26) Rosa Luxemburg

When Lyadov approached the editor of the German Social Democratic newspaper Vorwärts with a request to publish correspondence on the situation in the Russian Party, he was told that Vorwärts “could not spare much space for the movement abroad, especially the Russian, which is still so young and can give so little to the German movement.” In the haughty, condescending tone of this apparatchik, tinged with national narrow-mindedness, the outline of future developments can already be discerned. These German Party practicos had no interest in theory. While paying lip service to Marxism, they were immersed in the daily routine of party and trade union tasks. What could the German Party with its powerful trade unions and parliamentary fraction learn from the internal disputes of a small foreign party? Already to a significant section of the German leaders, internationalism was a book sealed with seven seals.

Particularly damaging to the Bolshevik cause was the attitude of the left wing of the German Party. Right up to 1914, Lenin regarded himself as a supporter of Karl Kautsky, the leader of the orthodox left of the Social Democratic Party. Yet Kautsky refused to allow Lenin space in his journal Die Neue Zeit to put the case of the Bolsheviks. In a letter, Kautsky wrote:

While there remains even the shadow of hope that the Russian Social Democrats will themselves overcome their disagreements, I cannot be in favor of the German comrades finding out about these differences. If they find out about them from another source, then, of course, we will have to take a definite position.169

Under the pressure of the Mensheviks, Kautsky came out against Lenin. But he did so cautiously. So long as the split in Russia did not disturb the internal life of the German Party, there was no need to make much of it, hoping that things would sort themselves out. After all, if the German Party could accommodate everybody from Bernstein on the right to Rosa Luxemburg and Parvus on the left, the Russian comrades ought to manage to get along without splitting over trivial questions.

In this way, only the arguments of the Mensheviks were heard in Western European Socialist Parties. Misled by the Mensheviks’ false and tendentious accounts of the differences, Rosa Luxemburg had written an article which Kautsky published in Die Neue Zeit under the neutral title: Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy. This article has been republished in English under the misleading title never used during Rosa Luxemburg’s lifetime—Leninism or Marxism? In this article, Rosa Luxemburg repeats the nonsense of the Mensheviks about Lenin’s alleged “ultracentralism” and “dictatorial methods.” It was precisely Lenin’s reply to this article which Kautsky refused to print. In his reply, Lenin explodes, one after the other, the myths created by the Mensheviks about his ideas on organization—myths which have been assiduously cultivated ever since by the enemies of Bolshevism. These arguments were answered in advance by Lenin:

Comrade Luxemburg says, for example, that my book [One Step Forward, Two Steps Back] is a clear and detailed expression of the point of view of “intransigent centralism.” Comrade Luxemburg thus supposes that I defend one system of organization against another. But actually that is not so. From the first to the last page of my book, I defend the elementary principles of any conceivable system of party organization. My book is not concerned with the difference between one system of organization and another, but with how any system is to be maintained, criticized and rectified in a manner consistent with the party idea.170

Rosa Luxemburg’s stand was no accident. For many years, she had been conducting a stubborn struggle against the bureaucratic and reformist tendency in the German Social Democratic Party. She watched with alarm the consolidation of a vast army of trade union and party functionaries into a solidly conservative bloc. She knew this phenomenon better than anyone else, even Lenin who had first hand experience of the German Party. Rosa Luxemburg understood that this enormous bureaucratic apparatus could become transformed, at a decisive moment in the class struggle, into a gigantic brake on the masses. And so it proved to be in August 1914, when all of Rosa Luxemburg’s worst fears were confirmed.

Even a cursory glance at Rosa Luxemburg’s pamphlet suffices to show that what she was really polemicizing against was not the ideas of Lenin (with which she was only acquainted in the caricature form presented by the Mensheviks), but the kind of bureaucratic-reformist degeneration with which she was only too well acquainted in her own party, the German SPD. How relevant to the present situation in the British Labour Party and to European equivalents are the words of this great revolutionary!

With the growth of the labor movement,” she wrote, “parliamentarianism becomes a springboard for political careerists. That is why so many ambitious failures from the bourgeoisie flock to the banner of the socialist parties. Another source of contemporary opportunism is the considerable material means and influence of the large Social Democratic organizations.”

