Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Second Congress

Twenty-second Session

(Present: 43 delegates with 51 mandates, and 12 persons with consultative voice.)

The next subject for discussion was the Party’s organisational rules. The resolution serving as introduction to the rules was read: ‘The Party’s general rules are binding on all sections of the Party, with the exception of those points which are provided for in special appendices to the rules defining the relation of sections to the Party.’

Posadovsky proposed a different wording, which was adopted [see the Party Rules].

Lieber: I shall not speak about the substance of the question. The resolution cannot be adopted, since it is impossible to adopt general points without knowing what exceptions will be approved subsequently.

Martov: I don’t known what Comrade Lieber is talking about. When we have passed the resolution we shall proceed to discuss each point in the rules separately, and we shall discuss them on the basis of the single principle which we have adopted already. Our position of principle has been decided, and I think it will be more convenient for the Bund to consider first of all the general rules for the Party, since it will be able to explain its own position of principle. I would recall to Comrade Lieber that our organisational principle is not broad autonomy but strict centralisation.

Goldblatt: Martov’s arguments are wrong both in content and in form. Formally, we have the right to demand that our rules be discussed under item 6 of the agenda, as has already been decided, and, as regards content, it is important to us that the position of the Bund be clear and well-defined. We are asked to break up the Bund’s rules into sections and to connect these separate sections with the separate points of the general Party rules. But we cannot do this since our rules there are points which cannot be made to coincide with any of the points in the general Party rules. If this proposal is adopted, then we shall have to abstain from participating in the discussion of the general Party rules until our own rules have been discussed.

Martov (on a point of order): On whose behalf is Comrade Goldblatt speaking? What are we to understand by ‘we’?

Akimov: It seems to me impossible that such a question should be put. We are dealing not with some corporation or other but with delegates, each of whom, of course, speaks for himself.

Martov: If the Bund agrees with Akimov, then on behalf of what ‘we’ is Goldblatt speaking?

Lieber: It would be out of place to have an interrogation. If it suits the congress then we shall, of course, answer this question. Plekhanov: I am not satisfied with Lieber’s answer. If we cannot ask questions then this amounts to saying that the assumption is correct … Who, then, are the ‘we’ on whose behalf the Bund speaks? We are anxious to know this, because we accord particular attention to the delegation of the Bund.

The congress decided to ask the Bund to make a statement on this matter.

Lieber: I continue to find the whole of this incident out of place. But since an answer is asked for, we will give it. We ask, and we insist, that our rules be discussed first, not because they constitute an amendment but because we take our stand on positions that are different in principle, and we need to get clear on the attitude of the congress to the principles which guide us. We asked long ago that the rules of the Bund be discussed. The congress rejected this request. I again direct the attention of the congress to this irregular attitude taken towards our demands. I give notice that we shall move amendments only in relation to the general rules.

Lange: The Bund proposed that we defer discussion of the general Party rules. This is not convenient, because we do not know the general standpoint from which we shall have to consider the particular rules of the Bund.

Trotsky: We are not avoiding a discussion of the rules of the Bund. We are working out a procedure for discussion. We have to decide on the general rules of the Party and then, from that standpoint, to determine the place of the Bund in the Party. The Party does not exist for the Bund, but the Bund for the Party.

Yegorov: I agree with what Lange said. But he did not understand what it was that the Bund wanted, whereas I consider that the Bund is wrong. We do not in the least wish to fragment the rules of the Bund. We shall discuss them as a whole, but only after we have discussed the Party rules.

Lieber: I agree neither with Comrade Yegorov nor with Comrade Trotsky. I warn the congress against attempts to interpret our words maliciously and tendentiously .. .

The Chairman called the speaker to order.

Lieber (continuing): I say that Trotsky’s interpretation is not in accordance with the truth. We are accused of saying that the Party exists for the Bund. This is untrue. We stand on two positions of principle which differ from each other. We are told that the principle on which the majority takes its stand is autonomy, and those who say this think they have said something. Yet the question is, to whom do they want to apply autonomy? We put forward our rules not as something higher than the Party rules but only as something that should be discussed first when we discuss the Party rules. Since there is a difference of principle between us, then, if you are men of principle, you will clarify these principles.

