Party Discipline and the Fight Against the Pro-Cadet Social-Democrats
|Written||23 November 1906|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 320-323.
The sanction of blocs with the Cadets is the finishing touch that definitely marks the Mensheviks as the opportunist wing of the workers’ party. We are waging a ruthless ideological struggle against the formation of blocs with the Cadets, and this struggle must be developed to the widest possible extent. Thu; will do more than anything to educate and unite the masses of the revolutionary proletariat, whom our independent (really, and not merely in name, i.e., without blocs with the Cadets) election campaign will provide with fresh material for the development of their class-consciousness.
The question is how to combine this ruthless ideological struggle with proletarian party discipline. This question must be put squarely and fully explained at once, so that there may be no misunderstanding and no vacillation in the practical policy of revolutionary Social-Democracy.
Let us first consider the theoretical aspect of this question, and then the practical aspect which is of immediate interest to everybody.
We have more than once already enunciated our theoretical views on the importance of discipline and on how this concept is to be understood in the party of the working class. We defined it as: unity of action, freedom of discussion and criticism. Only such discipline is worthy of the democratic party of the advanced class. The strength of the working class lies in organisation. Unless the masses are organised, the proletariat is nothing. Organised—it is everything. Organisation means unity of action, unity in practical operations. But every action is valuable, of course, only because and insofar as it serves to push things forward and not back ward, insofar as it serves to unite the proletariat ideologically, to elevate, and not degrade, corrupt or weaken it. Organisation not based on principle is meaningless, and in practice converts the workers into a miserable appendage of the bourgeoisie in power. Therefore, the proletariat does not recognise unity of action without freedom to discuss and criticise. Therefore, class-conscious workers must never forget that serious violations of principle occur which make the severance of all organisational relations imperative.
To prevent some literary hack from misinterpreting what I say, I shall pass at once from the general to the concrete formulation of the question. Does the sanction by Social-Democrats of blocs with the Cadets necessitate a complete severance of organisational relations, i.e., a split? We think not, and all Bolsheviks think the same way. In the first place, the Mensheviks are only just setting their feet, unsteadily and uncertainly, on the path of practical opportunism en grand. The ink is not yet dry on Martov’s repudiation of Cherevanin for sanctioning blocs with the Cadets; he wrote it before the Cadet password had been given from Geneva. Secondly—and this is far more important—the objective conditions of the proletarian struggle in Russia today irresistibly provoke definite and decisive steps. Whether the tide of revolution rises very high (as we expected) or completely subsides (as some Social-Democrats think it will, though they are afraid to say so), in either case the tactics of blocs with the Cadets will inevitably be scattered to the winds, and that in the not very distant future. Therefore, our duty at the present time is to avoid intellectualist hysteria and preserve Party unity, trusting to the staunchness and sound class instinct of the revolutionary proletariat. Thirdly and lastly, in the present election campaign, the decision of the Mensheviks and the Central Committee in favour of blocs is not binding in practice on the local organisations, and does not commit the Party as a whole to these shameful tactics of blocs with the Cadets.
Now for the concrete formulation of the question. To what extent are the resolutions of the All-Russian Conference of the Russian social-Democratic Labour Party—and the directives of the Central Committee—binding? And to what extent are the local organisations of the Party autonomous?
These questions would undoubtedly have caused endless disputes in our Party had the conference itself not settled them. All the delegates at the conference agreed that its decisions were not binding and committed nobody in any way, for a conference is an advisory, not a deciding body. Its delegates were not democratically elected, but were chosen by the Central Committee from local organisations selected by it, and in a number which it specified. For this reason, at the conference, the Bolsheviks, Letts and Poles did not waste time tinkering with the Menshevik resolution on blocs, nor did they work out a compromise (such as recognising the boycott as correct and at the same time sanctioning blocs with the monarchist bourgeoisie!), but simply put forward in opposition their own platform, their own slogans, their own tactics in the election campaign. In so doing the Bolsheviks took the course that was absolutely necessary at an advisory conference, which was to serve not as a substitute for a congress, but to prepare for it—not to settle the issue, but to bring it out more clearly and precisely—not to conceal, not to gloss over the struggle within the Party, but to direct it, to make it more integral and more centred around principles.
To proceed. The decisions of the conference become (with certain modifications) directives of the Central Committee. Directives of the Central Committee are binding on the whole Party. Within what limits are they binding in regard to this particular question?
Obviously, within the limits of the decisions of the Congress and within the Limits of the autonomy of the local Party organisations that is recognised by the Congress. The question of these limits might also have given rise to endless and insoluble controversy (for the resolution of the Unity Congress forbids all blocs with bourgeois parties in the election campaign), had not the conference adopted, by common consent of the Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks and the members of the Central Committee, one of its least elastic resolutions. The absence of factional divisions in the voting on this resolution is an important guarantee of the unity and fighting efficiency of the workers’ party.
Here is the text of this resolution:
“The conference expresses it,s conviction that within the framework of a single organisation all its members are obliged to carry out all decisions concerning the election campaign adopted by the competent bodies of the local organisations, within the limits of the general directives of the Central Committee; the Central Committee may forbid local organisations to put forward lists that are not purely Social-Democratic, but it must not compel them to put forward lists that are not purely Social-Democratic.”
The passage we have underlined obviates interminable disputes and, one may hope, will obviate undesirable and dangerous friction. The general directives of the Central Committee cannot go beyond the limits of recognising that blocs with the Cadets are permissible. All the Social-Democrats, irrespective of faction, declared at the time that, after all, blocs with the Cadets are not very seemly, for we all authorised the Central Committee to forbid them, but we did not authorise it to prescribe them.
The conclusion is clear. There are two platforms before the Party. One—supported by 18 conference delegates, the Mensheviks and the Bundists; the other—supported by 14 delegates, the Bolsheviks, the Poles and the Letts. The competent bodies of the local organisations are free to choose either of these platforms, to alter and supplement them, or substitute new ones. After the competent bodies have decided, all of us, as members of the Party, must act as one man. A Bolshevik in Odessa must cast into the ballot box a ballot paper bearing a Cadet’s name even if it sickens him. And a Menshevik in Moscow must cast into the ballot box a ballot paper bearing only the names of Social-Democrats, even if his soul is yearning for the Cadets.
But the elections are not taking place tomorrow. Let all the revolutionary Social-Democrats rally still closer and launch the widest and most relentless ideological struggle against blocs with the Cadets, blocs that will hinder the revolution, weaken the proletarian class struggle, and corrupt the civic consciousness of the masses!
- This refers to Plekhanov’s letter (see pp. 271-73 of this volume).