The party acts as a bulwark protecting the class movement against digression in the direction of more bourgeois parliamentarianism. To triumph these tendencies must destroy the bulwark. They must dissolve the active, class conscious sector of the proletariat in the amorphous mass of an “electorate.”171

Of course, the struggle for the socialist transformation of society does not rule out participation in elections or in parliament. On the contrary, the working class of all countries has been to the forefront of the fight for democratic rights and will use every legal and constitutional right in order to improve its position and place itself in a commanding position to change society. The building of powerful trade union organizations, too, is a vital part of the preparation of the working class for the carrying out of its historic tasks. But this process has two sides. The working class and its organizations do not exist in a vacuum. Under the pressure of alien classes, organizations which have been created by the workers for the purpose of transforming society have become deformed and degenerated. The pressure of bourgeois public opinion bears down upon the leading layers.

The ruling class has developed a thousand and one ways of corrupting and absorbing the most honest and militant shop steward if he or she lacks a firm base in Marxist theory and perspectives. The separating out of a layer of full-time trade union officials, increasingly divorced from the shop floor and with all kinds of little perks and privileges, tends to create a distinct and alien mentality, particularly when the workers are not involved in mass struggles which act as a check on the leadership. But in a long period of decades of relative prosperity, full employment and class peace, the predominant trend is for the rank-and-file not to participate actively in their organizations, to trust their leaders and officials to get on with the job. This was the situation in Germany for almost two decades prior to the catastrophe of the First World War, when a conservative bureaucracy, Marxist in words, but reformist in practice, consolidated its hold on the labor movement by degrees—a process repeated in France and every other country in Western Europe. What was true of the unions was a hundred times more true of the parliamentary fraction in the Reichstag. Dominated by intellectuals and professional people, with a standard of living different to the millions of workers they represented, the Social Democratic leaders in parliament moved to the right, escaped the control of the working class and eventually became transformed into a privileged and conservative caste.

As a reaction against this, Rosa Luxemburg laid heavy stress on the spontaneous movement of the working class, elevating the idea of a revolutionary general strike almost to the level of a principle. This overreaction undoubtedly led her into a series of errors. One can say that in all of her disagreements with Lenin, including this one, Rosa Luxemburg was in the wrong. Yet it is equally undeniable that all these mistakes can be traced back to a genuine revolutionary instinct, a boundless faith in the creative power of the working class, and an implacable hostility to the careerists and bureaucrats who represent, in the words of Trotsky, “the most conservative force in the whole of society.” Rosa Luxemburg’s misgivings about Lenin’s alleged “pitiless centralism” were shared, for the same reason, by other German lefts, such as Alexander L. Helphand, generally known by his pen name, Parvus, whose works were greatly admired by Lenin, and also, at the time, by Trotsky who, after breaking from the Mensheviks, for a while worked closely with him.

In later years, Trotsky admitted that he had been wrong and Lenin correct on the organizational questions. His booklet Our Political Tasks, published in the heat of the factional struggle, contains many criticisms of Lenin which the author was later to describe as “immature and erroneous.”172 Yet there are elements even in this work which contained more than a grain of truth in relation to a certain side of Bolshevism, namely the psychology and mode of conduct of the committeemen, that layer of party “practicos” and “organization men and women” with whom Lenin himself was to enter into bitter conflict only a few months after the appearance of Trotsky’s controversial pamphlet.

Lenin had tried to avoid a fight, refusing to answer the continuous attacks made against him. But the outcome of Plekhanov’s action convinced him that no other situation was possible. This was made abundantly clear by an article, signed by Plekhanov in issue 52 of Iskra, entitled Where Not to Begin, a shameful attempt to provide a theoretical cover-up for the author’s capitulation. Under its new editors, Iskra was now transformed into a factional organ of the minority. The majority still controlled the CC. But having co-opted the old editors onto the Editorial Board, the minority now had a majority on the Party Council, the highest authority in the Party. By the end of the year, Lenin had come round to the view that the only way to resolve the crisis was to call a new Party Congress.

As was to be expected, the supporters of the minority who now controlled the Party Council turned down Lenin’s proposal. However, when Lenin took his request to the CC, theoretically controlled by the majority, he came up against unexpected resistance from his own supporters. In Lenin’s Works, we find letter after letter striving to convince the CC members of the correctness of this proposal. But the Bolsheviks on the CC shied away from what they saw as a final break with the Mensheviks. Lenin bitterly remarked:

I believe that we really do have in the CC bureaucrats and formalists instead of revolutionaries. The Martovites spit in their faces and they wipe it off and lecture me: “it is useless to fight!”173


