71) Trotsky and Conciliationism
Trotsky thought it was possible to unite the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, or, to be more accurate, the left-wing tendency in Menshevism represented especially by Martov. He was not the only one. Lenin himself was attracted more than once to the idea of unity with Martov, whose personal and political qualities he always recognized. Lunacharsky recalls that as late as 1917, Lenin dreamed of a bloc with Martov. At this time certainly Lenin held out hopes that Martov would come over:
The next spell of emigration struck Martov a very hard blow; never, perhaps, had his tendency to vacillate been so marked nor probably so agonizing. The right wing of Menshevism soon began to go rotten, deviating into so-called “liquidationism.” Martov had no wish to be drawn into this petty bourgeois disintegration of the revolutionary spirit. But the “liquidators” had a hold on Dan and Dan on Martov and as usual the heavy “tail” of Menshevism dragged Martov to the bottom. There was a moment when he would literally have made a pact with Lenin, urged to do so by Trotsky and Innokenty, who were dreaming of forming a powerful center to counter the extreme left and the extreme right.
This line, as we know, was also strongly supported by Plekhanov, but the idyll did not last long, rightism gained the upper hand with Martov and the same discord between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks broke out again.
Martov was then living in Paris. I was told that he had even begun to go slightly to seed, always a lurking danger for émigrés. Politics was degenerating into an affair of petty squabbles and a passion for bohemian café life was beginning to threaten him with a diminution of his intellectual powers. However, when the war came Martov not only pulled himself together but from the start took up an extremely resolute position.419
Trotsky hoped that all the left-wing elements might come together, on the basis of a break with the extreme right-wing Liquidators and the ultraleft Bolsheviks. Although politically close to Bolshevism, Trotsky was critical of what he saw as Lenin’s “factionalism.” He nursed the hope that the left wing of Menshevism would, in time, break with the right, and Lenin’s seeming intransigence infuriated him. From October 1908, he succeeded in publishing a paper called Pravda (The Truth) intended for illegal circulation in Russia, which was a big success. Pravda was published in Vienna and financed by two wealthy sympathizers, Adolf Joffe, the future outstanding Soviet diplomat who was later to commit suicide in protest against the Stalinist bureaucracy, and M.I. Skobelev, the son of a Baku oil magnate, who later reemerged as a minister in the Provisional Government. Part of the new paper’s success was that it wrote in a lively and popular style and avoided the strident factional tone that characterized other underground Social Democratic publications. Instead of attacking other publications and groups, it concentrated on denouncing the problems of the working class and attempted to find common ground between the Bolsheviks and left Mensheviks. This was very popular with the workers in Russia, but profoundly irritated Lenin, who was involved in a struggle on two fronts and suspicious of unity-mongering. But Lenin now found himself in a minority in the leadership of his own faction, where conciliationist tendencies were strong.
Trotsky’s wrong position on organization was the source of endless disputes with Lenin. The period under consideration witnessed the sharpest of clashes between Lenin and Trotsky in which Lenin heatedly denounced “Trotskyism.” But it is clear that for Lenin “Trotskyism” was synonymous with Trotsky’s position on organization (i.e., conciliation) and not at all his political views, which were close to Bolshevism. Moreover, the sharpness of the polemics between the two men had another explanation, which is not immediately obvious to the modern reader. The harshness of Lenin’s language in these polemics was dictated by the fact that, under the guise of “Trotskyism,” he was really attacking conciliatory tendencies in the leadership of his own faction. But the real story was for a long time suppressed beneath a thick layer of lies and distortions aimed at justifying the Stalinist bureaucracy and blackening the names of the Old Bolsheviks who fought against it.
