Towards Unity (1910)

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Exactly a year ago, in February 1909, in Sotsial Demokrat No. 2, we characterised the work of the Party Conference of the RSDLP as putting the Party “on the right path” after “a year of disintegration, a year of ideological and political disunity, a year of Party driftage” (article: “On the Road”).[1] We pointed out that the severe crisis affecting our Party was undoubtedly not only organisational but also ideological and political. We saw the guarantee of a successful struggle of the Party organisation against the disintegrating influences of the counter revolutionary period primarily in the fact that the tactical decisions of the conference correctly solved the fundamental task: the full confirmation by the workers’ party of its revolutionary aims derived from the recent period of storm and stress, and of its revolutionary Social-Democratic tactics confirmed by the experience of the immediate mass struggle, and at the same time the taking into account of the vast economic and political changes occurring before our eyes, the attempts of the autocracy to adapt itself to the bourgeois conditions of the era, to organise itself as a bourgeois monarchy and to safeguard the interests of tsarism and the Black-Hundred landlords by means of an open alliance, extensively and systematically carried out, with the bourgeois top sections in the countryside and with the bosses of commercial and industrial capitalism. We outlined the Party’s organisational task associated with the new historical period—the task of the utilisation of all possible legal institutions by the illegal party, including the Social-Democratic group in the Duma, so as to create strongpoints for revolutionary Social-Democratic activity among the masses. Pointing out the resemblance between this organisational task and that solved by our German comrades at the time of the Anti-Socialist Law, we spoke about an “unfortunate deviation from persistent proletarian work” in the shape of rejecting Social-Democratic activity in the Duma or refraining from frank and open criticism of the policy of our Duma group, in the shape of rejecting or belittling the illegal Social-Democratic Party, of attempts to replace it by an amorphous legal organisation, to curtail our revolutionary slogans, and so forth.

By taking this backward glance we can more correctly appraise the significance of the recently held plenary session of the Central Committee of our Party.[2] The text of the most important resolutions adopted by the plenary session will be found elsewhere in this issue. Their significance is that they are a big step towards actual unity of the Party, towards the union of all Party forces, towards unanimous recognition of those basic propositions on the tactics of the Party and its organisation that decide the path of Social-Democracy in our difficult period. This path was correctly indicated a year ago and it is now being taken by the whole Party, all factions of which have become convinced of its correctness. The past year was a year of new factional divisions, of new factional struggle, a year in which the danger of a break-down of the Party was accentuated. But the conditions of work in the localities, the difficult position of the Social-Democratic organisation, the urgent tasks of the economic and political struggle of the proletariat, impelled all the factions to unite the Social-Democratic forces. The more powerful, insolent and rampant the counter-revolution became, the more widely foul renegacy and repudiation of the revolution spread among the liberal and petty-bourgeois democratic strata, the more powerfully were all Social-Democrats drawn towards the Party. It is highly characteristic that in the second half of 1909, under the influence of this whole combination of circumstances, such widely divergent members of our Party as the Menshevik Comrade Plekhanov, on the one hand, and the Vperyod group (a group of Bolsheviks who had departed from orthodox Bolshevism), on the other, pronounced in favour of the Party principle. In August 1909 the former came out vigorously against a split and the policy of splitting the Party under the slogan: “The struggle for influence in the Party.” The latter group put forward a platform which, it is true, at the beginning speaks of a “struggle for restoring the unity of Bolshevism” but at the end emphatically condemns factionalism, “a party within the Party”, “the isolation and exclusiveness of factions”, and vigorously demands their “merging” in the Party, their “fusion”, and the conversion of the factional centres into centres that are “in actual fact only ideological and literary” (pp. 18 and 19 of the pamphlet: The Present Situation and the Tasks of the Party).

The path clearly indicated by the majority of the Party has now been accepted unanimously—not in every detail, of course, but in the main—by all the factions. A year of acute factional struggle has led to a decisive step being taken in favour of abolishing all factions and every kind of factionalism, in favour of the unity of the Party. It was decided to unite all forces for the urgent tasks of the economic and political struggle of the proletariat; the closing down of the factional organ of the Bolsheviks was announced; a decision was adopted unanimously on the need to close down Golos Sotsial-Demokrata, i.e., the factional organ of the Mensheviks. A number of resolutions were passed unanimously, among which we should specially mention here as the most important that on the state of affairs in the Party and that on the convocation of the next Party Conference. The first of these two resolutions merits particularly detailed examination as being, so to speak, the platform for uniting the factions.

