V. I. Lenin



Written in January 1904
Published in the pamphlet: N. Lenin,
A Letter to a Comrade on Our Organ-
isational Tasks.
Geneva, 1904

Published according 
to the pamphlet text 

From V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th English Edition,
Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965,

Second Edition

Vol. 7, pp. 134-39.

Translated by Abraham Fineberg and by Naomi Jochel
Edited by Clemens Dutt

Prepared © for the Internet by David J. Romagnolo,
 (February 2002)

    page 134


        The editors of Iskra state in its 55th issue that the Central Committee and the opposition "agreed to consign to oblivion" the facts mentioned in my "Letter to the Editors of Iskra " ("Why I Resigned from the Iskra Editorial Board").* This statement of the editors is an evasion which (to use Comrade Axelrod's admirable style) really is formalistic, official and bureaucratic. In reality there was no such agreement, as the Central Committee's foreign representative has plainly stated in a leaflet published immediately following the appearance of the 55th issue of Iskra. And there could not have been any such agreement, as should be clear to anyone who reads my letter attentively; for the opposition rejected the "peace and good will" offered by the Central Committee, one condition of which would certainly have been to consign to oblivion everything that deserved it. When the editors rejected the peace offer and declared war on the famous bureaucracy in No. 53, can they have been so naïve as to hope that the other side would keep quiet about the real origin of these fables about bureaucracy?

        The editors were very much displeased when I described the real origin of these fables as squabbling (Literatengezänk -- writers' squabbling). And no wonder! But, after all, you cannot dispose of this truly unpleasant fact by mouthing sorry phrases about it.

        We will take the liberty of asking our worthy editors two questions.

        * See pp. 119-25 of this volume. --Ed.

    page 135

        First question.  Why is one person merely amused by the most violent charges of being an autocrat, of instituting a Robespierre regime, of staging a coup, and so on and so forth, while others are mortally offended by a calm statement reciting the facts and telling of a demand for generals' posts that actually was put forward -- so offended as to indulge in absolutely "rubbishy" talk about "personalities", "moral aspersions", and even "low" (where did they get that from??) "motives"? Why this difference, my good friends? Not because the "post" of general is "lower" than that of autocrat, surely?

        Second question.  Why don't the editors explain to the reader why (in that remote past when they belonged to the opposition and really were "in the minority") they expressed the desire to have certain facts consigned to oblivion ? Do not the editors think that the very idea of desiring to "consign to oblivion" differences of principle is absurd and could not have occurred to any right-minded person?

        So you see how clumsy you are, my dear "political opponents"! You wanted to annihilate me with the charge that it was I who was reducing a dispute over principles to the level of a squabble; instead, you have only confirmed my contention as to the real origin of some of your "differences of opinion".

        Further, while admitting, out of clumsiness, that there were squabbles, the editors do not trouble to explain to the reader where, in their opinion, the difference of principle ends and the squabbling begins. They pass over the fact that in my letter I endeavour to draw a perfectly clear line between the two. I show there that the difference of principle (which was by no means so profound as to cause a real divergence ) arose over Paragraph 1 of the Rules and was widened by the Iskra-ist minority joining forces with the non-Iskra-ist elements towards the end of the Congress. I further show that the talk about bureaucracy, formalism and the rest is chiefly just an echo of squabbles that occurred after the Congress.

        The editors probably do not agree with this demarcation between what relates to "principle" and what should be "consigned to oblivion". Then why have they not troubled to give their own opinion as to what a "correct" demarcation

    page 136

    between them would be? Is it not because they have not yet drawn (and cannot draw) any line between the two things in their own minds?

        From the article by our esteemed Comrade Axelrod in this same 55th issue of Iskra the reader may judge what this . . . inability to discriminate leads to and what our Central Party Organ is turning into. Comrade Axelrod does not say a single word about the substance of our controversy over Paragraph 1 of the Rules, but confines himself to hints about "peripheral societies" that mean absolutely nothing to anyone who was not at the Congress. Comrade Axelrod has probably forgotten how long und closely we argued over Paragraph 1! -- but, on the other hand, he has evolved a "theory" to the effect that "the majority of the Iskra-ists at the Congress were convinced that their main task was . . . to fight the internal enemy". "In the face of this mission", our esteemed Comrade Axelrod is firmly convinced, "the immediate positive task became overshadowed" in the eyes of the majority. "The prospects of positive work were relegated to the dim remoteness of an indefinite future"; the Party was faced with the more urgent "military task of pacifying the internal enemy". And Comrade Axelrod cannot find words severe enough to brand this "bureaucratic* [or mechanical] centralism", these "Jacobin" (!!?) plans, these "disrupters" who "repress and persecute" people as "mutineers".

