By James Thompson
Some people may argue that Leninism is an anachronism that is not applicable to the current situation. However, Lenin’s article “To the Party” (Lenin, V. I., Collected works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, volume 7, pages 452 through 459) provides a thoughtful analysis of a crisis in the party in August, 1904. The parallels between the situation then and now will be readily apparent to people concerned about the welfare of the party today.
“Comrades, the grave crisis in our Party life is dragging on and on, and no end is in sight. The strife keeps growing, breeding dispute after dispute, and the Party’s positive work all along the line is hampered by it to the utmost. The energies of the Party, still young and not yet consolidated, are being grievously dissipated.
Yet the present historical juncture makes vast demands on the Party, vaster than ever before. The revolutionary unrest among the working class is growing, and so is the ferment among other sections of society; the war and crisis, starvation and unemployment are with elemental and inevitable force undermining the foundations of the autocracy. A shameful end to the shameful war is not far off; and it is bound to heightened the revolutionary unrest still more, it is bound to bring the working-class face-to-face with its enemies, and it will require of the Social-Democrats tremendous effort, a colossal exertion of energy to organize the last decisive fight against the autocracy.
Is our party equal to these demands in its present condition? Every honest man will unhesitatingly answer: No!
The unity of the party has been deeply undermined, its internal struggle has gone beyond all party bounds. Organized discipline has been shaken to its very foundations, and the Party’s capacity for harmonious and united action is fading into a mere dream.
Nonetheless, we regard the Party’s sickness as a matter of growing pains. We consider that the underlying cause of the crisis is the transition from the circle form to party forms of the life of Social- Democracy; the essence of its internal struggle is a conflict between the circle spirit and the party spirit. And, consequently, only by shaking off this sickness can our Party become a real party.
Under the name of the Party “minority” there have united a variety of elements who are linked by a conscious or unconscious desire to preserve circle relationships, pre-party forms of organization.
Certain prominent figures in the more influential of the inner circles, unaccustomed to the organizational self-limitations which Party discipline demands, are inclined from force of habit to confuse their own circle interests with the general Party interests, with which in the. Of the circles they may in many cases indeed have coincided. A number of these people (part of the former Iskra editorial board, part of the former Organizing Committee, the members of the former Yuzhny Rabochy group, and others) have been the leaders in a struggle on behalf of the circle spirit as against the party spirit.
Their allies prove to be all those elements to in theory or practice had deviated from the principles of strict Social Democracy (the Economists, Rabocheye Dyelo-ists, etc.), for only the circle atmosphere could preserve the ideological individuality and the influence of these elements, whereas the Party atmosphere threatened to absorb them or deprive them of all influence. Lastly, the opposition Congress have in general been drawn chiefly from those elements in our Party which consist primarily of intellectuals. The intelligentsia is always more individualistic than the proletariat, owing to its very conditions of life and work, which do not directly involve a large-scale combination of efforts, do not directly educated through organized collective labor. The intellectual elements therefore find it harder to adapt themselves to the discipline of Party life, and those of them who are not equal to it naturally raise the standard of revolt against the necessary organizational limitations, and elevate their instinctive anarchism to a principle of struggle, misnaming it a desire for “autonomy”, a demand for “tolerance”, etc.
The section of the Party abroad, where the circles are comparatively long-lived, where theoreticians of various shades are gathered, and where the intelligentsia decidedly predominates, was found to be most inclined to the views of the “minority”, which there as a result soon proved to be the actual majority. Russia, on the other hand, where the voice of the organized proletarians is louder, where the Party intelligentsia too, being in closer and more direct contact with them, is trained in a more proletarian spirit, and where the exigencies of the immediate struggle make the need for organized unity more strongly felt, came out in vigorous opposition to the circle spirit and the disruptive anarchistic tendencies. He gave quite clear expression to this attitude in numerous statements by committees and other Party organizations.
The struggle developed and grew increasingly acute. And to what lengths has it not gone!
The Party organ, of which the “minority” managed to seize control against the will of the Congress and thanks to personal concessions by the editors elected at the Congress, has become an organ of struggle against the party!