It begins with the words: “In furtherance of the basic propositions of the resolutions of the 1908 Party Conference....” We have cited above these basic propositions of the three chief resolutions of this Conference of December 1908: on the appraisal of the present moment and the political tasks of the proletariat, on the organisational policy of the Party and on its attitude to the Social-Democratic group in the Duma. There cannot be the slightest doubt that there is no unanimity in the Party in regard to every detail, each item of these resolutions, that the Party press must open its doors widely for their criticism and revision in accordance with the dictates of experience and the lessons of the increasingly complex economic and political struggle, that this work of criticism, application and improvement must henceforth be regarded by all factions, or more correctly all trends, in the Party as a matter of their own self-determination, as a matter of elucidating their own policy. But the work of criticism and correction of the Party line must not prevent unity in Party activity, which cannot cease for a single moment, which cannot waver, which must be guided in everything by the basic propositions of the above-mentioned resolutions.

In furtherance of these propositions, the first point of the decision of the Central Committee recalls the “basic principles” of Social-Democratic tactics, which, in accordance with the method of the whole of international Social-Democracy, cannot be calculated—especially in a period such as we are passing through—“merely for the given concrete circumstances of the immediate future”, but must take into account various paths and all possible situations, both the possibility of a “rapid break-up” and the possibility of a “relatively unchanging situation”. For the first time the possibility arises for the proletariat to apply this method in a planned and consistent fashion. At one and the same time, in one and the same action of the proletariat, in one and the same network of organisational units, our Party’s tactics must “prepare the proletariat for a new open revolutionary struggle” (without this we should lose the right to belong to revolutionary Social-Democracy, we should not be carrying out our fundamental task, bequeathed to us by the period of 1905 and dictated. by every feature of the con temporary economic and political situation) and “afford the proletariat the possibility of utilising for itself all the contradictions of the unstable regime of counter-revolution” (with out this our revolutionary character would become a mere phrase, the repetition of revolutionary words instead of the application of the sum-total of the revolutionary experience, knowledge and lessons of international Social-Democracy to each practical activity, to the utilisation of each contradiction and vacillation of tsarism, its allies and all bourgeois parties).

The second point of the resolution characterises the change which the workers’ movement in Russia is undergoing. Let us unite and go to the aid of the new generation of Social-Democratic workers, so that they can salve their historical task, renew the Party organisation, and work out new forms of struggle, while in no way renouncing the “tasks of the revolution and its methods” but, on the contrary, upholding them and preparing a wider and firmer basis for a more victorious application of these methods in the coming new revolution.

The third point of the resolution describes the conditions which have evoked among politically conscious workers everywhere an “urge towards concentration of pro-Party Social-Democratic forces, towards the strengthening of Party unity”. The chief of these conditions is the strong counter-revolutionary current. The enemy is uniting and attacking. The old enemies—tsarism, the tyranny and violence of officialdom, the oppression and shameless outrages of the feudal landlords—are being joined by a new enemy: the bourgeoisie, which is becoming increasingly united in conscious enmity to the proletariat, an enmity reinforced by its own experience. The revolutionaries are being harassed, tortured and exterminated as never before. Efforts are being made to vilify and defame the revolution, to erase it from the memory of the people. But in no country has the working class ever yet allowed its enemies to take from it the chief attainment of every revolution at all worthy of this name, viz., the experience of mass struggle, the conviction of millions of working and exploited people that this struggle is essential for any serious improvement of their position. And through all its trials the working class of Russia will preserve the readiness for revolutionary struggle, the mass heroism, by which it conquered in 1905 and which will enable it to be victorious more than once in the future.

