A Brief Outline of the Split in the RSDLP
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 125-131.
A Brief Outline of the Split in the RSDLP was printed in leaflet form by the Berne (Switzerland) RSDLP promotion group on February 2 (15), 1905, with the following introduction: “The Berne promotion group of the RSDLP, Vperyod, publishes this letter because it considers it very important, especially for the comrades in Russia, to have a brief outline of the split. Will the comrades abroad please forward the letter to Russia.”
In his letter of February 1, 1905, to the editors of the newspaper Vperyod (Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party), the well-known leader of the Swiss Social-Democrats, Hermann Greulich, incidentally expressed his regret at the new split in the ranks of the Russian Social-Democrats and remarked: “Wer die grössere Schuld an dieser Zersplitterung trägt, das werde ich nicht entscheiden und ich habe den internationalen Entscheid bei der deutschen Parteileitung angeregt” (“I do not undertake to decide who is more to blame for this split. I have proposed to the leadership of the German Social-Democratic Party that this question be settled through international channels”).
The editors of Vperyod, together with Comrade Stepanov, representative abroad of the Russian Bureau of Committees of the Majority, answered Greulich in the letter appended below.
Since Comrade Greulich intends to call for an international decision, we are communicating to all friends of Vperyod in foreign countries the contents of our letter to him and request them to translate it into their respective languages, and to bring it to the notice of the greatest possible number of foreign Social-Democrats.
It is also desirable to translate into foreign languages Lenin’s Statement and Documents on the Break of the Central Institutions with the Party, as well as: (1) the resolutions of the Northern Conference, (2) the resolutions of the Caucasian Conference; and (3) the resolutions of the Southern Conference.
Please let us know whether this request will be carried out.
The Letter to Greulich[edit source]
February 3, 1905
In your letter you touch on the question of which group of our Party (the RSDLP) is to blame for the split. You say that you have asked for the opinion of the German Social-Democrats and the International Bureau on this point. In view of this, we feel bound to explain to you how the split occurred. We shall confine ourselves to the presentation of definitely proved facts and refrain, as far as possible, from an evaluation of the facts.
Until the end of 1903, our Party was the aggregate of the disconnected local Social-Democratic organisations called committees. The Central Committee and the Central Organ elected at the Party’s First Congress (in the spring of 1898) were non-existent. They had been suppressed by the police and never been revived. Abroad, a split had occurred between the Union of Russian Social-Democrats (publication—Rabocheye Dyelo; hence, Rabocheye Dyelo-ists) and Plekhanov. Iskra, founded in 1900, sided with the latter. In the space of three years, between 1900 and 1903, Iskra gained overwhelming influence among the Russian committees. Iskra upheld the principles of revolutionary Social-Democracy against “Economism” (alias Rabocheye Dyelo-ism=’Russian variety of opportunism).
The lack of unity in the Party was felt keenly by all.
Finally, in August 1903, it became possible, abroad, to assemble the Second Party Congress, at which were represented all the Russian committees, the Bund (independent organisation of the Jewish proletariat), and both groups abroad—the Iskra group and the Rabocheye Dyelo group.
All participants in the Congress recognised its validity. The struggle at the Congress was between the Iskrists and the anti-Iskrists (the Rabocheye Dyelo-ists and the Bund); in between was the so-called “Marsh”. The Iskrists carried the day. They achieved the adoption of the Party programme (Iskra’s draft). Iskra was recognised as the Central Organ, and its line as the line of the Party. A number of resolutions on tactics were Iskrist in spirit, and the accepted Rules on organisation (Lenin’s draft) were Iskrist. Only with respect to certain details were the Rules marred by the anti-Iskrists with the aid of a minority of the Iskrists. The voting at the Congress was as follows: of the total 51 votes, 33 were Iskra (24 Iskrists of the present Majority and 9 of the present Minority), 10 were “Marsh”, and 8 were anti-Iskrists (3 Rabocheye Dyelo-ists and 5 Bundists). Towards the end of the Congress, before the elections, seven delegates (2 Rabocheye Dyelo-ists and the 5 Bundists) walked out. (The Bund withdrew from the Party.)
The minority of the Iskrists, supported, because of their mistakes, by all the anti-Iskrists and the “Marsh”, became the minority of the Congress (24 against 9+10+1, or, 24 against 20). At the election of the central bodies it was decided to choose three persons to the Editorial Board of the Central Organ and three to the Central Committee. Out of the six members who constituted the old Editorial Board of Iskra—Plekhanov, Axelrod, Zasulich, Starover, Lenin, and Martov—there were elected Plekhanov, Lenin, and Martov. The intention was that the Central Committee should consist of two elected from the majority and one from the minority.
Martov refused to take his seat on the Editorial Board without the three “excluded” (non-elected) comrades, and the entire minority refused to participate in the election of a Central Committee. No one ever disputed or disputes now the validity of the elections, but after the Congress the Minority refused to work under the leadership of the centres elected by the Congress.