In fact, for a time, Trotsky actually appeared to be on the point of succeeding. Many Bolshevik leaders were in agreement with him on the question of unity—that is, they supported precisely the weakest side of Trotsky’s position, not the strongest. On the Central Committee, the Bolsheviks N.A. Rozhkov and V.P. Nogin were conciliators. Krupskaya commented ironically that “Nogin was a conciliator who was out to unite all and everyone.”420 So were Kamenev and Zinoviev. Given the popularity of Trotsky’s paper with workers in Russia, a number of Bolshevik leaders were in favor of using Pravda for the purpose of bringing about a fusion of Bolsheviks and Pro-Party Mensheviks. At the Paris meeting of the Proletary editorial board, Kamenev and Zinoviev, now Lenin’s closest collaborators, proposed the closing down of Proletary and moved that Pravda should be accepted as the official organ of the Central Committee of the RSDLP. This position was also supported by others like Tomsky and Rykov. The proposal was passed against the opposition of Lenin, who counterproposed the setting up of a popular Bolshevik paper and monthly theoretical journal. In the end, a compromise was reached whereby Proletary would still come out, but not more than once a month. Meanwhile it was agreed to enter into negotiations with Trotsky with a view to making the Vienna Pravda the official organ of the RSDLP CC. This fact shows the strength of the conciliationist tendencies in the ranks of the Bolsheviks, and also tells us quite a lot about the attitude of the Bolsheviks towards Trotsky in this period. The minutes of the meeting of Proletary referred to were published in 1934, in order to discredit Zinoviev and Kamenev before their murder by Stalin, but were later consigned to the archives and hardly ever referred to.
Lenin was increasingly isolated within his own faction, and compelled to make concessions against his better judgment just to hold things together. The psychology of the Bolshevik conciliators was conditioned by the kind of “practical politics” which prides itself on its haughty contempt for theory and principle, and is always looking for short cuts that, in the end, always turn out to be the opposite. This philistine mentality always regards a struggle for principles as “sectarianism,” an accusation that was frequently levelled against Lenin by his opponents. Kamenev and his fellow conciliators regarded themselves as infinitely wiser and more practical than Lenin, perhaps not on theory, but in the practical search for solutions to the party’s ills. In November 1908, Kamenev wrote to Bogdanov:
In the “squabble” that has started here I stand in the “middle of the road” line and hope to stay there . . . I feel that just as the struggle against conciliation was binding on me in 1904, so conciliation is equally binding on me now.422
As late as 1912, when Lenin had already firmly set out on the course of a final split with the opportunists, a significant part of the leadership dragged their feet, as Krupskaya points out:
Obviously, there could be no room in the Party for people who had made up their minds beforehand that they would not abide by the Party decisions. With some comrades, however, the struggle for the Party assumed the form of conciliation; they lost sight of the aim of unity and relapsed into a man-of-the-street striving to unite all and everyone, no matter what they stood for. Even Innokenty, who fully subscribed to Ilyich’s opinion that the main thing was to unite with the Pro-Party-Mensheviks, the Plekhanovites, was so keen to preserve the Party that he began himself to incline towards a conciliatory attitude. Ilyich set him right, however.423
In retrospect, it seems inexplicable that Trotsky should have wasted so much time in attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable. But he was not the only one who failed to understand what Lenin was driving at. It is sufficient to mention the name of Rosa Luxemburg to make the point. Like Rosa, Trotsky was mistaken, but his mistake was that of a sincere revolutionary with the interests of the working class and socialism at heart. Most probably the source of his error was also similar to hers. Rosa Luxemburg was early repelled by the centralized bureaucratic machine of the German SPD and, overreacting to it, tended to reject centralism per se. Not fully understanding Lenin’s position, and taking as gospel the caricature of the Mensheviks, she subjected his organizational ideas to a harsh and unjust criticism that partially clouded their relations, although politically they usually stood on the same side. Trotsky was repelled by the narrowness of the Bolshevik committeemen, who sought to reduce the most complex political questions to simple organizational problems, and presented the dialectical relation between the class and the party in a mechanical way that at times resembled a caricature, as when the Bolshevik committeemen in St. Petersburg demanded that the St. Petersburg Soviet dissolve itself when it refused to accept the leadership of the party. Trotsky was inclined to base his opinion of Bolshevism, not on Lenin, but on a mechanical caricature of Lenin’s ideas which passed for Bolshevism in certain circles. This kept him at a distance, despite the closeness of his political views with those of Lenin, right up to 1917, when the actual experience of the revolution caused all the old disagreements to dissolve.