It is not merely the oppression of counter-revolution and the raging of counter-revolutionary sentiments that unite us. We are being united too by each step taken in modest, daily practical work. The work of the Social-Democrats in the Duma makes steady progress, becoming free from the mistakes that were inevitable at the outset, overcoming scepticism and indifference, forging the weapon of revolutionary propaganda and agitation of organised class struggle, so valued by all Social-Democrats. And every legal congress in which workers participate, every legal institution into which proletarians penetrate and introduce their class-consciousness, the open defence of labour interests and democratic demands, conduces to the union of forces and the development of the movement as a whole. No persecution by the government, no devices resorted to by its Black-Hundred and bourgeois allies, can put an end to the manifestations of the proletarian struggle in the most varied and sometimes unexpected forms, for capitalism itself at each step of its development teaches and unites its grave-diggers, multiplying their ranks and intensifying their wrath.

The divided character of the Social-Democratic groups and the “parochialism” in their work, from which our movement has suffered so much during the last one-and-a-half to two years, acts in the same direction (the urge towards partyism). It has become impossible to raise the level of practical work without concentrating our forces, without creating a guiding centre. The Central Committee adopted a number of decisions on the organisation and functioning of this centre, on enlarging it by the addition of practical workers, on uniting its work more closely with that in the localities, etc. The theoretical interests that inevitably come to the fore during a period of stagnation likewise require to be united for the defence of socialism in general and of Marxism, as the only scientific socialism, especially in view of the bourgeois counter-revolution, which is mobilising all its forces to combat the ideas of revolutionary Social-Democracy.

Finally, the last point of the resolution speaks of the ideological and political aims of the Social-Democratic movement. The acute development occurring within the Social-Democratic movement in 1908–09 has led to these problems being raised until now in an extraordinarily sharp form and settled by a most intense factional struggle. This was no accident, but an inevitable phenomenon in the circumstances of the crisis and break-down of the Party organisations. But it was inevitable, and the unanimous adoption of the resolution we have examined has clearly demonstrated the general effort to go forward, to pass from fighting for disputed basic propositions to acknowledging them to be indisputable and to intensified co-operative work on the basis of this acknowledgement.

The resolution notes that two kinds of deviations from the correct path are inevitably engendered by the present historical situation and by bourgeois influence on the proletariat. The characteristic features of one of these deviations are essentially the following: “Rejection of the illegal Social-Democratic Party, belittling of its role and significance, attempts to curtail the programmatic and tactical tasks and slogans of revolutionary Social-Democracy, etc.” The connection between these errors within the Social-Democratic movement and the counter-revolutionary bourgeois current outside it is obvious. Nothing is so hateful to the bourgeoisie and tsarism as the illegal Social-Democratic Party, which proves by its work its loyalty to the behests of the revolution, its unswerving readiness to wage a relentless struggle against the foundations of Stolypin’s “legality”. Nothing is so hateful to the bourgeoisie and the servitors of tsarism as the revolutionary aims and slogans of Social-Democracy. It is our imperative task to defend both the one and the other and it is the combination of illegal and legal work that especially demands from us that we combat every “belittling of the role and significance” of the illegal Party. It is just the need to defend the Party position on minor matters, in more modest measures, in particular instances, in the legal framework, that especially requires us to see to it that these aims and slogans are not curtailed, that the changed form of the struggle does not destroy its content, does not make it less irreconcilable, does not distort the historical perspective and historical aim of the proletariat, viz., through a series of bourgeois revolutions that achieve a democratic republic to lead all working and exploited people, the whole mass of the people, to the proletarian revolution which overthrows capitalism itself.

On the other hand—and here we proceed to characterise the other deviation—it is impossible to carry out in practice daily revolutionary Social-Democratic work without learning how to change its forms, adapting them to the specific character of each new historical period. “Rejection of Social-Democratic work in the Duma and of utilising legal opportunities, a failure to understand the importance of both of them” is just the kind of deviation which makes it impossible in practice to pursue a class Social-Democratic policy. The new stage of the historical development of Russia confronts us with new tasks. This does not mean that the old tasks’ have already been solved, that it is permissible to abandon them; it means that it is necessary to take account of these new tasks, to find new forms of struggle, to work out the tactics and organisation appropriate to them.

