Letter to Pavel Axelrod, May 25, 1901

From Marxists-en
Jump to navigation Jump to search

May 25, 1901

Dear P. B.,

You have already heard, of course, from G. V. of the plan for our organisation and of the new “conciliatory” enterprise of Nevzorov, Danevich and Ryazanov (who have taken the title of the Borba group[1]). We answered their inquiry (whether we agreed to a preliminary conference between Sotsial-Demokrat, the Union, and Zarya, i.e., their representatives) by consenting. G. V. said here that, of course, it was necessary to agree and that he had already written to you about it. Today Ryazanov (who has already spent about two days here) told me that he had received a letter from Gurevich, who informed him that official agreement had been received only from us, that so far there was still nothing from the Emancipation of Labour group, that he had seen Krichevsky and Ivanshin and was almost sure of their agreement to the conference, that the place suggested is Brussels and the date about June 4, and that the Bund organisation abroad[2] also wished to attend the conference.

Please write to them as soon as possible about the official agreement to the conference on the part of the Emancipation of Labour group (as the representative of Sotsial-Demokrat), and about your attitude to the question of place and time.[3] On the first point we wrote that we are in favour of Zurich or some place closest to it (and that Switzerland, of course, is the most convenient place also for the Emancipation of Labour group) and that we should like the conference to be held quickly, if possible in May, for in June we have not so much free time at our disposal. (Our desire to hasten the conference is really to be explained by the fact that it is more advantageous to us to get it over quickly so as to begin our own organisation sooner and have time for preparing for a decisive fight against the Union in the event of a break. The fight, probably, will be shifted to Russia, too, in the summer.)

Please support our desire to hasten the conference[4] (putting forward any sort of grounds) and to hold it in Switzerland. I think they can hardly object to Switzerland, firstly, because two of the four (Zarya and Sotsial-Demokrat against the Union and Borba) are in favour of Switzerland; secondly, Switzerland is bound to be the natural place for a congress of representatives of the Swiss, German and French groups. Perhaps it would be possible to agree not on Zurich but on Basle, for instance? Let me know, please, when you send your official agreement.

I shall now tell you about Ryazanov. On the question of our organisation (the Iskra organisation abroad) he at first got into a huff when he learnt that we had no intention of enlarging the editorial board and were proposing only a deliberative role for them. He spoke with feeling about Nevzorov being a man who had a great past and services to his credit (exactly the way Nevzorov last summer spoke about Ryazanov!)—he expressed indignation, resorted to irony, and so on and so forth. But a little later, seeing that all this hadn’t the slightest effect on us, he became disposed to make concessions. He declared that he, perhaps, would agree to our plan “(Nevzorov would never agree”), but the best thing would be a federation between Sotsial-Demokrat, Zarya and Borba, that Borba was ready to give up the idea of publishing its own organ (we never believed they could set one up) and confine itself to a series of pamphlets.

On the whole, it looks as if it will be possible to work with them; they may jib a little, but will nevertheless join in.

As far as a rapprochement with the Union is concerned, Ryazanov at first stated that he did not put any hopes at all on the conference, that it was only Gurevich who entertained such an idea, and so forth. But when he learnt that We were not making the abolition of the Union a conditio sine qua non, and that we were ready to allow the existence of a scientific organ (Zarya) and a political newspaper (Iskra) side by side with a popular miscellany or workers’ journal (Rabocheye Dyelo), he made a decisive change of front and declared that he had long ago spoken about this to Krichevsky, that he regarded it as the natural way of ending discord and that he himself was now ready to work for the realisation of such a plan. Let him do some work! Perhaps amalgamation or federation on such a basis will really occur—it would be a big step forward.

Another reason why we are in favour of Zurich, I would add, is that Alexei is anxious to have more time to talk over all kinds of matters with you.

If the questioning of all members of Sotsial-Demokrat (for an official answer to the Borba group) requires much time, please try, if possible, to shorten this time somehow. Delay in calling the conference is extremely undesirable.

Regarding participation of the Bund organisation abroad, we think it should be refused (without making a casus belli out of it in the last resort) on the grounds of paragraph 1 of the decisions of the Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in 1898. (On the strength of this paragraph the Bund is autonomous only in questions specifically concerning the Jewish proletariat and, consequently, cannot act as an independent party to negotiations.)

How about your article for Iskra? Do you intend to provide something for the second booklet of Zarya, about which G. V., of course, has told you?

With warmest greetings and best regards from all of us.



  1. The Borba group was formed in Paris in the summer of 1900 and consisted of D. B. Ryazanov, Y. M. Steklov and E. L. Gurevich. The name Borba (Struggle) was adopted by the group in May 1901. In an attempt to reconcile the revolutionary and opportunist trends in Russian Social-Democracy, the Borba group took the initiative in convening (in June 1901) the Geneva conference of representatives of the Social-Democratic organisations abroad—the Iskra and Zarya editorial board, the Sotsial-Demokrat organisation, the Foreign Committee of the Bund and the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad—and took part in the “unity” conference of the RSDLP’s organisations abroad at Zurich (September 21-22 [October 4-51], 1901). In November 1901 the group issued a programmatic “Advertisement of the Publications of the Social-Democratic Borba Group”. In its publications the group distorted the revolutionary theory of Marxism, interpreted it in a doctrinaire scholastic spirit and was hostile to Lenin’s organisational principles for building up the Party. Owing to its deviations from Social-Democratic views and tactics, its disruptive activities and lack of contact with the Social-Democratic organisations in Russia, the group was refused admission to the Second Congress, by whose decision it was dissolved. p. 67
  2. The Bund—the General Jewish Workers’ Union of Lithuania, Poland and Russia—was organised at an inaugural congress of Jewish Social-Democratic groups held in Vilna in 1897; it united mostly semi-proletarian elements of the Jewish artisans in the Western regions of Russia. At the First Congress of the RSDLP (1898) the Bund joined the Party “as an autonomous organisation, independent only as far as questions affecting the Jewish proletariat are concerned” (K.P.S.S. v rezolutsiyakh i resheniyakh syezdov, konferentsii i plenumov TsK [The CPSU in the Resolutions and Decisions of Its Congresses, Conferences and Plenums of the Central Committee], Part 1, 1954, p. 14).
    The Bund brought nationalism and separatism into the Russian working-class movement and took an opportunist stand on the most important issues of the Social-Democratic movement. After the Second Congress of the RSDLP rejected the Bund’s demand that it be recognised as the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat, the Bund left the Party, rejoining it in 1906 on the basis of a decision of the Fourth (Unity) Congress.
    Within the RSDLP the Bundists constantly supported its opportunist wing (the Economists, Mensheviks and liquidators) and waged a struggle against the Bolsheviks and Bolshevism. To the Bolshevik programme’s demand for the right of nations to self-determination the Bund opposed the demand for autonomy of the national culture. During the years of reaction (1907-10) the Bund adopted a liquidators stand and took an active part in forming the anti-Party August bloc. During the First World War (1914-18) the Bundists took a social-chauvinist stand. In 1917 the Bund supported the counter-revolutionary Provisional Government and fought on the side of the enemies of the October Socialist Revolution, its leaders joining forces with the counter-revolution during the years of foreign military intervention and civil war. At the same time a swing towards co-operation with the Soviet government was to be observed among the Bund’s rank and file. In March 1921 the Bund dissolved itself. p. 67
  3. I am repeating Gurevich’s address, just in case: Mr. E. Gourevitsch, 38 bis Rue Gassendi, 38 bis, Paris.—Lenin
  4. They are said to want it round about June 10. We don’t mind.—Lenin