Elia Levin September 1907

The Social Democratic Party of Russia and Its Recent Congress

Source: Social Democrat, Vol. XI No. 9 September, 1907, pp. 538-546;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

A comparison of the two resolutions, especially those parts which I have underlined, will make the position clear. The Bolshevik consider the Liberals reactionary, putting them on the same level with the Black Hundreds. No rapprochement between Social-Democrats and the Cadets could be tolerated. Their oppositionary force is already exhausted, for the revolution they exist no more. Social-Democracy must wrest from under their influence the democratic elements of society, and force the Toilists and the pseudo-Socialists to follow its lead.

The Menshevik, on the other hand, maintain that the Liberals have not said their last word yet. Although they try, at present, to come to terms with the Government, their interests which do not, and cannot, agree with the present regime, will force them to become revolutionary in spite of themselves. Their present policy is the reflection of the present reaction, but as soon as the revolution sets in again their policy will change. They are, so to say, revolutionaries in potentia. The Liberals are to be acted upon; Social-Democrats should influence them and put them on the right path. As to the pseudo-Socialist parties there is more danger for the proletariat from these quarters than from the Liberals; the proletariat is quite safe from bourgeois influences, and no alliance with the Liberals could shake them in their principles; but an alliance, or even an entente cordiale with the Socialistic Groups is fraught with danger of the proletariat getting imbued with the fallacies and reactionary Utopias of these groups, especially of the Social Revolutionists. Social-Democracy has to fight the Toil parties more, perhaps, than the Liberals. Social-Democracy cannot take the lead in this bourgeois revolution; it is best that it isolates itself, pursues independently its policy, and as a free-lance criticises or supports whomever and whenever it finds it expedient. But when rendered necessary it combines with the Liberals, and in general tries to array against the Government the whole of the opposition, the Cadets included.

The resolution of the Bolshevik was carried by a substantial majority -159 against 106. Last year (1906), at the Stockholm Congress, the Bolshevik were in a hopeless minority. Since then the party has increased in strength; the Social-Democratic parties of the Letts and the Poles have joined the party, and the “Bund,” the Jewish Social-Democratic Party, rejoined it; the first two favouring the Bolshevik tactics, and the latter finding itself mostly in agreement with the Menshevik. In this question, however, the Bund occupied a different position altogether; it would combine with the Toil parties in order to fight the Liberals, but at the same time, in case of there being a danger of the “Blacks” getting elected, it advocated an alliance between all the parties of opposition, not excluding the Cadets. But such an attitude commending itself to neither of the two warring sections, the vote of the Bund was split, some voting with the Bolshevik and some with the Menshevik. As for the Letts and Poles, they voted solid for the Bolshevik resolution.

A far more crushing defeat was sustained by the Menshevik on the question of a Labour Congress. For some time past the Menshevik carried on a vigorous agitation in favour of convening a congress of all Labour organisations in the country with a view of forming a Labour Party on lines somewhat similar to the Labour Party in England. Something like 20 or 30 pamphlets and books propounding some three or four schemes for such a Labour Congress were published by the Menshevik, and a similar number was published by the Bolshevik in opposition to these schemes. That our English comrades may not take the Menshevik for a Russian variety of the I.L.P., I must point out that the case in Russia is quite different from what it is here. Till now the working classes here were either inimical or at best indifferent to Socialism, whilst the worker in Russia is enthusiastic over it and follows the lead of Social-Democracy. And if here the danger lies in the possibility of Social-Democracy being swamped in pure and simple trade unionism, in Russia the danger is at the other pole: by bringing into life a Labour Party it may be helping the Anarchist-Syndicalists to get a foothold in the Labour movement and the Social-Revolutionists to spread their reactionary Utopian ideas among the masses of the proletariat, and in general it would have to retard its steps in order to keep in line with the slowest elements of the proletariat.

All the national sections rallied round the Bolshevik and by a great majority defeated the Menshevik resolution.