This boycott continued for three months, from the end of August to the end of November 1903. I s k r a (six issues, Nos. 46-51) was edited by Ple/ihanov and Lenin alone. The Minority formed a secret organisation within the Party (a fact now corroborated in the press by the Minority followers themselves and denied by no one at the present time). The overwhelming majority of the Russian committees (12 of the 14 that had managed to go on record at the time) condemned this disruptive boycott.
But Plekhanov, following the turbulent congress of the League Abroad (= the Party organisation abroad), which took place in the last days of October 1903, decided to give way to the Minority, declaring before the whole Party in the article “What Should Not Be Done” (Iskra, No. 52, November 1903) that for the sake of avoiding a split one must at times make concessions even to those who lean in error towards revisionism and act as anarcho-individualists (the underlined expressions are employed by Plekhanov literally in his article “What Should Not Be Done”). Lenin withdrew from the Editorial Board, not wishing to go against the decisions of the Congress. Plekhanov then co-opted all the four former editors. The Russian committees declared that they would wait and see what line the new Iskra would take and whether the Mensheviks had really joined the Editorial Board with peaceful intentions.
Precisely what the Bolsheviks had predicted came to pass. The old-Iskra line was not retained, nor was peace brought into the Party by the new, Menshevik Editorial Board. The Iskra line veered so sharply towards the old Rabocheye Dyelo-ism, which had been repudiated by the Second Congress, that even Trotsky, a prominent member of the Minority, author of the programmatic pamphlet Our Political Tasks, which appeared under the edit or ship of the new “Iskra”, stated literally: “There is a gull between the old ’Iskra’ and the new ’Iskra’.” We confine ourselves to this declaration, made by one of our opponents, in order not to have to go into lengthy explanations concerning the instability of Iskra on questions of principle.
On the other hand, “the secret organisation of the Minority” was not disbanded, but continued its boycott of the Central Committee. This covert split of the Party into an open and a secret organisation was an intolerable hindrance to the work. An overwhelming majority of the Russian committees that took a position on the crisis emphatically condemned both the line of the new Iskra and the disorganising behaviour of the Minority. A general clamour was raised on all sides for the immediate summoning of a Third Congress, to find some way out of the intolerable situation.
Under our Party Rules, a special congress may be called only on the demand of organisations commanding in the aggregate at least one half of the total votes (regular congresses are called, “as far as possible”, every two years). This half had been mustered already. But here the CC played the Majority false by taking advantage of the fact that several of its members belonging to the Majority had been arrested. Under the pretext of “reconciliation”, the members of the CC who had escaped arrest made a deal with the secret organisation of the Minority and declared that the organisation had been dissolved; at the same time, in spite of the written declarations of the CC and behind the back of the Party, three Mensheviks were co-opted into the CC This co-optation took place in November or December 1904. Thus, the Minority was fighting from August 1903 to November 1904, tearing the Party asunder, for the sake of co-opting three persons into the Central Organ and three into the CC
The spurious central institutions thus formed met the demand for another congress with silence or abuse.
Then the patience of the Russian committees gave out. They began to call their own private conferences. So far three such conferences have been held: (1) the Conference of the four Caucasian committees; (2) the Conference of three southern committees (Odessa, Nikolayev, and Ekaterinoslav); and (3) the Conference of six northern committees (St. Petersburg, Moscow, Tver, Riga, “the North”—i.e., Yaroslavl, Kostroma, and Vladimir— and, lastly, Nizhni Novgorod). All these conferences declared for the “Majority”, decided to support the publicists’ group of the Majority (the group consisting of Lenin, Ryadovoi, Orlovsky, Galyorka, Voinov, and others), and elected their own Bureau. This Bureau was instructed by the third, viz., the Northern, conference to constitute itself as an Organising Committee and to convene a congress of the Russian committees, i.e., the Third Congress of the Party, without regard for the centres abroad that had split from the Party.
This is how things stood on January 1, 1905 (new style). The Bureau of Committees of the Majority has begun its work (conditions in our police-ridden country are such that the convening of the Congress will, of course, be delayed for a few months; the Second Congress was announced in December 1902, but was not convened until August 1903). The publicists’ group of the Majority founded an organ of the Majority, the newspaper Vperyod, published as a weekly since January 4 (N.S.), 1905. To date (February 3, 1905) four numbers have already appeared. The line of Vperyod is the line of the old “Iskra”. In the name of the old Iskra, Vperyod resolutely combats the new Iskra.
Hence, in actual fact, there are now two Russian Social-Democratic Labour Parties. One has the organ Iskra, “officially” called the Central Organ of the Party; it has the CC, and four committees in Russia out of twenty (the other committees in Russia, apart from the twenty represented at the Second Congress, were organised later, and the validity of their confirmation is still in dispute). The other party has the organ Vperyod, the Bureau of Russian Committees of the Majority, fourteen committees in Russia (the thirteen above-named committees and the Voronezh Committee, and most likely also the committees of Saratov, the Urals, Tula, and Siberia ).
