The Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma

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   The Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma

The Decision to Convene a Congress – Lenin’s Instructions

Chapter XXI
Preparations for the Congress

The Decision to Convene a Congress – Lenin’s Instructions – Our Congress and that of the International – The Menshevik “Plan” – Preparations – How Documents were Preserved

The last (Fifth) All-Russian Party Congress was held in London in 1907. The years that followed had witnessed many important events in the country and many important changes within the Party, It was quite impossible to convene a Party congress during the years of the reaction, but now the position had changed. At the same time, the amazing development of the working-class movement had raised enormous new problems relating to the revolutionary struggle and given rise to many internal Party problems. These matters required to be settled at a Party congress.

In September 1913, the Poronino Conference had discussed the necessity for a congress and decided that: “The growth of the working-class movement, the deepening of the political crisis and the necessity for the working class to act on an all-Russian scale make it imperative that a Party congress be convened after due preparation.” The conference invited local organisations to discuss the matter, map out a preliminary agenda, submit resolutions and organise collections.

At Poronino, it was decided to call the congress about the same time that the Socialist International was to meet in congress at Vienna, in August 1914. The Central Committee regarded it as both necessary and desirable that the Bolsheviks should play as great a part as possible at that Congress. At the same time, since the preparatory work for both congresses could be combined, it became possible to conduct it more thoroughly and, what is more, to screen more effectively from the police the very fact of the convocation of the Party congress.

Speaking at the Poronino Conference on the International Congress, Lenin pointed out the necessity of ensuring that the workers participated in the congress. He said:

“Hitherto the Social-Democratic Party has been represented in the international arena either by the central Party organs or by its various groups abroad, the Vperiodists, Conciliators, etc., made up almost entirely of intellectuals. Now we must take steps to ensure that the genuine working man be directly represented by delegates elected directly from the workers’ organisations, trade unions, co-operatives, etc. The Duma fraction must assume the representation of those organisations which are unable to send their own delegates. Every Bolshevik deputy must be present, since they are workers themselves and represent the Russian working class.”

Lenin also emphasised the necessity of making the Party congress coincide with that of the International so that the election of delegates could take place at the same time. Preparations for the congress began immediately after the conference and discussions were started in the local organisations, but the most active work was done in the spring and summer of 1914.

In April 1914, together with the usual instructions which the fraction received from the Central Committee, there were a number of proposals from Lenin on how the preparations for the congress should be intensified.

Lenin insisted that in the first instance the underground organisations of the Party should be strengthened; without this, he argued, the growth of the Party would prove less effective since it would be deprived of revolutionary leadership. The strengthening of our underground cells was the chief means of ensuring the success of the congress and assisting it in the work of promoting the further consolidation of the Party. At this congress the Liquidators and, in particular, the Menshevik Duma “seven” would be finally defeated.

Lenin pointed out:

We have won a great victory, a victory for revolutionary Marxism. The press, the trade unions and the educational associations are ours. But this victory has its dangers. We owe it to our discipline and hard work ... If we want to maintain our position and not allow the growing movement to pass beyond Party leadership and become anarchist, we must at all costs strengthen the underground organisations. It is possible to dispense with a part of the Duma work, although it has been successfully conducted in the past, but we must reinforce our activity outside the Duma. We require well-organised, disciplined factory groups, ready to act rapidly on instructions transmitted from above. [1]

At this period the proposed agenda of the congress was as follows: (1) Report of the Central Committee and local reports; (2) The political situation; (3) The Party organisation; (4) The strike movement; (5) The new Press Bill; (6) The tactics of the trade union movement; (7) The tactics of the social insurance commissions; (8) The Party programme, (a) the national question, (b) some supplements to the minimum demands; (9) The Narodniki; (10) Attitude to the Liquidators; (11) Contributing to the bourgeois press; (12) Elections to the Central Committee and the Editorial Board of the Party paper; (13) Current affairs.

The congress was thus to deal with all fundamental and cardinal questions of internal Party organisation and the tactics of the revolutionary struggle. The number of delegates to the various local organisations was also provided for and representatives of the Bund, the Lettish, Polish and Lithuanian organisations were invited to attend as guests.

In view of the enormous preparatory work to be performed – the election of delegates, the drafting of instructions, the conveyance of the credentials, the safe passage of the delegates across the frontier and the collection of funds to defray the expenses – a special organisation committee was set up to deal with all matters concerning the congress. This committee worked in St. Petersburg and local committees were also constituted in the districts, which at once proceeded with the work of strengthening and, where necessary, rebuilding the local Party organisations; wherever possible, district and city Party conferences were arranged.

Members of our fraction also proceeded to their districts on tours of organisation and agitation in connection with the congress, and after they had covered their own district they went on to other regions in accordance with plans drawn up by Lenin. Petrovsky, after visiting the Ukraine, had to go to Esthonia, Muranov to the Urals and Shagov to Vladimir. Apart from my work in St. Petersburg, I had to go to the Caucasus and the Volga district.