The Bolshevik have won the fight, they were victorious all along the line. But it is gratifying to note that in their Blanquistic schemes, the Achilles tendon of the Bolshevik, they suffered a defeat (the only one) even more crushing than that of the Menshevik. The idea of the Bolshevik is to organise a rising on a preconcerted plan. Small bands of five or six persons recruited from the “fighting elements of society” are to be organised in country and town. These bands are to harass the Government, kill officials, expropriate Government moneys, in general carry on a guerilla war. At the end, on a certain fixed date, at a given signal, the general rising is started in the country. This chimerical idea was rejected by an overwhelming majority; even the Polish and Lettish sections, the staunch supporters of the Bolshevik, voting with the Menshevik. It was pressed home by many of the speakers that Social-Democracy pursues political but in no way technical aims, that Social-Democracy has to organise and prepare the social forces for the revolution but cannot possibly organise the revolution, it cannot arm the nation, least of all can it fix a date for an armed rising. As to the “fighting bands,” the experience with them was none too pleasant. They brought discredit on the party, and constituted a real danger to the movement. In Poland, in defiance of the executive’s orders, it would make attacks on private soldiers, infuriating the soldiers and making the Socialist propaganda in the army almost impossible. The Bund, the Letts and the Poles had to disband them. Everywhere the tendency of these bands was to degenerate into a sort of sensation-hunting and adventure-mongering bordering on hooliganism. The congress condemned the partisan fights as tending to demoralise the proletariat, lulling them into the illusory belief that it is possible to substitute the single-handed fight of self-sacrificing individuals for the organised action of the proletariat as a whole; it further called on all organisations of the party to cashier the “bands.” The question of how to arm the masses of the people when necessity arises for self-defence, or when the actual fight of the revolution begins, was left open.

* * *

At the Congress there were 331 delegates, representing some 160,000 members of the party. Of these 57 represented the Bund, 44 the Polish section, 29 the Lettish section, 92 Mensheviks, 105 Bolsheviks, and 4 “wild,” belonging to neither of the two sections. This is the comparative strength of the national parties in the R.S.D.L.P.: the Bund, with a membership of about 40,000; the Polish S.D.P., about 30,000 strong; and the Letts, about 15,000; the Russian Party proper, numbering about 70,000. No less than 14 nationalities were represented; there were 118 Russians, 98 Jews, 36 Poles, 29 Letts, 31 Georgians, and then a few Armenians, Germans, Finns, Tartars, Greeks, Lithuanians, etc.

According to profession and trade, there were 35 teachers, 20 university students, 49 journalists, 54 men of the Liberal professions, and the rest working men of various trades and clerks. Men with university education there were 52, intermediary 137, and the rest have only received primary education.

In all, the delegates spent close on 600 years in serving various terms of punishment in prison, exile, and in the mines of Siberia. Six delegates were even condemned to death, but luckily escaped. One has actually been hanged, but somehow the noose happened to be a dead one; believing him to be dead the hangman had cut the rope, the man fell senseless to the ground but recovered consciousness later on and walked off in the stillness of the night.

The publications of the executive for the year amounted to 1,048,350 copies of literature printed in the party’s secret printing offices and 1,350,000 printed in the ordinary way. These figures do not include the literature published by the local committees and the national sections. The publications of the party as a whole ought to be enormous. It is a pity that no report was given on that head.

It should be borne in mind that this literature is of the pamphlet and leaflet order dealing exclusively with problems of tactics and the burning questions of the day. As to general literature on Socialism the supply is provided by private enterprise. About a hundred publishing companies are engaged in quenching the ravishing thirst for Socialist literature. In two years the great Socialist library of Germany was exhausted. Everything was translated into Russian. The works of Marx, Engels and Kautsky were published at a ridiculous price in hundreds of thousands of copies, in five, six, and more editions, by various publishers simultaneously. For 12s. you could get all the three volumes of Marx’s “Capital,” now it is out of print and a third edition is about to appear. But besides these a whole regiment of brilliant writers have created an immense original library. But all this colossal output has not touched the bottom of the market yet. The ravages of the reaction have lately checked the growth of the Socialist literature but, nevertheless, it is growing and growing.

On the whole the impression of the Congress was deep and elevating. You saw before you a great party with a great future. The assembly within the walls of the Brotherhood Church, Islington, was an exhibition of talent, intellect, eloquence and oratory of the highest order.

