Open Letter to Comrade Plekhanov, Chairman of the Council of the RSDLP

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Open Letter to Comrade Plekhanov, Chairman of the Council of the RSDLP, was published at first as a leaflet and reprinted in Vperyod. The message to the Party Council was forwarded to Plekhanov on April 4 (17), 1905. On the following day the Organising Committee (consisting of members of the Bureau of Committees of the Majority and representatives of the Central Committee) met and decided to give the Council seven days in which to reply and after that to open the Party Congress. The Third Congress of the RSDLP started exactly within seven days—on April 12 (25).

Dear Comrade,

On April 4 (17), the Central Committee notified the Party Council that it had appointed Comrades Johansen[1] and Valerian[2] to represent it on the Council and requested that a meeting of the Council as constituted in conformity with the Party Rules be called in the immediate future.

Having received no reply to this request, we took the liberty of approaching you a second time, and on April 22 (9) we received an answer in which you refused to call a meeting of the Council as long as we “go on acting as violators of the Party Rules and usurpers of the Council’s functions”.

The situation arising from your refusal to call an official meeting of the Council prevents us from presenting a number of communications to the Party Council; and since, in our opinion, it is impossible to withhold them any longer, we are obliged to address ourselves to you before the whole Party membership with a written recital of the main statements that we intended to submit to the next meeting of the Council.

1. The Central Committee informs the Party Council that up to April 4 (17) the following qualified Party organisations went on record for the Third Party Congress: the St. Petersburg, Moscow, Northern League, Nizhni-Novgorod, Tver, Tula, Riga, Siberian League, Voronezh, Saratov, Odessa, Caucasian League (8 votes), Nikolayev, Ural, Orel-Bryansk, Kursk, Smolensk, Polesye, North-Western, Kharkov, and Samara committees—a total of 21 organisations, entitled to 48 votes. The CC also declared itself in favour of calling the Congress and decided to send a delegate, as well as its representatives on the Party Council, to the Congress.

From the Astrakhan, Kazan, Kuban, and Don committees, from the League of the Mining and Metal District, from the Ekaterinoslav Committee, from the Crimean League, from the League, from the Editorial Board of the Central Organ, and from the three members of the Council residing abroad either no resolutions were received or the resolutions received declared the convening of the Congress to be undesirable.

Finally, the Kiev Committee, although it had adopted a resolution against the Congress on March 25, subsequently elected a delegate to the Congress and sent him abroad.

Thus, out of the 75 votes[3] that would represent the whole Party at the Congress, 52 (not counting the Kiev Commit tee) were in favour of convening the Third Party Congress.

Under these circumstances the CC deems it necessary to insist, through its representatives on the Party Council, that the Council immediately fulfil its formal obligation, in accordance with Clause 2 of the Party Rules, to convene the Congress when this is demanded by Party organisations commanding aggregately half the total voting strength of the Congress.

Since, according to the information of the CC, many more votes have now been cast for the Congress than are required by the Rules (52 out of 75), the Council must immediately and unconditionally give notice of the convening of the Congress, without stipulating any prior conditions or demands not provided for in the Party Rules.

2. The Central Committee is profoundly convinced that, even granting the fullest sincerity of all Council members, a question of such extraordinary importance as the convening of the Party Congress, at a time such as the Party and all Russia are now living through, cannot be decided on purely formal grounds. Our Party Rules are not explicit enough for that. Thus, they give no answer to the question of the time limit within which the Party Council is obliged to convene the Congress after the required number of votes in favour has been cast. Respecting this and other questions, the central bodies of the Party are obliged to resort to an interpretation of the Rules and act not only in keeping with the formally expressed will of the Party, which, as is evident from Clause 1, has declared in favour of the Congress, but in conformity with the actual state of affairs in the Party as well as in Russia generally.

