Why I Resigned from the Iskra Editorial Board

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Author(s) Lenin
Written December 1903

Written in the early part of December 1903
Published in leaflet form in December 1903. Signed: N. Lenin.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, pubdate??, Moscow, Volume 7, pages 119-125.

I sent this letter to Iskra immediately after No. 53 appeared. The editors refused to print it in No. 54, so I am compelled to publish it as a leaflet. —Lenin

This Letter to the Editors of “Iskra” played a big part in exposing the opportunist tactics of the Mensheviks, their disruptive activity at the Second Party Congress and after it. After the Menshevik editors refused pusillanimously to print the “Letter” in Iskra. the Bolsheviks published it in leaflet form. It had a wide circulation in Russia, where it was illegally reprinted. Police documents for 1904-05 show that copies were found during house-searches and arrests in Moscow, Kharkov, Tula, Tomsk, Riga, Nikolayev, Poltava, Astrakhan, and the Donbas coalfield.

This is by no means a personal question. It concerns the relations between the majority and minority of our Party Congress, and I am bound to answer it at once, and openly, not only because the majority delegates are bombarding me with questions, but because the article “Our Congress” in No. 53 of Iskra gives an entirely false picture of the not very profound but very disruptive division among the Iskra-ists to which the Congress led.

The account the article gives of the matter is such that even with a magnifying glass no one could discover in it a single really serious cause for the division, could find so much as a shadow of an explanation of such a phenomenon as the altered composition of the editorial board of the Central Organ, or a semblance of valid reasons for my resignation from the board. We parted company over the organisation of the Party’s central bodies, the writer of the article says, over the relations between the Central Organ and the Central Committee, over the way to apply centralism, over the limits and nature of a possible and useful centralisation, over the harm of bureaucratic formalism.

Is that so? Did we not rather part company over the personal composition of the central bodies, over whether it was permissible, because one did not like the membership elected to them by the Congress, to boycott these central bodies, to disrupt the practical work, to revise the decisions of the Party Congress at the bidding of a circle of Social- Democrats abroad, such as the majority of the League?

You know perfectly well, comrades, that this was indeed the case. But the great majority of the most influential and most active Party workers do not know it yet, and so I shall briefly outline the main facts—briefly because, judging by an announcement in No. 53 of Iskra, all the material relating to the history of our divergence will shortly be published.

At our Congress—as both the writer of the article we are discussing and the Bund delegation in their newly published report rightly point out—the “Iskra-ists” were in a considerable majority, about three-fifths, according to my calculation, even before the withdrawal of the Bund and Rabocheye Dyelo delegates. During the first half of the Congress these Iskra-ists stood together against all the anti-Iskra-ists and inconsistent Iskra-ists. This was very plainly revealed in connection with two incidents during the first half of the Congress which are important for an understanding of our divergence: the Organising Committee incident and the equality of languages incident (the latter was the only occasion when the Iskra-ist compact majority dropped—from three-fifths to one-half). During the second half of the Congress the Iskra-ists began to diverge, and by the end of the Congress the divergence was complete. The controversies over Paragraph I of the Party Rules and over the elections to the central bodies clearly reveal the nature of this divergence: a minority of the Iskra-ists (headed by Martov) became the rallying point for a steadily increasing number of non-Iskra-ists and indecisive elements, in opposition to the majority of the Iskra-ists (which included Plekhanov and myself). Over the question of Paragraph I of the Rules this grouping did not yet take final shape, but even so the Bundist votes and two of the three Rabocheye Dyelo-ist votes gave the Iskra-ist minority the upper hand. In the elections to the central bodies the Iskra ist majority (owing to the withdrawal from the Congress of the five Bundist and two Rabocheye Dyelo-ist votes) became the majority at the Party Congress. And it was only at this point that we parted company in the real sense of the term.

We disagreed profoundly, first of all, over the composition of the Central Committee. After the Organising Committee incident, at the very beginning of the Congress, the Iskra-ists hotly discussed various members (and non members) of the Organising Committee as candidates for the Central Committee, and at unofficial meetings of the Iskra organisation, after prolonged and heated debates, rejected one of the candidates supported by Martov by nine votes to four, with three abstentions; by ten votes to two, with four abstentions, a list of five was adopted which, on my proposal, included one leader of the non-Iskra-ist elements and one leader of the Iskra-ist minority. But the minority insisted on having three out of five, and as a result suffered complete defeat at the Party Congress. The great battle at the Congress over whether to endorse the old editorial board of six for the Central Organ or to elect a new trio[1] ended in the same way.