In later years Trotsky admitted that on this question Lenin had always been in the right. In his autobiography Trotsky explains the basis of his error:
In its view of the future of Menshevism, and of the problems of organization within the party, the Pravda never arrived at the preciseness of Lenin’s attitude. I was still hoping that the new revolution would force the Mensheviks—as had that of 1905—to follow a revolutionary path. But I underestimated the importance of preparatory ideological selection and of political case-hardening. In questions of the inner development of the party I was guilty of a sort of social-revolutionary fatalism. This was a mistaken stand, but it was vastly superior to that bureaucratic fatalism, devoid of ideas, which distinguishes the majority of my present-day critics in the camp of the Communist International.424
After Lenin’s death, as part of an unscrupulous campaign to blacken Trotsky’s name, the Stalinists deliberately exaggerated the significance of the differences between Lenin and Trotsky. But these old polemics ceased to have any interest for Lenin after 1917 when Trotsky joined the Bolshevik Party and took a firm stand against conciliationism. In November 1917, that is, after the October Revolution, the “Old Bolsheviks” Kamenev and Zinoviev advocated the formation of a coalition government with the Mensheviks. At that time, Lenin said:
As for coalition, I cannot speak about that seriously. Trotsky long ago said that a union was impossible. Trotsky understood this, and from that time there has been no better Bolshevik.425
419 A.V. Lunacharsky, Revolutionary Silhouettes, 136.
420 Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, 207.
421 Protokoly soveshchaniya rashirennoy redaktsy Proletary, Moscow, 1934, quoted in the Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2, 293.
422 Pod Znamenem Marksizma, No. 9–10, 202.
423 Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, 206.
424 Trotsky, My Life, 224.
425 Quoted in Trotsky, The Stalin School of Falsification, 105 (my emphasis).
72) The January Plenum
“1910,” writes Trotsky, “was the period of the most complete degeneration of the movement and of the most widespread flood of conciliatory tendencies. In January, a plenum of the Central Committee was held in Paris, at which the Conciliators gained a very unstable victory. It was decided to restore the Central Committee in Russia with the participation of the Liquidators. Nogin and Germanov were Bolshevik Conciliators. The revival of the ‘Russian’ collegium—that is, of the one acting illegally in Russia—was Nogin’s task.”
The prevailing conditions of reaction, and the appalling difficulties faced by all Social Democrats, understandably encouraged those elements who favored unity at any price. Out of these moves towards unity came the idea of a special Plenum to kick out the Liquidators and otzovists and establish unity between the Bolsheviks and non-Liquidator Mensheviks. But Lenin was unimpressed by all these attempts at unity. He wrote sarcastically that Trotsky was in a bloc with people “with whom he agrees on nothing theoretically but in everything practically.” But Lenin’s protests were in vain. Outvoted within the Bolshevik faction, he was compelled reluctantly to go along with the Plenum.What Lenin meant was that, while Trotsky was politically at odds with the Liquidators and otzovists, he nevertheless continued to argue in favor of conciliation and unity, and thus found himself in an unprincipled bloc. Lenin saw no point in participating in a Plenum of elements who stood for mutually exclusive political positions. But he no longer carried a majority in the Bolshevik camp on this question. The violence of the discussions among the Bolshevik leaders was later hinted at by Lenin in a letter to Gorky: “Three weeks of agony, all nerves were on edge, the devil to pay . . .”
In January 1910, for the last time, the leading representatives of the different tendencies of the RSDLP met together in an attempt to patch up their differences. The Plenum took place in Paris from January 2 to 23, 1910. The leaders of all the factions were present, except Plekhanov, who declined to attend, pleading illness. The absence of the Pro-Party Mensheviks was a further blow to Lenin, since his preference was for unity with Plekhanov’s group. Given the extremely heterogeneous nature of such a gathering, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. In order to secure genuine unity, it is not enough to proclaim it. Unless there is principled agreement on the fundamental questions, such an attempt usually only succeeds in uniting three groups into ten! The differences separating the different groups were too great to be overcome by resolutions piously proclaiming the need for unity. That is why Lenin opposed the convening of such a gathering. Far from “resolving” the issues, this explosive mixture of inflammable elements inevitably led to an immediate blowup. At Lenin’s insistence, the Plenum passed a resolution condemning both liquidationism and otzovism as bourgeois influences within the Party. Subsequently, however, the supporters of these trends insisted on watering this down. The question arose of calling a Party Conference to try to resolve the problems. Lenin insisted that the largest number of workers from illegal party organizations be invited to this. On this basis, the Bolsheviks agreed to support the idea. The Plenum also agreed to grant Trotsky’s Pravda a monthly subsidy and to place Kamenev on its editorial board as the representative of the Central Committee.
