Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Second Congress

Thirty-first Session

(Present: 36 delegates with 44 mandates and 11 persons with consultative voice.)

Trotsky: In view of the fact that endorsement of the old editorial board of Iskra is merely equivalent to the election of certain persons, I demand that we have a secret ballot, in accordance with the rules.

Hertz asked that a vote be taken on inviting the editorial board to return to the hall.

The Chairman (Pavlovich) considered that Comrade Trotsky had misinterpreted the rules, and proposed that the congress decide on the way the editorial board should be appointed.

Trotsky’s proposal (for secret ballot) was put to the vote and rejected by 19 to 17, with three abstentions. Trotsky’s proposal that the old editorial board be confirmed in its entirety was also noted on and rejected.

Rusov put down a resolution to invite the old editorial board to take part in deciding the question of the election of an editorial board.

This proposal was adopted, and the editorial board were invited to return to the hall.

Pavlovich informed the editors of the result of the discussion and the votes taken.

Fomin: I think it necessary to add something to what Comrade Pavlovich said, since it was extremely incomplete. While the editorial comrades were away, we took a vote on Comrade Trotsky’s proposal that we endorse the whole of the editorial board. According to the strict sense of the congress standing orders, elections of functionaries should be carried out by secret ballot. The endorsement of the editorial board as a whole amounts, of course, to electing certain persons, known to the congress, to the editorial board of the Central Organ. And yet, despite the requirement of the standing orders, and regardless of the insistence of Comrade Trotsky, myself and other comrades, the majority of the congress rejected the demand of the minority for a secret ballot on Comrade Trotsky’s proposal, and thereby deliberately violated the congress standing orders.

Pavlovich: What Fomin says is true, but the congress is sovereign and can do anything it likes.

Plekhanov considered it unnecessary to argue about this matter.

Martov (making a statement on behalf of the majority of the former editorial board): Now, comrades, after the proposal to endorse the old editorial board of the organ which has become the Party organ has been rejected, it is my duty to state the significance of this act. From now on, the old Iskra does not exist, and it would be more consistent to change the paper’s name. At any rate, we see in the new resolution of the congress a substantial qualification of the vote of confidence in Iskra which was passed at one of the first sessions of the congress. Since it has now been decided to elect an editorial board of three, I must declare on my own behalf and that of the three other comrades that none of us will sit on this new editorial board. For myself, I must add that, if it be true that certain comrades wanted to include my name in the list of candidates for this ‘trio’, I must regard that as an insult which I have done nothing to deserve. I say this in view of the circumstances under which it has been decided to change the editorial board. The decision was taken on the grounds of some kind of ‘friction’, of the former editorial board having been ineffectual; moreover, the congress decided the matter along certain lines without questioning the editorial board about this friction or even appointing a commission to report on whether it had been ineffectual. Under the circumstances, I must regard the assumption of certain comrades that I would agree to sit on an editorial board reformed in this manner as a slur on my political reputation. Ryazanov might agree to such a role, but not the Martov whom, I think, you know from his work.

To finish with the personal aspect of the matter, I say further, regard ing the statement made yesterday by Comrade Sorokin that the proposal for a ‘trio’ came from a section of the former editorial board, that this does not correspond to the truth, as the proposal came from Lenin alone. And now I turn to the political aspect of the matter …

The Chairman (Plekhanov) said that he could not allow Martov to continue, as this would mean engaging in discussion of a matter which the congress had already decided.

Fomin proposed that the congress be asked whether it wished to hear Martov.

Popov: Since Martov is making a statement about the departure of the majority of the members from the editorial board of Iskra, it seems to me that this is an event of extraordinary importance, and I consider that the congress ought to allow Martov to say all that he wants to say.

The great majority of the delegates expressed themselves in favour of Martov continuing his speech.

Martov: What has now taken place is the last act of the struggle which has raged during the second half of the congress. It is no secret to anyone that the issue involved in this reform is not ‘efficiency’ but a struggle for influence on the Central Committee. The majority of the editorial board showed that they did not want the Central Committee to be converted into a tool of the editorial board. That is why it was found necessary to reduce the number of members of the editorial board. And that is why I cannot join such an editorial board. Together with the majority of the old editorial board, I thought that the congress would put an end to the ‘state of siege’ in the Party and would establish normal conditions. But in fact the state of siege, with its exceptional laws against particular groups, is being continued and even stepped up. Only if the old editorial board remains in its entirety can we guarantee that the rights conferred on the editorial board by the rules will not be used to the detriment of the Party. We hope that the congress will entrust to worthy hands the organ which we have conducted for two and a half years, and with this hope I will conclude my ‘farewell’ statement.

