It seems that every generation of progressives, has to grapple with Trotskyism. This is not surprising as there is a veritable industry of lies about the history of the USSR. Because  November is the month in which the 1917 revolution started, we thought it fitting that we take this month’s “Where We Stand” – to reiterate the need for a party, and to show the differences between Trotsky’s stance and that of Stalin towards the party.

    Trotsky and Stalin’s first Stands on the Bolshevik Party

    From the beginning, Trotsky attacked the Bolshevik party, while Stalin defended it. Trotsky covered this up. To help his line, Trotsky alleged that Stalin had joined the Bolshevik party late, and that he had lied about this. But in truth, Trotsky only  joined the Bolsheviks in 1917, on the eve of revolution. Trotsky’s inflated sense of self-importance needed to “re-mould” his earlier opposition to the Bolsheviks:

“Among the Russian comrades, there was not one from whom I could learn anything… In all conscientiousness I cannot, . . . accuse myself of any serious errors of judgement. Looking back, two years after the revolution, Lenin said:  ‘At the moment when it seized the power and created the Soviet republic, Bolshevism drew to itself all the best elements in the currents of Socialist thought that were nearest to it’. Can there be even a shadow of doubt that when he spoke so deliberately of the best representatives of the currents closest to Bolshevism, Lenin had foremost in mind what is now called 'historical Trotskyism'?  . . Whom else could he have had in mind?”  Trotsky, Leon: "My Life"; New York; 1970; p. 184, 185, 333.

 Yet, when did Stalin join the Bolsheviks? Lavrenti Beria cites the Georgian secret police of Batum:

“In autumn 1901, the Tiflis Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. sent one of its members Joseph Vissarionivich Djugasvili, formerly a pupil in the sixth form of the Tiflis Seminary to Batum for the purpose of carrying on propaganda among the factory workers. As a result of Jugasvili’s activities. . . . Social-Democratic organisations, heading in the beginning by the Tiflis Committee, began to spring up in all the factories of Batum. The results of the Social-Democratic propaganda could already by seen in 1902 in the prolonged strike in the Rothschild factory in Batum and in street disturbances.” Central Archives of Georgia, Assistant Chief Superintendent of Kutais, Gendarmerie in Batum region, File No.1011. Beria, Lavrenti “History of the Bolshevik Organisations in Transcaucasia“. Speech July 21-22, 1935;  p. 29.

    Beria goes on to say that:

“After the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P., especially  towards the end of 1904 after the news of Plekhanov’s desertion to Menshevishm had reached Transcaucasia, the differences of opinion and the strife between the majority and the minority of the “Messameh Dassy” headed by N.Jordania, intensified and became general differences of opinion on the question of Bolshevism and Menshevishm. The majority of  the “Messameh Dassy” headed by N.Jordania adhered en bloc to the position of Menshevism, while the minority headed by Comrade Stalin, adopted Lenin’s position, the position of Boshevism.”
Beria Ibid; p. 41.

 For Trotsky it was important to dispute that Stalin was a leading Iskra-ite:                      
“Koba took no part in that responsible work. He was first a Tiflis Social Democrat, then a Batum Social Democrat in other words a revolutionist in a small, local way. The contact of the Caucasus with “Iskra” and with Central Russia was through Krassini, Kurnatovsiy and others. The entire work of unifying the local committees and groups into a centralised party was accomplished without Koba. That circumstance . . is very important in the estimation of Stalin’s political development; he moved forward slowly, uncertainly, groping his way.”
Trotsky; Ibid; p. 39.

    But, not for nothing did Lenin comment as follows: 

“Trotsky is very fond of explaining historical events . . in pompous and sonorous phrases, in a manner flattering to Trotsky”. Lenin, Valdimir I. "Violation of Unity under Cover Of Cries for Unity", in: "Selected Works", Volume 4; London; 1943; p. 194).

    Trotsky merely said of himself, that:

“My formal joining of the (Bolshevik party) had been delayed.” Leon Trotsky, Ibid; p.314.