There was a row over money. The Mensheviks caused a scandal over funds belonging to the Bolsheviks, which had been obtained by the controversial method of “expropriations.”. Still more controversial was a large sum of money left to the Party by millionaire industrialist Saava Morozov. At the time of the Plenum, for once, the Bolsheviks had plenty of money thanks to a nephew of Morozov, Nikolai Schmidt, who was murdered in a tsarist prison after the December defeat. Before he died, Nikolai got word to his friends outside that he was leaving all his property to the Bolsheviks. In addition, his younger sister Elizaveta Schmidt decided to donate her share of the inheritance to the Bolsheviks. But as she was not yet of age, a fictitious marriage had to be organized with a member of one of the party’s fighting squads who had somehow managed to keep on a legal footing. By this means the Bolsheviks managed to obtain the money immediately. That is why Lenin could write confidently that Proletary was now able to pay for delegates to the Plenum. The Mensheviks were incensed when they discovered the situation, and raised hell. This was the cause of the kind of hysterical and acrimonious dispute which so often poisoned the atmosphere of émigré circles.
A heavy price was, in fact, paid by the Bolsheviks for the sake of unity. Against Lenin’s protest, they agreed to cease publication of their central organ, Proletary. More painful still, the Bolshevik group’s funds were handed over to a committee of trustees established by the Socialist International. The matter of the Schmidt inheritance was “resolved” when the disputed funds were handed over for temporary safekeeping to this commission, which was composed of Mehring, Klara Zetkin, and Kautsky. Lenin was, to put it mildly, unhappy about this and insisted on the right to get this back if the Mensheviks did not likewise wind up Golos Sotsial-Demokrata and disband their factional center. Future developments would prove him right. Finally, the remaining 500 ruble notes left over from the Tiflis expropriation were burned.
It is not correct, as is frequently done, to attribute the failure of the attempt at unity to Lenin’s intransigence. As a matter of fact, at this stage, the main obstacle to unity were the Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks had already expelled the otzovists, so they had no truble in voting for that. A very different situation existed in the camp of Menshevism, where liquidationism reigned supreme. How could they expel the Liquidators? It would have supposed an act of self-immolation, which not one of them was prepared to contemplate. Thus, when both factions agreed to disband their factional apparatus and merge, the Bolsheviks actually loyally carried out the decision, but the Mensheviks did not. Martov later admitted that they only agreed because the Mensheviks were too weak to risk an immediate split.
At the end of the meeting, in a hollow gesture, Lenin and Plekhanov were unanimously elected as delegates to the forthcoming Congress of the Socialist International. The Bolshevik conciliators had achieved their objective. Kamenev was sent by the Bolsheviks to Vienna to represent them on Trotsky’s Pravda, which was granted a regular subsidy of 150 rubles from the Central Committee. But Lenin remained unconvinced. His judgment on the January Plenum was that it marked a partial retreat by the Bolsheviks for the sake of unity. But its decisions were contradictory and could not be carried out. The Mensheviks did not dissolve their center and continued to publish the Golos. The agreement to repay the Bolshevik funds in such a case turned out to be a dead letter. The money placed in the care of Kautsky’s committee remained in Germany, where, after the outbreak of war, it was eventually impounded by the Treasury and used to pay for the Kaiser’s war effort.
73)‘Unity’ Breaks Down
After the Paris meeting, Lenin wrote to his sister Anna Ilyichna:
We have been having “stormy” times lately, but they have ended with an attempt at peace with the Mensheviks—yes, yes, strange as it may seem; we have closed down the factional newspaper and are trying harder to promote unity. We shall see whether it can be done.430
The tone of this letter shows that Lenin was skeptical from the beginning about the prospects for unity, and it is also clear from the reference to things being “stormy” that there were sharp words on the subject between Lenin and his conciliator colleagues. But in the end he had to give way, and, while skeptical, was prepared to give it one last try (“We shall see whether it can be done”). In order to convince his colleagues, it was necessary to pass through the experience.