Sorokin: I ask to speak, to make a personal observation.

Trotsky: We have adopted a procedure by which personal observations are relegated to the end of a session.

The Chairman called on Sorokin to speak.

Sorokin: Comrade Martov said that I distorted the facts. My correction related to the fact that Comrade Martov knew about Lenin’s plan and did not protest at the time. [Shouts: ‘He knew? He didn’t protest?’]

Martov: The Bureau allows private conversations to be reported, without the agreement of the interested parties and in their absence. I declare that what Comrade Sorokin said about yesterday’s session does not correspond to the truth.

Lenin: [The beginning of Lenin’s speech is reproduced here not in the form in which it was witten but as it was corrected, with Lenin’s agreement, during the reading of the minutes of this session (see Session 35).] I ask the congress to allow me to reply to Martov.

Comrade Martov said that the vote in question cast a slur on his political reputation. The election has nothing to do with an insult to a political reputation. [Shouts: ‘Wrong! Not true!’ Plekhanov and Lenin protested, against the interruptions. Lenin asked the secretaries to enter in the minutes that Zasulich, Martov and Trotsky interrupted him, and asked that the number of times they interrupted him be recorded.]

To take up this point of view is to deny the right of the congress to hold new elections, to make changes of any kind in the appointment of functionaries, or to alter the composition of the corporate bodies which derive their authority from the congress. The confusion resulting from such an approach is plain, if only from the example provided by the Organising Committee. We expressed to it the congress’s complete confidence and gratitude, but at the same time we ridiculed the very idea that the congress had no right to examine the internal relations of the OC, and dismissed any assumption that the old composition of the OC would be a hindrance to us in effecting an ‘uncomradely’ change in this composition and forming a new Central Committee out of whatever elements we chose. I repeat: Comrade Martov’s views on the permissibility of electing part of the previous body reveal an extreme state of confusion in his political ideas.

I now come to the question of the ‘two trios’. Comrade Martov said that this whole plan for ‘two trios’ was the work of one person, one member of the editorial board (that it was, in fact, my plan) and that nobody else bore any responsibility for it. I categorically protest against this assertion and declare that it is simply untrue. Let me remind Comrade Martov that, several weeks before the congress, I plainly told him and another member of the editorial board that at the congress I would demand the free election of the editorial board. I gave up this plan only because Comrade Martov himself suggested to me the more convenient plan of electing ‘two trios’. I thereupon formulated this plan on paper and sent it first of all to Comrade Martov himself, who returned it to me with some corrections—here it is, I have the very copy, with Martov’s corrections in red ink.[1] A number of comrades subsequently saw this plan dozens of times, all the members of the editorial board saw it too, and no one at any time formally protested against it. I say ‘formally’ because, if I am not mistaken, Comrade Akselrod did on one occasion drop some private remark to the effect that he had no liking for this plan. But it is obvious that, for a protest, the editorial board required something more than a private remark.

It was not without reason that, even before the congress, the editorial board took a formal decision to invite a definite seventh person to join it, so that, in the event that it became necessary to make any sort of joint statement at the congress, a firm decision could be taken, such as so often we failed to reach in our board of six. And all the members of the editorial board know that the addition of a seventh permanent member to the board of six was a matter of constant concern to us for a very long time. And so, I repeat, the solution by way of electing ‘two trios’ was a perfectly natural one, and I included it in my plan, with the knowledge and consent of Comrade Martov. And on many subsequent occasions Comrade Martov, together with Comrade Trotsky and others, at a number of private meetings of Iskra supporters, advocated this system of electing ‘two trios’. In correcting Martov’s statement about the personal character of the plan for ‘two trios’, however, I do not intend to say anything against Martov’s statement regarding the ‘political significance’ of the step we took in not confirming the old editorial board. On the contrary, I fully and unreservedly agree with Comrade Martov that this is a step of great political significance—but not the significance which Martov ascribes to it. He said that it is an act in a struggle for influence on the CC in Russia. I go farther than Martov. All the activity of Iskra has up to now been a struggle for influence, as a separate group, but now it is something more, namely, a matter of organisational consolidation of this influence, and not merely of struggle for it.