169 Quoted in Istoriya KPSS, vol. 1, 518, 523, and 524.

170 LCW, vol. 7, 474.

171 Rosa Luxemburg, Leninism or Marxism?, 98 (my emphasis).

172 Trotsky, Stalin, 62.

173 LCW, To the Central Committee of the RSDLP, February 1904, vol. 34, 233.

27) War with Japan

Lenin’s decision to break with the Mensheviks at this point was not an accident. Up to this time, the central argument had centered on organizational questions. But now things began to take on an entirely new character, reflecting a sudden and sharp turn in the political situation. Student demonstrations, followed by the political strikes and demonstrations of the workers in 1902, were symptoms of a rapidly developing prerevolutionary situation. A political general strike in July and August of 1903 was followed by a brief lull, only to be succeeded by a new strike wave in the summer of 1904. A rash of strikes occurred in Petersburg, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Nizhny Novgorod, and the Caucasus, where a major strike shook the oil center of Baku in December. Under the pressure of the working class, the liberal bourgeois began to press their demands for a constitution. Feeling the ground shake under its feet, the regime was seized with panic. Plehve, Minister of the Interior, wrote cynically to General Kuropatkin, the Minister of Defense: “In order to stave off revolution, what we require is a victorious little war.”

Despite its backward, semifeudal character, and its dependence upon Western capital, tsarist Russia was one of the main imperialist nations at the turn of the century. Together with the other imperialist powers, Britain, France, and Germany, tsarist Russia participated in the carve-up of the world into colonies and spheres of influence. Poland and the Baltic states, Finland, and the Caucasus, the Far Eastern territories, and Central Asia, were, in effect, tsarist colonies. But the territorial ambitions of tsarism were insatiable. The avaricious gaze of St. Petersburg was fixed upon Turkey, Persia, and above all China, where the decaying Manchu dynasty was incapable of preventing the dividing up of the living body of China by the imperialist brigands, especially after the defeat of the so-called Boxer uprising in 1900, when Russia occupied the whole of Manchuria. This predatory expansion in the Far East brought Russia up against the rising young power of Japan. The Japanese imperialists interpreted Russia’s action as an attempt to block them on the mainland of Asia. In the summer of 1903, the War Party won the day in Tokyo. In the dead of the night in February 1904, the Japanese fell upon the Russian fleet in Port Arthur, using the very same tactics employed at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Japanese command of the seas was thus guaranteed and a bloody struggle began which was to lead to the fall of Port Arthur 11 months later with the loss of 28,200 Russian soldiers, half the garrison. Three weeks later, the first Russian Revolution had begun.

The new Iskra, under Menshevik control, had initially taken an ambiguous position on the war, confining themselves to appeals for peace. Lenin poured scorn on the idea, explaining that the victory of tsarism in the war would strengthen the regime for a period, whereas the military defeat of Russia would inevitably mean the outbreak of revolution. He subjected the Russian military campaign to a searing criticism, using it as a means of exposing the degenerate and corrupt essence of the regime. Lenin’s revolutionary internationalism had nothing in common with pacifism but set out from a class analysis of war as the continuation of politics by other means:

“The cause of Russian freedom and of the struggle of the Russian (and the world) proletariat for socialism depends to a very large extent on the military defeats of the autocracy,” he wrote in The Fall of Port Arthur.

This cause has been greatly advanced by the military debacle which has struck terror in the hearts of all European guardians of the existing order. The revolutionary proletariat must carry on a ceaseless agitation against war, always keeping in mind, however, that wars are inevitable as long as class rule exists. Trite phrases about peace à la Jaurés [Jean Jaurés, 1859–1914, prominent leader of the reformist wing of the French Socialist Party] are of no use to the oppressed class, which is not responsible for a bourgeois war between two bourgeois nations, which is doing all it can to overthrow every bourgeoisie, which knows the enormity of the people’s sufferings even in time of ‘peaceful’ capitalist exploitation.174

The calculations of the autocracy were based on cutting across the class struggle and forging a bloc based on national unity. The liberals at once revealed their reactionary essence. Their dislike of the autocratic regime which denied them a slice of the state pie struggled with greed at the prospect of big profits now to be made out of the war and the acquisition of new colonies in the East. The ex-Marxist Struve urged the students to support patriotic manifestos. However, after initially weakening the revolutionary movement, the war soon gave it a powerful impetus. The sight of the allegedly mighty Russian army collapsing like a house of cards at the first serious test, exposed the inner rottenness of the tsarist regime. Cracks began to open up in the very tops of the regime.

