The Climax of the Party Crisis
|Written||8 December 1911|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, Volume 17, pages 343-353
Two years ago one could find statements in the Social-Democratic press about a “unity crisis” in the Party. The disorganisation and disintegration of the period of counter revolution caused new re-groupings and splits, a new intensification of the struggle abroad, and many who lacked faith or who were weak-nerved lost heart in face of the difficult situation within the Social-Democratic Labour Party. Now, with the formation of the Russian Organising Commission (ROC), we are obviously approaching, if not the end of the crisis, then at any rate a new and decisive turn for the better in the development of the Party. The moment is, therefore, opportune to attempt a general review of the past period of inner Party evolution and of the prospects for the immediate future.
After the revolution the RSDLP consisted of three separate, autonomous, national, Social-Democratic organisations, and two factions that were Russian in the narrow sense of the word. The experience of the years 1905, 1906, and 1907, which were unprecedented for their wealth of events, demonstrated that these factions had deep roots in the trends governing the development of the proletariat, in its general way of life during this period of the bourgeois revolution. The counter-revolution again threw us from the heights to which we had already climbed, down into the valley. The proletariat had to re-group its ranks and gather its forces anew surrounded by Stolypin’s gallows and the jeremiads of Vekhi.
The new situation gave rise to a new grouping of tendencies in the Social-Democratic Party. In both the new factions—under the severe pressure of the adverse times—a process of segregation commenced, the segregation of the least stable Social-Democratic elements, of the various bourgeois fellow-travellers of the proletariat. Two currents strikingly expressed this departure from Social-Democracy—liquidationism and otzovism. And it was these that inevitably gave rise to the tendency to closer relations between the main cores of both the factions which had remained true to Marxism. Such was the state of affairs which led to the Plenary Meeting of January 1910—the source of both positive and negative results, of the steps forward and of the steps back in the subsequent development of the Social-Democratic Party.
To this very day, many people have failed to understand properly the undeniable ideological merit of the work per formed by the Meeting, and the great “conciliationist” mistake it committed. But unless this is understood it is impossible to understand anything at all in the present Party situation. We must therefore pause again and again to explain the source of the present crisis.
The following quotation from an article by a conciliator, written just before the Plenary Meeting and published immediately after it, may help to make this clearer than long discussions or quotations from more direct and more numerous “documents”. One of the leaders of the conciliationism which dominated the Meeting—Comrade Ionov, a Bundist—wrote the following in an article “Is Party Unity Possible?”, published in Discussionny Listok, No. 1 (March 19, 1910; on page 6 we read the editors’ note: “the article was written before the Plenary Meeting”):
“However harmful otzovism and liquidationism, as such, may be to the Party, their beneficial effect on the factions seems to be beyond doubt. Pathology recognises two kinds of abscess—harmful and harmless. The harmless type is a disease beneficial to the organism. As it grows, it draws various injurious substances from the entire organism and thus helps improve the health of that organism. I believe that a similar role was played by liquidationism in respect of Menshevism and by otzovism-ultimatumism in respect of Bolshevism.”
Such is the assessment of the case made by a “conciliator” at the time of the Plenary Meeting; it describes exactly the psychology and the ideas of the conciliationism that triumphed there. In the above quotation the main idea is correct, a thousand times correct; and just because it is correct the Bolsheviks (who even before the Meeting had fully developed the struggle against both liquidationism and otzovism) could not break with the conciliators at the Meeting. They could not, because there was agreement on the main idea; it was only on the question of the form in which it should be applied that there were differences. The form will become subordinated to the content—thought the Bolsheviks, and they proved to be right, though this “adaptation of form to content” has cost the Party two gears, which have been almost “wasted”, owing to the mistake committed by the conciliators.
What was this mistake? It was that the conciliators recognised all and sundry tendencies on their mere promise to heal themselves, instead of recognising only those tendencies that were healing (and only insofar as they were healing) their “abscesses”. The Vperyod and Golos groups and Trotsky all “signed” the resolution against otzovism and liquidationism—that is, they promised to “heal their abscesses”—and that was the end of it! The conciliators “believed” the promise and entangled the Party with non- Party groups that were, as they themselves admitted, “abscesses”. From the point of view of practical politics this was infantile, while from a deeper point of view it lacked an ideological basis, was unprincipled and full of intrigue. Indeed, those who were seriously convinced that liquidationism and otzovism-ultimatumism were abscesses, must have realised that as the abscesses grew they were certain to draw out and drain injurious substances from the organism; and they would not contribute to the poisoning of the organism by attempts to drive inside the poisons gathered in the “abscesses”.