The CC considers it its duty to inform the Party Council that the Party crisis in Russia has grown to such dimensions that Party work has been brought to an almost complete standstill. The situation in the committees has reached the height of confusion. There is hardly a single question of tactics or organisation that does not provoke the most violent dissension locally between the groups, more often than not because the disputants belong to different camps in the Party rather than on essential matters. Neither the Party Council, nor the Central Organ, nor the CC has sufficient prestige with the majority of the Party workers; dual organisations are springing up everywhere, hampering each other’s work and discrediting the Party in the eyes of the proletariat. To comrades active chiefly as publicists, whose work can go on uninterrupted even in an atmosphere of mistrust on the part of a large portion of the Party membership, the present unbearable, blind-alley situation in which general Party matters stand is perhaps not so apparent as to the Party workers of the practical centre, who come daily up against increasing difficulties in their work in Russia. The time has come when the growth of the internal contradictions in our Party life begins to tax the narrow and, as we can all see now, far from perfect framework of the Rules which the Second Party Congress has given us. New forms are needed, or at least a modification of the old; and this can only be done by the sole lawgiver of the Social-Democratic Party—the Party Congress, since it and it alone has the right to establish rules binding on all, rules that cannot be imposed by any conference, or any local agreement. Realising the importance of resolving the Party crisis by means of an immediate congress, the majority of the committees in Russia have taken all the necessary steps for the convening of the Congress as soon as possible, including the election and the sending of delegates; this applies not only to the committees of the Majority, which had previously declared for the Congress, but also to the greater part of the Minority committees, of the groups and the periphery organisations. The Party has declared for the Congress and has expended considerable means and efforts in preparation for it. The central bodies of the Party have no formal right to postpone notice of the Congress now that the obligation to convene it is incontestable, and they are morally bound to do their utmost to ensure that the Party’s expenditure of energy shall not have been wasted. To keep scores of delegates, our most active comrades, abroad indefinitely, when they are so badly needed in Russia, or still worse, to have them go back to Russia from a congress not held because the comrades of the Central Organ refused to forego the letter of the Party Rules for the spirit, for the higher interest of preserving Party unity, would be an unpardonable waste of Party forces and would mean that the leaders of the Party fell short of the tasks which Party life has put before them. When forms have outlived themselves, when a growing and developing Party feels cramped in these forms, we cannot remedy things by harping for the hundredth time on the sanctity of the letter of the law. That is no way out of the crisis; the only possible solution is to call the Party Congress.

3. On the strength of Clause 6 of the Party Rules which empowers it to organise and conduct all activities of general Party importance, the CC insists upon its right, inalienable and not subject to restriction, to take all the preparatory measures and to perform all the practical work involved in the organisation of Party congresses. The CC, as the only practical centre of the Party, considers all attempts of other Party bodies to interfere in this work a breach of the Party Rules, and it protests against them as an encroachment upon its rights. As for the rights granted to the Party Council in Clause 2 of the Rules with regard to the convocation of Party congresses, the CC interprets them to mean that the Council shall give notice of such convocation and control the work actually done by the CC

In view of the foregoing, the CC admits that its agreement with the Bureau of Committees of the Majority to call the Third Party Congress contravenes the Party Rules only insofar as it expresses (see Point I of the agreement) the intention of convening the Congress even without prior official notice by the Party Council.

4. Having received word that eighteen qualified Party organisations, apart from the CC itself, had passed resolutions in favour of convening the Third Congress, the CC, on March 12, decided to bring this to the attention of the Council, to whom it sent the following statement: “The Central Committee notifies the Party Council that to date (March 12) eighteen qualified Party committees (besides the CC), or more than half the total voting strength at the Third Congress under the Party Rules, have declared in favour of convening the Third Party Congress. Similar resolutions from several other committees are expected in the very near future. Under the circumstances the CC deems it necessary to convene the Congress immediately and asks the Party Council to give due notice of its convocation by adopting a corresponding resolution. All documents in the possession of the CC relating to this question will be submitted to the Party Council in the near future.” Besides this, the CC, as early as March 10, instructed its agent, Comrade Vadim,[4] to go abroad immediately in order to report the situation to the Party Council, to which he had been accredited by the CC Owing to an unfortunate coincidence, Comrade Vadim was arrested before he reached the frontier. As for the document cited above, in which the CC records the receipt of resolutions that oblige the Council to give immediate notice of the Congress, we find that, according to private information received on April 4 (17) from Comrade Deutsch by the members of the CC, Comrades Johansen and Valerian, it was not received at all. Afterwards Comrade Deutsch corrected this information, stating that the document had been received at Locarno, but only after the Council’s meeting of April 7. Since we, the representatives of the CC, were barred from the session of the Council, we are not in a position to determine why there was such a delay in delivering the CC’s statement to the Council members. However, even if it was received after the meeting of the three Council members at Locarno, the document, which established a clear case for the convocation of the Congress, was of such importance that the comrades from the Central Organ and the fifth member of the Council should have met immediately and taken the decision prescribed by the Party Rules, or, at least, in view of the failure of the CC representative to arrive because of his arrest before reaching the frontier, they should have held up publication of the resolution of April 7.

5. The CC questions the validity of the decisions which the Party Council has adopted since February 1005, because after the return of Comrades B. and Vtorov[5] from abroad at the end of January, the CC did not accredit anyone to the Party Council. Long before the present conflict between the CC and the Council members abroad, specifically, on February 14, 1904, a plenary meeting of the CC adopted a decision construing Clause 4 of the Party Rules relating to the representation of the CC on the Council to mean that the members of the CC who are delegated to the Council must be accredited by the CC as a body, and that even members of the CC who for one reason or another are abroad have no right to attend meetings of the Council unless a resolution to that effect has been adopted by a plenary meeting of the CC