Lenin: I do not know if I am justified in pointing out to the congress something that is self-evident. It is unheard-of that the part should come before the whole.

The list of speakers was closed.

Gorin: I agree with Trotsky, and I think that the Bund agree with him too. Essentially, they are putting forward their own draft rules for the Party. This is an infringement of the agenda. We already have a draft, which we are discussing.

Lieber: I have to say that we shall take part in the discussion of the rules, but we reserve the right to speak, at the right time, about the exceptions concerning the Bund.

Glebov, the rapporteur of the rules commission, said that votes in the commission were so divided that the first article of the rules was presented in two different formulations [see the rules and Lenin’s resolution]. [Lenin’s resolution: ‘A member of the RSDLP is one who accepts its programme and supports the Party by personal participation in one of the party organisations.’]

Yegorov said that the existence of two tendencies in the definition of the concept ‘Party’ had become apparent. Lenin’s formulation narrowed the concept, whereas Martov’s [see the Rules] broadened it to the point of opening the door to ‘democratism’. We must not forget that, while we are an underground organisation, we are also linked with the broad masses. I fear that after saying A we may have to say B.

Akselrod: I think that we must draw a distinction between the concepts ‘Party’ and ‘organisation’. These two concepts are being confused here. And the confusion is dangerous. Let me recall the strictly secret and centralised organisations of the past: Zemlya i Volya and Narodnaya Volya. Around Zemlya i Volya were grouped a large number of people who did not belong to the organisation but who helped it in one way or another and who were regarded as Party members. Narodnaya Volya was even more discriminating, but it held to the same principle. This principle should be even more strictly observed in the Social-Democratic organisation. And, indeed, fet us take for example, a professor who regards himself as a Social-Democrat and declares himself as such. If we adopt Lenin’s formula we shall be throwing overboard a section of those who, even if they cannot be directly admitted to an organisation, are nevertheless Party members. First and foremost we are, of course, creating an organisation of the most active elements of the Party, an organisation of revolutionaries; but, since we are the party of a class, we must take care not to leave outside the Party ranks people who consciously, though perhaps not very actively, associate themselves with that Party.

Martov: The question we are discussing is an extremely important one. The more we wish to be revolutionaries, the more acute the attention we must give to the point raised by Comrade Akselrod. We are those who give conscious expression to an unconscious process. The Party organisation is the flywheel that sets in motion the work of the Party in our sense of the word. The question of rights and duties is decided by the statement: ‘there is the work you have to do’. I am not afraid of a ‘conspiratorial’ organisation. The rights of a Party member, according to our project, consist of bringing his views and desires to the attention of the centre. There is another right, to form public opinion, and the more the ‘conspirators’ take account of this opinion the less danger will arise from the question of ‘rights’. Let there be many organisations: they must increase. They cannot join the Party organisation, but the Party cannot get on without them. The more widespread the title of Party member the better. We could only rejoice if every striker, every demonstrator, answering for his actions, could proclaim himself a Party member. For me a conspiratorial organisation only has meaning when it is enveloped by a broad Social-Democratic working-class party.

Kostrov spoke of the two trends which had become apparent in the interpretation of the concept ‘Party’ and of the fact that organisation and Party were not the same thing, and proposed to unite the two formulations.

Posadovsky: Two points of view on the tasks of the Party have already been defined. One restricts the Party’s scope, the other broadens it. It is impossible to confine the sum-total of Party members to the sum-total of conspirators, but the expression ‘under the control’ defines inner-Party relations too vaguely, and I propose that it be replaced by the expression ‘under the direction of’.

Karsky considered that the difference between the formulations was very important. The first formulation deprived all those who did not personally participate in a direct way in an organisation of the possibility not only of regarding themselves as Party members but also, what was much more important, of helping to the best of their ability. The second formulation eliminated this disadvantage. I support it, but I agree with Comrade Posadovsky that the words: ‘under the control of’ should be replaced by ‘under the direction of’.