The first year after the Plenary Meeting was a practical revelation of the ideological poverty of the conciliators. As a matter of fact, all Party work (healing “abscesses”) during the whole of that year was done by the Bolsheviks and Plekhanov’s group. Both Sotsial-Demokrat and Rabochaya Gazeta (after Trotsky had expelled the Central Committee’s representative) prove that fact. Some of the generally known, legally issued publications of 1910 also bear out that fact. These are not words but facts proving joint work in the leading bodies of the Party.
During that year (1910), the Golos and Vperyod groups and Trotsky, all in fact, moved away from the Party precisely in the direction of liquidationism and otzovism-ultimatumism. The “harmless abscesses” behaved harmfully, since they did not drain away the “injurious substances” from the organism of the Party, but continued to Contaminate that organism, keeping it in a diseased condition and rendering it incapable of doing Party work. This Party work (in literature, which was accessible to all) was con ducted by the Bolsheviks and the Plekhanovites in spite of the “conciliatory” resolutions and the collegiums set up by the Plenary Meeting, not in conjunction with the Golos and Vperyod groups, but against them (because it was impossible to work in conjunction with the liquidators and otzovists-ultimatumists).
And what about the work in Russia? Not a single meeting of the Central Committee was held during the whole year! Why? Because the members of the Central Committee in Russia (conciliators who well deserved the kisses of Golos Likvidatorov ) kept on “inviting” the liquidators for twelve, for fifteen months but never got them to “accept the invitation”. At the Plenary Meeting, our good conciliators unfortunately did not provide for the institution of “escorts” to bring people to the Central Committee. As a result the Party found itself in the absurd and shameful position, predicted by the Bolsheviks at the Meeting when they fought the credulity and naïveté of the conciliators—work in Russia is at a standstill, the Party’s hands are tied, while a disgusting stream of liberal and anarchistic attacks on the Party is pouring forth from the pages of Nasha Zarya and Vperyod. Mikhail, Roman, and Yuri, on the one hand, the otzovists and the “god-builders” on the other, are doing their utmost to ruin Social-Democratic work, while the conciliationist members of the Central Committee are “inviting” the liquidators and are “waiting” for them!
By their “application” of December 5, 1910, the Bolsheviks stated openly and formally that they cancelled the agreement with all the other factions. The violation of the “peace” made at the Plenary Meeting, its violation by Golos, Vperyod, and Trotsky, had become a fully recognised fact.
About six months were spent (until June 1911) in attempts to convene a plenary meeting abroad, which under the agreement was to be convened within three months. The liquidators (Golos-ists—Bundists—Schwartz) likewise prevented the convening of this meeting. Thereupon the bloc of three groups—the Bolsheviks, the Poles, and the “conciliators”—made a final attempt to save the situation: to call a conference and to form a Russian Organising Commission. As before, the Bolsheviks were in a minority: from January 1910 to June 1911, the liquidators were predominant (in the Central Committee Bureau Abroad they were the Golos-ists—a Bundist—Schwartz in Russia—those “conciliators” who had been continually “inviting” the liquidators) from June 1911 to November 1, 1911 (the time-limit fixed by the trustees), the conciliators, who were joined by the Poles, were predominant.
This was the state of affairs: both money and the dispatch of agents were in the hands of Tyszka and Mark (the leader of the Paris conciliators); the only assurance the Bolsheviks received was agreement that they too would be sent on work. The differences arising out of the Plenary Meeting reduced themselves to the last point which it was impossible to evade: whether to work with all one’s energy, without “waiting” for anyone, without “inviting” anyone (anyone who wishes and is able to work in a Social-Democratic fashion needs no invitations!), or whether to continue bar gaining and haggling with Trotsky, Vperyod, etc. The Bolsheviks chose the first path, a fact which they had already openly and directly declared at the Paris Meeting of Central Committee members. Tyszka and Co. chose (and foisted on both the Technical Commission and the Organising Commission Abroad) the second path, which, as was shown in detail in the article of Sotsial-Demokrat, No. 24, was objectively nothing but empty and miserable intrigue.
