The Position of the Bund in the Party

From Marxists-en
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Author(s) Lenin
Written 22 October 1903

Iskra, No. 51, October 22, 1903. Published according to the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, pubdate??, Moscow, Volume 7, pages 92-103.
Collection(s): Iskra

Under this title the Bund has published a translation of an article from No. 34 of the Arbeiterstimme.[1] This article, accompanying the decisions of the Fifth Bund Congress, represents as it were an official commentary on those decisions. It attempts to give a systematic exposition of all the arguments which lead to the conclusion that the Bund “must be a federated component of the Party”. It will be interesting to examine these arguments.

The author begins by stating that the most burning question facing the Russian Social-Democratic movement is the question of unity. On what basis can it be effected? The Manifesto of 1898[2] took the principle of autonomy as the basis. The author examines this principle and finds it to be logically false and inherently contradictory. If by questions which specifically concern the Jewish proletariat are meant only such as relate to methods of agitation (with reference to the specific language, mentality and culture of the Jews), that will be technical (?) autonomy. But such autonomy will mean the destruction of all independence, for it is an autonomy enjoyed by every Party committee, and to put the Bund on a par with the committees will be a denial of autonomy. If, on the other hand, autonomy is understood to mean autonomy in some questions of the programme, it is unreasonable to deprive the Bund of all independence in the other questions of the programme; and independence in questions of programme necessarily involves representation of the Bund, as such, on the central bodies of the Party—that is, not autonomy, but federation. A sound basis for the position of the Bund in the Party must be sought in the history of the Jewish revolutionary movement in Russia, and what that history shows is that all organisations active among the Jewish workers joined to form a single union—the Bund—and that its activities spread from Lithuania to Poland and then to the South of Russia. Consequently, history broke down all regional barriers and brought forward the Bund as the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat. And there you have a principle which is not the fruit of an idle brain (?) but follows from the whole history of the Jewish working-class movement: the Bund is the sole representative of the interests of the Jewish proletariat. And, naturally, the organisation of the proletariat of a whole nationality can enter the Party only if the latter has a federal structure: the Jewish proletariat is not only part of the world family of proletarians, but also part of the Jewish nation, which occupies a special position among-the nations. Lastly, it is federation that denotes close unity between the component elements of the Party, for its chief feature is direct participation by each of them in Party affairs, and they all feel they have equal rights. Under autonomy, on the other hand, the components of the Party have no rights, and there is indifference to its common affairs, and mutual distrust, friction and conflict.

Such is the author’s line of argument, which we have presented almost entirely in his, own words. It boils down to three things: considerations of a general nature as to the inherent contradictoriness of autonomy and its unsuitability from the standpoint of close unity between the components of the Party; lessons from history, which has made the Bund the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat; and, lastly, the affirmation that the Jewish proletariat is the proletariat of a whole nationality, a nationality occupying a special position. Thus the author endeavours to build his case on general principles of organisation, on the lessons of history, and on the idea of nationality. He tries—we must give him his due—to examine the matter from all angles. And for that very reason his statement of the case brings out so saliently the attitude of the Bund on this question which is of deep concern to all of us.

Under federation, we are told, the components of the Party have equal rights and share directly in its common affairs; under autonomy they have no rights, and as such do not share in the general life of the Party. This argument belongs entirely to the realm of obvious fallacies; it is as like as two peas to those arguments which mathematicians call mathematical sophistries, and which prove— quite logically, at first glance—that twice two are five, that the part is greater than the whole, and so on. There are collections of such mathematical sophistries, and they are of some value to school children. But it is even embarrassing to have to explain to people who claim to be the sole representatives of the Jewish proletariat so elementary a sophistry as the attribution of different meanings to the term “component of the Party” in two parts of one and the same argument. When they speak of federation, they mean by a component of the Party a sum-total of organisations in different localities; but when they speak of autonomy, they mean by it each local organisation separately. Put these supposedly identical concepts side by side in the same syllogism, and you will arrive inevitably at the conclusion that twice two are five. And if the Bundists are still unclear as to the nature of their sophistry, let them consult their own maximum Rules and they will see that it is under federation that the local organisations communicate with the Party centre indirectly, and under autonomy— directly. No, our federalists would do better not to talk about “close unity"! By trying to disprove that federation means the isolation, and autonomy the fusion of the different components of the Party, they only provoke hilarity.

