75) A Brief Interregnum

In the spring Lenin finally succeeded in setting up a party school in two small rooms rented from a leatherworker in the village of Longjumeau near Paris. The aim was to emphasize the vital importance of theory for cadre building. Lenin was particularly anxious that workers and people in contact with the masses should be designated by local committees to attend the school. There were, of course, other Party schools at Capri and Bologna, but these were dominated by the supporters of Bogdanov, and it is clear that Lenin intended the school at Longjumeau as a counterweight to the latter. Lenin threw himself wholeheartedly into the enterprise, preparing his lectures with characteristic meticulousness. He gave a total of 45 lectures on political economy, the agrarian question, and the theory and practice of socialism. Zinoviev and Kamenev lectured on the history of the party. Other lectures were given by Charles Rappaport and Inessa Armand. Among the students at the school was a young worker from Kiev whom nobody knew called Andrei Malinovsky, who was an agent of the tsarist police, who reported on every aspect of the school to the Paris Bureau of the Okhrana. Curiously, this Malinovsky was no relation to the notorious Roman Malinovsky.

Although it was clearly a Bolshevik affair, among lecturers there were Bolsheviks, Vperyodists, Mensheviks, Bundists, and conciliators, but no Liquidators. This was Lenin’s idea. If possible, he would have liked to isolate the Liquidators, separate out the better Menshevik elements (especially the Pro-Party Mensheviks), and save what could be saved of the “centrists” and left reformists. But history shows that most left reformists find it easier to cling to the right reformists than to go over to the openly revolutionary trend. This is true of the leaders, but not of the rank and file, as shown by the experience of 1905–6 and 1910–14 as well as 1917. Here again we have another example of the flexibility of Lenin’s tactics. His main aim, however, was to establish the Bolsheviks as a clearly defined, independent tendency. It was necessary to conduct a persistent struggle to win over the best elements in the Party. But the first condition was to organize separately as a tendency.

For this reason, Lenin was delighted when they managed to launch a new publication in Petersburg, Zvezda (the Star), with an editorial board which included the Bolshevik V. Bonch-Bruyevich, but also N. Yordansky from the Plekhanov group and I. Pokrovsky, a Duma deputy sympathetic to the Bolsheviks. But he was even more pleased with the appearance of Mysl’ (Thought) in Moscow because it was a purely Bolshevik paper. He wrote to Maxim Gorky: “Congratulate us on our own little journal in Moscow, a Marxist one. This has been a happy day for us.”437

But in general there were not many happy days at this time. The unhealthy atmosphere of émigré life with its eternal squabbles hung like a leaden ball around their necks, as Lenin complained:

Living in the midst of this “anecdotic” situation, amidst these squabbles and scandals, this hell and ugly scum is sickening. To watch it all is sickening too. But one must not be influenced by one’s moods. Emigrant life now is a hundred times worse than it was before the revolution. Emigrant life and squabbling are inseparable. But the squabbling can be dismissed—nine-tenths of it takes place abroad; squabbling is a minor detail. The thing is that the Party, the Social Democratic movement are developing and going forward in face of all the hellish difficulties of the present situation. The purging of the Social Democratic Party of its dangerous “deviations,” liquidationism and otzovism, is going ahead unswervingly, and within the framework of unity it has moved ahead far more than before.438

However, in another letter to his sister Anna, he confided: “I do not know if I shall live to see the next rise of the tide.439

The problem with conciliationism is that politics cannot be reduced to simple arithmetic. It is not always the case that two plus two equals four. Two men in a boat, each one pulling in a different direction, is not better than a single rower who knows exactly where he is heading. The different tendencies inside the RSDLP were indeed pulling in opposite directions with completely contradictory tactics flowing from completely different perspectives and goals. The attempt to combine mutually contradictory tendencies created an impossible situation, which was soon visible to all. Heightened tensions within the party were everywhere in evidence. By May 1911, the Bolsheviks had withdrawn their representative (N.A. Semashko) from the Foreign Bureau of the CC. The Russian Bureau of the CC, paralyzed by inner party strife, had practically ceased to exist. This was inevitable.

“The unity of all the groups, achieved with such difficulty in January 1910, swiftly began to break up,” writes Krupskaya. “As the practical problems of the work in Russia began to crop up it became ever more clear that cooperation was impossible.”440

The January Plenum had solved nothing. Lenin urgently demanded the calling of a new Conference. But his closest collaborators were stubbornly opposed to a break with the opportunist wing of the party. Rykov, Kamenev, Zinoviev, and the other Bolshevik conciliators clung to the illusion of compromise. Lenin scornfully referred to “. . .
good intentions, sweet words, kind thoughts, and impotence to carry them into practice.”441 Finally, on Lenin’s insistence, a special meeting of CC members was held in Paris, from May 28 to June 4, 1911. All of the CC members based abroad turned up (except for the Bundist Yanov). Lenin, Rykov, and Zinoviev attended for the Bolsheviks; Tyszka and Dzerzhinsky for the Polish and Lithuanian Social Democrats; Lieber for the Bund; B.I. Gorer for the Golos people, and M.V. Dzolin for the Letts (Latvians). Another mixed bag! The meeting predictably got off to a heated start.