The extent to which Comrade Martov and I differ on this point, politically, can be seen from the fact that he blames me for this desire to influence the CC, whereas I count it to my credit that I have striven and am striving to consolidate this influence by organisational means. It turns out that we even talk different languages. What would be the point of all our work, all our efforts, if they culminated in the same old struggle for influence, and not in complete acquisition and consolidation of influence? Yes, Comrade Martov is absolutely right: the step we have taken is undoubtedly a major political ste p, testifying that one of the trends which have now taken “shape has been chosen for the future work of our Party. And I am not in the least frightened by the dreadful words about ‘a state of siege in the Party’, about exceptional laws against particular persons and groups’, and so on. We not only can but must create a ‘state of siege’ in relation to unstable and vacillating elements, and all our Party rules, the whole system of centralism which the congress has now approved, are nothing but a ‘state of siege’ with regard to the so numerous sources of political diffuseness. Against diffuseness special laws are needed, even if they be exceptional laws, and the step taken by the congress has correctly indicated the political direction to be followed, by creating a firm basis for such laws and such measures.

Martov: In view of the complete distortion of my words by Comrade Lenin, I ask the secretary to read the relevant passage from the minutes.

The Secretary, with the Chairman’s permission, read from the minutes: ‘For myself, I must add that by including my name in the list of three you have cast a slur on my political reputation. Only a Ryazanov, perhaps, would take part in such a combination, but not I.’

Martov said that he was quite satisfied.

A vote was taken on Rusov’s proposal [Rusov’s resolution: “The congress resolves to elect three persons to the editorial board of the central organ, by secret ballot.’] and it was adopted by 25 to 2, with 17 abstentions. Kostrov’s proposal [Kostrov’s resolution: ‘The congress will elect one member of the editorial board, who will co-opt the others.’] was rejected by 22 to 3 with 19 abstentions.

Panin: Since, after Martov’s statement, only two candidates for the editorship of the central organ remain, I ask whether there are any more candidates besides these.

Lenin said that there would be a secret ballot.

Fomin: Secret ballot does not exclude the presentation of a candidature.

Lyadov: All agitation and presentation of candidatures must end with the distribution of voting papers.

Martov: Nobody is forbidden to present candidates.

Plekhanov: The congress is sovereign and can, of course, decide to allow this, but the practice of other congresses does not permit it to be done.

The results of the elections were: 23 votes for Plekhanov, 22 for Martov, 20 for Lenin and three for Koltsov.

Plekhanov, Martov and Lenin were thus elected editors.

Martov: Since, despite my statement that I declined to be a candidate, I have nevertheless been elected, I must state that I decline the honour that has been offered me. Once again I say that I cannot assume responsibility for the policy of a group of three persons who, in accordance with the rules adopted, are to exercise decisive influence on the course of events in Russia. I do not want to be the ‘third man’ in an institution to which the CC will be a mere appendage, and the point that was inserted in the rules about unanimity in co-option removes all hope of broadening this narrow composition. In practice, all power in the Party is being handed over to two persons, and I think too little of the title of editor to agree to sit with them as third man.

Chairman: In that case, the next candidate in line is Koltsov.

Koltsov: I first proposed that the old editorial board be retained in its entirety, and that is what I still advocate. As regards my own position, I consider myself not competent to edit the central organ of the Party, and so decline to accept the post of editor.

Lyadov: I propose that the two elected editors co-opt the third.

Deutsch mentioned the decision by the congress according to which three editors should be elected.

Lyadov withdrew his proposal.

Dyedov also made a proposal, but quickly withdrew it, after which Pavlovich made a proposal.

Gusev: I have a proposal to make which is like Pavlovich’s, but worded a little differently.

Tsaryov proposed that one editor be elected, who should co-opt the rest of the board.

Byelov: Can Comrade Tsaryov’s proposal be voted on, seeing that a similar proposal by Comrade Kostrov has already been rejected?

Plekhanov: In view of the altered conditions, Comrade Tsaryov’s proposal does not exclude Comrade Popov’s, that fresh elections be held. In case of another failure we shall have to vote on Comrade Tsaryov’s proposal.

Rusov: It is objected that the two members of the editorial board whom we have elected cannot co-opt because they do not constitute a corporate body, but those who say this forget that co-option requires unanimity, and so whether or not they are a corporate body does not come into it here.