Hardly more successful is the attempt to prove the “logical falsity” of autonomy by dividing the latter into programme autonomy and technical autonomy. The division itself is utterly absurd. Why should the specific methods of agitation among Jewish workers be classed under technical questions? What has technique to do with it, when it is a matter of peculiarities of language, mentality, conditions of life? How can you talk of independence in questions of programme in connection, for example, with the demand for civil equality for the Jews? The Social-Democratic programme only sets forth the basic demands, common to the entire proletariat, irrespective of occupational, local, national, or racial distinctions. The effect of these distinctions is that one and the same demand for complete equality of citizens before the law gives rise to agitation against one form of inequality in one locality and against another form of inequality in another locality or in relation to other groups of the proletariat, and so on. One and the same point in the programme will be applied differently depending on differences in conditions of life, differences of culture, differences in the relation of social forces in different parts of the country, and so forth. Agitation on behalf of one and the same demand in the programme will be carried on in different ways and in different languages taking into account all these differences. Consequently, autonomy in questions specifically concerning the proletariat of a given race, nation, or district implies that it is left to the discretion of the organisation concerned to determine the specific demands to be advanced in pursuance of the common programme, and the methods of agitation to be employed. The Party as a whole, its central institutions, lay down the common fundamental principles of programme and tactics; as to the different methods of carrying out these principles in practice and agitating for them, they are laid down by the various Party organisations subordinate to the centre, depending on local, racial, national, cultural, and other differences.

Is there anything unclear about this conception of autonomy? And is it not the sheerest scholasticism to make a division into programme autonomy and technical autonomy?

Just see how the concept autonomy is “logically analysed” in the pamphlet we are examining. “From the total body of questions with which the Social-Democrats have to deal," the pamphlet says in connection with the autonomy principle taken as the basis in the 1898 Manifesto, “there are singled out [sic!!1 some questions, which, it is recognised, specifically concern the Jewish proletariat.... Where the realm of general questions begins, the autonomy of the Bund ends.... This gives rise to a duality in the position of the Bund in the Party: in specific questions it acts as the Bund ... in general questions it loses its distinctive character and is put on a par with an ordinary committee of the Party...." The Social-Democratic programme demands complete equality of all citizens before the law. in pursuance of that programme the Jewish worker in Vilna puts forward one specific demand, and the Bashkir worker in Ufa an entirely different specific demand. Does that mean that “from the total body of questions” “some are singled out"? If the general demand for equality is embodied in a number of specific demands for the abolition of specific forms of inequality, is that a singling out of the specific from the general questions? The specific demands are not singled out from the general demands of the programme, but are advanced in pursuance of them. What is singled out is what specifically concerns the Jew in Vilna as distinct from what specifically concerns the Bashkir in Ufa. The generalisation of their demands, the representation of their common class interests (and not of their specific occupational, racial, local, national, or other interests) is the affair of the whole Party, of the Party centre. That would surely seem clear. enough! The reason the Bundists have muddled it is that, instead of logical analysis, they have again and again given us specimens of logical fallacies. They have entirely failed to grasp the relation between the Social-Democrats’ general and specific demands. They imagine that “from the total body of questions with which the Social-Democrats have to deal, some questions are singled out”, when actually every question dealt with in our programme is a generalisation of a number of specific questions and demands; every point in the programme is common to the entire proletariat, while at the same time it is subdivided into specific questions depending on the proletarians’ different occupations, their different conditions of life, differences of language, and so on and so forth. The Bundists are disturbed by the contradictoriness and duality of the position of the Bund, consisting, don’t you see, in the fact that in specific questions it acts as the Bund, while in general questions it loses its distinctive character. A little reflection would show them that such a “duality” exists in the position of absolutely every Social-Democratic worker, who in specific questions acts as a worker in a particular trade, a member of a particular nation, an inhabitant of a particular locality, while in general questions he “loses his distinctive character” and is put on a par with every other Social-Democrat. The autonomy of the Bund, under the Rules of 1898, is of exactly the same nature as the autonomy of the Tula Committee; only the limits of this autonomy are somewhat different and somewhat wider in the former case than in the latter. And there is nothing but a crying logical fallacy in the following argument, by which the Bund tries to refute this conclusion: “If the Bund is allowed independence in some questions of the programme, on what grounds is it deprived of all independence in the other questions of the programme?" This contrasting of specific and general questions as “some” and “the others” is an inimitable specimen of Bundist “logical analysis"! These people simply cannot understand that it is like contrasting the different colours, tastes, and fragrances of particular apples to the number of “other” apples. We make bold to inform you, gentlemen, that not only some, but every apple has its special taste, colour, and fragrance. Not only in “some” questions of the programme, but in all with out exception, you are allowed independence, gentlemen, but only as far as concerns their application to the specific features of the Jewish proletariat. Mein teuerer Freund, ich rat’ Euch drum zuerst Collegium logicum!"[3]

The second argument of the Bundists is an appeal to history, which is supposed to have brought forward the Bund as the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat.