The result is now clear to all. By November 1, the Russian Organising Commission was formed. In reality, it was created by the Bolsheviks and by the pro-Party Mensheviks in Russia. “The alliance of the two strong factions” (strong in their ideological solidity and in their work of healing “abscesses”), which so enraged the weak-minded people at the Plenary Meeting and after it (see Golos, Vperyod, Otkliki Bunda, Pravda, etc.), became a fact. In such model and outstanding Social-Democratic organisations as the Baku and the Kiev organisations were in the Russia of 1910 and 1911, this alliance, to the great joy of the Bolsheviks, became almost complete fusion, a single indissoluble organism of pro-Party Social-Democrats.
After the test of two years’ experience, the snivelling for the dissolution of “all” factions proved to be but a miserable phrase used by empty-headed people who had been fooled by the Potresovs and the otzovists. “The alliance of the two strong factions” performed its work, and in the above-mentioned model organisations it reached a stage where a complete merging into a single party could be effected. The waverings of the pro-Party Mensheviks abroad can no longer alter this accomplished fact.
The two years following the Plenary Meeting, which to many sceptics or dilettantes in Social-Democracy who do not wish to understand the devilish difficulty of the task, seem to be years of useless, hopeless, senseless squabbles, of disorganisation and ruin, were in reality years in which the Social-Democratic Party was led out of the marsh of liquidationist and otzovist waverings on to the high road. The year 1910 was a year of joint work by Bolsheviks and pro-Party Mensheviks in all the leading (both official and unofficial, legal and illegal) bodies of the Party; this was the first step of the “alliance of the two strong factions” towards ideological preparation, the gathering of the forces under a single banner, that of anti-liquidationism and anti otzovism. The year 1911 has witnessed the second step–the creation of the Russian Organising Commission. The fact that a pro-Party Menshevik presided at its first meeting is significant: the second step, the creation of an actually functioning centre in Russia, has now been taken. The locomotive has been raised and placed on the rails.
For the first time following four years of ruin and disorganisation, a Social-Democratic centre has met together in Russia—in spite of incredible persecution by the police and the unheard-of intrigues of Golos, Vperyod, the conciliators, the Poles, and tutti quanti. For the first time a leaf let has appeared in Russia addressed to the Party by that centre. For the first time the work of re-establishing the local underground organisations has systematically and thoroughly covered both capital cities, the Volga Region, the Urals, the Caucasus, Kiev, Ekaterinoslav, Rostov, Nikolayev. All this has taken place in about three months, from July to October 1911, for the Russian Organising Commission met only after all these places had been visited. Its first meeting took place simultaneously with the restoration of the St. Petersburg Party Committee and with a series of workers’ meetings arranged by it, and with the passing of resolutions by the Moscow city district organisations in favour of the Party, etc.
Of course it would be unpardonable naïveté to indulge in light-hearted optimism; we are still confronted with enormous difficulties; police persecution has increased ten fold since the first leaflet by the Social-Democratic centre was published in Russia; one may anticipate long and hard months of work, new arrests and new interruptions. But the main thing has been accomplished. The banner has been raised, workers’ circles all over Russia are being drawn to it, and no counter-revolutionary attack can possibly haul it down.
How did the conciliators abroad, and Tyszka and Leder, respond to this gigantic stride forward in the work in Russia? By a final flare-up of miserable intrigue. The “growth of the abscess”, which was so prophetically foretold by Ionov on the eve of the Plenary Meeting, is unpleasant, no doubt. But anyone who does not understand that this unsightly process makes Social-Democracy healthier should not apply himself to revolutionary work! The Technical Commission and the Organising Commission Abroad refuse to submit to the Russian Organising Commission. The Bolsheviks, of course, turn their backs upon those intriguing abroad with contempt. Then vacillations set in. At the beginning of November, a report on the calling together of the Russian Organising Commission was delivered to the remnants of the Organising Commission Abroad (two Poles and one conciliator). The report presented such a comprehensive survey of the work that the opponents of the Bolsheviks, the conciliators whom Golos praised, were forced to recognise the Russian Organising Commission. The Organising Commission Abroad resolved on November 13, 1911, “to be guided by the decisions of the Russian Organising Commission”. Four-fifths of the money in possession of the Organising Commission Abroad is transferred to the Russian Organising Commission, which indicates that the Poles and conciliators themselves are not able to cast a shadow of doubt on the seriousness of the whole undertaking.