The Liquidator and Bundist representatives immediately called the legality of the meeting into question. After a sharp debate, the meeting finally accepted Lenin’s resolution that this gathering be considered as a Central Committee meeting.442 It was moved that a conference be convened and a committee was set up for the purpose of arranging this. This was too much for the Mensheviks. Martov and Dan walked out of the editorial board of Sotsial Demokrat in protest. After this there was not one representative organ of the RSDLP where Bolsheviks were together with Mensheviks. The split was a fact, in all but name. The Mensheviks refused to acknowledge the validity of the June meeting in Paris—a “private meeting,” they called it. They were implacably opposed to a conference where they feared, rightly, that they would not have a majority. Lenin, on the contrary, placed all his hopes on the working class rank and file. By this time, any further compromise was ruled out, although even now the conciliators dragged their feet, terrified of being “isolated.” However, Lenin, as always, was ready to draw all the conclusions from the situation. Once he decided that “enough was enough,” he would not be swayed. Lenin directed a withering and unremitting fire on the “conciliators.”

By now, Lenin had decided to push things to the limit. With the revolution entering into a new and decisive phase, any further temporizing with the Mensheviks would have been clearly irresponsible. The Bolsheviks were gaining ground inside Russia, the united front with the Pro-Party Mensheviks had borne fruit with the passing over of a large number of the best worker Mensheviks to the Bolsheviks. The tide was beginning to flow in favor of Lenin once again. Those who remained behind and resisted the necessary steps, had to be abandoned. A decisive split with these incorrigible elements was now inevitable. Lenin had only gone through the experience of the January Plenum, which soon turned out to be a farce, in order to convince his co-thinkers in practice of the impossibility of union with the Liquidators. This “experiment” had now to be brought quickly to a close, if irreparable damage was not to be done to the Party and the cause of the revolution. The most pressing need now was to unite the revolutionary wing of the party on a principled basis in order to take advantage of the rising revolutionary wave.

Lenin’s implacable attitude was based upon political considerations. The political evolution of Menshevism was clearly to the right. It represented a Russian variant of opportunism. Although the objective conditions in Russia, and the pressure of the revolutionary wing, compelled the Mensheviks to adopt a somewhat more “left” coloration, the main content of their theory and practice was clearly anti-revolutionary: the stress on parliamentarism, the constant hankering after a bloc with the liberals, the opposition to anything that might frighten the Cadets, the demand for the winding up of all underground activity and to subordinate the party’s activities to the existing tsarist legality—how could such a policy be reconciled with Marxism? Yet, despite the obvious truth of Lenin’s argument, it fell upon deaf ears. Many of the Bolshevik Party workers saw the question in purely practical and organizational terms. One such Party “practico” wrote the following about Lenin’s position at this time:

About the “tempest in the teapot” abroad we have heard, of course: the blocs of Lenin-Plekhanov on the one hand and of Trotsky-Martov-Bogdanov on the other. The attitude of the workers to the first bloc, as far as I know, is favorable. But in general the workers are beginning to look disdainfully at the emigration: “let them crawl on the wall as much as their hearts desire; but as for us, whoever values the interests of the movement—work, the rest will take care of itself.” That I think is for the best.443

These lines were written by Stalin. They accurately convey the disdain for theory and the vulgar empiricism that unfortunately characterized many Party activists in Russia. In general, they tended towards Lenin’s position because it was more in tune with their conception of a disciplined, centralized party. But whereas for Lenin, the party organization was merely a tool in the service of revolutionary ideas and theory, the committeemen, or at least a good part of them, tended to regard it from an exclusively organizational standpoint. Even after the final split in 1912, Lenin still had many problems with committeemen (and women) who, like Stalin, regarded the split as merely an émigré squabble, and an irritating distraction from practical work. In April 1912, Lenin sent a heated letter to Ordzhonikidze, Spandaryan, and Stasova, reprimanding them for their dismissive attitude to the fight against the Liquidators:

Don’t be light-hearted about the campaign of the Liquidators abroad. It is a great mistake when people simply dismiss what goes on abroad with a wave of the hand and “send it to hell.”444


437 LCW, To Maxim Gorky, January 3, 1911, vol. 34, 437.

438 Quoted in Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, 208.

439 Quoted in S. Payne, Lenin, 247.

440 Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, 224.