In the first place, this is not true. The author of the pamphlet himself says that “the work of other organisations [besides the Bund] in this direction [i.e., among the Jewish proletariat] either yielded no results at all, or results too insignificant to merit attention”. Hence, on his own admission, there was such work, and consequently the Bund was not the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat; as regards the results of this work, no one, of course, will rely on the Bunch’s opinion; and, lastly, it is a known fact that the Bund interfered with the work of other organisations among the Jewish proletariat (we have only to mention the well-known incident of its campaign against the Ekaterinoslav Party Committee for daring to issue a proclamation to the Jewish workers[4]), so that even if the results did indeed merit no attention, the Bund itself would be partly to blame.

Further, the measure of truth contained in the Bund’s historical reference does not in the least prove the soundness of its arguments. The facts which did take place and which the Bund has in mind speak against it, not for it. These facts are that the Bund existed and developed—during the five years since the First Congress—quite separately and independently from the other organisations of the Party. In general, the actual ties between all Party organisations during this period were very weak, but the ties between the Bund and the rest of the Party were not only far weaker than those between the other organisations, but they kept growing weaker all the time. That the Bund itself weakened these ties is directly proved by the history of our Party’s organisations abroad. In 1898, the Bund members abroad belonged to the one common Party organisation; but by 1903 they had left it to form a completely separate and independent organisation. The separateness and independence of the Bund is beyond question, as is also the fact that it has steadily become more pronounced.

What follows from this unquestionable fact? What follows in the opinion of the Bundists is that one must bow to this fact, slavishly submit to it, turn it into a principle, into the sole principle providing a sound basis for the position of the Bund, and legitimise this principle in tie Rules, which should recognise the Bund as the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat in the Party. In our opinion, on the other hand, such a conclusion is the sheerest opportunism, “tail-ism”[5] of the worst kind. The conclusion to be drawn from the five years of disunity is not that this disunity should be legitimised, but that an end should be put to it once and for all. And will anybody still venture to deny that it really was disunity? All component parts of the Party developed separately and independently during this period—are we perhaps to deduce from this the “principle” of federation between Siberia, the Caucasus, the Urals, the South, and the rest?? The Bundists themselves say that, as regards organisational unity of its components, the Party virtually did not exist— and how can what evolved when the Party did not exist be taken as a pattern for the restoration of organisational unity? No, gentlemen, your reference to the history of the disunity that gave rise to isolation proves nothing whatever except that this isolation is abnormal. To deduce a “principle” of organisation from several years of disorganisation in the Party is to act like those representatives of the historical school who, as Marx sarcastically observed, were prepared to defend the knout on the grounds that it was historical.

Hence, neither the “logical analysis” of autonomy nor the appeals to history can provide even the shadow of a “principle” justifying the isolation of the Bund. But the Bund’s third argument, which invokes the idea of a Jewish nation, is undoubtedly of the nature of a principle. Unfortunately, however, this Zionist idea is absolutely false and essentially reactionary. “The Jews have ceased to be a nation, for a nation without a territory is unthinkable," says one of the most prominent of Marxist theoreticians, Karl Kautsky (see No. 42 of Iskra and the separate reprint from it The Kishinev Massacre and the Jewish Question, p. 3). And quite recently, examining the problem of nationalities in Austria, the same writer endeavoured to give a scientific definition of the concept nationality and established two principal criteria of a nationality: language and territory (Neue Zeit,[6] 1903, No. 2). A French Jew, the radical Alfred Naquet, says practically the same thing, word for word, in his controversy with the anti-Semites and the Zionists.[7] “If it pleased Bernard Lazare," he writes of the well-known Zionist, “to consider himself a citizen of a separate nation, that is his affair; but I declare that, although I was born a Jew... I do not recognise Jewish nationality.... I belong to no other nation but the French.... Are the Jews a nation? Although they were one in the remote past, my reply is a categorical negative. The concept nation implies certain conditions which do not exist in this case. A nation must have a territory on which to develop, and, in our time at least, until a world confederation has extended this basis, a nation must have a common language. And the Jews no longer have either a territory or a common language.... Like myself, Bernard Lazare probably did not know a word of Hebrew, and would have found it no easy matter, if Zionism had achieved its purpose, to make himself under stood to his co-racials [congénères] from other parts of the world” (La Petite République, September 24, 1903). “German and French Jews are quite unlike Polish and Russian Jews. The characteristic features of the Jews include nothing that bears the imprint [empreinte] of nationality. If it were permissible to recognise the Jews as a nation, as Drumont does, it would be an artificial nation. The modern Jew is a product of the unnatural selection to which his forebears were subjected for nearly eighteen centuries." All that remains for the Bundists is to develop the theory of a separate Russian-Jewish nation, whose language is Yiddish and their territory the Pale of Settlement.[8]