Ilyich believed that the utmost concession should be made on organizational issues without yielding an inch on fundamental issues,” writes Krupskaya.431
Immediately after the Plenum Lenin summoned a meeting of the Bolshevik faction. This very fact shows that the two factions continued to operate exactly as before. In other words, the Plenum had solved precisely nothing. Any agreement with the Menshevik-Liquidators could only be temporary and would inevitably break down. It was as impossible to mix revolutionism and reformism as to mix oil and water. The growing divergence between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks made a nonsense of the January Plenum, leaving Trotsky in an unnatural bloc with the Mensheviks, with whom, politically, he had nothing in common. Pravda continued to appeal for unity, but the whole position had been rendered obsolete by life itself. Trotsky tried to call a Party conference for November 1910. Lenin called Trotsky’s position “unprincipled adventurism.” Having gone through the experience of attempting to unify the Party ever since 1906, Lenin must have already made up his mind that a split was, sooner or later, inevitable. The behavior of the Menshevik-Liquidators was now an obstacle in the path of the working class. Lenin was never afraid to draw bold conclusions when the interests of the movement demanded it. But he had to carry his followers with him. It was a path they were not eager to tread.
This growth of the revolutionary movement led to a further sharpening of the contradictions within the Party. As the masses were moving left, so the Menshevik-Liquidators were veering to the right. Matters were clearly leading in the direction of a split. This showed the futility of conciliationism and the “January Plenum.” Lenin’s appraisal of the Plenum was confirmed by events. The Liquidators, as we have seen, naturally, broke all the agreements. The factions maintained their separate factional centers and apparatuses, while loudly proclaiming the virtues of unity. The very day after swearing their unshakable allegiance to unity, the Liquidators began to organize a public faction around the legal journals Nasha Zarya and Dyelo Zhizni. These people (Potresov, Levitsky, etc.) represented the extreme right-wing tendency in Menshevism. The other Menshevik faction around Golos Sotsial-Demokrata Martov, Dan, and Axelrod, were only “shamefaced liquidators,” standing far closer to the former than to the genuine revolutionary wing of the Party. On the “left,” the Vperyodists (Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, Alexinsky) continued their factional activities, having virtually split off from the Bolsheviks, organizing their own factional “schools.” Ironically, the ultraleft Vperyodists frequently found themselves in an unprincipled bloc with the Mensheviks against the Bolsheviks.
Behind the façade, the factional struggle not only continued, but was intensified, moving inexorably in the direction of a split. The Menshevik Golos continued to appear, with attacks on the underground party groups and Pro-Party Mensheviks; Martov, Dan, Axelrod, and Martynov published a kind of “manifesto” calling for the establishment of a “legal-open party”; and so on. In other words, the agreements reached by the January Plenum were not worth the paper they were written on. By the end of 1910, Lenin was already demanding the return of the Bolshevik funds, not surprisingly without success. Lenin was not in the least surprised at this outcome. He had predicted it. He had only gone through the experience of the Plenum, which he personally regarded as “idiotic” and “fatal,”432 to convince his conciliationist colleagues of the impossibility of agreement. Lenin warned Kamenev:
I do not see any possibility of carrying on fruitful work with the Liquidators, on the Right and on the Left, especially with Trotsky, but I do not object to your going to Vienna to give you a chance to see for yourself that I am right.433
Lenin was soon shown to be right. Kamenev, who had quarrelled with Trotsky, handed in his resignation from the Pravda editorial board on August 13, 1910.
Even after it became clear that the Mensheviks were not going to respect the decisions of the plenum, the Bolshevik conciliators still kept up their futile attempts to get “unity.” The Bolshevik members of the Central Committee carried on endless negotiations with the Liquidators with the aim of organizing the CC, but never got anywhere. In his memoirs, Piatnitsky describes the euphoria of the conciliator Nogin after the January Plenum:
While Nogin was telling me about the decisions of the Plenum he was almost speechless with joy at the fact that it had at last been possible to unite the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks for practical work in Russia (the Plenum had vigorously denounced the Liquidators and recallism-ultimatism) and that henceforth the “Nationals” were to participate in the work. Only one thing worried him: Comrade Lenin firmly opposed all the resolutions of the Plenum which made concessions to the Mensheviks and those decisions which hampered the work of the Bolsheviks by making them dependent on chance representatives of the “Nationals,” although he submitted to the majority of the Bolshevik CC membership. Nogin told me with bitterness that Lenin did not understand the vital importance of Party unity for work in Russia.434
These illusions were completely unfounded. The ink was not dry on the paper, when the decisions of the January Plenum began to unravel rapidly. The Bolsheviks were in a weaker position than before. They were now dependent on the representative of the Social Democrats of Poland and Lithuania to get decent policies through the editorial board of Sotsial Demokrat. Financially they were much worse off, and depended on the Foreign Bureau of the CC for cash. It was an intolerable position. To make matters worse, the Bolsheviks were the only ones to carry out the decisions of the Plenum. The balance sheet of conciliationism was entirely negative. In 1911, Lenin commented, with some justice, that the Plenum had drained the Party of its strength for over a year. However, the setback for the Bolsheviks was more apparent than real. What was decisive was not the artificial combinations at the top, but what was taking place in the Party’s grass-roots in Russia. After the failure of the January adventure, the process of rapprochement of Bolsheviks and Pro-Party Mensheviks was resumed all over Russia: Ukraine, Saratov, Urals, Nizhny Novgorod, Latvia, and other centers, the real forces of the Party were involved in a process of regroupment. Inside Russia the big majority of worker Mensheviks supported Plekhanov, and these now moved closer to the Bolsheviks in joint action.