441 Lenin, Collected Works, in Russian, vol. 48, 16.

442 See KPSS v rezolyutsiyakh, vol. 1, 247.

443 Quoted in Trotsky, Stalin, 131.

444 LCW, Letter to G.K. Ordzhonikidze, S.S. Spandaryan, and Yelena Stasova, April 1912, vol. 35, 33.

76) Mass Work Under Conditions of Reaction

In the years of reaction the Bolsheviks had to learn how to use each and every opportunity for legal mass work. A key area was that of the trade unions. The Mensheviks, with their opportunistic tendency to adapt to the most backward layers of the class, were always stronger in the unions than the Bolsheviks. Echoing the positions of the Economists, they held that the unions should be politically “neutral,” something that completely flies in the face of elementary Marxist principles. As the basic units of working class organization, it is true that the unions must strive to embrace the broadest layers of the proletariat. Only the fascists must be excluded, as the direct enemies of the working class who seek to destroy not only the unions but all other democratic rights conquered by the workers, and thereby liquidate the germs of a new society which are maturing within the old.

However, while the unions should strive to organize all layers of the class, even politically backward layers, that does not at all mean that Marxists must not fight to win over a majority in the unions, and still less that the unions must be politically “neutral.” The struggle for workers’ rights cannot be limited to a purely economic struggle, but inevitably passes over into politics. To demand that the unions abstain from political activity (a demand which, ironically, unites the reactionaries and the anarcho-syndicalists) is to play into the hands of the bourgeois parties. Nonpolitical trade unionism, as Lenin explained many times, is yellow trade unionism, bourgeois trade unionism. This was so obvious that even the Stuttgart Congress of the Second International stated that the Social Democrats should strive for leadership of the trade unions. Yet Martov opposed this, on the grounds that it was not appropriate for Russian conditions.

The combination of legal and illegal work meant that for the Bolsheviks participation in the mass labor organizations was obligatory under all circumstances. The socialist revolution would be unthinkable without a lengthy period of patient work to establish a firm base of support in the unions, making use of skillful and flexible tactics in order to combat, not only the police and the state, but the bureaucratic “policemen” who strive to make the unions safe for the ruling class by purging them of revolutionary elements. Proletary no. 21, which came out in February 1908, published the resolution of the CC of the RSDLP on trade unions. Party members were instructed to set up Party groups within trade union organizations and to work in them under the direction of the local Party centers. Where police persecution made it impossible to organize trade unions or to recreate those that had been broken up, the CC proposed that trade union nuclei and trade unions should be organized illegally. As regards such legal organization as benefit societies, temperance societies, and others, the resolution of the CC instructed the local Party organizations to form within them “well-knit groups of Social Democrats to conduct Party work among the broadest possible masses of the proletariat.” To thwart any attempt on the part of the Mensheviks to interpret this part of the resolution in an opportunist manner, the resolution pointed out the need for making it clear that “the organized activity of the proletariat cannot be limited to such societies alone” and that the legal existence of trade unions “should not belittle the militant tasks of organizing the proletariat in trade unions.”445

Although the Mensheviks maintained their advantageous position in the majority of unions right up to 1917, the Bolsheviks made steady progress. In November 1907, in Petersburg there were 12 clubs and trade union societies for workers, but by 1909 the number had increased to 19. These friendly societies often had to function under different names which camouflaged their real nature. For example, the Bolsheviks in St. Petersburg ran one called “The Source of Enlightenment and Knowledge”; another was called “Enlightenment”; yet another, in Vyborg, “Education,” and so on. Often these societies and clubs played the role of union organizations in the absence of real trade unions.

The systematic penetration of even the most bureaucratic and right-wing unions is a duty of every serious revolutionary current which is fighting for influence over the masses. The Bolsheviks conducted such work in the most difficult conditions of reaction. So successful were they in capturing positions in the legal unions that the authorities were increasingly concerned, as reflected in police reports, such as the following dated May 1907, which emerged from the archives of the Okhrana after the revolution:

The trade unions have already taken on the definite appearance of completely Social Democratic organizations, and are therefore extremely dangerous for the ruling stratum.