It is now least of all the ideological leader of the Party and its struggle against the autocracy and the bourgeoisie, and most of all the leader of circle opposition to the party spirit. On the other hand, conscious that it’s fundamental position is indefensible from the standpoint of the Party’s interests, it is busy searching out real and imaginary differences to provide an ideological screen for that position; and in the search, seizing on one slogan one day and on another the next, it is turning more and more for its material to the Right wing of the Party-the former opponents of Iskra is even busier searching out and denouncing mistakes on the part of their adherents, magnifying every real slip to monstrous proportions and trying to lay the blame for it on the Party majority as a whole, and seizing on every insinuation and peace of circle gossip that could prove damaging to its opponents, often enough not even troubling about their verisimilitude, let alone verifying their truth. In this course the men of the new Iskra have gone so far as to impute to members of the majority absolutely nonexistent and in fact impossible crimes-and not only of a political nature (as when they accuse the Central Committee of forcibly ejecting individuals and breaking up organizations), but even crimes against, and ethics (as one prominent figures in the Party are accused of forgery or moral complicity and forgery). Never before has the party been immersed in such a sea of mud as the émigré minority have stirred up in the present controversy.
How could all of this happened?
The mode of action of each of the sides corresponded to its fundamental trend. The Party majority, anxious at all costs to preserve the Party’s unity and organizational cohesion, thought only by loyal Party means, and more than once made concessions for the sake of reaching a reconciliation. The minority, following an anarchistic trend, showed no concern for peace and unity in the Party. They turned every concession into a weapon with which to continue the fight. Of all the minority’s demands, only one has not now been met-that discord should be brought into the Party’s Central Committee by the co-optation of minority men forcibly foisted upon it; yet the attacks of the minority are more vicious than ever. Having gained control of the Central Organ and the Party Council, the minority do not scruple to exploit in their circle interests the very discipline that they are in fact fighting.
The position has become intolerable, impossible; to allow it to drag on any longer would be a positive crime.
The first means of ending it, in our opinion, his complete clarity and frankness in Party relations. Amidst all this mud and fog there is no finding the true path. Every party trend, every group must openly and definitely state what it thinks of the present position in the Party and what solution it desires. And that is what we are proposing to all comrades, to the representatives of all shades in the party. The practical way out of the crisis, we consider, is the immediate summoning of the Third Party Congress. It alone can clarify the situation, settle the disputes, and confine the struggle within proper bounds. Without a Congress all we can expect it’s the progressive disintegration of the Party.
All the arguments brought against a Congress are, we maintain, totally invalid.
We are told that a Congress would lead to a split. But why? If the minority are irreconcilable in their anarchistic leanings, if they are prepared to have a split rather than submit to the Party, and they have already virtually seceded from it, and to defer the inevitable formal split would be more than irrational: chained together, both sides would more and more senselessly dissipate their strength in wrangling and squabbling, exhausting themselves morally and growing ever pettier and shallower. But we do not grant the possibility of a split. In face of the real strength of the organized Party, the anarchistically minded elements are bound to, and we think well, bow in submission, for by their very nature they are incapable of constituting an independent force. It is argued that a reconciliation is possible without a Congress. But what sort of reconciliation? Total surrender to the circle spirit, co-optation of the minority to the Central Committee, which would complete the disorganization of the central institutions. That would make the Party nothing but a name, and the Party majority would be compelled to start the struggle anew. And the minority? They have used every concession hitherto won only as a buttress for their disruptive activities; even from their point of view, the struggle has far outgrown the bounds of a squabble over co-optation; how then can they discontinue it? And still less will they do so if they have not gained all their demands. We are told that a Congress will not achieve its purpose because the differences have not yet been clarified. But are they being clarified now, is not the confusion growing worse confounded? Differences are not being clarified, but deliberately searched out and manufactured, and only a Congress can put an end to this. It alone, by bringing the contending parties face-to-face and making them frankly and definitely state their objects, can thoroughly clarified the mutual relations between the different trends and forces in the Party. But, the minority declare, the Congress may be manipulated by the breaking up of organizations. That is a lying insinuation, we reply, an insinuation unsupported by a single fact. If there were any such facts, we may be sure that the minority, being in possession of the Party organ, would have given them wide publicity, and, controlling the Party Council as they do, would have had ample opportunity to correct them. Lastly, the recent Council resolution, which points to no such facts in the past, completely rules out their possibility in the future. Who is now going to believe this far-fetched insinuation? Fears are expressed that a Congress would divert too much of our forces and funds from positive work. What a bitter mockery! Can any greater die version of forces and funds be imagined than that which the strife is producing? A Congress is imperative! It would be imperative even if Party life had proceeded normally, in view of the exceptional historical juncture and the new tasks with which the world events may confront the Party. It is doubly imperative in the present Party crisis, in order to find an honest and reasonable way out of it, to preserve the forces of the Party and uphold its honor and dignity.