Trotsky: Rusov forgets that in the event that unanimity is not achieved, the question is to be referred to the Party Council, which can quash the decision of the board, and then the question is decided afresh, by simple majority of votes. Consequently, a complete board is not needed for further co-option to the post of editor.

Lange: The previous editorial board also had an even number of members.

Byelov: The comrade chairman has explained that a decision which the congress decided at one moment can be reconsidered by it at another moment. I think that the present moment is one when we should raise again the question of endorsing the editorial board as a whole, since I am convinced that only if this question is settled affirmatively shall we dissipate the impossible atmosphere which has been created here. I am presenting a written resolution to the Bureau and I request that it be put to the vote.

Plekhanov suggested that Comrade Byelov ask the four members of the editorial board who had been rejected whether they were agreeable to fresh elections.

Deutsch: Plekhanov’s proposal is not consistent. After all, the two editors who were elected were not asked whether they agreed to co-option.

Chairman: Two proposals have been put forward which the congress has previously rejected. I put to the vote the question whether it is permissible to vote on these proposals.

The majority, by 22 to 19, with three abstentions, declared against allowing Byelov’s proposal to be noted on, and by 22 to 21, with one abstentions, took the same decision regarding Tsaryov’s proposal.

Popov’s proposal (for the third editor to be elected) was rejected by 22 to 21, with one abstention, and Pavlovich’s proposal (for the third editor to be co-opted by the two elected ones) was adopted by 24 to 10, with 10 abstentions.

Trotsky (on the voting): Comrade Lenin described to us very eloquently the difficult situation in which the four members of the Party Council would find themselves if they were not in a position to invite a fifth to join them. In order not to leave Comrades Lenin and Plekhanov in that difficult situation which he described so eloquently, I abstained from voting.

Rusov proposed to proceed to the election of the CC.

Martov: We cannot carry out an election by secret ballot without having asked whether a particular candidate agrees to join the board. Besides, candidates who are absent may, at the time of election, owing to the activities of the police in Russia, prove to be withdrawn from circulation or, as a result, may abandon work in the CC. We should thus find we had elected only fragments of the Party’s highest institutions. In view of this, I propose the following. [Martov’s resolution: ‘Elections for the Central Committee to be carried out as follows. Lists of three candidates to be submitted to the Bureau, signed by no fewer than six sponsors. Not later than two sessions after the reading of these lists, voting to take place. Voting to be for complete lists and not for individuals. Decision to be by absolute majority. If no absolute majority is obtained, a second ballot to be held, to decide between the two lists which received the largest number of votes. The result of this second ballot to be accepted as final.’]

Lyadov: I protest strongly, for security reasons, against the reading of lists of candidates.

Rusov: I am amazed at Comrade Martov’s argument. The members of the CC elected here may be arrested this very day and in that case we should find ourselves in exactly the same situation that Comrade Martov has described. He knows that the comrades from the Bund, the members of the CC of the Bund remain unknown—even their number is not known. We need to follow the example of that organisation, which has had much experience in security matters. I reiterate my own proposal and ask that the ballots be handed to the chairman. If you don’t trust the chairman, let somebody else be chosen, though I don’t suppose you will do this.

Plekhanov: Comrade Martov’s proposal cannot even be discussed, since it does not conform to the requirements of security. Comrade Martov mentioned the difficult situation in which the editorial board has been placed. I hope, however, that the RSDLP is not yet bereft of literarv forces.

Martov (on a point of order): I heard the chairman say that my proposal cannot even be discussed. Is that his personal opinion, or that of the Bureau?

Plekhanov: That is my personal opinion.

Trotsky: I think that Comrade Martov’s proposal which the chairman Said could not even be discussed, and which he proceeded to discuss, is the only acceptable one. I think that we cannot form a CC without election by lists. Otherwise combinations could occur here that would make the CC ineffectual.

Martov: To imitate does not mean to ape. While pursuing the same aim as the Bund, we can nevertheless draw up preliminary lists. Only the narres of the candidates would be announced: which if them were elected would remain unknown. We have elected an ineffectual editorial board. Conditions in Russia are such that the Central Committee may find itself with only one member, or even none. According to the Party rules, the CC and the central organ send two members each to the Party Council. If, after these elections, we are left without a CC, then our two editors will have, together with the member of the Council elected by the congress, to appoint a new CC.