Brouckère: In discussing the first paragraph of the rules we have entered upon a question of very great importance—the organisational question. I disagree with the rules as a whole and with their entire spirit. I stand for the type of organisational system on which that local organisation is constructed to which I belong—the Petersburg Committee of the Union of Struggle—and I should like this to apply also in the way the Party is organised.

This year, organisational work was one of the principal and, in my view, most productive tasks carried out by the Committee. By the end of the year we had worked out a form of organisation which we regard as entirely good, and which I would call perfect but for the fact that new problems have arisen before us, as before all live organisations. Even before the split, the upsurge of the revolutionary movement made everyone aware of the need for centralisation, but whereas the majority of the committee, and one of the trends in the Petersburg Committee, decided in favour of a conspiratorial type of centralisation, like Narodnaya Volya, we stood and stand for the right of every active member of the organisation to influence the work of the Committee, the right, corresponding to his duties, to influence, directly or indirectly, elections to the Central Committee and to area committees. We can now say that we have no members without rights, just as there are none without duties. As for those sympathisers who from time to time, in one way or another, render us services, they cannot be regarded as members, since in our Party there can only be active members. To these sympathisers we allow the right to call themselves Social-Democrats and sympathisers with the Social-Democratic Party, a right of which, incidentally, we cannot deprive them, and also we can graciously grant them the right, which Comrade Martov proposed to give all Party members as their only right, apart from Party administration—the right to express their opinion, and not only to do this among themselves but also to bring it to the attention of the CC. All active members belong to one or other section of the organisation (committee groups, etc.), covering every form of work which every organisation has to carry out.

This year’s experience has convinced us that the right to influence the conduct of the Party is a mighty force for unity, excluding all possibility of discontent within the organisation, and so all possibility of a split. It fosters interest in the work, draws people into Party life, and develops all active forces. Only when these rights obtain is the Central Committee the real spokesman of the views of all working members and so of the whole organisation, and only then does it act in agreement with them. The strength of an organisation lies not only in the duties it imposes on its members but also in the rights which it confers upon them. This must apply in the Party, too. All its active members must have rights; rights cannot be given only to the active members, active members cannot be unconnected with the organisation. This connection must be regulated. I stand, therefore, for that formulation by which all members must belong to one of the organisations. As regards democratism, it cannot, of course, in itself frighten any conscious Social-Democrat. But Comrade Martov speaks of ‘so-called democratism’, something thought up in the heat of polemic, democratism carried to absurd lengths, which, like anything carried to an absurdity, is, of course, absurd, and therefore nonsense, as Comrade Martov put it, and I agree with him in this, but I consider that the type which he advocated is also a fantastic and nonsensical fabrication.

Trotsky: I fear that Lenin’s formula will create a fictitious organisation, one which will merely give its members a qualification but will not serve as a means for Party work. There will be created ‘fighting organisations’ such as the Tomsk organisation, the rules of which some of us have read, the aim, essence and basis of which will be not some practical task but the rules of the organisation themselves.

Lenin s poke briefly in defence of his formulation, stressing in particular that it provided a stimulus: ‘Organise!’ It should not be supposed that Party organisations must consist solely of professional revolutionaries. We need the most diverse organisations of all types, ranks and shades, beginning with extremely narrow and secret ones and ending with very broad, free lose Organisationen. Endorsement by the Central Committee was an essential condition for a Party organisation to be considered such.

Lyadov considered that it was necessary to add the requirement of giving material support to the Party, as he thought it extremely important to specify in this way, at least, a sign that someone belonged to an organisation.

Lieber: I fully agree with Comrades Akselrod and Martov. They have put the matter correctly. Comrade Lenin has refuted nothing and proved nothing. I draw the attention of the congress to a point that nobody has mentioned. There are Social-Democrats who accept the programme but who cannot and do not wish to join the organisation, as they consider that they can be of more use by remaining outside it. The Party must make use of these elements, for their help is often substantial. Comrade Lenin mixes up the question of organisation with that of particular persons. Our task is not merely to organise an organisation, we can an must organize a party.