Only from this moment did the divergence become so complete as to suggest a split; only from this moment did the minority (now already become a real “compact” minority) take the course of abstaining from voting—a thing until then unwitnessed at the Congress. And after the Congress this divergence grew ever more acute. The discontented minority resorted to a boycott, lasting for months. It is quite obvious that the charges of bureaucratic formalism, of demanding unquestioning, automatic obedience, and suchlike nonsense, which sprang from this soil, were merely an attempt to lay the blame at the wrong door; and this is sufficiently borne out by the following typical case. The new editorial board (i.e., Plekhanov and myself) invited all the former editors to contribute, which invitation, of course, was at first made without any “formalism”, by word of mouth. It met with a refusal. We then wrote an “official document” (what bureaucrats!), addressed “dear comrades”, requesting them to contribute in general, and in particular to set forth their differences in the columns of the publications of which we were the editors. The reply was a “formal” statement to the effect that they did not wish to have anything to do with “Iskra”. And, in fact, for months on end none of the non-editors did any work for Iskra. Relations became exclusively formal and bureaucratic—but on whose “initiative"?

Underground literature began to be produced; people abroad were flooded with it, it was disseminated among the committees, and is now already beginning in part to return from Russia. The report of the delegate for Siberia, — n’s letter on the slogans of the “opposition”, and Martov’s Once More in the Minority are all full of the most amusing charges against Lenin of being an “autocrat”, of instituting a Robespierre guillotine regime (sic!), of having staged the political burial of old comrades (non election to the central bodies is burial!), and the like. By the very logic of things the opposition is drawn to seeking such differences of “principle” on matters of organisation as entirely preclude collaboration. An especially loud outcry is raised over the celebrated “fifth member” of the Party Council. In all these writings, the Council is made out to he a piece of diplomacy or trickery on Lenin’s part, an instrument for the suppression of the Central Committee in Russia by the Central Organ abroad—which is exactly the way the matter is depicted by the Bund delegation in their report on the Congress. It need hardly be said that this difference of principle is just as nonsensical as the famous bureaucratic formalism. The fifth member is elected by the Congress; consequently, it is all a matter of the person who enjoys the greatest confidence of the majority; and the will of the majority of a Party Congress will always, however the central Party bodies may be constituted, he manifested in the choice of definite persons.

How widely this kind of literature has been circulated abroad is evident from the fact that even the good Parvus has taken the war-path against the attempt to grasp all the threads in one hand and to “boss” (sic!) the workers from some such place as Geneva (Aus de’ Weltpolitik,[2] V. Jahrgang, No. 48, November 30, 1903). In a month or two, when he reads the minutes of the Party Congress and the League Congress, our new enemy of autocracy will discover how easy it is to make a fool of oneself by accepting all manner of Parteiklatsch[3] at its face value.

The climax of the opposition’s campaign against the central bodies was the Congress of the League. From its minutes the reader will be able to see whether those who called it an arena for settling Party Congress scores were right or not, and whether or not there was anything in the onslaught of the opposition to provoke the Central Commit tee to altogether exceptional measures (as the Central Committee itself put it vhen alteration of the composition of the editorial board held out the hope of peace in the Party). The resolutions of this Congress reveal the true nature of the differences of “principle” over the question of autocratic bureaucracy.

After the League Congress a split loomed so threateningly that Plekhanov decided to co-opt the ex-editors. I foresaw that the opposition would not rest satisfied with this, and I did not think it permissible to revise a decision of the Party Congress to please a circle. But still less did I think it permissible to stand in the way of possible peace in the Party, and I therefore resigned from the editorial board, after the 51st issue of Iskra, stating at the same time that I did not refuse to continue as a contributor, and that I did not even insist, if peace and good will were established in the Party, on having my resignation made public. The opposition demanded (not transformation of the non-existent system of bureaucracy, formalism, autocracy, automatism, etc., but) reinstatement of the old editorial board, the co-optation of opposition representatives to the Central Committee, two seats on the Council, and recognition of the League Congress as lawful. The Central Committee made an offer of peace by consenting to co-opt two of them, to turn over one seat on the Council, to have the reorganisation of the League carried out gradually. These terms too the opposition rejected. The editors were co-opted, but peace remained an open question. That was the state of affairs when No. 53 of Iskra appeared.