Yegorov: I am exceedingly surprised to hear reference to principles again being made in the debate. I think it is clear to everyone that during the last few days the debate has not revolved around any question of principle, but exclusively around ensuring or preventing the inclusion of one or other person in the central institutions. Let us acknowledge that principles have long since been lost sight of at this congress, and call things by their right names. [General Laughter. Muravyov: ‘I request to have it recorded in the minutes that Comrade Martov smiled.’] What is the issue before us? The issue is, does the Congress want to put the task of organisation and conduct of all Party work into the hands of the two elected persons, or doesn’t it? That is the question before the congress. It may happen that the CC will not agree to enter into the combination which has been brought about by the new state of affairs, and in that event the editorial board of the Central Organ will form the Party Council, compose the CC and be the omnipotent ruler of the Party’s fate. The congress has to decide whether it will confide the entire fate of the Party to these two persons. This question is so important that arguments about security cannot figure here: when what is at stake is the Party’s life we can’t talk about security. But the question of security is redundant here also because the ‘compact majority’ of 24 votes, voting as one man, at a signal from their leader, knows and will know the whole composition of the CC. It would be unjust to the minority to put them in an inferior position. However, I am against Comrade Martov’s proposal, because I have not yet lost my principles, and I consider voting by lists to be a restriction on individual freedom in elections.

Rusov: Comrades Yegorov and Martov claim to possess powers of clairvoyance, but all the rest of us are also serious in our way of looking at matters. The question of the election of the CC is one that concerns all. Whether we elect individuals or whole lists, what is involved is in either case an idea regarding the effectual character of the CC. According to Comrade Martov’s proposal, instead of a single person, nine persons will be known. I don’t know where Comrade Martov gets his certainty that there will be only three lists. Many more lists than that may be presented, and at the congress there will be revealed not just nine but a much larger number of active revolutionaries working in Russia. That I regard as very bad security.

Trotsky: Comrade Rusov has not understood the simple practical considerations that I referred to. To elect otherwise than by lists is possible only when among the majority of the delegates an unofficial, and, of course, fully admissible, agreement has been arrived at as to the combination of candidates in the CC. But since such an agreement has been made it would be hypocritical to conceal it, and hypocrisy is, of course, something worse than that clairvoyance of which Comrade Rusov spoke. As for what Comrade Plekhanov said about the RSDLP not being short of literary forces, so that we should have no fear regarding the fate of the editorial board, that was merely a ceremonial phrase in a certain pseudo-classical style, and should be treated as such.

Lenin: We have been reproached with forming a compact majority. There is nothing bad about that. Since a compact majority has been formed here, the question whether the CC to be elected will be effectual has already been settled. There can be no question of accidents. The guarantee is complete. The elections cannot be postponed. Very little time is left. Comrade Martov’s proposal that the elections be put off is unjustified. I support Comrade Rusov’s proposal.

The proposal to close the discussion was passed, with 24 votes.

Martov proposed that, for voting, his resolution be split into two parts: (1) the whole proposal about voting procedure, except the proposal for voting by lists, and (2) the proposal for voting by lists.

Martov’s proposal was rejected by 22 votes to 17, with five abstentions.

Fomin moved a resolution to elect three comrades to count the votes.

This proposal was rejected by 23 to 15.

Rusov’s resolution [Rusov’s resolution: ‘The chairman is to determine the results of the voting and to announce to the congress the name of only one member of the CC.’] was voted on and passed by 24 to 6, with 14 abstentions.

Popov (as a statement): As a rumour has reached me that some comrades want to elect me to the CC, I must say this. I am convinced that given the conditions in which the elections are now being held, the CC will turn out to be a completely ineffectual body. Therefore I ask the comrades not to elect me.

The elections to the CC, by secret ballot, then took place, and afterwards Comrade Sorokin was given the floor to make his personal observation.

Sorokin (personal observation): I was obliged by exceptional circumstances to refer to a private conversation. As a result of statements by some speakers, and, especially, of interjections, to the effect that the plan for the agenda had been drawn up by only one of the editors, an incorrect impression was given regarding the intentions of the author of this plan in including the item about the election of the editorial board. It was only then that I decided to refer to my conversation with Comrade Martov, from which I learnt that the agenda in question had been approved by him and the other editors. By doing this I merely wished to show that there was no malicious intent on Comrade Lenin’s part in this matter.

This session was closed.



[1] Regarding the piece of paper produced by Lenin on this occasion, see Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, 2nd edition, p. 53, note 1.