Alarmed police chiefs demanded stern measures against the unions before these “nests of revolutionary conspiracy” could once again give rise to armed uprisings.446

Work in legal organizations was not confined to the unions. The Bolsheviks made use of every legal conference called by the government or the liberals, like the All-Russian Conference of popular universities in Petersburg in January 1908, where the Bolsheviks proposed a motion based on class demands, such as the right of workers’ organizations to representation on the boards of universities with the right to take part in the arranging of the curricula, choosing suitable lecturers on social sciences, and recognition of every nationality to education in its own language. The resolution was, not unsurprisingly, rejected, whereupon the workers’ representatives walked out. Not all such events ended so well. Another field of activity were the cooperatives. This had an important practical side, since, under the harsh conditions of reaction, workers resorted to the co-ops for all kinds of purposes (insurance, etc.). At the First All-Russian Congress of Representatives of Cooperative Societies, held in Moscow in April 1908, the Bolsheviks formed a group—against the wishes of the Mensheviks—to lead the fight of the trade union and workers’ cooperatives against the bourgeois cooperators who were in the majority. After a number of Bolsheviks had spoken the police imposed a ban on all speeches that referred to the class struggle, the trade unions, aid to workers during strikes and lockouts and any other potentially subversive matters (including the election of a congress bureau) on pain of arrest. As a protest against this, the congress was closed.

Another important field was work among women. Legal women’s organizations existed and held conferences where the Bolsheviks also intervened systematically. At the First All-Russian Women’s Congress, held in December in Petersburg, there were many women workers among the delegates. On the agenda was the fight against alcoholism, labor protection for women and children, equal rights for Jews, and the political and legal status of women. The women workers moved a resolution demanding universal, direct, and equal suffrage by secret ballot, without distinction of sex, race, and religion. The presiding commission refused to read out the resolution, and replaced it with another drafted on bourgeois-liberal lines, upon which the women workers walked out. A similar fate lay in store for the First All-Russian Congress of Factory Medical Officers and Representatives of Manufacturing Industry, which met in Moscow in April 1909 under the grandiose slogan of a “festival of reconciliation.” But when the workers present began to take the floor to denounce the appalling safety and hygiene conditions in their workplaces, the light of reconciliation soon dimmed. After the police demanded that no questions “liable to excite class struggle” be touched on in the debates, all the workers and some of the doctors walked out, in view of which regrettable setback, the presidium decided to close the congress.447

These legal organizations often included backward and non-political layers, yet even here, in the most apparently unpromising territory, the Bolsheviks conducted political work, and used them to build and strengthen their links with the masses. Like a mountain climber doggedly searching out every nook and cranny to grasp and haul himself up, they looked for each and every legal opening and exploited it to the full. They even intervened in an Anti-Alcoholic Conference convened by the Temperance Society in December 1909. Slowly, painfully, the Bolsheviks regrouped and rebuilt the links with the masses, which had been brutally severed by the victorious counterrevolution. Nevertheless, it was still an uphill struggle. The revolutionaries were still swimming against the stream. The general situation of the class remained depressed. The Bolsheviks discouraged adventurist actions which would lay the workers open to repression. The basic need was to conserve what forces remained, advance slowly, inch by inch, and await a change in the situation. Only in 1911, with the Lena massacre, did the tide begin to turn. The recovery, as predicted by Trotsky, was linked to an economic revival. Up to that time, the graph of the strike movement, which provides a rough and ready index of the state of the movement, registered a steady and persistent decline:


Workers on strike









(Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2, 322)

Then in 1910–13 a boom announced the end of the long depression that dominated the early years of the 20th century. The production of cast iron—not unrelated to the war preparations of the tsarist regime—increased in the period 1909–13 from 175m to 283m poods. In the same period coal production went up from 1.591 billion to 2.214 billion tons. The economic upswing gave a powerful impetus to a revival of the class struggle. The workers flexed their muscles and felt their new-found economic power. In the second half of 1910 there was already a rise in the number of strikes, coinciding with the economic recovery. Increased production and full order books transformed the climate on the shop floor, increasing the confidence of the working class. By mid-1910, the working class once more passed onto the offensive. 10,000 Moscow textile workers struck in the summer. Later the strike wave spread to Riga, Vladimir, Kazan, Saratov, Warsaw, Odessa, Kostroma, and other industrial centers. The immediate causes of the strikes were low wages, bad conditions, and the old problem of factory fines. But these were only the immediate expression of a far more deep-seated and widespread feeling of disaffection. Now, feeling a new sense of power, they moved to take their revenge. The workers were smarting from the results of the defeat of the 1905 Revolution, from the years of oppression, sackings, wage cuts, and a thousand and one humiliations and injustices, and even strikes in protest against the use of the familiar form of address (“ty,” which is the equivalent of the French “tu,” used by adults when talking to little children) by management when talking to workers.

