Elia Levin August, 1907

The Social Democratic Party of Russia and
Its Recent Congress

Source: “The Social Democrat,” Vol. XI No. 8 August, 1907, pp. 468-474;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Apart from a general interest, the fifth congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, held in London, has yet a special significance. It proved beyond possibility of doubt the fact, already known before, that the Russian proletariat, in its stupendous struggle against autocracy, has no friends in Europe outside the camp of the international proletariat, and that the Governments of Europe, whether it be Radical France or Imperialist Germany, are ready, as far as it is in their power, to support the band of butchers, arch-pogromists, and common thieves,[1] known as the Russian Government, who surround the throne of the rabid maniac, Nicholas II., the Christian copy of Abdul-Hamid, the Turk.

For nearly two weeks our Russian comrades were tossed about from country to country, always in danger of being delivered into the hands of the Russian Government. And on the whole Continent they could not find a resting-place where they would be suffered to hold their congress in peace and safety. At last, worn out from sleepless nights and hardships of travel, the “wandering congress” reached the shores of “free” England, And here – what a difference between the reception accorded to Italian revolutionists some forty years ago and the Russian revolutionaries to-day. Then, enthusiastic ovations: now, dead coldness, calumny in the capitalist press, and last, but not least, the compiling of a list of the congressists by Scotland Yard for the guidance of the Russian police.

Ay, –

Neue Zeiten, neue Vöogel,
Neue Vögel, neue Lieder.

- says Heine. Then, the liberation of Italy and the fall of despotism in Europe could only benefit the capitalist classes of Great Britain, in that it would advance commerce and trade, open up new markets for British goods, and widen the field of the old ones. England was the arbiter of the world’s trade then; their enthusiasm for the revolutionary movement is therefore quite explicable. But matters are quite different now. Amid the tones in varying keys of the raging Russian revolution the bourgeoisie can discern the bugle call of the social revolution, and in the fall of autocracy it divines the fall of its own rule. And their bourgeois instinct does not deceive them. The international importance of the Russian revolution is really great and far-reaching; it is not Czardom alone that is tottering, it is the whole edifice of capitalism going to pieces. Already now the Russian upheaval is deeply felt in every corner of Europe. The remarkable democratisation of the Government machinery in Austria, which turned from an absolute monarchy into a democratic state of a most advanced type, is the direct result of the developments in Russia. From Europe the movement is rolling to the East. Here it has set in motion peoples of vast countries, like India, Persia, and China. The triumph of the revolution in Russia will bring yet greater changes in Europe and elsewhere; it may mean the beginning of the end of capitalism in the civilised world. Is it surprising, then, to find the Liberal Government in this country adopt a friendly attitude to the criminal Government of the Czar, whose hands are bespattered with the blood of thousands of innocent men, women and children, to say nothing of the wholesale murders of revolutionists, the devilish tortures perpetrated on politicals in the prisons of Russia, and many other deeds that make one’s blood freeze in his veins? Why, Sir Edward Grey and Co. are only the agents of the capitalist classes, the true interpreters of their feelings, the guardians of their interests. And when the interests of Messrs. Money-Bags are in danger, what matters human flesh and blood – is there anything base, vile, and criminal before which they would stop?

The Congress was opened by our veteran comrade G. Plechanoff on May 17, and lasted three weeks – an extraordinarily long time for a congress to sit. Normally the agenda should not have taken more than a week to go through. But the R.S.D.L.P. is seriously ill; it is being rent asunder by internal strife and disunion. Nominally one, the party is practically divided into two separately organised sections, each with its own leaders and party organs, fighting one another for supremacy in the central institutions of the party. The sections were nicknamed the “Bolshevik” and “Menshevik,” literally the majority and minority. Originally the names expressed the relative strength of the sections but in time they lost all significance as to numbers and now they are merely congealed terms denoting two different policies struggling within the party. With the relations between the two wings so highly strained it was to be expected that the discussion at the Congress would partake of a stormy, passionate character. The atmosphere at the Congress was, indeed, heavy, and at times it seemed that a split was inevitable. The mistrust on both sides was so deep that in every proposal coming from one quarter the other would see a deeply-laid plot, and would concentrate all its artillery to burst the imaginary mine. Hence endless debates and heated discussion on innocent proposals concerning rules of procedure, and even the question of whether this or that point should be taken first on the agenda, occupied a good deal of the Congress’s time. Still, the danger of a split was happily avoided; and, although no improvement in the internal state of the party has been achieved, the party remains intact, one and indivisible, which means great hope for real unity in the future.

