poles enjoy equality of civil rights in Germany and yet at the same time their language is discriminated against.

Martov considered the expression ‘freedom of language’ unclear, owing to its double meaning. Equality of rights for all citizens implied freedom to speak whatever language they wished. The speaker said that in Germany, in Silesia, what the Poles demanded was ‘equal rights’.

Karsky did not agree with Martov’s argument and considered that the right to speak one’s native language was a very necessary and important right, and not a trifling matter. It was especially important in legal proceedings and in local institutions.

A vote was taken on Comrade Lieber’s amendment, and it was rejected by a big majority.

Article 9 was voted on as a whole, and approved by a big majority.

Article 6, as edited by the commission, was identical with Article 9 of the old draft. This article was adopted unanimously without discussion.

Article 7, as edited by the commission, read: ‘Abolition of social estates and complete equality of rights for all citizens, regardless of sex, religion, race, nationality or language.’

Lieber thought it absurd to include the word language’ in this paragraph and demanded that it be made the subject of a separate article: it was not that the citizen was victimised for using a language, but that his very right to speak his own language was subjected to discrimination.

Lensky proposed to add to Article 7: ‘the right of every citizen to express himself in his own language in any place: in state institutions and in schools.’

Goldblatt supported Comrade Lieber in calling for the language question to be accorded a separate article.

Yegorov agreed that to add the words ‘of language’ to the commission’s formulation would say nothing about equality of languages. Since in Poland, in Little Russia and elsewhere people were forbidden to use their mother-tongue at meetings, in court and in postal institutions, we ought to include a clear and positive demand for equality of languages.

A proposal was made for the discussion to be terminated, but this was rejected. A proposal that the list of speakers be closed was adopted.

Martov regarded it as fetishism when speakers insisted that nationalities enjoyed equality, and transferred inequality to the sphere of language, whereas the question should be examined from just the opposite angle: inequality of nationalities exists, and one of its manifestations is that people belonging to certain nations are deprived of the right to use their mother-tongue.

Lvov considered that the question of the suppression of languages which had been raised by the border districts was a very serious one. It was important to include a point on language in our programme and thus obviate any possibility of the Social-Democrats being accused of Russifying tendencies.

Kostich considered that restrictions on language encroached upon the equality of citizens in the use of their constitutional rights, and that it was not merely a question of restricted right to use a language.

Lieber proposed that the words ‘and of language’ be deleted from Article 7 of the commission’s draft and that a new paragraph, on equality of languages, be included in Article 7.

Trotsky (on a point of order) asked that a vote be taken first of all on whether a special point about equality of languages was desired.

The voting was 23 for and 23 against. A roll-call vote produced the same result. [Those who voted in favour were: Rusov (2 votes), Bekov (2 votes), Karsky (2 votes), Makhov (2 votes), Lvov (2 votes), Medvedev, Posadovsky, Lensky, Popov, Yegorov, Gorsky, Brouckère, Martynov, Hofman, Goldblatt, Yudin, Lieber, Abramson. Against were: Gusev, Osipov, Kostich, Pavlovich, Panin (2 votes), Sorokin, Byelov, Lyadov, Gorin, Fomin, Muravyov, Lange, Dyedov, Trotsky, Orlov, Plekhanov, Lenin (2 votes), Martov (2 votes), Hertz, Braun. Abstentions: Tsaryov, Stepanov, Deutsch. Absent: Ivanov, Akimov.]

Trotsky asked if the result of the vote could be taken as recording a negative, since a quite new proposal was being voted on and an equal number of votes had been cast for and against.

Lieber protested against this interpretation and demanded equal treatment for both sides.

The amendments were then voted on.

1) Comrade Lieber’s (see above): 17 for, 23 against, rejected.

2) Comrade Lensky’s: ‘the right of every citizen to express himself in his own language everywhere: in state institutions, schools …’ Rejected by a big majority.

3) Comrade Yegorov’s: ‘equality of languages in all schools, institutions and meetings’. 24 for, 24 against. When a roll-call vote was taken, Kostrov’s proposal was passed by 24 votes to 23. [Those who voted in favour were: Rusov (2 votes), Bekov (2 votes), Karsky (2 votes), Makhov (2 votes), Lvov (2 votes), Medvedev, Byelov, Posadovsky, Lensky, Popov, Yegorov, Brouckère, Martynov, Deutsch, Hofman, Goldblatt, Yudin, Lieber, Abramson. Against : Gusev, Osipov, Kostich, Pavlovich, Stepanov, Panin (2 votes), Sorokin, Lyadov, Gorin, Fomin, Muravyov, Lange, Dyedov, Trotsky, Orlov, Plekhanov, Lenin (2 votes), Martov (2 votes), Hertz, Braun.]

The session was closed.

Abstentions: Tsaryov, Gorsky. Absent: Ivanov, Akimov.



[25] Revolutiae is what appears in the minutes. It should be revolutions.

[26] The Chambre Introuvable (‘matchless Chamber’) was the nickname of the National Assembly elected in France, under conditions of White Terror, in October 1819, which passed without opposition all the ultra-reactionary measures submitted to it.

[27] The Georgian nationalist organisation mentioned was actually called Sakartvelo, that being the Georgian name for the country the Russians call Gruziya, our ‘Georgia’.