Increased production went hand in hand with the concentration of capital, with mergers creating bigger and bigger factories. By 1914 factories of more than 500 workers represented 56.5 percent of the total. Tsarist Russia was now one of the major world powers in terms of concentration of capital. Russia remained an extremely backward, semifeudal economy but with an enormous concentration of industry and banking capital—more, in fact, than most other advanced capitalist countries. This was a graphic manifestation of the Marxist law of combined and uneven development. The process of monopolization is shown by the fact that by 1913 nine big companies accounted for 53.1 percent of the production of cast iron: seven watch factories produced 90 percent of watches, six Baku firms produced 65 percent of oil, and so on. The total number of monopolies in Russia was not less than 150–200 monopolies. The predominance of gigantic factories, concentrating large numbers of workers in appalling conditions, especially in the metal industry, was a powerful factor giving an impressive sweep to the strike movement that preceded the First World War and investing it with a clearly revolutionary character.448

Significantly, many of these strikes were successful. Out of 265, 140 (52.8 percent) were won. Even more significant was the number of political strikes. In 1909, according to official figures, 7.7 percent of strikes were political; in 1910, the figure was 8.1 percent, but by 1912, the figure was an astonishing 75.8 percent. These figures provide an unerring barometer of the mood of the masses. Nor did the movement limit itself to strikes. The wave of radicalization also affected the intelligentsia, especially the youth. The student movement was revived, and soon fell under the influence of the revolutionary Social Democracy. In January-March 1911, the Bolsheviks were already in a position to call student strikes in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov, Tomsk, and Warsaw. There were also mass demonstrations, some of them of an overtly political character, like the extraordinary mass demonstrations which took place at Tolstoy’s funeral in November 1910. The great Russian novelist had earned the hatred of the reactionaries by his progressive views, and had even been excommunicated by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church. But despite official disapproval, it was impossible to prevent the masses from taking advantage of his funeral, not just to say a last farewell to the great man, but above all to express their hatred of the system and the autocratic regime.


445 LCW, vol. 13, 532–33, note.

446 Quoted in Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2, 319.

447 See LCW, vol. 15, 510–11, note.

448 See Rashin, Formirovaniye Rabochego Klassa Rossiy, 98.

77) The Prague Conference

The failure of the attempt to secure unity convinced Lenin of the need for a clean break. He began to press for a new conference of all genuine revolutionary elements in Russia. In February 1910, Lenin wrote that the conference should be called “first of all, immediately and at all costs.”449 The Bolsheviks and the Pro-Party Mensheviks collaborated in the setting up of the Russian Organizing Commission. It is a characteristic fact that Plekhanov no longer took part in the work. The burden of his Menshevik mistakes had prevented him, at the crucial moment, from making a final organizational break with the Liquidators. In a letter to Maxim Gorky, Lenin wrote: “Plekhanov is hedging, he always acts that way—it’s like a disease—before things break.”450

The Prague Conference (the minutes of which have not been published) was a decisive turning point. It was held under extremely difficult underground conditions. The position inside Russia was still too dangerous to allow the holding of a Conference there. Preparations for the Conference were hindered by arrests, although local conferences were held in November 1911. Finally, the conference was held in Prague. The preparations were made by Piatnitsky and Dzerzhinsky with the help of the Czech Social Democrats. Lenin wrote to the latter stressing the need for absolute clandestinity. On October 19, 1911, he wrote to Anton Nemec: “No one, no organization must know about this.” Despite all these precautions some of the delegates were arrested on the way to the conference, every detail of which was known to the Okhrana.

The conference opened on the January 5, 1912, and lasted 12 days. The truth of the matter was that the attendance at the Prague Conference seemed to be an unpromising beginning. There were a mere 14 voting delegates, all but two of them Bolsheviks. The Letts, the Bund, the Polish and Lithuanian and the Caucasian Social Democrats, the Vperyod group, Plekhanov, and also Trotsky’s Pravda were all sent letters of invitation, but did not attend. Plekhanov also stayed away, alleging ill health. These tendencies either opposed the convening of the conference, or at least entertained grave doubts about such a decisive break. Even now, conciliatory tendencies were still strong in the camp of Bolshevism. Differences and doubts surfaced at the conference, particularly, but by no means exclusively, on the part of the Pro-Party Mensheviks. Y.D. Zevin (who later joined the Bolsheviks and was one of the 26 Baku commissars murdered by the British) caused some controversy by defending the line given to him by Plekhanov. Plekhanov, as Lenin had feared, was already getting cold feet. At the opening session, Zevin read a prepared statement to the effect that he was taking part in this conference “only to the degree that it is not an all-Party conference but the conference of only part of the party.