The discontent of student youth found its expression in the spread of terrorist moods. On July 15 the repressive Interior Minister Viktor Plehve was blown up by the Social Revolutionary Yegor Setonov. Forty years later P.N. Milyukov, the liberal leader, reflected the mood of society at the time: “Everybody rejoiced at his assassination.”175 Alarmed at the growing tide of revolution, the regime decided to make concessions. Plehve was replaced by Prince Sviatopolk-Mirskii, as the regime decided to opt for liberal reform to head off revolution. The humiliating military defeats made the war deeply unpopular not only with the masses, but also with the bourgeois liberals, who deftly switched from patriotism to defeatism. Terrified of the threat of revolution from below, the regime began to make concessions to the bourgeois liberals. Sviatopolk-Mirskii began to make noises about a “new era.”

In November, the Zemstvos were given permission to hold a congress in St. Petersburg. The liberal trend of Osvobozhdenie now had considerable influence in the Zemstvos and was the main force behind the banqueting campaign. The Menshevik Iskra proposed participation in the Zemstvo campaign and support for the liberals insofar as they were prepared to fight against the autocracy: the Social Democrats must therefore tone down their demands so as not to frighten off their political ally, they must compromise their program in the interest of achieving unity against reaction. No sooner had the Mensheviks publicly come out in favor of the liberals, than Lenin issued a blistering attack on the banqueting campaign. In his article The Zemstvo Campaign and Iskra’s Plan, Lenin mercilessly flayed the advocates of class collaborationism and defended an independent revolutionary class policy:

“Afraid of leaflets, afraid of anything that goes beyond a qualified-franchise constitution,” thundered Lenin, “the liberal gentry will always stand in fear of the slogan ‘a democratic republic’ and of the call for an armed uprising of the people. But the class-conscious proletariat will indignantly reject the very idea that we could renounce this slogan and this call, or could in general be guided in our activity by the panic and fears of the bourgeoisie.”176

The question of the attitude to the liberals immediately became the fundamental question by which all the trends of Social Democracy defined themselves. Zinoviev correctly states that

the question of the attitude of the working class to the bourgeoisie again arose with particular acuteness—the same basic question with which we collided at every stage of the history of the party and to which in the end all our disagreements with the Mensheviks could be reduced.177

In the autumn, the liberal Soyuz Osvobozhdeniya (Liberty League) issued a call for a campaign of banquets to put pressure on the government for reforms. Lawyers, doctors, professors and journalists organized semilegal meetings in the form of dinner parties where they would make speeches and toasts in favor of moderate constitutional reform. However the cowardice of the bourgeois liberals is shown by the fact that they did not even raise the demand for a Constituent Assembly based on universal suffrage, but only vague demands for the representation of the people on a broad democratic basis.

Under the pressure of the bourgeois liberals, the leaders of the minority were, in fact, moving away from the positions of revolutionary Marxism. Their cloudy, semi-pacifist characterization of the war was perhaps the first public expression of this fact. The Mensheviks were clearly passing over from merely organizational differences to political ones. Right wing Mensheviks like Fyodr Dan began to get the upper hand within the minority. The Mensheviks were reducing the role of the proletariat to that of mere cheerleaders of the liberals. In this way, the Mensheviks hoped to establish a “broad front” for democracy, including all “progressive forces.” The entire psychology of the Mensheviks was impregnated with a lack of confidence in the revolutionary potential of the working class. The workers were enjoined not to demand too much, or express too extreme views which might frighten the liberals. Iskra published statements like the following:

If we take a look at the arena of struggle in Russia then what do we see? Only two forces: the tsarist autocracy and the liberal bourgeoisie, which is now organized and possesses a huge specific weight. The working mass, however, is atomized and can do nothing; as an independent force we do not exist; and thus our task consists in supporting the second force, the liberal bourgeoisie, and encouraging it and in no case intimidating it by presenting our own independent proletarian demands.178

The Menshevik Iskra in November 1904 proposed to participate in the Zemstvo campaign of banquets. In effect Iskra was proposing support for the so-called left liberal wing of Osvobozhdenie:

In dealing with liberal Zemstvos and Dumas we are dealing with the enemies of our enemy, though they do not wish to or cannot go so far in their struggle with him as the interests of the proletariat requires; still, in officially speaking up against absolutism and confronting it with demands aimed at its annihilation (!) they are in fact our allies [in a very relative sense to be sure] even if [they are] insufficiently resolute in their aspirations . . .