Popov: After listening to the speeches of Comrade Martov and Akselrod I did not want to say anything more about this question, but now, after Comrade Lenin’s speech which, as I observed, troubled now comrades’ minds, I rise to speak again so as once more to put the question as it was put by Comrade Martov. The two drafts differ in the following words: Comrade Lenin’s says ‘personal participation’, while Comrade Martov’s says ‘personal assistance’. Both Lenin and Martov appreciate the importance of the organisational meaning of this point. As Comrade Martov has said, he has introduced this point in order to draw into the Party those elements which are at present neither in nor out of it. Comrade Lenin pursues, so he says, the same aim. He is told: you draw too narrowly the limits of the Party, confusing it with a secret organisation. He replies: thereby I provide a stimulus to organisation. Trotsky, foreseeing this, said: you will create hollow organisations. Lenin answers: that cannot happen, because all organisations have to be confirmed by the Central Committee. The CC, like ‘a spirit that is present everywhere and is everywhere the same’ [Lenin: ‘A fist!’] [25] or, if Comrade Lenin wishes, like a fist that is present everywhere, thrusts itself into every corner, assigns everyone to an organisation, gives everyone work to do. But there are very extensive circles which take a very lively part in our work, but cannot join an organisation. I will not speak of Comrade Akselrod’s professor, perhaps it is not worth worrying about him, but we ought to concern ourselves about the high-school boys of whom Lieber spoke, and about the very wide circles of workers about whom I want to speak. Everywhere, in Petersburg as in Nikolayev and Odessa, as the representatives of these towns testify, there are dozens of workers who are distributing literature and carrying on word-of-mouth agitation, but who cannot be members of an organisation. They can be attached to an organisation, but not regarded as members. And here is the big difference between us in our very understanding of what is meant by belonging to an organisation. For me, a member of an organisation is one who bears responsibility for its actions. And if he bears responsibility, then he ought to take part also in discussing and deciding questions.

Strakhov: First, I must say that I cannot agree with any of the comrades who have just spoken and explained the origin of so-called ‘democratism’ by the absence of control over the activity of local organisations. In my view, the conditions for the rise of ‘democratism’ were quite different. At any rate, so far as Petersburg is concerned, what must be put in the foreground there is the non-admission to the organisation of the Union of active workers of that organisation, and refusal to recognise them as members, and also, connected with these negative tendencies of the Union at that time, its inability to satisfy the demands presented to it by the workers. However, I cannot talk about that now. As regards the question of membership which has arisen, I must say that Comrade Martov regards me as a supporter of his resolution only as a result of misunderstanding. I consider the membership formula put forward by Comrade Martov to be unsatisfactory. The control he proposes is impracticable. As I said before, in my view the only effective and reliable control is that which an organisation exercises over its members. In this matter I agree with Comrade Lenin.

In general, I would observe that it seems to me that comrades have spoken here about two different things, understanding membership in two different ways. Some, I think, understand the words ‘Party member’ in a narrower sense, as a member of the central organisation of the Party. Others embrace a wider definition, implying by ‘Party members’ all those persons in general who agree with the programme of the Party and are willing to help it. While in no way denying the practical importance of the first definition, I must point to the importance of the second, wider one. The thing is that our Party, as Comrade Lenin quite rightly said in his speech, must necessarily include a number of organisations of many different kinds, beginning with the central Party organisation and ending with trade unions which join the Party. The members of all these unions, who accept the programme and enter our Party, must be regarded as members of the Party. Such a broad definition of Party membership seems to me to be very important. It makes obvious to everyone the fact that a Party which includes workers’ organisations of every kind is the real defender of all the correctly-understood interests of the workers. And once this becomes apparent to the mass of the workers, then thereby the ground is cut from under the feet of the Zubatovites and other hypocritical defenders of the workers’ ‘true’ interests. The whole question is this, do we want to remain a conspiratorial organisation, or do we want to create a real workers’ party? I want the latter, and I propose that we consider as a member of the RSDLP everybody who wlorks in any of the organisations which are included in the Party.