    Yet, even Tony Cliff, an ardent Trotskyite says:

“Trotsky was also not involved in party administration . . .. He did not in fact belong to any real party. Between 1904, when he broke with the Mensheviks and 1917, when he joined the Bolsheviks, he was associated only with a small loose group of writers.”  Cliff, Tony “Lenin, Volume One: Building the Party”; London; 1975; p.104-5.

In contrast Stalin had been working for the party for years, at many levels –  both practical and theoretical. Lenin wrote about a particular article that it was “splendid”:

“In the article Reply to Sotsial Democrat” we should like to mention the splendid way in which the problem of the celebrated introduction of a “consciousness from without” had been posed. The author divides the problem into four independent parts: 1) The philosophical problem of the relation of man’s consciousness to his social being-social being determines consciousness. Corresponding to the existence of two classes, two kinds of consciousness are evolved – the bourgeois and the socialist. Socialist consciousness corresponds to the position of the proletariat. (2) “Who can and does this consciousness (scientific socialism)?”. . . “ a few Social Democratic Intellectuals who possess the necessary means and time”. (3) How does this consciousness penetrate into the proletariat? “It is here that Social Democracy comes in, and introduces socialist consciousness into the working-class movement” (4) What does Social-Democracy meet with when it comes to the proletariat with socialism? It meets with an instinctive urge toward socialism…”
Lenin, Vladimir I.; "The Struggle of the Proletariat”; In Collected Works” Volume 9; Moscow 1962; p.388.

    This article was written by none other than Stalin in 1905 (See “Works” Volume 1; p.162). This forthrightly defended Lenin and the Bolsheviks against Trotsky and the Mensheviks, praising Lenin’s “What is To Be Done?” (1902). Lenin’s article had argued the need for a professional revolutionary organisation in Russia. It set the Mensheviks at loggerheads with the Bolsheviks. It set the stage for the famous Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (the RSDLP), which split into the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.

2) Towards Formation of the Bolshevik Wing Russian Social Democratic Party

Early on, as the Russian Tsarist autocracy gave way to capitalism, revolutionaries focused upon peasant organisations. 

    Alexander Herzen cried: “Go to The People!” in autumn 1861. From 1876 the Zemlya I Volya (“Land and Freedom”) led by N.A.Serno-Selovich, tried to set up communes in the countryside to work for revolution, because of the “inevitability” of a peasant led revolution.  They became later known as Narodniks (From Narod meaning the people).

    It took time for Marxism to penetrate the Russian movement. Marx and Engels by the middle of their lives, correctly predicted that the world revolution might start in Russia:

“Apart from Germany and Austria the country on which we should focus our attention remains Russia. … It almost looks like the next dance is going to start in Russia.”1
1875; Engels, Frederick; “Letter to August Bebel; In: “Marx-Engels: Selected Correspondence”; Moscow; 1982; p.282.

“Events are however maturing in Russia where the vanguard of the battle will engage in battle.”
1882; Engels, Frederick; “Letter to Johann Phillip Becker; Ibid; p.328-329.

“What I know or believe I know about the situation in Russia makes me think that the Russians are fast approaching their 1789. The revolution must break out any day. ”
April 23 1885; Engels, Frederick; “Letter  to Vera Ivanovna Zasulich”; Ibid; pp.361-363.

    Lenin, replied to progressive Russians who argued that the Bolsheviks should not harbor “Jacobin” prospects for the 1905 revolution, that Marx and Engels had argued otherwise:

“Take Marx’s letter of September 27 1877. He is quite enthusiastic about the Eastern crisis:

“Russia has long been standing on the threshold of an upheaval, all the elements of it are prepared……. …. The upheaval will begin secundum artem (according to the rules of the art) with some playing at constitutionalism et puis il ya aura un beau taupage (and then there will be a fine row). If Mother Nature is not particularly unfavorable to us, we shall yet live to see the fun!” (Marx was then fifty-nine years).”
Lenin, Vladimir.I.;  “Preface to The Russian Translation of Letters By Johanne Becker, Joseph Dietzgen, Frederick Engels, Marl Marx and others to Friedrich Sorge and Others”; (April 1907); “Collected Works”; Volume 12; Moscow; 1962; p.376.