But within the limits of fighting absolutism especially in the present phase, our attitude to the liberal bourgeoisie is defined by the task of infusing it with a bit more courage and moving it to join with the demands that the proletariat, led by the Social Democracy, will put forward. We should make a fatal mistake if we set ourselves the goal of forcing the Zemstvos or other organs of the bourgeois opposition through energetic measures of intimidation; under the influence of panic to give to us now a formal promise to present our demands to the government. Such a tactic would compromise Social Democracy because it would turn our political campaign into a lever for reaction.179

What is the meaning of this quotation? In essence it means a) support for the liberal bourgeois (“insofar as”) b) the working class must play second fiddle to the liberals c) we must not frighten the bourgeois (in other words tone down, abandon and capitulate) and d) all this is allegedly not to support reaction and in the name of “fighting reaction.”

Lenin immediately answered Iskra in a pamphlet on November 20 (New Style). He had no paper since Vperyod only started to come out in January 1905. Denouncing the Mensheviks’ proposal for a block with the liberals, Lenin proposed to utilize the Zemstvo campaign to organize militant workers’ demonstrations against both tsarism and the treacherous and cowardly liberals. The real difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism was the difference between class independence and class collaborationism, Marxism and revisionism, reformism and revolution. But it took several years, and the experience of war, revolution, and counterrevolution, for the real nature of these differences to become absolutely clear.

The class instincts of the workers rebelled against the idea of an alliance with the bourgeoisie. There were impassioned debates in the ranks of the Mensheviks. In Geneva and Russia, many Menshevik workers instinctively adopted a line in open contradiction to that of the editors of Iskra, and much closer to the position of the Bolsheviks. Of course, under the extremely difficult conditions of tsarist dictatorship, one could not rule out temporary, episodic agreements even with the bourgeois liberals. But the first condition for such agreements was always for Lenin the complete independence of the working class and its party: no mixing up of banners, no political blocs, no compromise on program or principles. Of course, the workers could not afford to ignore any opportunity to press their demands. Lenin advocated that the workers should go along to these legal gatherings and try to transform them into militant demonstrations.

Somov, a former supporter of Rabocheye Dyelo, who went over to the Mensheviks, explains that “all the speeches prepared for the banquets were sharply critical of both the principles and the tactics of the liberal opportunists and ridiculed the feeble banquet resolutions and petition projects.” The following incident in Yekaterinoslav shows how the social democratic workers chose to intervene in the banquets of the liberals: “At a suitable moment, a group of workers appeared before the table of the town council members, and one of the group began to speak. The mayor tried to stop him, but lost his head when the workers resisted: the speech was concluded amid the hushed attention of the audience with the words:

“You and we represent opposite social classes, but we can be united by hatred of the same enemy, the autocratic order. We can be allies in our political struggle. For this, however, you must abandon the former road of meekness: you must boldly, openly, join in our demand: Down with the autocracy! Hail to a Constituent Assembly elected by the entire people! Hail a universal, direct, equal and secret suffrage!”

After the speech, proclamations of the Kuban committee of the RSDLP were scattered in the hall. The next day, the Committee issued a leaflet (in a thousand copies) describing the meeting and giving the Social Democratic speech in full.180

Elsewhere, similar interventions by these uninvited guests led to fights with the police and Cossacks. The intervention of these “crazy little kids” upset the plans of the liberals, who tried to keep the workers out. At a gathering of 400 doctors in St. Petersburg, some 50 workers were refused admission, but lobbied the delegates, who secured the reversal of the platform’s decision. The workers’ intervention, demanding the right to strike, created such a polarization among the doctors that the meeting broke up in disorder. There were many such cases. In the article Good Demonstrations of Proletarians and Poor Arguments of Certain Intellectuals, which appeared in the first number of the Bolshevik paper Vperyod,181 Lenin praised these tactics as a manifestation of the fighting spirit and inventiveness of the working class. The Mensheviks, by contrast, were prepared to water down their demands so as not to intimidate the liberals, to sacrifice the party’s independence for the sake of unity, in a word to subordinate the working class to the so-called progressive wing of the capitalists. This policy was later taken over by Stalin under the title of the “Popular Front.” Lenin poured scorn on the very idea:

Can it in general be acknowledged correct in principle to set the workers’ party the task of presenting to the liberal democrats or the Zemstvo-ists political demands “which they must support if they are to have any right to speak in the name of the people”? No, such an approach is wrong in principle and can only obscure the class consciousness of the proletariat and lead to the most futile casuistry.182

That the real basis of the Bolshevik-Menshevik split only emerged well after the Second Congress is attested to by many writers, beginning with Lenin who wrote that “Bolshevism as a tendency took definite shape in the spring and summer of 1905.”183 The political differences only began to emerge during the course of 1904. Solomon Schwarz writes:

Behind the mutual accusations, deep political differences lay hidden. Their not being fully conscious may have lent all the more passion to the dispute, which looked like intraparty squabbles to outsiders and the less sophisticated members of the two movements. The political differences came into the open only in late 1904.184

Fyodr Dan, one of the main leaders of the Mensheviks, states:

Today, with historical hindsight, it is scarcely necessary any longer to demonstrate that the organizational disagreements that, at the Second Congress divided the Iskra people into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were merely the cover for incipient intellectual and political divergences that were far more profound, and above all more persistent than the disagreements between the Economists and Iskra that had receded with the past and been completely liquidated by the Congress. It was not an organizational but a political divergence that very quickly split the Russian Social Democracy into two fractions which sometimes drew close and then clashed with each other, but basically remained independent parties that kept on fighting with each other even at a time when they were nominally within the framework of a unitary party . . . But at that time, at the beginning of the century, the political character of the split was far from immediately apparent, not only to the spectators on the side lines but to the participants in the fractional struggle themselves.185


174 LCW, vol. 8, 53.

175 S.S. Schwarz, The Russian Revolution of 1905, the Workers’ Movement and the Formation of Bolshevism and Menshevism, 32.

176 LCW, Zemstvo Campaign and Iskra’s Plan, vol. 7, 503.

177 Zinoviev, History of the Bolshevik Party, 108 (my emphasis).

178 Quoted in Zinoviev, History of the Bolshevik Party, 107–8.

179 Quoted in S.S. Schwarz, Revolution of 1905, 38.

180 Ibid., 41 and 48.

181 LCW, vol. 8, 29–34.

182 Ibid., 508.

183 LCW, vol. 16, 380.

184 Schwarz, Revolution of 1905, 32.

185 F. Dan, Origins of Bolshevism, 250.

28) Trotsky’s Break with the Mensheviks

In his last work, Stalin, Trotsky pointed out that the real differences had nothing to do with centralism versus democracy, or even, as of “hards” versus “softs,” but went far deeper.

“True firmness and resoluteness predetermine a person to the acceptance of Bolshevism,” he wrote. “Yet these characterizations in themselves are not decisive, there were any number of persons of firm character among the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. On the other hand, weak people were not so rare among the Bolsheviks. Psychology and character are not all there is to the nature of Bolshevism which, above all, is a philosophy of history and a political conception.”186

In his autobiography, Trotsky recalls how a section of the old leaders leaned towards the liberals:

The press was becoming more daring, the terrorist acts more frequent: the liberals began to wake up and launched a campaign of political banquets. The fundamental questions of revolution came swiftly to the front. Abstractions were beginning in my eyes to acquire actual social flesh. The Mensheviks, Zasulich especially, were placing greater hopes in the liberals.187

Trotsky’s characterization of the liberals was clear from an article which appeared in Iskra in mid-March 1904, where he described them as “half-hearted, vague, lacking in decision and inclined to treachery.” It was precisely this article which provoked Plekhanov to present the editors of Iskra with an ultimatum demanding Trotsky’s removal from the Editorial Board. Thereafter, Trotsky’s name disappeared from Iskra and his active collaboration with the Mensheviks to all intents and purposes came to an end. The “crime” of Trotsky in these years was that of “conciliationism,” or, to use an unkind expression, “unity mongering.” This conciliationism, however, was an attempt to re-unite the Party, a view shared by many within the Bolshevik camp and the Party in general. It had nothing to do with a conciliatory attitude to the enemies of the working class—the liberals and the so-called progressive bourgeoisie. It is an idea which Lenin spent his entire active life fighting against.

On this question, there was never any difference between Lenin and Trotsky, who wrote that

I was with Lenin unreservedly in this discussion, which became more crucial the deeper it went. In 1904, during the liberal banquet campaign, which quickly reached an impasse, I put forward the question, “What next?” and answered it in this way: the way out can be opened only by means of a general strike, followed by an uprising of the proletariat which will march at the head of the masses against liberalism. This aggravated my disagreements with the Mensheviks.