The new-Iskrists have on their side all the opponents of the old Iskra, all the Rabocheye Dyelo-ists, and a large part of the intelligentsia on the fringe of the Party. The Vperyod-ists have on their side all who followed the old Iskra from conviction and on principle, as well as a large part of the class-conscious, advanced workers, and of the practical Party functionaries in Russia. Plekhanov, who was a Bolshevik at the Second Party Congress (August 1903) and at the Congress of the League (October 1903), but who has been fighting the “Majority” furiously since November 1903, declared publicly on September 2, 1904 (this statement has appeared in print) that the forces on both sides were approximately equal.
We Bolsheviks maintain that we have on our side the majority of real Party workers active in Russia. We consider that the main cause of the split and the chief obstacle to unity is the disruptive behaviour of the Minority, which refused to bow to the decisions of the Second Congress and preferred to have a split rather than call the Third Congress.
At the present time the Mensheviks are splitting the local organisations everywhere in Russia. In St. Petersburg, for instance, they prevented the Committee from organising a demonstration on November 28 (see Vperyod, No. 1 ). Now they have broken away in St. Petersburg as a separate group known as the “Group Attached to the Central Committee” and work against the local committee of the Party. Recently they organised in Odessa another such local (“Central Committee”) group for fighting the Party Committee. The falsity of their position has made the Menshevik central institutions disorganise the local work of the Party, since these central bodies did not want to accept the decision of the Party committees that had elected them.
The differences in principle between Vperyod and new Iskra are essentially the same as those between the old Iskra and Rabocheye Dyelo. We consider these differences important, but, given the opportunity fully to defend our views, the views of the old Iskra, we would not consider these differences of themselves to be a bar to working together in one Party.
- The Bund (the General Jewish Workers’ Union of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia). organised in 1897, was an association mainly of Jewish artisans in the western regions of Russia. The Bund joined the RSDLP at the First Congress (March 1898).
At the Second Congress of the RSDLP the Bundists demanded that the Bund be recognised as the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat. Upon the rejection of this organisational nationalism by the Congress, the Bund left the Party.
In 1906, after the Fourth (Unity) Congress, the Bund re-entered the RSDLP The Bundists persistently supported the Mensheviks and waged an unremitting struggle against the Bolsheviks. Although formally belonging to the RSDLP, the Bund was a bourgeois-nationalist type of organisation. It countered the Bolsheviks’ programmatic demand for the right of nations to self-determination by a demand for cultural-national autonomy. During the First World War (1914-18) it adopted the position of the social-chauvinists. In 1917 it supported the counter-revolutionary Provisional Government and fought on the side of the enemies of the October Socialist Revolution. During the Civil War leading Bund members joined forces with the counter-revolution. At the same time, a change was taking place among the rank and file of the Bund in favour of collaboration with the Soviet power. When the victory of the dictatorship of the proletariat over the internal counter revolution and the foreign interventionists became clearly revealed, the Bund declared that it relinquished its struggle against the Soviet power. In March 1921 the Bund decided to dissolve itself, and part of its membership entered the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) on the basis of the rules of admission.
- The League of Russian Revolutionary Social-Democracy Abroad was founded in October 1901 on Lenin’s initiative. Members of the League were the foreign section of the Iskra-Zarya organisation, and the Sotsial-Demokrat organisation, which included the Emancipation of Labour group. The aim of the League was to disseminate the ideas of revolutionary Social-Democracy and help to build up a militant Social-Democratic organisation. Actually the League was Iskra’s representative abroad. It recruited Iskra adherents from among Russian Social-Democrats living abroad, gave financial sup port to Iskra, organised delivery of the paper to Russia, and published Marxist popular literature. It also brought out several bulletins and pamphlets. The Second Congress of the RSDLP endorsed the League as the only Party organisation abroad with the status of a committee and authorised it to work under the direction and control of the Central Committee of the RSDLP
Following the Second Congress, the Mensheviks entrenched themselves in the League and launched a struggle against Lenin and the Bolsheviks. At the League’s Second Congress, in October 1903, the Mensheviks slandered the Bolsheviks, after which Lenin and his adherents left the session. The Mensheviks adopted new Rules of the League, which were directed against the Party Rules approved by the Second Congress of the RSDLP After this the League, which existed until 1905, became a stronghold of Menshevism.
- Galyorka—pseudonym of the Bolshevik M. S. Olminsky (Alexandrov).
- Voinov—pseudonym of the Bolshevik A. V. Lunacharsky.
- At least all the four last-named committees declared for the “Majority” after the Second Party Congress.—Lenin
- See pp. 35-39 of this volume.—Ed.