        In order to demonstrate the true worth of this theory -- or, rather, of these accusations against the Congress majority of a disruptive tendency to repress mutiny (imaginary mutiny, it is to be supposed) and of ignoring positive work, I have only to remind the forgetful Comrade Axelrod of one (to begin with) little fact. On October 6, 1903, after repeatedly pleading with the members of the minority on account of the stupidity and disruptiveness of their boycott, Plekhanov and I officially invited the "mutinous" writers

        * By the way, I should like the editors to note that my pamphlet is appearing with the "established imprint". As a convinced centralist, I obey the "principles" laid down by our Central Organ which in its 55th issue has instituted a section where Party publications are reviewed from the standpoint of their "imprints" (as a contribution to the fight against formalism).

    page 137

    (Comrade Axelrod among them) to get down to positive work; we officially told them that it was unreasonable to withdraw from this work, whether because of personal irritation or of differences of opinion (for an exposition of which we were throwing open the columns of our publications).[*]

        Comrade Axelrod has forgotten this. He has forgotten that his reply then was a flat refusal, without any reasons stated. He has forgotten that in his view at that time, in those distant days, "positive work was relegated to the dim remoteness of an indefinite future", which future became a much-desired present only on November 26, 1903.[64]

        Comrade Axelrod has not only "forgotten" this, but generally would like, would he not, to have such "personalities" "consigned to oblivion".

        To point out to the minority that for months on end they have been disrupting the Party, neglecting positive work, and taking up an immense amount of the energies of the Central Committee by their squabbling is to indulge in "personalities", cast moral aspersions, and reduce a struggle between trends to the level of a squabble. There is no place in the columns of the Central Organ for that.

        But to accuse the Party Congress majority of having dared to waste time by pleading with the "mutineers", of having disrupted the Party by their fight against (imaginary ) disrupters -- that is a difference of principle, for which the columns of Iskra should be "reserved". Isn't that your view, most esteemed Comrade Axelrod?

        It is possible that even today, if Comrade Axelrod looks around him, he will find plenty of examples of the minority's practical workers, too, relegating "positive work" to the dim remoteness of an also desirable but still indefinite future.

        No, it would have been wiser for you not to say anything about the attitude of the majority and the minority to positive work! It would have been wiser not to bring up a subject about which, for instance, a factory worker in the town of -- -- writes to me as follows:

    Dear Comrade,
        "We have been informed lately, that is, since the Second Party Congress, that the Central Committee was not elected by the Congress unanimously, that the Congress split in two over the relations between

        * See p 354-55 of this volume. --Ed.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. -- DJR]

    page 138

    the Central Organ and the Central Committee, and that a so-called majority and minority arose. This came down on our heads as a terrible crushing blow, because this whole question of the relations between the Central Organ and the Central Committee was something absolutely new and unexpected for us: before the Congress it had never been raised, not only at any circles or meetings, but, as far as I can remember, in the literature either. This fact of nothing being said about it before the Congress is what I cannot understand. If we are to assume that the issue did not exist at all, then it has to be admitted that the comrades who worked so hard to unite the Party did not have a clear idea as to its organisation, that is, its structure. But that is quite out of the question, because the issue which has now split the Party shows clearly that opinions as to the Party structure did exist, and were not unanimous. But if that was so, why was the fact concealed? That is the first thing I want to say. The second is that when it comes to the question itself I ask myself: what structure of the Party will ensure its trend being orthodox? And at once it strikes me that another important thing, besides the Party's structure, is the personnel of its leadership; that is, if the leaders are orthodox, then the Party trend will be orthodox, but if they are opportunists, then the Party will be opportunist too. Now, with that in mind, and knowing the personnel of the Party leadership, I am definitely in favour of the Central Organ predominating over the Central Committee in the ideological direction of the Party. What makes me all the more positive about it is the conditions in Russia: however orthodox the Central Committee may be, since it functions in Russia it cannot be secure against arrests, and hence against losing its orthodoxy regardless of its own wishes, because successors don't always resemble the people they succeed. Any comrade who has worked on the committees for any time at all will know of cases when even the best committee is replaced, through one of the many possible chance circumstances, by a bad committee, and vice versa. But with the Central Organ it's quite another matter: it functions under different conditions (since it will be located abroad) which ensure it a longer existence, and hence an opportunity of preparing worthy successors. But I don't know, comrade, if this question can be decided once and for all, that is, by having the Central Organ always predominate over the Central Committee, or the Central Committee over the Central Organ. I don't think it is possible. Take a case like this: suppose the personnel of the Central Organ changes and from being orthodox becomes opportunist, as in the case of the Vorwärts [65] in Germany; could it be allowed to predominate in the ideological leadership? What would we who have been schooled in the orthodox spirit do if that happened, would we have to agree with it? No, it would be our duty to take away its right to predominate and give that right to a different body; and if that were not done for any reason, whether a sense of Party discipline or anything else, we would all deserve to be called traitors to the Social-Democratic workers' movement. That's how I see it, and I can't agree at all to a decision being made once and for all as some comrades do.
        "Now, what I cannot understand at all is the fight that's going on now between the majority and the minority, and to a great many of