In conclusion, a few words about the Socialist-Revolutionists. This is a party which professes to be Socialist, mouths the class war, attends the International Socialist Congresses, and has a representative on the International Socialist Bureau. It must have, therefore, puzzled the reader to find this party referred to by our Russian comrades as a petty-bourgeois party cherishing reactionary Utopian ideas; some explanation will, therefore, I think, not be out of place.

The Socialist-Revolutionist Party was formed on the ruins of the heroic “Nihilist” Party of the eighties – the party cf the People’s Will – who killed the Czar Alexander II. From that party they inherited all their fallacies, adding to them some of their own, and with an admixture of Marxian phraseology, with new terms for their old wares, they called to life a sort of a hotchpotch Socialism in which, as in a rainbow, manifold colours are reflected: there is the anarchical worshiping of the “harmonious individual,” of the “hero,” the Revisionist aversion of the materialistic conception of history, and the concentration of capital theory; ethical-aesthetical Socialism with its invariable appeal to “Reason,” “Right,” and “Justice”; the idealisation and the worship of the ignorant petty-bourgeois peasant, who is put on a pedestal and bowed to as the Saviour of Russia; and side by side with this, to meet the requirements of the time, the terms “class war” and “proletariat” are used, but in a quite original sense, of which later on. To all this mish-mash a series of measures for the protection of Labour is hooked on, borrowed from the Social-Democratic programme. But the main weight of the Socialist-Revolutionists lies – and they themselves maintain that – in the agrarian programme. Here they appear in their true colours.

The Russian moujik is convinced that the land ought to belong to those who till it; his little strip of land condemns him to a life of semi-starvation, and his hunger for land is enormous; he hates the big landowning pomieshtzik with all the fibres of his soul; to expropriate the land of the pomieshtzik is the dream of his life. This life-and-death struggle between starved peasantry and landowning nobility is nothing more nor less than a fight between the petty bourgeoisie of the village and large landownership. At present this struggle is putting wind in the Social-Democratic sails inasmuch as it is tending to drive the revolution to its furthermost end – to a Constituent Assembly and the democratic republic. But to our Socialist-Revolutionist the peasant is fighting for the socialisation of the land. Such a fight only exists in their own imagination, but then it is in keeping with the theory shared by our Socialist-Revolutionist, in common with the late party of the People’s Will, that the Russian moujik is a Socialist by birth and nature .... because he denies the right of the pomieshtziks to the land .... and also because the old forms of communal land ownership survived in the village in certain parts of Russia; and, mark you, even there he is the same small holder, with this only difference, that he cannot sell his land. This illusion, an und für sich, is quite harmless and innocent; but the truth of the matter is that above the confiscation of the land belonging to the Crown (excepting the forests and mines), Church and pomieshtziks, as demanded by the Social-Democratic Party, they would also confiscate the land of the peasants, transfer it to the State, allowing each peasant the use of no more land than is physically possible for him to cultivate without outside help. And here it is where the innocent Utopia becomes a danger. What the peasant really wants is more land, and whether this newly-acquired land belongs to the State or municipality matters very little to him. But he will never part with the land he already possesses. And if even a part of the peasants, those whose possessions are below the norm set out in that wild scheme, will not object to it, then the peasants, whose land is above that margin, would fight against all attempts at such confiscation, and a peasant fratricidal war would be inevitable.

The idea of this “equalisation of the use of land,” implying, as it does, that peasants are not to employ hands, is to remove social inequality, and combat the development of capitalism in the village. An idea just as reactionary as it is Utopian.

The Socialist-Revolutionists use the term “proletariat.” But in opposition to the Social-Democratic definition of the proletariat as a class divorced of the means of production and creating surplus-value, they understand under the term “proletariat” the mass of toiling people, including here the small master who is working for himself, and the small-holding peasant. All this variety forms one class according to the theory of the Socialist-Revolutionists, and the interests of this class are one and the same. The class struggle is the struggle which this class, as a whole, carries on against the exploiting classes.

Thus the Socialist-Revolutionists are trying to embrace the immeasurable, confuse the issue of the class war, and seeking to combine in one class the petty-bourgeoisie and the proletariat, thus imbuing the latter with petty-bourgeois ideas and Utopian illusions.

Elia Levin