I must here remark that the antagonism so deeply dividing our Russian comrades does not spring from what is known as “Revisionism” or “Bernsteinism.” Both wings of the party are of the “orthodox” Marxian school, both revolutionary, both basing their tactics on the class struggle. The key to their differences is to be found in the singular position of the Russian proletariat in the present revolution. The bulk of the proletariat in Russia has come to understand that nothing short of the Socialist Republic could put a stop to their state of slavery in modern society. But while they are ready for the social revolution, the material conditions of the country are only ripe for a bourgeois revolution. Industrialism, ever on the increase, has taken deep root in the country; but, nevertheless, Russia is still a peasant country in the main. And it is hopeless to think that the proletariat, mustering as it does, not more than one-fourteenth of the entire population, could settle autocracy and capitalism at one blow. Unless indeed, under the impulse of affairs in Russia, the proletarian revolution breaks out in Western Europe, and reacting on Russia offers the proletariat there the opportunity of conquering the political power and shaping the destinies of Russia on the lines of a co-operative commonwealth. Even as it is the Russian proletariat may yet find itself the master of the situation, but the economic conditions not being ripe for the dictatorship of the proletariat, the political power is bound in the long run to slip from its hands into the hands of the bourgeoisie. The immediate aims of the Russian proletariat cannot, therefore, go further than the establishment of a democratic republic. In the October days of 1905, when the revolutionary proletariat swept the country from one end to the other, when the Council of Labour Deputies, led by Social-Democrats, reigned supreme at St. Petersburg, dictating terms to Witte, then, intoxicated with the display of its own power, the proletariat was inclined to think that it could achieve its object by the force of its own arm. But the counter-revolution which followed proved this mistake. Alone the power of the proletariat was not sufficient to break down autocracy once and for all. To render the revolution thorough and complete it was necessary that the proletariat should have some temporary allies. Both the Bolshevik and Menshevik are agreed on that. The question is only where is it to look for them? Which of all the classes of modern Russia or which of all the parties voicing the interests of these classes could and would be prepared to go the whole length of the revolution neck and neck with the proletariat, the revolutionary class par excellence? There are the Cadets representing the Liberal bourgeoisie, the Group of Toil voicing the interests of the peasantry, the pseudo-Socialist parties (Socialists, Revolutionists and Populists) with a following among the peasants and among the backward elements of the workers who have not freed themselves from the petty bourgeois influences of the village. Now, should there be an alliance with all of them or with only some of them; and, again – the role of Social-Democracy in such an alliance – should it be that of a leading or rather of a driving force? Here we are close to the parting of the ways between the Menshevik and the Bolshevik. We shall soon see how these problems are solved by the one and the other.

The main battle raged round the question of what should be the attitude of Social-Democracy towards the non-proletarian parties. In view of the great importance attached to this question I shall give here the essential parts of the two resolutions put to the Congress.

Extracts from the Resolution of the Bolshevik.[1]

Considering, –

That it is the duty of Social-Democracy, whilst fully maintaining the independence of its position, to do all in its power to secure for the proletariat the leadership in this bourgeois-democratic revolution:

The Congress finds,

1. That the reactionary and “black-gang” parties (Union of Russian People, Monarchists, Council of the United Nobility, etc.) are acting with ever-increasing determination as the organisations of the would-be serf drivers, the village landowning class; and that by setting one nation against the other and organising pogroms they strive to drown the revolution in civil war; that such parties as the Octobrists, Mercantile-Industrial Party, partly the Peaceful Regeneration Party, etc., supported as they are by a part of the landowners and the more backward elements of the bourgeoisie, are already on the side of the counter-revolution and openly support the Government – Social-Democracy must fight them.

2. That the parties of the Liberal-Monarchic bourgeoisie, chiefly the Cadets, have already turned their back on the revolution, seeking to stop it by coming to terms with the counter-revolution, it is the duty of Social-Democracy to politically educate the masses of the people, explaining to them the actions of these parties, exposing the constitutional illusions they are spreading, and in the face of their hypocritical democratic phraseology unfold the out-and-out democracy of the proletariat, and mercilessly fight them in order to gain the hegemony over the democratic petty bourgeoisie.

3. That the toil parties (Socialist-Populists, Group of Toil, Social-Revolutionists), vacillating between the policy of the Liberals and a determined fight against the pomieshtzicks (the landowning nobility) and a semi-feudal State, do more or less correctly express the interests and the views of the bulk of the petty bourgeoisie in country and town; that these parties array their practically bourgeois-democratic problems in a more or less hazy socialistic ideology; Social-Democracy must expose their pseudo-Socialistic nature, and fight their tendency to confuse the class distinction between the proletariat and the small master – but on the other hand it must spare no efforts in getting them out of the influence and guidance of the Liberals, compelling them to make their choice between the policy of the Cadets, and that of the revolutionary proletariat, thus forcing them to take their stand in the fight for the completing of the revolution on the side of Social-Democracy against the Black Hundreds and the Liberals.

4. The common actions which follow from that preclude all possibility of desisting from the Social-Democratic programme and tactics, and only serve the object of a common attack on reaction and the treacherous policy of the Liberal bourgeoisie.

Extract from the Resolution of the Menshevik.


That the proletariat is the main moving force of the Russian Revolution;

That on one hand the Revolution has not established yet the fundamental political conditions necessary for the development of a bourgeois society, and, therefore, it has not satisfied yet the middle and lower sections of the bourgeoisie of town and country;

And that on the other hand the social-economic conditions and the historic configuration under which the revolution proceeds, are impeding the development of the bourgeois-democratic movement, producing at one pole indecision and illusions of a peaceful constitutional liquidation of the old regime, and at the other pole, illusions of petty bourgeois revolutionism and agrarian utopias;

That at the present temporary lull these negative tendencies obtain with special force, hindering the development of the revolution, paralysing the oppositionary energy of the Liberal and Radical parties and forcing them on the path of reconciliation to the present regime; making at the same time the conditions especially favourable for the proletariat being impressed by the utopias of the “Toilists”;

Considering all this, Social Democracy aims at the following, -

1. To influence by its independent policy the Liberal and democratic parties, resolutely fighting against the conciliatory tendencies displayed by the Cadets and against the agrarian utopias and the superficial revolutionism of the Toil Parties; but at the same time supporting them in their fight with the present regime.

2. Guided by the requirements of our attack on autocracy, Social-Democracy should in special, definite cases come to terms with these parties in the interests of broadening the revolution and bringing about of the Democratic Republic which is offering the best conditions for a fight for Socialism.

Elia Levin.

(To be continued.)

1.he case of Gurkho, the Cabinet Minister who pocketed millions of money, is only an illustration. It is by mere accident that this scandalous affair was disclosed, but there are many more Gurkhos, of whose deeds the world will, perhaps, never learn the truth.

2.he italics in the resolutions are mine. – E.L.