Absolutely untenable scientifically,[9] the idea that the Jews form a separate nation is reactionary politically. Irrefutable practical proof of that is furnished by generally known facts of recent history and of present-day political realities. All over Europe, the decline of medievalism and the development of political liberty went hand in hand with the political emancipation of the Jews, their abandonment of Yiddish for the language of the people among whom they lived, and, in general, their undeniable progressive assimilation with the surrounding population. Are we again to revert to the exceptionalist theories and pro claim that Russia will be the one exception, although the Jewish emancipation movement is far broader and deeper-rooted here, thanks to the awakening of a heroic class- consciousness among the Jewish proletariat? Can we possibly attribute to chance the fact that it is the reactionary forces all over Europe, and especially in Russia, who oppose the assimilation of the Jews and try to perpetuate their isolation?

That is precisely what the Jewish problem amounts to: assimilation or isolation?—and the idea of a Jewish “nationality” is definitely reactionary not only when expounded by its consistent advocates (the Zionists), but likewise on the lips of those who try to combine it with the ideas of Social-Democracy (the Bundists). The idea of a Jewish nationality runs counter to the interests of the Jewish proletariat, for it fosters among them, directly or indirectly, a spirit hostile to assimilation, the spirit of the “ghetto”. “When the National Assembly of 1791 decreed the emancipation of the Jews," writes Renan, “it was very little concerned with the question of race.... It is the business of the nineteenth century to abolish all ‘ghettos’, and I cannot compliment those who seek to restore them. The Jewish race has rendered the world the greatest services. Assimilated with the various nations, harmoniously blended with the various national units, it will render no lesser services in the future than in the past." And Karl Kautsky, in particular reference to the Russian Jews, expresses him self even more vigorously. Hostility towards non-native sections of the population can only be eliminated “when the non-native sections of the population cease to be alien and blend with the general mass of the population. That is the only possible solution of the Jewish problem, and we should support everything that makes for the ending of Jewish isolation." Yet the Bund is resisting this only possible solution, for it is helping, not to end but to increase and legitimise Jewish isolation, by propagating the idea of a Jewish “nation” and a plan of federating Jewish and non- Jewish proletarians. That is the basic mistake of “Bundism”, which consistent Jewish Social-Democrats must and will correct. This mistake drives the Bundists to actions unheard-of in the international Social-Democratic movement, such as stirring up distrust among Jewish towards non-Jewish proletarians, fostering suspicion of the latter and disseminating falsehoods about them. Here is proof, taken from this same pamphlet: “Such an absurdity (as that the organisation of the proletariat of a whole nationality should be denied representation on the central Party bodies I could be openly advocated only [mark that! I in regard to the Jewish proletariat, which, owing to the peculiar historical fortunes of the Jewish people, still has to fight for equality I!!] in the world family of the proletariat." We recently came across just such a trick in a Zionist leaflet, whose authors raved and fumed against Iskra, purporting to detect in its struggle with the Bund a refusal to recognise the “equality” of Jew and non-Jew. And now we find the Bundists repeating the tricks of the Zionists! This is disseminating an outright falsehood, for we have “advocated” “denying representation” not “only” to the Jews, but also to the Armenians, the Georgians and so on, and in the case of the Poles, too, we called for the closest union and fusion of the entire proletariat fighting against the tsarist autocracy. It was not for nothing that the P.S.P. (Polish Socialist Party) raged and fulminated against us! To call a fight for the Zionist idea of a Jewish nation, for the federal principle of Party organisation, a “fight for the equality of the Jews in the world family of the proletariat” is to degrade the struggle from the plane of ideas and principles to that of suspicion, incitement and fanning of historically-evolved prejudices. It glaringly reveals a lack of real ideas and principles as weapons of struggle.