This explanatory decision of the CC has served as the basis for representation of the CC abroad. Since February 1904 all representatives of the CC without exception have sat in the Party Council only after having previously been endorsed by a plenary meeting of the CC Comrades Glebov and Lenin, Comrade Glebov in the course of his second stay abroad, Comrade B., who was the CC representative on the Council until his departure for Russia, Comrade Vtorov, who went abroad in January with authority to negotiate certain questions with the Editorial Board of the Central Organ and to attend the meetings of the Council, all received their credentials, not from any member of the CC or from his predecessor on the Party Council, but from a plenary meeting of the t.C. The reason that prompted the CC to reach the mentioned decision of February 14, 1904, and to adhere to it so rigidly in its entire subsequent practice was that such a method of organising the representation of the CC on the Council was the only way to prevent comrades who are not in close enough touch with the CC and not familiar in detail with its policy on all questions of Party life from speaking at the Party Council in the name of the CC We go further: the provision that only a plenary meeting of the CC could appoint the two Council members was the sole means whereby the centre working in Russia could have anything like parity of influence in the Party Council with the comrades from the Central Organ, who preponderate in the Council not only numerically, but also in point of authority, which some of them have won through long years of honourable service in the front ranks of Social-Democracy, both Russian and international. With all due respect to these comrades on the Council, the CC would, however, fail in its duty to the entire Party if it permitted, even for a short time, a change in the composition of the Party Council whereby all questions would be decided by a body consisting exclusively of comrades, who, worthy and respected though they be, cannot by dint of circumstances be in direct con tact with the real practical work carried on in Russia. Since our request for a meeting of the Council was denied, we could not determine on what grounds Comrade Deutsch, whom Comrade Vtorov had appointed CC representative pro tem. on the “Technical Committee” abroad, considered himself entitled to speak at the Party Council in the name of the CC, with whose activities in Russia he never had any contact. The CC declares Comrade Deutsch’s action to be invalid, since it was not authorised by the CC; even assuming that Comrade Vtorov (at that time only an agent of the CC) or any member of the CC had asked Comrade Deutsch to represent it on the Party Council, this will not cure the illegality of Comrade Deutsch’s position, since such authorisation can be granted only by a plenary meeting of the CC, which was not done in the case of Comrade Deutsch. On the grounds aforesaid, the CC considers all decisions of the Party Council subsequent to the departure from abroad of Comrades B. and Vtorov to have been taken wholly without the participation of the CC and demands a reconsideration of all questions at a new meeting to which the rightful representatives of the CC shall be invited.

6. The CC denies the right of the Party Council to pass judgement on any of the centres and to demand from them absolute submission to all its decisions. According to the Rules, the function of the Council is to co-ordinate and unify the activities of the CC and of the Editorial Board of the Central Organ. However, in the event of a conflict between one of the centres and the Council, obviously only a special Party congress can settle the dispute. The word of the Party Council cannot be final in case of a disagreement between itself and one of the centres, since then the Council would simultaneously be both judge and a party to the dispute. However, as a result of the refusal to call a meeting of the Party Council with the participation of CC representatives, the CC is not only condemned by the three members of the Council (editors of the Central Organ) but even penalised by being deprived of its inalienable right, guaranteed by the Party Rules, to be represented in the Party Council.

Still other measures are being taken to force the CC to submit under all circumstances to the decisions of the three members of the Council (editors of the Central Organ). Thus, in reply to the CC’s legitimate demand to its own agent abroad, Comrade Deutsch, that all its technical and financial affairs be handed over to Comrade Valerian, the member of the CC entrusted by it with assuming charge of them, Comrade Deutsch, refused, giving as his reason the conflict between the CC and the Council.

Thus, while the CC in Point I of its agreement with the Bureau of Committees of the Majority expressed its willingness to convene the Congress even in the event of a refusal on the part of the Council and thus came into conflict with the Rules, the three Council members in their turn broke the Rules twice by depriving the CC of its right to participate in the Council and to manage and control its own technical and financial undertakings abroad (a breach of Clauses 2 and 6 of the Party Rules).

In placing before the Party this conflict (for which the Party Rules provide no solution) between the Party Council (represented only by two members from the Central Organ and the fifth member of the Council), on the one side, and the CC on the other, the CC, in view of the refusal of Comrade Plekhanov, Chairman of the Party Council, to call a meeting of that body, declares that by this action, which is a flagrant breach of the Rules, the Chairman of the Council makes it impossible for the Council to function and, in effect, wilfully annuls the Party Council.

Absolute submission of the CC to the Party Council, on which you, comrade, insist, as the sine qua non for calling a meeting of the Council, actually amounts to postponing the Congress indefinitely and flouting the clearly expressed will of the Party.

Placing its loyalty to the Party above loyalty to three foreign-resident members of the Council, the CC submits the entire conflict to the judgement of the Party itself.

April 23 (10), 1905

Central Committee of the RSDLP

  1. Johansen—L. B. Krasin.
  2. Valerian—A. I. Lyubimov.
  3. See the list of qualified organisations published in Iskra, No. 89.—Lenin
  4. Vadim—D. S. Postolovsky.
  5. B. or Bem—M. A. Silvin, representative of the Central Committee on the Party Council at the beginning of 1905; Vioro v—the Menshevik V. N. Krokhmal.