It was the Mensheviks’ support for the liberals and in particular their backing of the Zemstvo banqueting campaign that caused Trotsky to break with the Mensheviks in September 1904. Answering the lies of the Stalinists that he had been a Menshevik since 1903, Trotsky explains:

This connection with the minority in the Second Congress was brief. Before many months had passed, two tendencies had become conspicuous within the minority. I advocated taking steps to bring about a union with the majority as soon as possible, because I thought of the split as an outstanding episode but nothing more. For others, the split at the Second Congress was the beginning of the evolution towards opportunism. I spent the whole year of 1904 arguing with the leading groups of Mensheviks on questions of policy and organization. The arguments were concentrated on two issues: the attitude towards liberalism and that towards the Bolsheviks. I was for uncompromising resistance to the attempts of the liberals to lean on the masses, and at the same time, because of it, I demanded with increasing determination the union of the two Social Democratic factions.188

Despite the fact that the political differences between Bolshevism and Menshevism were now coming to the fore, many leading Bolsheviks did not understand Lenin’s position and tended to play the differences down. The predominant trend among the Bolshevik tendency inside Russia was precisely conciliationism. The great majority of the party activists did not grasp the reasons for the split, and rejected it. Even Lenin’s closest collaborators were, in effect, working against him. In February 1904, after a long period of vacillation, the CC inside Russia rejected Lenin’s call for a congress by five votes against one. This amounted to a public rebuff for Lenin. Yet those who voted against—Krzhizhanovsky, Krassin, Galperin, Gusarov, and Noskov (Zemlyachka voted for)—had worked closely with Lenin since the founding of Iskra, or even earlier. They had played a prominent role in organizing the revolutionary Marxist tendency in Russia. How could they behave in this way?

These were, in many ways, true Bolshevik types—tireless, dedicated party workers, good organizers, disciplined and self-sacrificing. But they were what might be called “practicos,” whose work consisted in a hundred and one detailed organizational tasks. Without such people, no revolutionary party can succeed. But there was also a negative aspect to the mentality of the Bolshevik “committeemen,” as they were known: a certain organizational limitedness, a narrowness of outlook and restricted theoretical horizons. Such types as these inevitably tended to look with a certain disdain upon the finer points of history and regard such controversies as those that took place at the Second Congress as mere émigré squabbles, of no practical importance. If the majority of them had initially sided with Lenin and Plekhanov, this was not out of any deep ideological commitment, but because the organizational stand of the majority struck them as being more in accord with the “Party spirit” which was the moving force of their lives.

But after Plekhanov’s defection, things began to appear more complicated. The former majority now looked very much like a minority, at least on the leading bodies. Lenin’s complete isolation seemed to underline his weakness. And, to the practicos, Plekhanov’s arguments carried more weight. What was all this fuss really about? Lenin attempted in his book One Step Forward, Two Steps Back to point out the issues of principle involved. But many of the committeemen were unimpressed. In January 1904, Lenin had finally organized a Bureau of Majority Committees to agitate for a Congress. Two CC members, Lengnik and Essen, were sent to Russia for this purpose, but were arrested. Meanwhile, the majority of Bolshevik conciliators on the CC actually ousted Lenin’s only supporter, Zemlyachka. The Bolshevik leadership was falling apart. Demoralized, Gusarov dropped out of activity, and Krzhizhanovsky resigned from the CC. The remaining CC members, Krassin, Noskov, and Galperin—all Bolshevik conciliators—proceeded to pull off an unprincipled coup.

In the summer, when Lenin was convalescing in the Swiss Alps, the triumvirate held a secret meeting of the CC and passed what became known as the “July declaration,” calling for reconciliation between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks and, in effect, surrendering on the minority’s terms. They accepted the “unquestionable legality” of the new Editorial Board of Iskra and the “equally unquestionable superiority of the central organ in everything which concerns the defense and clarification of the basic principles of the international Social Democracy’s program and tactics.”

These actions represented an explicit repudiation of Lenin, whom they relieved of the right to represent the CC abroad. They even insisted on the right to censor Lenin’s writings (“the printing of his writings . . . will be carried out on each occasion with the agreements of the members of the CC”)189 and prohibited agitation in favor of a Third Congress. Furthermore, Noskov was charged with reorganizing the party’s technical work abroad, which meant eliminating such supporters of Lenin as Bonch-Bruyevich, who had been involved in publishing Bolshevik material abroad, and Lyadov, who was in charge of finances. In addition, three more Bolshevik-conciliators, and then three Mensheviks, were co-opted onto the CC. When Lenin finally found out what was going on, he wrote an angry letter to the CC challenging the legality of its actions. A further letter was sent to the members of the Bolshevik committees, exposing the activities of the CC. He even sent a letter to Iskra asking it not to publish the illegal declaration. But the editors, ignoring Lenin’s request, published it in issue 72 under the title Declaration of the Central Committee. There was nothing left to Lenin but to break off all relations with the conciliators.