* *


We thus arrive at the conclusion that neither the logical, nor the historical, nor yet the nationalist arguments of the Bund will stand criticism. The period of disunity, which aggravated waverings among the Russian Social-Democrats and the isolation of the various organisations, had the same effect, to an even more marked degree, in the case of the Bundists. Instead of proclaiming war on this historically evolved isolation (further increased by the general disunity), they elevated it to a principle, seizing for this purpose on the sophistry that autonomy is inherently contradictory, and on the Zionist idea of a Jewish nation. Only if it frankly and resolutely admits its mistake and sets out to move towards fusion can the Bund turn away from the false path it has taken. And we are convinced that the finest adherents of Social-Democratic ideas among the Jewish proletariat will sooner or later compel the Bund to turn from the path of isolation to that of fusion.

  1. The Arbeiterstimme (Worker’s Voice) was the Central Organ of the Bund; it appeared from 1897 to 1905.
  2. The reference is to the decision of the First Congress of the RSDLP that the Bund “is affiliated to the Party as an autonomous organisation independent only in regard to questions specifically concerning the Jewish proletariat”. (The CPSU in Resolutions and Decisions of Its Congresses, Conferences, and Plenary Meetings of the Central Committee, 1954, Part I, p. 14.)
  3. Hence, my dear friend, I would advise you to begin with college logic.”—Ed.The Pale of Settlement in tsarist Russia was the territory outside which Jews were not allowed to live.
  4. The incident of the Bund’s campaign against the Ekaterinoslav Party Committee is described in Lenin’s article “Does the Jewish Proletariat Need an ‘Independent Political Party’?" (present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 330-35).
  5. “Tail-ism” (khvostism), “tail-enders"—expressions originally coined by Lenin to describe the Economists (see Note 59), who denied the leading role of the Party and the importance of theory in the working-class movement; their position implied that the Party should trail after the spontaneously developing movement, follow in the tail of events.
  6. Neue Zeit (New Times)—the theoretical journal of the German Social-Democratic Party, published in Stuttgart from 1883 to 1923; edited until October 1917 by Karl Kautsky and subsequently by Heinrich Cunow. Some of the works of Marx and Engels were first published in its columns, among them Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Programme” (in No. 18 for 1890-91) and Engels’s “Contribution to the Critique of the Draft Social-Democratic Programme” (in No. I for 1901-02). While Engels was alive he constantly helped the editors with suggestions and advice, and not infrequently criticised them for departures from Marxism. Contributors included August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring, Clara Zetkin, G. V. Plekhanov, Paul Lafargue, and other leading figures in the German and international working-class movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Beginning with the latter half of the nineties, the Neue Zeit made a practice of publishing the writings of the revisionists, notably Bernstein’s series “Problems of Socialism”, which inaugurated the revisionists’ campaign against Marxism. During the First World War it adopted a Centrist, Kautskian position, in effect supporting the social-chauvinists.
  7. The quotations are from Alfred Naquet’s article “Drumont and Bernard Lazare”, published on September 24, 1903, in the Paris La Petite République, at that time the organ of the French reformist Socialists. The paper was founded in 1875; its contributors included Jaurbs, Millerand, and other well-known personalities.
  8. The Pale of Settlement in tsarist Russia was the territory outside which Jews were not allowed to live.
  9. Not only national, but even racial peculiarities are denied to the Jews by modern scientific investigators, who give prime prominence to the peculiarities of the history of the Jews. “Do the peculiarities of Jewry spring from its racial character?" Karl Kautsky asks, and replies that we do not even know with precision what race means. “There is no need to bring in the concept race, which provides no real answer but only poses new problems. It is enough to trace the history of the Jews to ascertain the reasons for their characteristics." And such an expert in this history as Renan says: “The characteristic features of the Jews and their manner of life are far more a product of the social conditions [nécessités sociales] by which they have been influenced for centuries than a racial distinction phénome ne de race].” —LeninErnest Renan was a prominent French philologist and historian. The quotation is from his lecture “Judaism as a Race and as a Religion”, published in Discours et Conferences par Ernest Renan, Paris, 1887, p. 373.