    The Narodniks did not understand Marx. The first Marxist group, (Gruppa Osvobozhdenie Truda “Emancipation of Labour”), was only formed in 1883, by the exiled Georgii Valentin Plekhanov (1856-1917):

“Prior to the appearance of the Marxist groups revolutionary work in Russia was carried on by the Narodniks (populists) who were opponents of Marxism. The first Russian Marxist group arose in 1883. This was the “Emancipation of Labour” group formed by G.V.Plekhanov abroad in Geneva." 
“History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks)- Short Course”; CC of the CPSU  (B); Moscow; 1939; p.8.

    Plekhanov initially broke with Narodniks over their adoption of terror. He set up the Chernyi Peredel (The General Redivision, or Redistribution), which was crushed by the police within three months. Plekhanov escaped to exile in Geneva, in 1880, with Vera Zasulich, Lev Deutsch, and Pavel Axelrod. Plekhanov now studied Marx and Engels, which convinced him of the revolutionary primacy of the proletariat, not the peasantry:

"But the leading role of the working class was not understood by the Narodniks. The Russian Narodniks erroneously held that the principal revolutionary force was not the working class but the peasantry …… The Narodniks first endeavored to rouse the peasants for a struggle against the Tsarist government. With this purpose in view, young revolutionary intellectuals donned peasant garb and flocked to the countryside - "to the people" as it used to be called. . . . A secret Narodnik society known as "Narodnaya Volya ("Peoples' Will") began to plot the assassination of the tsar.. . . .  .. The method of combating tsardom chosen by the Narodniks namely by the assassination of individuals , by individual terrorism was wrong and detrimental to the revolution. The policy of individual terrorism was based on the erroneous Narodnik theory of active "heroes"  and a passive "mob", which awaited exploits from the heroes".
Short History CPSU(B); p. 10.

    The “Emancipation of Labour” group, published “Social-Democrat”. Although it was isolated from the daily struggle, it won over a new generation of progressives to Marxism, including the so-called “Legal Marxists” such as Petr Struve, and such as Iurri Martov and A.N.Potresov. Of course Lenin was also influenced by Plekhanov.

    In this period, the forces of the working class grew. As it did, prior discussions centred on the peasants communes, became irrelevant. The peasantry was being ground up by capital. Lenin knew that the peasants themselves used the word “de-peasantising”, understanding their own fate:

“masses of peasants are giving up the land, losing economic independence, turning into proletarians, and on the other hand, peasants are continually enlarging their crop areas and adopting improved farming methods. … On the one hand peasants are giving up the land or selling or leasing their allotments, and on the other hand peasants are renting allotments are greedily buying privately-owned land. All these are commonly known facts (The peasants themselves very aptly call the process “de-peasantising”).
Vladimir I Lenin, “On the So Called Market Question”; Volume  ; p. 108-109.

    Lenin, initially a Narodnik, was by 1892, a full Marxist. Lenin established links with factory workers (V.A.Shelgunov I.V.Babushkin), and with Babushkin, wrote and distributed the first Russian leaflet to workers, in the Semyabnbikov factory, in December 1894. Lenin understood the urgent need for a new revolutionary party.

“How can one accept Marx’s economic theory and its corollary – the revolutionary role of the proletariat as the organizer of communism by way of capitalism- if people in our country try to find ways to communism other than through the medium of capitalism and the proletariat it creates? Obviously under such conditions, to call upon the workers to fight for political liberty would be equivalent to calling upon him to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the progressive bourgeois, for it cannot be denied....  That political liberty will primarily serve the interests of the bourgeoisie and will not ease the position of the workers, but . . . will ease on the conditions for their struggle . . . against these very bourgeoisie . . . Socialists who, while they do not accept the theory of the Social-Democrats, carry on their agitation among the workers, ...  the theory of these socialist contradicts their practice, and they make a very serious mistake by distracting the workers from their direct task of ORGANISING A SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY. 
…. Theoretical and practical work merge into one aptly described by the veteran German social-democrat, Liebknecht as: “Studieren, propagandieren, Organisieren” (Study, Propaganda, organisation”.
Vladimir I Lenin, “What the ‘Friends of The People’ are And How They Fight The Social Democrats”; Volume   ; p.294; 297-8;