Nevertheless, a few days later, both the Technical Commission and the Organising Commission Abroad again refused to submit to the Russian Organising Commission!! What is the meaning of this game?
The editors of the Central Organ are in possession of a document which will be submitted to the conference and which reveals that Tyszka is agitating for non-participation in the Russian Organising Commission and for non participation in the conference.
Is it possible to imagine more vile intrigue than this? In the Technical Commission and in the Organising Commission Abroad they undertook to help convene the conference and to form the Russian Organising Commission. They boast ed that they would invite “all”, but invited no one (though, being in the majority, they had the right to do so and to stipulate any conditions). They could find no one to do the work except the Bolsheviks and the pro-Party Mensheviks. They suffered utter defeat in the field they themselves had chosen. They sank so low as to attempt to “trip up” the Russian Organising Commission, to which, as the authorised body, they had voluntarily handed over four-fifths of their funds for convening the conference!
Yes, an abscess is an unpleasant affair, especially when it is in the process of growth. In No. 24 of the Central Organ it has already been shown why the theoreticians of an alliance of all and sundry groups abroad can only engage in intrigues. Now the Russian worker Social-Democrats will make their choice without any difficulty: whether to defend their Russian Organising Commission and their conference, or to allow Tyszka, Leder and Co. to sabotage their conference by intrigues. The intriguers have condemned them selves—that is a fact; Tyszka and Leder have already passed convicted into the history of the RSDLP, but they will never succeed in hindering the conference or in undermining the Russian Organising Commission.
What about the liquidators? For eighteen months, from January 1910 to June 1911, when they had a majority in the Central Committee Bureau Abroad and faithful “friends” in the persons of the conciliators in the Central Committee Bureau in Russia, they did nothing, absolutely nothing, to further the work in Russia! When they were in the majority—work was at a standstill. But when the Bolsheviks broke up the liquidationist Central Committee Bureau Abroad and proceeded to convene the conference, the liquidators began to bestir themselves. The form in which that “stir” expressed itself is very characteristic. The Bundists, who have always very faithfully served the liquidators, recently wanted to take advantage of the present “time of troubles” (among the Latvians, for instance, the issue of the struggle between the two tendencies—liquidationist and Party—has not yet been decided); they got hold of a Caucasian somewhere and the whole company went to the city of Z to grab signatures for the resolutions drafted by Trotsky and Dan in Café Bubenberg (in Berne, August 1911). But they failed to find the leading Latvian organisation; they failed to get the signatures, and no document with the high-sounding heading “Organising Commission of the Three Strongest Organisations” was prepared. Such are the facts.
Let the Russian workers learn about the way the Bundists are trying to break up the Russian Organising Commission in Russia! Just think: at a time when the comrades preparing the conference were touring the Urals, the Volga Region, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Ekaterinoslav, has toy, Tiflis, Baku—the Bundists “got hold of” a “Caucasian” (probably one of those committee men who were in possession of the “seal” of the Regional Caucasian Committee and who, in December 1908, sent Dan and Axelrod as representatives to the conference of the RSDLP) and took a journey in order to “grab signatures” from the Latvians. Not much more was needed to cause this gang of intriguers, who serve the liquidators and who are absolutely alien to all work in Russia, to come out as the “Organising Commission” of “three organisations” (including the two “strongest” possessors of the seal!). Or perhaps the Bundist gentlemen and the Caucasian will please inform the Party what Russian organisations they visited, when exactly they made these journeys, where they restored the work, and where they made reports? Do try and tell us, dear fellows!
And the past masters of diplomacy abroad with the serious mien of experts, pass judgement: “one must not isolate oneself”, “it is necessary to talk things over with the Bund and with the Regional Caucasian Committee”.
Let those who are wavering now, who regret the “isolation” of the Bolsheviks, learn and ponder over the significance of the history of the Party during these past two years. This isolation makes us feel better than we have ever felt before now that we have cut off the bunch of intriguing nonentities abroad, and have helped to consolidate the ranks of the Russian worker Social-Democrats of St. Petersburg, Moscow, the Urals, the Volga Region, the Caucasus, and the South!