    page 139

    us it seems wrong. Look, comrade, is it a natural state of affairs when all energies are spent on travelling around the committees for the one purpose of talking about the majority and minority? Really I don't know. Is this issue really so important that all energies should be devoted to it and because of it people should look on each other practically as enemies? For that's what it comes down to: if a committee is let's say, made up of followers of one camp, then nobody from the other camp will ever get into it, no matter how fit he may be for the work; in fact, he won't get in even if he is essential to the work and it suffers badly without him. I don't mean to say, of course, that the struggle over this issue should be given up altogether, no, only I think it should be of a different kind and should not lead us to forget our principal duty, which is to propagate Social-Democratic ideas among the masses for if we forget that we shall rob our Party of its strength. I don't know if it is fair or not, but when I see people trampling the interests of the work in the mud and completely forgetting them, I call them all political intriguers. It really hurts and fills you with alarm for the work when you see the people at the head of it spending their time on something else. When you see that, you ask yourself is our Party doomed to perpetual splits over such trifles, are we incapable of waging the internal and the external struggle at the same time? What's the use of having congresses if their decisions are ignored and everybody does just what he pleases, saying that the Congress decision is wrong, that the Central Committee is ineffectual, and so on. And this is being done by people who before the Congress were always clamouring for centralisation, Party discipline and so on, but who now want to show it seems, that discipline is only meant for ordinary mortals, and not for them at the top. They seem to forget that their example has a terrible demoralising effect on inexperienced comrades; already we hear the workers complaining again that the intellectuals are forgetting them because of their own dissensions; already the more impulsive are dropping their hands in despair, not knowing what to do. So far all this centralisation has turned out to be nothing but words. All one can hope is that the future will bring a change for the better."[66]


page 561


  [64] It was on November 13 (26), 1903, that Plekhanov co-opted the Mensheviks Martov, Axelrod, Zasulich, and Potresov to the editorial board of Iskra.    [p. 137]

  [65] Vorwärts (Forward ) -- the daily Central Organ of the German Social-Democratic Party. Originally founded in 1876 in Leipzig, it was banned under the Anti-Socialist Law, but in January 1891 resumed publication in Berlin as successor to the Berliner Volksblatt (Berlin People's Gazette, founded in 1884), under the editorship of Wilhelm Liebknecht. Engels fought in the columns of the Vorwärts against every manifestation of opportunism; but in the late nineties, after Engels's death, the paper fell into the hands of the Right wing of the party and from then on regularly printed the writings of the opportunists who dominated in the German Social-Democratic movement and the Second International. The Vorwärts gave a tendentious picture of the fight against opportunism and revisionism in the R.S.D.L.P., supporting the Economists and later, after the split in the Party, the Mensheviks. In the years of reaction that followed the defeat of tho Russian Revolution of 1905-07 it published slanderous articles by Trotsky while denying Lenin and the Bolsheviks the opportunity to controvert him and give an objective account of the state of affairs in the Party.
    During the First World War the Vorwärts took a social-chauvinist stand. After the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia it became one of the fountain-heads of anti-Soviet propaganda. It ceased publication in 1933.    [p. 138]

  [66] The author of this letter was the worker N. Y. Vilonov, a member of the Ekaterinoslav Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. Lenin replied to the letter on December 9 (22), 1903.    [p. 139]