Simultaneously with the strengthening of local organisations, Lenin took measures to consolidate the Central Committee working within Russia. For this purpose he proposed to arrange for the escape of Stalin and Sverdlov from exile and at the same time he arranged for several other comrades to be given responsible Party work. I received a letter from Lenin informing me of my inclusion on the Russian Bureau of the Central Committee.

Thus the work of preparation for the congress involved a general overhauling of the Party organisation and, as I mentioned before, it included the preparation for the International Socialist Congress.

The Russian Party congress was to meet before the International, to which our delegates would thus proceed with definite instructions from the supreme organisation of the Party. The International Socialist Bureau drafted the following agenda for the Vienna Congress: (1) Unemployment; (2) Alcoholism; (3) The rise in prices and the agrarian question; (4) Imperialism in connection with the colonial question; (5) The conditions of Russian political prisoners; (6) Party unity.

The inclusion of this last item was the result of the decision taken by the International Socialist Bureau in December 1913, in London, with regard to the split in the Duma fraction. The question of “unity” had been dealt with at other more recent conferences of the Bureau, but without any definite decision being arrived at. In view of the exceptional progress of Bolshevism among the workers accompanied by the practical extinction of Menshevism, it was quite out of place to raise the question of the Bolsheviks “uniting” with the Mensheviks. Not less than four-fifths of the working class now stood behind the Bolshevik Central Committee; therefore, it was no longer a question of reunion with the Mensheviks, but of recognising that they had placed themselves outside of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, and that their “centre” had no claim to existence. This was the point of view advocated by the Bolsheviks at the meetings of the ISB and the latter decided to submit this question to the congress.

As in other campaigns carried out in Russia, the major part in the preparations for the two congresses fell to the Duma fraction. The preparations for the Party congress had, of course, to be kept strictly secret, but we were able to conduct a limited amount of propaganda for the International Socialist Congress in our press. But this was strictly limited; we did not even call it socialist, but referred to it as an international congress of labour organisations, congress of trade unions, or by some similar description. The masses were accustomed to the guarded language of our newspapers and understood what was meant, especially as the speeches and the illegal literature supplemented the newspaper reports. In the press we discussed a number of questions which referred to the International congress, but were essentially connected with the Party congress too.

The Mensheviks were also making their own preparations. As they understood that at the Party congress they could at best form but a small minority, many of them considered the advisability of refusing to attend the congress and organising instead a conference of all organisations which took part in the August Bloc of 1912. But they could not refuse to take part in the International Congress since, in that case, the decision on the Russian question would almost certainly be unfavourable to them. Therefore they began a lively campaign in all workers’ organisations.

But it was soon obvious that the Liquidators were fighting a lost battle. In the trade unions, insurance societies and other labour organisations, the majority of the members supported the Bolsheviks. In the summer of 1914, the Bolsheviks were in a majority on the boards of fourteen out of eighteen trade unions existing in St. Petersburg; on one of the others there was an equal number of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks and only three could be regarded as Menshevik. All the largest unions, including the metal-workers, supported the Bolsheviks. And a similar proportion of Bolsheviks to Mensheviks obtained among the representatives of the workers on the insurance societies.

When it became clear that they could not obtain a majority in the workers’ organisations and might be even left without delegates to the Vienna Congress, the Mensheviks devised the idea of “double representation.” They first tried this among the metal-workers, from whom, they suggested, two delegates should be sent, since one, representing the majority only, would be “factional,” and would describe the unions’ activity in a one-sided way. Naturally, as soon as the Mensheviks made this suggestion, the Socialist-Revolutionaries also demanded a delegate, although their supporters in the union only amounted to a few score. But the Liquidators could not refuse this demand, and thus their system would have brought about a multi-coloured delegation at the International Congress incapable of expressing the actual standpoint of the organisation as a whole.

The Mensheviks’ scheme was overwhelmingly rejected by the workers, and as an example of the attitude of the latter, I will quote a resolution of a delegates’ meeting in the Okhta district:

We, twenty-five delegates from the workshop committees of the Metal-Workers’ Union, consider it necessary to send a representative to the International Congress who should represent the majority and who can adequately and correctly express our standpoint. We consider the suggestion, that representatives should be sent from the various tendencies, to be essentially wrong since it runs counter to all ideas of organisation and discipline.

The scheme of the Mensheviks to misrepresent the workers organisations abroad was completely defeated and most of these bodies elected Bolsheviks to the Vienna Congress.

The preparation for the Party congress proceeded satisfactorily. The main task of strengthening the local Party units was greatly assisted by the growth of revolutionary enthusiasm in the country. More and more workers were drawn towards the Party, new groups of revolutionary workers joined the ranks and the leading committees of the Party gained wider influence over the masses. Therefore it was natural that the question of organising an all-Russian congress should be discussed with great interest.