A number of Russian delegates, including Lenin’s trusted agent Ordzhonikidze, insisted on issuing invitations to the conference to the national Social Democratic parties and the editors of the party organs of the Vperyodists, Trotsky, and the Party Mensheviks. But all of them refused to attend. “I was against the invitation,” Lenin wrote later, “but the delegates invited the Vperyod group and Trotsky and Plekhanov.”451 That was not all. At least four even wanted to invite the editors (Martov, Dan) of Golos Sotsial-Demokrata, the Mensheviks’ main newspaper, in open opposition to Lenin’s resolve to exclude the “Liquidators” formally from the party. There were other expressions of disconformity. Several delegates criticized Sotsial-Demokrat for publishing articles unintelligible to ordinary workers. The underlying suspicion on the part of those delegates working inside Russia towards the émigré leaders surfaced in the demand, presented by Goloshchekin, Ordzhonikidze, and Spandarian, that the Bolsheviks’ émigré organizations should be dissolved. Ordzhonikidze stated that the exile organizations were “null and void,” and even called into question the unity with Plekhanov’s group. Spandaryan went further, calling for the dissolving of all exile groups: “Let those who wish to work . . . join us in Russia.” Here again we see a manifestation of the narrowness of the Party “practicos.” Once again, Lenin had to correct the views of these people.

Some say: we must wage war on the émigrés. But we must understand what it is we are fighting against. While the Stolypin regime remains in Russia, there will always be people in exile. But these exiles are linked by a thousand threads to Russia and you are not going to sever these threads, try how you may.452

However, despite this foot-dragging by part of the Bolshevik committeemen, the main goal was realized. The Prague Conference marked the final parting of the ways between Bolshevism and Menshevism. As the Mensheviks boycotted the Conference, the preparations went ahead for a purely Bolshevik Conference—in other words, a formal split had occurred. Lenin, in any case, had made his mind up; the moment for temporizing had passed. It was necessary to carry out a radical separation of the revolutionary wing from opportunism, and he was not to be swayed by pressure from the conciliators now. The final resolution stated that the Liquidator group around the St. Petersburg periodicals Nasha Zarya and Dyelo Zhizni “has once and for all placed itself outside the party.” Nasha Zarya and Dyelo Zhizni were the organs of the extreme right wing of Menshevism (Potresov and co.). It also stated that the foreign exile groups could not use the name of the RSDLP.

Plekhanov now felt uncomfortable at being left alone with the Bolsheviks, but the Rubicon had now been crossed, and the reservations of the Pro-Party Mensheviks were to no avail. There was no going back now. Although they were the best of all the left Mensheviks, and undoubtedly sincere and devoted to the cause of the working class, they proved to be vacillating and uncertain allies, who would draw back at the decisive moment. This was a centrist current—that is to say, a tendency standing halfway between left reformism and genuine Marxism. Their conduct was absolutely typical of all centrist currents at all times, everywhere. But Lenin was by now in no mood for compromise and their proposals were rejected. Despite the uncompromising tone of the proceedings, however, he understood that the Prague Conference was not the end of the story, but the beginning of a fight to win over the majority of the working class, and also all other elements of the Party who could be won.

On the question of organization, Lenin once again stressed the need to open up the Party, to form broad organizations capable of taking in the mass of workers newly aroused to political life in the new situation. A commission was set up to work out an organizational resolution. The forms of the party must adapt to changing circumstances. There was a pressing need to involve more people in the work, to give them responsibilities. Until now, the small number of activists in the underground cells had become accustomed to doing everything themselves. Now there needed to be a greater delegation of responsibilities, greater participation, and greater initiative on the part of Social Democratic workers in the factories, the trade unions, and all other organizations where the Party was present. These broader organizations should assume a greater role in the work of the Party. The composition of branch committees should be rotated to reduce the risk of repression. It was also necessary to wrest control of legal organizations from the liberals. This was the essential characteristic of Leninism, which is the polar opposite of all kinds of sectarianism. The proclamation of an independent party was not intended as an empty gesture or formality, but the first step to organizing the work of the revolutionaries in the mass organizations, where they were obliged to engage in a struggle to tear the masses away from bourgeois liberal and opportunist leaderships. The conference stressed the role of the party press as an organizer, designating Rabochaya Gazeta (The Workers’ Gazette) as the official party organ.

An important part of the Prague conference was to work out a concrete program of action to build the Party. Lenin attached great importance to the area reports, which put flesh and blood on the bare bones of his perspectives. A key element in winning the majority of the workers to Bolshevism was the work of the Duma fraction. Bolshevik electoral tactics were outlined by Lenin at the Conference. They were based, on the one hand, on opposition to the tsarist monarchy and the bourgeois-landlord parties which stood behind it. On the other hand, it was necessary to expose the liberals and remain completely independent from them. The Duma fraction must strive for a fighting agreement only with the representatives of the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie (the peasantry)—the Trudoviks and SRs. The Party was to put up its own candidates in all areas, but, under certain conditions, it was permissible to reach partial agreements with “other groups,” including the Liquidators. The conference resolution explained that:

The party must wage a merciless war against the tsarist autocracy and the parties of landlords and capitalists that support it, persistently exposing at the same time the counterrevolutionary views and false democracy of the bourgeois liberals (with the Cadet party at their head). Special attention should be paid in the election campaign to maintaining the independence of the party of the proletariat from all the nonproletarian parties, to revealing the petty bourgeois nature of the pseudo-socialism of the democratic groups (mainly the Trudoviks, the Narodniks, and the Socialist-Revolutionaries), and to exposing the harm done to the cause of democracy by their vacillations on questions of mass revolutionary struggle.453


449 LCW, Towards Unity, February 13 (26), 1910, vol. 16, 155.

450 LCW, Letter to Maxim Gorky, September 15, 1911, vol. 36, 185.

451 LCW, Letter to G.L. Shklovsky, March 12, 1912, vol. 35, 25.

452 From the Party Archives, quoted in the Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2.

453 Quoted in A.Ye. Badayev, Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, 20.

78) The Provocateur Malinovsky

In addition to the groups already mentioned, there was another tendency present at the Prague Conference, albeit in an “unofficial” capacity. The tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, had succeeded in placing its agents provocateurs at the highest levels of the Party and some of these unbeknownst to the rest of the delegates, two of which were present at the Bolsheviks’ founding congress. The delegate from Moscow was none other than the notorious agent provocateur Roman Malinovsky, the member of the Bolshevik Duma fraction, accompanied on this occasion by yet another agent, A.S. Romanov, the delegate from the central industrial region. Every speech and resolution was known to the police thanks to their conscientious reports. In an attempt to protect the members of the new Central Committee from the danger of arrest, special conspiratorial methods were used to guard against the police. Each delegate wrote the surname of the candidates and then handed it in to Lenin. The result was not even announced at the Conference. But Roman Malinovsky, a highly skilled provocateur, had already done a very effective job of gaining Lenin’s confidence. Malinovsky had succeeded in getting not only onto the CC but also into the Duma fraction. There were agents provocateurs in all opposition parties in Russia. The Party was hit by a series of police raids in Petersburg in February and March 1912. In a letter dated March 28, Lenin wrote anxiously that “our affairs are bad there.”

The presence of a spy at such a high level in the Party bears witness to the extraordinary efficiency and tenacity of the tsar’s secret service. This was no isolated instance. The tactic of provocation and spying had been developed to a fine art by the tsarist regime over a long period. The Bolshevik Party was constantly plagued by police infiltrators, some of whom succeeded in penetrating key positions. Such a man was Zhitomirsky, who even before 1905 occupied an important post in the underground organization in Berlin, where he collaborated with Piatnitsky in the transportation of Bolshevik literature to Russia. “By all appearances he was one of us,” recalls Bobrovskaya, “a sincere, 100 percent Bolshevik.”454 After the December defeat, and the Bolshevik center was once more transferred abroad, Zhitomirsky offered his services to restore the old connections in Europe and organize the transportation of clandestine Bolshevik literature into Russia. The offer was accepted. After a time, he became a member of the all-important technical commission of the Central Committee, in charge of all underground work. As a result, the tsarist authorities were always one step ahead. One after another, Bolshevik groups were discovered and raided by the police. Not until 1911 was he caught red-handed in an act of provocation. Zhitomirsky was spirited away by his masters before he could be called to account, and there were plenty of others to take his place.

There were a number of reasons why the Okhrana was so successful in penetrating the revolutionary movement (not only the Bolsheviks) at this time. As we have already seen, the defeat of the 1905 Revolution had caused widespread demoralization, especially, but not exclusively, among the intellectuals. Many people lost their bearings. Ideological backsliding, skepticism, cynicism, apostasy, all are the natural by-products of such periods, which are all too common in the history of the movement. A revolutionary without the necessary theoretical understanding or the necessary backbone, isolated in prison, under relentless interrogation by skilled agents, can crack under the pressure. After that, things have their own logic. The apparent ease with which some of these agents rose to the top at that time is also not difficult to understand. In a period of rampant reaction, with the party organizations smashed and the most experienced people in prison or exile, it was inevitable that their place would be taken by new, untested elements. Among these, it was relatively easy for the police to insert its agents. Given the extreme shortage of capable personnel, anyone showing ability would stand a good chance of obtaining a leading position. And the way to their advancement could be eased by the simple expedient of arresting anyone who represented an obstacle.