One important side effect of these events was that they played a role also in Lenin’s growing awareness of opportunism as an international phenomenon because of the role of the International leaders in the Russian inner-Party dispute. Up until this moment, Lenin had regarded himself as an orthodox “Kautskyite,” in the period when Karl Kautsky stood—or at least seemed to stand—on the left of the Second International. But Kautsky’s temporizing role in relation to the struggle between the right and left wings of the RSDLP raised serious doubts in his mind. Lenin was taken by surprise by the conduct of the leaders of the Socialist International. He was deeply shocked and offended by the unprincipled behavior of Kautsky and the other representatives of the International who in practice backed the conciliators, publishing their articles in the international Social Democratic press. These doubts were substantiated after August 1914 when Kautsky, along with all the other leaders of the German SPD, with the honorable exception of Karl Liebknecht, shamefully betrayed the cause of international socialism.
Lenin’s extremely sharp tone is explained by the fact that he was completely isolated, even within his own faction. He could see further ahead than the others, but was powerless to act on his own instincts. Lenin himself reached the conclusion that a split was inevitable only after much hesitation. The dividing line for Lenin was probably 1910. But even so, the formal split did not occur until two years later. This was not accidental. Lenin was consistently outvoted in the leadership of the Bolshevik faction. In a way, this was not surprising. It should not be forgotten that the idea of a split between revolutionary and reformist Social Democrats was an entirely new one (except for France, which had earlier experienced the split between the supporters of Guesde and Jaurés, and Bulgaria, with the split of the “broad” and “narrow” socialists which did not exactly fit this pattern, but these were exceptions to the rule). On an international scale the split did not happen until 1914–15. The trauma of August 1914 still lay in the future.
426 Trotsky, Stalin, 123.
427 LCW, An Open Letter to All Pro-Party Social Democrats, vol. 16, 339.
428 LCW, Letter to Maxim Gorky, April 11, 1910, vol. 34, 420.
429 See Martov, Spasiteli ili Uprazdniteli? 16.
430 Letter to his sister Anna, February 1, 1910, LCW Vol. 37, 451.
431 Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, 206.
432 See LCW, Letter to A. Rykov, February 25, 1911, vol. 34, 443.
433 O Vladimire Ilyiche Lenine. Vospminaniya, 1900–1922.
434 O. Piatnitsky, Zapiski Bol’shevika, 153.
74) On the Eve
It is said that the darkest hour comes just before the dawn. On the eve of a new revolutionary upsurge, Lenin’s position appeared hopeless. Out of three leading centers of the RSDLP, two (the Foreign Bureau of the CC and CC inside Russia) were dominated by the conciliators (and also the Liquidators in the latter case). The Bolshevik members of the Russian CC (interior) were conciliators (first Dubrovinsky and Goldenberg, then, after their arrest, Nogin and Leiteisen), always running after agreements with the Liquidators (Isuv, Bronstein, Yermolaev). Lenin was indignant at the compromising tactics of his supporters, and insistently demanded rapprochement with Pro-Party Mensheviks and implacable struggle against the “unprincipled bloc” of the January Plenum. Lenin’s opponents shook their heads and muttered about “sectarianism.”