That the Party wants peace and positive work is hardly open to question. But articles like “Our Congress” are an obstacle to peace, an obstacle because they bring up hints and fragments of issues which are not and cannot be comprehensible unless the story of the divergence is told in full; an obstacle because they shift the blame from a foreign circle to the centre in charge of our practical work, which is engaged in the difficult and arduous task of actually uniting the Party, and which in any case has been having to wrestle with too many hindrances to the application of centralism. The committees in Russia are fighting against the disruptive activities and boycott tactics of the minority, which are obstructing the work all along the line. Resolutions to this effect have already come in from the St. Petersburg, Moscow, Nizhni-Novgorod, Tver, Odessa, and Tula committees and from the Northern League.

Enough of this émigré Literatengeiink![4] Let it now be come an example to the practical workers in Russia of “what should not be done"! Let the editors of the Party’s Central Organ call for a stop to all boycotts, no matter on whose part, and for concerted effort under the leadership of the Central Committee of the Party!

* *


But what about the difference in shades of opinion among the Iskra-ists? the reader may ask. Our answer will be: in the first place, the difference is that in the opinion of the majority one can and should advocate one’s views in the Party apart from any alteration in the personal composition of the central bodies. Every circle, even of Rabocheye Dyelo-ists, is entitled, on joining the Party, to demand the opportunity to express and advocate its views; but no circle, not even of generals, is entitled to demand representation on the Party’s central bodies. In the second place, the difference is that in the opinion of the majority the blame for any formalism and bureaucracy falls on those who, by refusing to work under the leadership of the central bodies, made it difficult to conduct matters in a non-formalistic way. In the third place, I know of one and only one difference of principle on matters of organisation, namely, that which found expression in the debate on Paragraph I of the Party Rules. We shall endeavour to return to this question when the minutes of the Congress appear. We shall then show that the fact that Martov’s formulation was carried with the help of non-Iskra-ist and quasi-Iskra ist elements was no accident, but was due to its being a step towards opportunism, and that this step is even more apparent in —n’s letter and in Once More in the Minority.[5] The minutes will show that the author of Our Congress goes against the facts when he claims that “the controversy during the discussion of the Party Rules centred almost exclusively round the organisation of the central bodies of the Party”. Quite the contrary. The only controversy that really involved principles and divided the two “sides” (i.e., the majority and minority of the Iskra-ists) at all definitely was over Paragraph I of the Party Rules. As for the controversies over the composition of the Council, co-optation to the central bodies, and so on, they were just controversies between individual delegates, between Martov and myself, etc.; they concerned what were relatively very minor details and did not give rise to any definite grouping of the Iskra-ists, who by their votes corrected now one, now another of us when he went too far. To make out that these controversies were the source of our disagreement on how centralism should be applied, what should be its limits, character, etc., is simply to whitewash the stand taken by the minority and the methods of the fight which they carried on to change the personal composition of the central bodies, and which alone caused us to diverge in the full sense of the term.

  1. In view of the endless talk and misrepresentation that there has been regarding this celebrated “trio”, let me point out at once that long before the Congress all comrades who were at all closely in touch were acquainted with my commentary to the draft Tagesordnung of the Congress. This commentary, which was circulated at the Congress, contained the following point: “The Congress shall elect three persons to the editorial board of the Central Organ and three to the Central Committee. These six persons in conjunction shall, if necessary, co opt by a two-thirds majority vote additional members to the editorial board of the Central Organ and to the Central Committee and report to this effect to the Congress. After the report has been endorsed by the Congress, subsequent co-optation shall be effected by the editorial board of the Central Organ and by the Central Committee separately." —Lenin
  2. Aus der Weltpolitik (From the Realm of World Politics)—a weekly bulletin published by Parvus in Munich from 1898 to 1905.
  3. Party tittle-tattle.—Ed.
  4. Writers’ squabbling—Ed.
  5. We shall then also ask to have explained what the author of "Our Congress” means by talking about an undeserved disregard for the non-Iskra-ists, and about the strict points of the Rules not corresponding to the actual relation of forces in the Party. What do these assertions refer to? —Lenin