These favourable conditions did not in any way lessen our work. The organisation of even the smallest party meeting, not to speak of the convocation of regional and city conferences, was attended with great difficulties. All our work had to be conducted in secrecy and required a thorough knowledge of the technique of conspiracy since the arrest of one or two delegates might endanger the whole congress and be very prejudicial to the interests of the Party. Finally, the collection of funds for the congress was also a very serious matter.

The whole of the St. Petersburg Party organisations threw themselves into the work of preparation. Thanks to the summer weather we were able to organise meetings in the woods outside the city, where we were comparatively free from police raids. When we wished to hold large meetings we organised excursionsunder the auspices of some educational society. After travelling some twenty kilometres from St. Petersburg, we went for a “walk” into the thicker parts of the woods and there, after posting sentries with an agreed password, held our meeting. Such meetings were not confined to the business of arranging the congress, but discussed all questions of the revolutionary struggle which became particularly urgent during 1914.

The secret police realised that something was afoot and spies swarmed all round the party centres, particularly at the editorial offices of Pravda and the premises of the fraction. However, our technique had improved and, although individual comrades were occasionally arrested, there were no wholesale arrests.

The work was also successfully carried out in the provinces. Members of our fraction went from one city to another reorganising Party cells, giving instructions, reading reports on the congress and arranging for the election of delegates. At the same time they had to deal with current Party work in connection with the strike movement, trade union organisation, the workers’ press fund, etc. Here, too, Bolshevik organisations played the leading role, while the influence of the Mensheviks vanished from month to month.

Preparations for the congress progressed. Credentials and other documents found their way to me by secret methods; the routes of delegates to the congress abroad were mapped out and they were informed where they had to cross the frontier, etc. Muranov, after touring his own district, was working in the Urals, Petrovsky was preparing to go to Esthonia, while I had already completed preparations in St. Petersburg, but was unable to leave for the Volga district because of the work entailed by the July events in the city.

By the time war was declared the principal part of the preparations both for the International Congress and the Party congress had been completed. Most of the delegates had been elected, instructions drafted and credentials collected. The technical organisation was also ready – the secret meeting-places, the routes and the passports. Sufficient funds had been collected and there was no reason to expect that the congress would not be highly successful.

The declaration of war and the rabid reaction which accompanied it radically altered the situation in the country. The convocation of a Party congress was now rendered impossible, especially since the closing of the frontiers made connections with foreign countries extremely difficult. The Party congress had to be postponed until a more favourable time and the International Congress could not meet either.

Since, however, we considered that perhaps the Party congress would be able to take place later, we decided to preserve all the documents relating to the congress. These documents, which were extremely important since they contained the whole scheme of our Party organisation, were at my home. According to the previous plan, I was to arrange that they should be forwarded to the Central Committee abroad so that the individual delegates could travel without having any compromising papers on them. Now that military operations had started at the frontier and all routes and correspondence abroad were watched by the military secret service, it was impossible to get the documents abroad.

Yet they were no longer safe at my home. Most of the workers’ organisations had been destroyed and we felt that it would soon be the turn of the Duma fraction. The government had already opened a campaign against the workers’ deputies and we expected the police to raid our homes at any moment. At one time we even thought of burning all the material. The days of “parliamentary immunity” were drawing to a close and it was necessary to find some safe place to keep the documents.

Finally, we decided to conceal them in Finland, at a place two or there hours’ train journey from St. Petersburg. I took the documents and, having wandered about the city until I had shaken off all spies, went to Finland. We had decided that only one other comrade should know of the hiding-place; I met Comrade Olminsky at the appointed station and we buried the documents under a tree, placing a heavy stone over the spot to make matters more certain.

After a time, however, I managed to get the documents to the Central Committee. The Finnish Social-Democratic Party still had facilities for communicating with foreign countries and we agreed that their Central Committee should undertake the task. I went again to Finland, dug out the documents and took them to Helsingfors.

The Finnish Party was legal and was in a much more favourable position than our organisation; I therefore raised the question of their helping us. We had suffered setbacks all along the line and funds were necessary to re-establish our work.

“Our organisation has been smashed,” I told the Finnish comrades, “you must help us. We want to borrow both money and printing equipment. We are badly in need of every thousand, nay, every hundred, rubles that we can get.”

Although the Finnish Social-Democratic Party was legal and therefore open to police surveillance, the Finnish comrades found ways to lend us some assistance.

The work of preparation for the Party congress was of great importance from the point of view of organisation. All Party units took part in the work from the Central Committee down to the local cells. Although the Party congress was not held at the time fixed owing to the war, the preparations had strengthened and consolidated the Party. Party membership had increased and new cadres of Party workers had been created.

1. These passages are reproduced from the report of the Moscow Secret Police Department, dated April 27, 1914. The material was probably supplied by Pelageya (the agent-provocateur Romanov).