In March 1895, Lenin visited Plekhanov. They agreed upon work between the émigrés and those within Russia, to unite the numerous small groups in Russia, into the Russian Social Democratic Union. They set up an all-Russian paper - “Rabotnik” (The Worker). In March 1898, the Founding Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party (RSDLP) was held in secret. But Lenin, Martov, Plekhanov and Potresov were all in internal or external exile, and virtually all delegates and Central Committee members were arrested. (Short History Of the CPSU (B); Ibid; p. 21-2

3) The Founding Of Iskra –“The Spark” – Tries to overcome Fragmentation

    When Lenin went abroad again after his exile, he again met Plekhanov. However Plekhanov roundly attacked Lenin for attempting to form United Fronts. But when the new paper, “Iskra” (The Spark) was founded, it quickly established Lenin’s principles:

“Before we can unite, and in order that we may united, we must first of all firmly and definitely draw the lines of demarcation between the various groups.”
Lenin Vladimir I.; “Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra”; written 1900; In “Collected Works”, Volume 4; p. 354..

    In 1900, this article contained the key points of what later came to be included within the tenets of the Iskra line of Leninism: Consistent struggle against ideological confusion (here represented by the Economists, the Legal Marxists, Bernsteinism etc); the need for principled unity; the need for a single party; the need for a paper to at as the organizer of the party; the need for the proletariat to play the leading role of all other progressive classes in the Russian revolution

The Russian movement was extremely fragmented, as late as 1903. At the Second Conference of the RSDLP, 43 delegates represented 26 organizations. The Emancipation of Labour group had formed the controlling organisation of “The Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad”, in 1894. But as its agents including Lenin were jailed, control of the Union fell into the hands of the economists and revisionists. So in 1900 the Emancipation of Labour group formally left the Union.

Many cities had started “Leagues of Struggle”, but with differing ideologies. These circles were influenced by Iskra, but many did not join it. Those that did, formed the “Russian Iskra Organisation” (or Sonya), in February 1900. Other Marxist groups included regional organizations such as those of the Caucasus assisted by Koba-Stalin, and those that Trotsky had assisted in forming, the South Russian Workers’ Union, around “Nashe Delo”. Some of these adopted an Iskra tendency, for instance, the St.Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. In contrast the Yuzchny Rabochy (“Southern Worker”), eschewed individual terrorism and economism, but opposed the Iskra plan for creating an all-Russian paper. At the Second Conference they were known as “centrists”. In the 1890’s Marxists in the Polish nationalist movement broke away to form the Social Democratic Party of Poland and Lithuania. Regional Social-Democratic organizations were formed in Latvia by the 1890’s.  Finally, the Jewish Bund, catered for Jewish progressives and workers, and argued for “national and cultural autonomy”, but not for a territorial separation. It demanded the sole right to represent all Jewish communists.


    In addition, other groups were influenced by the Marxists, including the vestiges of Narodniks. By 1902, they organised the Socialist Revolutionary party, putting out the journals “Svoboda” (“Freedom”), and “Revolutsionnaya Rossiya” (Revolutionary Russia). They adopted the wishes of peasants who called for ”The General Redistribution” meaning that all land should be re-distributed. Several ‘Economists’ and ‘Legal Marxist’ trends were involved in the journals Rabochy Mysl and Rabochee Dyelo, and Borba (“Struggle”). All these launched attacks upon Iskra, and plans for party formation enunciated by Lenin.

Lenin expressed disappointment at the failure to pull into the RSDLP the various groups.