The situation was now grim indeed. Everything which had been achieved by the Second Congress was in ruins. One after the other, the leading bodies had been captured by the minority. The Martovites appeared to have triumphed all along the line. Lenin seemed to be utterly isolated. In reality, however, the Mensheviks’ victory had been achieved by maneuvering at the top. At grass roots level, things were different. An increasing number of committees were coming out in favor of a new Congress as the only way of resolving the crisis. The party committees in Petersburg, Moscow, Yekaterinoslav, Riga, the Northern Union, Voronezh, Nizhegorod, and, perhaps more surprisingly Baku, Batum, and the Caucasian Union, declared their support. Even abroad, Social Democratic groups in Paris, Genoa, and Berlin came out against the Mensheviks. According to a letter written by Lyubimov to Noskov in the autumn of 1904:

On the question of the declaration [of the CC], there has been such a row you can hardly make head or tail of it. Only one thing is clear: all the committees—except Kharkov, Crimea, Gornozavdsk, and Don—are committees of the majority . . . The CC has received a full vote of confidence from a very insignificant number of committees.190

Encouraged by the response inside Russia, Lenin convened a conference of 22 Bolsheviks in Switzerland in August 1904, which adopted his appeal To the Party, which became a rallying call for the convening of a Third Party Congress. With his customary honesty, Lenin described the serious crisis through which the Party was passing, adding that:

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.

Only now did Lenin point out the class forces which lay behind the split:

Lastly, the opposition cadres 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 educate it 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 bound to be most inclined to the views of the “minority,” which then as a result proved to be the actual majority. Russia, on the other hand, where the voice of the organized proletariat 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.191

By the autumn, the prospects for the Bolsheviks were looking brighter. A new leading team was gradually being put together with new arrivals from Russia—people like Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, Olminsky. After his month in the Alps, Lenin’s health was much improved. “It was as if he had bathed in a mountain stream and washed off all the cobwebs of sordid intrigue,” wrote Krupskaya.192 Encouraging reports were being received from Russia, where To the Party had been clandestinely distributed to the Party committees. According to Krupskaya, by mid-September, 12 out of 20 committees with full voting rights had come out in favor of a Congress, and the number was still growing. From this point on, the Bolsheviks were a serious organized force within Russia. By the end of the year a Bolshevik Organizing Center was established in the interior, with the backing of 13 Party committees. Still, the situation remained extremely fragile.

Unlike their opponents, the Bolsheviks were desperately short of funds. The question of a newspaper was initially out of the question. As a temporary substitute, Lenin and Bonch-Bruyevich launched a “Publishing House for Social Democratic Party Literature” which from early September began to publish individual titles by Lenin and his collaborators. This was, at least, a start. But the Mensheviks held all the cards when it came to publications. Not only did they control the prestigious Iskra, but they also had a good supply of money from wealthy sympathizers. They did not hesitate to use this unscrupulously as a weapon in the factional struggle. Krupskaya recalls with a note of bitterness how the Mensheviks put pressure on sympathizers to stop giving assistance to the majority:

Ilyich and I had some strong things to say about those “sympathizers” who belonged to no organization and imagined that their accommodation and paltry donations could influence the course of events in our proletarian Party!193

The question of funds from abroad was undoubtedly a factor in the capitulation of the Bolshevik-conciliators on the CC to the émigré center.

Despite their lack of resources, the Bolsheviks decided to launch a new paper called Vperyod (Forward). At a meeting in Geneva on December 3, an editorial board was elected, composed of Lenin, V.V. Vorovsky, M.S. Olminsky, and A.V. Lunacharsky, with Krupskaya as secretary. As usual, the lack of funds was made up for by personal sacrifice. Everyone scratched around for spare cash. Vorovsky handed over some author’s fees he had just received. Olminsky parted with a gold watch. Somehow or other, 1,000 francs were scraped together—barely enough for one and a half issues. But nobody was deterred by this. The first issue of the first truly Bolshevik newspaper duly rolled off the press on December 22, 1904. Just over a fortnight later, the Russian émigrés were amazed to hear the raucous shouts of the newspaper boys on the streets of Geneva: “Revolution in Russia! Revolution in Russia!”


186 Trotsky, Stalin, 50.

187 Trotsky, My Life, 166 (my emphasis).

188 Quoted in Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, 86, 166 (my emphasis), and 165.

189 Istoriya KPSS, 509 in both quotes.

190 Ibid., 509.

191 LCW, To the Party, vol. 7, 455–56.

192 Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, 106.

193 Ibid., 98.