What must the Third Congress do to put an end to the strife and restore Party life to normal? Most essential for this, in our view, are the following reforms, which we shall advocate and work for by every available loyal means:
I. The editorship of the Central Organ to be handed over to the adherents of the Party majority. The need for this, in view of the manifest inability of the present editorial board to conduct the Central Organ as required by the general party interests, has been sufficiently demonstrated. The organ of a circle cannot and must not be the organ of the Party.
II. The relationship of the local organization abroad (the League) to the all-Russia central body, the Central Committee, to be clearly defined. The present position of the League, which has converted itself into a second Party leadership and manages its associated groups without any control, completely ignoring the Central Committee, is obviously abnormal and must be ended.
III. The Rules to provide guarantees that party struggles are conducted by Party methods. That this reform is essential as shown by the entire experience of the post-Congress struggle. It is necessary to include in the Party Rules guarantees of the rights of any minority, so that the disagreements, dissatisfactions, and irritations that will constantly and unavoidably arise may be diverted from the old, philistine, circle channels of rows and squabbling into the still unaccustomed channels of a constitutional and dignified struggle for one’s convictions. Among the conditions needed for such a change would class the following. The minority should be allowed one or more writers’ groups, with the right to be represented at congresses; the widest formal guarantees should be given as regards publication of Party literature criticizing the activities of the central Party institutions. The right of the committees to receive (through the general Party transport system) the particular Party publications they desire should be formally recognized. The limits of the Central Committee’s right to influence the personal composition of the committees should be precisely defined. We consider it highly important that the arrangements for publication of minority literature which the Central Committee proposed to the minority of the Second Congress should be incorporated in the Rules, in order that the fantasy of a “state of siege” invented by the minority themselves may be dispelled, and that the inevitable internal struggles and the Party may be conducted in seemly forms and not allowed to interfere with positive work.
We do not here elaborate our proposals in detail, for we are not putting forward draft Rules, but only a general program of struggle for Party unity. We shall therefore only briefly indicate certain specific amendments to the Rules which are in our opinion desirable, without in any way binding ourselves as regards subsequent elaboration of the Rules, in the light of further experience. For example, it is necessary to reform the Party Council, as an institution which, in its present form, has proved in practice to be unfit for its function of coordinating and exercising supreme supervision over the activities of the central bodies. It should be made a body entirely elected by the Congress, instead of being a court where the Congress-elected fifth member sits as arbiter over the central bodies, which defend themselves to their delegates. Further, Paragraph 1 of the Rules should be revised, in line with the criticisms voiced in the Party, to define the Party’s boundaries more precisely, etc.
In putting forward this program of struggle for Party unity, we invite the representatives of all other shades and all Party organizations to make a clear statement of their own programs, so as to permit of serious and systematic, conscious and methodical preparation for a Congress. An issue involving the very life, the honor and dignity of the Party is at stake: is it an ideological and material force capable of sufficient rational self-organization to act as the real leader of our country’s revolutionary working-class movement? By all their actions, the émigré minority answer: No! And they continue to act in this way with confident assurance, banking on the remoteness of Russia, the frequent changes of workers there, and the indispensability of their own leaders and literary forces. Our Party is coming into being!-we answer, seeing the growing political understanding of the advanced workers, the vigorous activity of the committees in general Party life. Our Party is coming into being, we have ever more numerous young forces capable of replacing or reinvigorating old literary bodies which forfeit the Party’s confidence; we have ever more revolutionaries who prize the consistent Party trend above any circle of former leaders.
Our party is coming into being, and no subterfuges or delays can hold back its decided and final verdict.
From these forces in our Party we derive our certainty of victory.
Comrades, reprint and distribute this appeal!”
And so we shall!
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