In this context, it is not hard to explain the rise of Roman Malinovsky. Polish by birth, Malinovsky was personally capable, intelligent, and energetic, although with the traits of an adventurer. Before moving to Moscow, he had been President of the St. Petersburg Metal Workers’ Union. Malinovsky had been arrested and exiled for party work. His credentials were therefore impeccable, and there was nothing remotely to suggest a darker side to the man, although, in fact, he had become an agent of the tsarist police in 1910. As a matter of fact, the police helped him to get selected as the Bolshevik parliamentary candidate by the usual method of arresting the alternative candidates! The police records show that he was paid a quantity of money for each arrest—500 rubles, 700 rubles, and so on. But it is likely that a man like Malinovsky did not work just for the money. There is a kind of person with the psychology of an adventurer, a person without any fixed principles who enjoys excitement and even takes a certain pride in acting a part, deceiving people, and so on. In the criminal world, such people can make a good living as confidence tricksters—until they are caught. Malinovsky was the type of demoralized ex-revolutionary in whom cynicism had completely smothered all class instinct and obliterated all conscience. The daredevil element, the excitement of play-acting, of living two lives, the danger which also appeals to real spies, in his case probably served to blunt the sense of betrayal and shut off to his mind the enormity of what he was doing. Either way, he seems to have taken a perverse pride in his “work,” which was highly successful for some time.

During his period in the Duma, Malinovsky did such good work and was so popular that no one suspected him of being an agent. When the Mensheviks had accused him of being an agent, Lenin indignantly rejected the charge. This was also understandable. The virulence of the factional struggle was such that it spawned all sorts of irresponsible rumors about individuals. Lenin naturally attributed this to the usual factional malice and gossip about a leading member of the Bolshevik Duma fraction spread by its enemies. Bobrovskaya recalls the
atmosphere in party circles in Moscow shortly after the Prague Conference. Her brother had been arrested and their apartment searched by the police shortly after he had handed over addresses and secret meeting places on the frontier to Malinovsky, prior to his departure as a delegate.

When I was allowed my first visit to my brother, he managed to whisper to me: “Someone is spying in Moscow; I was sure of it after my first interrogation by the police. They know absolutely everything.” However, there was no one further from our thoughts in this connection than Malinovsky; anyone but he, our rising star, whose speeches from the Duma tribune later attracted general attention.455

Yet all their successes in infiltrating revolutionary organizations, even at a very high level, all the provocations, the spying, the arrests, in the last resort, availed them nothing. There is a general tendency on the part of historically bankrupt regimes to attach excessive importance to the supposed strength of the state, especially the technical side of the apparatus of repression. This is a prejudice that can sometimes rub off on some “Marxists” who can develop a strangely superstitious respect for the power of the state—a peculiar mirror image of the delusions of the ruling class. In fact, all the power of the state can crumble to dust, the moment it is confronted by the organized power of the masses, determined to put an end to their slavery and change society. A more powerful state (apparently) than Russian tsarism it would be difficult to imagine, with its mighty army, numerous police force, Cossack auxiliaries and vast bureaucracy. One arm of that state—as of any other—was the secret police. Here the art of provocation was developed to heights hitherto unimagined. But in the moment of truth, what did it all matter? The working class, under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, just swept it all aside with a brush of its hand.

A revolutionary organization will, of course, take all possible measures to combat and hinder the attempts of the capitalist state to spy and infiltrate its ranks (this is a fact of life, even in the most “democratic” states), but, in the final analysis, such activities cannot be decisive, and can even be counterproductive. Paradoxically, agents like Malinovsky, precisely in order to escape suspicion, are themselves compelled to do the work of the revolution. Years later, after the Bolsheviks had assumed power, Lenin was philosophical when he looked back on the Malinovsky case. Certainly, Malinovsky had betrayed dozens of comrades to arrest, hard labor, and death. Yet while he was there he was obliged to help the party set up a legal daily, Pravda. With one hand he sent comrades to prison, with the other, in order to escape detection, he helped the building of the revolutionary party. Such are the ironies of life! And ironies accompanied Malinovsky to his death. When, shortly before the First World War, he suddenly disappeared, and the Mensheviks redoubled their attacks, Lenin still refused to believe it, although the incident served as an unpleasant distraction. When Malinovsky was finally expelled, it was on a charge of a breach of discipline, for abandoning his post without permission!

Only after the October Revolution, when the Bolsheviks finally opened the police files, did they learn the stupefying truth about Malinovsky’s real role. What happened next constitutes a mystery suitable for a fictional spy story. At the time when the archives of the Okhrana were giving up their secrets, Malinovsky was working in Germany as a Soviet diplomat. When he received the fateful summons to Moscow, he must have realized immediately that he had been discovered. Although it would have been easy for him to slip away, he returned to Russia. Why did he go back? Was he so demoralized that he no longer cared what happened to him? Or, as seems more likely, did he entertain the idea of throwing himself on the mercy of the Party, professing loyalty to the revolution? If so, it turned out badly for him. Malinovsky paid for his crimes with his life.


454 C. Bobrovskaya, Provocateurs I Have Known, 13.

455 Ibid., 28.