Akselrod: Lenin attacked the weakest point in my speech. But I deliberately chose such an extreme example as a professor who unconditionally accepts our programme and even our tactics, in order to demonstrate the unreasonableness of the formula. But how are we to act towards study-groups of revolutionary young people, and in general towards groups which fully accept the Party’s programme and tactics, submit to the decisions of its central organisation, and declare that they belong to the Party? No decrees can forbid them, or any individuals, to call themselves Social-Democrats or even to regard themselves part of the Party. I favour a clear-cut demarcation between party and organisation, in the interests of the latter. One may be a sincere and devoted member of a Social-Democratic party and yet quite unsuitable as a member of a strictly centralised fighting organisation made up of professional revolutionaries. On the other hand the Party of the proletariat must not, on that account, be restricted to the narrow confines of a conspiratorial organisation, which would have to treat hundreds and even thousands of conscious proletarians as being outside the Party, not members of it. As formulated by Lenin, paragraph 1 directly conflicts in principle with the very nature and aims of the Social-Democratic party of the proletariat. But I observe I am knocking at an open door, because Comrade Lenin, with his peripheral circles which are to be regarded as part of the Party organisation, goes out to meet my demand. There still remain the individuals, but here too we could bargain.

Martynov: We are seeing something strange. Comrades speaking in defence of Martov’s resolution, which broadens the limits of our Party, are referring in their arguments to Lenin’s pamphlet What Is To Be Done? They are affirming, rightly, that, according to this Pamphlet, our organisation ought to consist only of professional revolutionaries. If this is so, they say, there is no room in the organisation for the whole Party. The author of What Is To Be Done?, who wants by his resolution to narrow the limits of the Party, having admitted the other day that he had bent the stick, now assures us that he does not conceive the organisation as being so narrow as was indicated in his pamphlet, and that in the Party, together with the organisation of professional revolutionaries, there will also be a place for lose Organisationen. This being so, he says, there is nothing terrible in narrowing the Party down to the limits of its organisation.

Evidently it would not be difficult for us to come into conflict regarding the frontiers of the Party if we were to decide unambiguously what sort of organisation we want to have in this Party. An amazing confusion of concepts has been shown to exist among us on that matter. Some have said here that our organisation must be centralised and clandestine (konspirativnaya ), and therefore conspiratorial. I say that there is no ‘therefore’ about it, that these ideas are not the same, even though the French-derived word konspiratsiya is used both as a synonym of ‘conspiracy’ and also in the sense of ‘underground’ activity.

While recognising that our organisation must be centralised and extremely clandestine I say at the same time that it must be different, in principle and fundamentally, from a conspiratorial one. These two types of organisation presuppose completely different class bases. The conspiratorial type cannot be proletarian, but must be a radical party basing itself on miscellaneous democratic elements which are subject to transient and changing political moods. Our Party is based on the proletariat, on a class with a definite historical tendency. Since conspirators are not backed by a mass which is united by uniform and lasting tendencies, and are linked with few people in their activity, they act secretly, behind the backs of those whose interests they defend, and use the changing moods of these sections for arbitrary political combinations. A revolutionary Social-Democratic organisation is a different affair. It is merely the conscious spokesman of the class movement of the proletariat. It does not act behind the back of the proletariat but merely guides it, helping it to become aware of its interests and consciously, purposefully to fight for them.

Consequently, the Social-Democratic organisation of professional revolutionaries (in the central and local committees) must, unlike a conspiratorial organisation, be organically linked with the massel, and specifically with the proletarian masses, by a whole network of more or less broad, more or less close-knit organisations. I repeat, the Social-Democratic organisation must always be strictly centralised, and under Russian political conditions it must also be strictly clandestine, but by its very nature it can never be conspiratorial. If we recognised this principle without any ambiguity, it would not be difficult for us to settle the question of the limits of our Party.

Akimov: I agree with what Comrade Martov said and hope that that will not do him any harm. I agree with the formula presented by Martov not because it defines exactly the relation I desire to see existing between Party and organisation, but merely because it takes a step forward along the road to a correct solution of the problem.

The session was closed.



[25] Verelendungstheorie. The German word Elend, from which this is formed, can mean ‘misery’, and not just ‘poverty’. The distinction is an important one in this connection (Marx: ‘whether the worker’s pay be high or low’, etc.). The Russian expression used by Akimov does not allow for it.