Things were not much better in Russia. Just before the new upswing, the Bolshevik organizations were in an extremely enfeebled state. In the spring of 1911, Lenin described the position of the Party as follows:
At present the real position of the Party is such that almost everywhere in the localities there are informal, extremely small, and tiny Party workers’ groups and nuclei that meet irregularly. Everywhere they are combating liquidator-legalists in the unions, clubs, etc. They are not connected with each other. Very rarely do they see any literature. They enjoy prestige among workers. In these groups Bolsheviks and Plekhanov’s supporters unite, and to some extent those Vperyod “supporters” who have read Vperyod literature or have heard Vperyod speakers, but have not yet been dragged into the isolated Vperyod faction set up abroad.435
In his study of the St. Petersburg labor movement at this time, Robert McKean writes:
As all revolutionary coteries deliberately refrained from keeping proper lists of members and financial accounts for obvious reasons of conspiracy, it is quite impossible to paint an accurate picture of the size of the underground, its social composition or the state of its finances at the beginning of 1912. The total number of adherents was undoubtedly extremely minute and constantly changing due to frequent waves of arrests. The estimates claimed in the party press must be treated with the greatest caution, although even these testify to the paucity of supporters. Lenin’s factional organ claimed some 300 in the summer of 1911, as did the “Central Group of Social Democratic Workers” at the end of the year. At the Bolsheviks’ Prague Conference in January 1912 the St. Petersburg delegate P.A. Zalutsky furnished the probably more accurate estimate of 109 supporters of Lenin. The evidence adduced here suggests that within the Bolshevik faction the “Central Group’s” claim was the more accurate of the two. At the most, there must have been a mere 500 or so Social Democratic party members. In all districts and factories there can have existed only little groups of 10, 20 or 30 or so card-carrying members. These doleful figures must be set against the total labor force in St. Petersburg of 783,000, of whom 240,000 were factory workers, at the time of the December 1910 city census.436
The fortunes of the RSDLP, and first and foremost its revolutionary wing, seemed to have hit rock bottom. Yet beneath the surface invisible forces were working to transform the whole situation. The key to the change must be sought in the economic base upon which the superstructure of politics, and all social life in general, rests. The economic depression that struck immediately after the December defeat had knocked the wind out of an already exhausted working class. Trotsky, in a brilliant prediction, warned that the Russian workers would not move back into action until the economy began to pick up again. This prognosis was confirmed by events. By early 1910, the economic situation began to improve, and the labor movement also began to revive, although slowly at first. There was an increase in strikes, some of them at least partially successful, to improve wages and conditions. This placed on the agenda the urgent need to rebuild the party. But how? And with what methods and policies? There was no consensus. On the contrary, the controversies were fiercer than ever, especially in exile, where they were characterized by a particularly venomous character.
Once the workers began to move in a revolutionary direction, the entire position began to change. That is what Lenin was counting on, and events proved him to be correct. The upsurge in the workers’ movement breathed new life into the underground party circles. Looking for a vehicle to express their aspirations, the workers quite naturally gravitated towards that banner and name that was familiar to them from the earlier period—the RSDLP. The new layers had no knowledge of the inner-party splits and squabbles. Most of them had never read the party program or statutes. But when they moved to change society, they rallied to their traditional mass organization. Here too, Lenin’s tactics had been vindicated. If the Bolsheviks had succumbed to the ultraleft impatience of Bogdanov and split from the party, they would have been isolated. True, they would have grown. But for every worker that joined them, 100 would have joined the RSDLP. The party was transformed by an influx of fresh workers and youth. Overnight, groups sprang up in new areas. By 1912, the Tiflis (Tblisi) RSDLP organization had 100 members. The party in the Urals could count groups of 40–50 members. The main beneficiaries of this growth were the underground revolutionary groups of Bolsheviks and Pro-Party Mensheviks. These new layers brought with them a breath of fresh air and almost automatically gravitated to the left wing—that is, the Leninists, who were more active, militant and better organized than all the rest. Active participation in the party increased as the masses moved into struggle again. New members were recruited, and once they joined, were rapidly won over by the Bolshevik cadres. The prestige and support for the Bolsheviks, as the left wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, grew by leaps and bounds as the demands of the new revolutionary situation made themselves felt.
435 LCW, Material for the Meeting of CC Members of RSDLP, vol. 17, 202.
436 R.B. McKean, St. Petersburg Between the Revolutions, 82–83.