Once agreement has begun to be established in the Party on these basic questions, an agreement on the need to over come both of the above-mentioned deviations, chiefly by extending and deepening Social-Democratic work—the chief requirement (for correctly determining the “ideological and political tasks of the Social-Democratic movement”) has been achieved. We must now systematically put this achievement into effect, ensure a full and clear understanding of these tasks by all Party circles, by all local Party workers, carry to its logical conclusion the explanation of the danger of both deviations in all fields of activity, and put the work on such a footing as to make impossible any vacillation to one side or the other. Practical steps in implementing the decisions adopted and the needs of the economic and political struggle itself will then themselves show what remains to be done here ’and how to do it.

Among these needs is one that forms part of the ordinary course of Party life (when this “ordinary course” exists). We are referring to a Party conference, which would bring together from, all parts of Russia representatives of pro-Party Social-Democratic organisations and groups actually en gaged in local work. This task may be a modest one but the present break-down has made it terribly difficult. The resolution of the Central Committee takes into account the new difficulties (the election of regional delegates by individual local Party units and not by regional conferences, if the latter, cannot be convened) and the new tasks (the participation with a conultative voice of Party functionaries from the legal movement).

The objective conditions require that the basis of the Party’s organisation should consist of illegal workers’ units that are modest as regards size and present forms of work. Much more initiative and independent activity than previously, however, is required of them in order to learn to carry out revolutionary Social-Democratic work systematically, undeviatingly and in a planned way in the present difficult situation, and the more so because in very many cases they cannot expect assistance from old, experienced comrades. And these primary units cannot solve the tasks of constant influence on the masses and interaction with the masses without establishing, firstly, firm connections with one another and, secondly, without strongpoints in the form of all possible kinds of legal institutions. Hence the necessity for a conference of delegates of these illegal primary units—first of all, immediately and at all costs. Hence the need to draw in pro-Party Social-Democrats from the legal movement, representatives “of Social-Democratic groups in the legal movement that are ready to establish a firm organisational connection with the local Party centres”. Who among our legal Social-Democrats is really pro-Party, in deeds and not merely in words, who among them has really understood the new conditions of work outlined above and how to combine with them the old aims of revolutionary Social-Democracy, who is sincerely prepared to work for the fulfilment of these aims, which groups are really prepared to establish a firm organisational connection with the Party—this is something that can only, be ascertained in the localities, in the actual course of daily illegal work.

Let us hope that all Social-Democratic forces will unite for this work, that Party functionaries at the centre and in the localities will set about preparing the conference with the utmost vigour, that this conference will help definitively to reinforce our Party unity and vigorously promote the creation of a broader, more stable and more flexible proletarian basis for the future revolutionary battles.

  1. ↑ See present edition, Vol. 15, pp. 343–53.—Ed.
  2. ↑ The Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the RSDLP known as the “Unity” plenum, was held January 2–23 (January 15–February 5), 1910 in Paris. The plenum was convened in spite of Lenin with the assistance of Trotsky’s hidden allies: Zinoviev, Kamenev and Rykov. Present at it, in addition to the Bolsheviks, were representatives of all factions and factional groupings, as well as representatives of national Social-Democratic organisations. The conciliators, hidden Trotskyists, countered Lenin’s plan of a rapprochement with the pro-Party Mensheviks (Plekhanovites) for combating liquidationism by demanding the dissolution of all factions and the union of the Bolsheviks with the liquidators and Trotskyists. The conciliators got the upper hand at the plenum and Lenin was among the minority. Only on Lenin’s insistent demand did the plenum adopt a decision condemning liquidationism and otzovism. In spite of Lenin, the plenum adopted decisions to close down the Bolshevik organ Proletary and to dissolve the Bolshevik Centre. Lenin succeeded in securing the inclusion of a. condition in the plenum’s decision that the factional centres of the Golosists and Vperyodists should be abolished simultaneously with the dissolution of the Bolshevik Centre. The plenum adopted a decision to give financial support to Trotsky’s Viennese Pravda, which Trotsky’s agents, Zinoviev and Kamenev, were trying to have made the organ of the Central Committee. Despite Lenin ’s protest, Menshevik liquidators were elected to the central bodies.
    For Lenin’s fight at the plenum against the liquidators, Trotskyists and conciliators, see his “Notes of a Publicist” (pp. 195–259 of this volume).