Anyone who complains about isolation understands absolutely nothing of the great ideological work accomplished by the Plenary Meeting or of its conciliationist mistake. For a year and a half after the Meeting there was a semblance of unity abroad and complete stagnation of Social-Democratic work in Russia. For the first time in four or six months of 1911 the seemingly extreme isolation of the Bolsheviks served as an impetus to Social-Democratic work in Russia, and restored the Social-Democratic centre in Russia.
Those who have not yet understood the ideological danger of such “abscesses” as liquidationism and otzovism will now understand it from the history of the impotent squabbles and miserable intrigue to which the wretched Golos and Vperyod groups have sunk, dragging with them, in their fall, all those who attempted to defend them.
To work, comrades, Party Social-Democrats! Shake off the last remnants of your contacts with non-Social-Democratic tendencies and the groups that foster them in spite of the decisions of the Party. Rally round the Russian Organising Commission, help it convene a conference and strengthen local work. The RSDLP has gone through a serious illness; the crisis is passing.
Long live the united, illegal, revolutionary Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party!
- See present edition, Vol. 16, “Notes of a Publicist, II”.—Ed.
- Russian Organising Commission (ROC) for the convening of a Party conference was formed at the end of September 1911 at a meeting of representatives of local Party organisations. The meeting opened in Baku and was guided by G. K. Orjonikidze who had been delegated to call the conference by the Organising Commission Abroad. Representatives of the Baku, Tiflis, Ekaterinburg, Kiev, and Ekaterinoslav organisations took part. Among the delegates were S. G. Shaumian and S. S. Spandaryan. In view of police persecution and the danger of those participating in the meeting being arrested it was transferred to Tiflis. The Meeting discussed reports from local organisations, the constitution of the ROC, relations with the Organising Commission Abroad, elections to the conference, representation from legal organisations, and elections from the non-Russian organisations. A report of the meeting of the Russian Organising Commission was published by G. K. Orjonikidze in No. 25 of Sotsial-Demokrat, December 8 (21), 1914. The meeting drew up an appeal to the local organisations, and issued it in leaflet form together with the resolutions of the meeting.
- Lenin is referring to the Bolshevik organs, the newspaper Zvezda and the magazine Mysl, to which pro-Party Mensheviks also contributed.
- Voice of the Liquidators, punning on Golos Sotsial-Demokrata (Voice of a Social-Democrat).—Tr
- For more information see Lenin’s article “The Results of the Arbitration of the ‘Trustees’”
- Mark—pseudonym of A. I. Lyubimov.
- See pp. 257–77 of this volume.—Ed.
- Otkliki Bunda (Echoes of the Bund)—an organ of the Bund committee abroad which appeared at irregular intervals in Geneva from March 1909 to February 1911. There were five issues.
- The Baku Social-Democratic Party organisation was one of the most active local bodies during the period of reaction and the years of the new revolutionary upsurge. At the beginning of 1911 the Baku Bolshevik Committee and the “leading Menshevik group members” (pro-Party Mensheviks) united for struggle against otzovism and liquidationism, and for the revival of the illegal RSDLP; they formed the United Baku Committee of the RSDLP The Baku Committee supported the decision of the 1911 June Meeting of members of the Central Committee to convene an all-Russia Party conference and actively participated in setting up the Russian Organising Commission.
The Kiev Social-Democratic Party organisation worked almost uninterruptedly during the years of reaction. In 1910–11, the Bolsheviks worked with the pro-Party Mensheviks. The Kiev organisation was the first to support the June Meeting of the Central Committee members and the idea of forming the Russian Organising Commission to convene a Party conference, appointing one of its Committee members to assist the representative of the Organising Commission Abroad.
- This refers to the leaflet issued by the Russian Organising Commission in the autumn of 1911.
- Lenin is referring to G. K. Orjonikidze’s letter to the Editorial Board of Sotsial-Demokrat, published in No. 25 of December 8 (21), 1911, under the signature of N.
- The city of Z refers to Brussels, where the Social-Democratic Party of the Latvian Region had its committee abroad.
- In addition to the never-lose-heart Bundists, the Vperyod people also galloped off to snatch resolutions. From that tiny group—by no means otzovist, heaven forbid!—there galloped off a well-known otzovist; he “galloped” through Kiev, Moscow, Nizhni-Novgorod, “reconciled himself” with the conciliators, and went away without achieving anything anywhere. It is said that the Vperyod group blames the unsatisfactory god devised by Lunacharsky for its failure and that it passed a unanimous resolution to devise a better god. —Lenin