            4) The Second Congress of the RSDLP: The Split into the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks – Trotsky and Marov Side With Opportunism

    Iskra had six editors: Plekhanov, Axelrod, Zasulich, Lenin, Potresov and Martov. But the main work was done by Lenin, Martov and Plekhanov. The Second congress of the RSDLP was held in July/August 1903, convening in Brussels, but forced by the Belgian police to re-convene, in London. Formally it was meant to adopt a programme and rules. But the real purpose of the Congress was to unify all the trends and create one party in Russia:

“The chief purpose of the (Second) congress was to create a real party on that basis of principles and organization which had been advanced and elaborated by Iskra”.
“Short History CPSU(B) “; p. 39.

    The Congress was bound to be the scene of a major struggle, since there were many non-Iskra elements from the RSDLP present. There were 43 delegates from 26 organisations, including several Economist papers and the Bund. Trotsky was a delegate from the Siberian Social-Democratic Workers' Union. Misleadingly, Deutscher says he “presided over” the “session of the Iskra men at which the first skirmishes took place” (Deutscher I; “Prophet Armed”; p. 51). In fact Trotsky was a simple delegate, who for only one - of several internal closed session of Iskra-ites - had the chair. The Congress was largely chaired by Plekhanov.


    The Bundists first complained that they had only 5 votes, in contrast to their “tens of thousands of members” (Robert Service, “Lenin A Political Life; Volume 1; Ibid; p.101). This was designed to separate Lenin from Plekhanov, but it failed, Plekhanov remarking:

“Napoleon had a passion for making his marshals divorce their wives: some gave in to him in the matter even though they loved their wives. Comrade Akimov is like Napoleon in this respect – he desires at any cost to divorce me from Lenin”;
Cited Service, Robert “Lenin A Political Life;” Volume 1; London 1985; p.101.

    Despite their previous strong disagreements, Plekhanov and Lenin had a united stand at the congress. This was so, even on the very serious issue of the “first priority” of the revolutionary order, where interim democratic rights might have to be curtailed:

“Vladimir Illyich felt more than usually, close to Plekhanov. The latter's speech to the effect that the thesis "the good of the revolution is the highest law" should be considered the basic democratic principle, and that even the idea of universal franchise should be regarded from the point of view of this principle, made a profound impression on Vladimir Illyich.. Plekhanov felt close to Lenin, too, at the congress. . "
Krupskaya, Nadezhda: “Reminiscences of Lenin”; -The Second Congress; July-August 1903;

    This fact was later repudiated by the Mensheviks, in 1905 and 1917. Yet, while voting on the Programme, when this issue came up, all Iskra votes supported Lenin and Plekhanov. The latter had been quite vociferous on this question:

“Comrade Posadovsky (said) "that we do not agree on the following fundamental question: should we subordinate our future policy to certain fundamental democratic principles and attribute absolute value to them, or should all democratic principles be exclusively subordinated to the interests of our Party? I am decidedly in favour of the latter." Plekhanov "fully associated himself" with Posadovsky, objecting in even more definite and emphatic terms to "the absolute value of democratic principles" and to regarding them "abstractly". … On this fundamental question, all the Iskra-ists at the Congress opposed the spokesmen of the anti-Iskra "Right" (Goldblatt) and of the Congress "Centre" (Egorov). “
Lenin; Vladimir I.; “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (The Crisis In Our Party); 1904;  Vol. 7,

    At first, the organizational committee stood firm behind Lenin’s Iskra programme, and  the old Iskra editorial board and delegates voted in agreement. However as time went on, blocs arose.  To understand the dynamics, the vote bank needs explanation. There were in total 51 votes. The “political grouping” consisted of 5 Bundist votes; 3 Economist votes (from Raboche Dyelo and Yuzhny Rabochy) – all anti-Iskra votes; plus 10 “waverer” votes (from “the Marsh”). There were 33 Iskra votes, but some were not consistent:

“A split took place finally towards the end of the Congress: one subgroup with approximately 9 votes … the “soft”… Iskra-ists who stood for a .. middle course; and the other with about 24 votes, consisting of Iskra-ists of the firm line… consistent Iskra-ists.. both as regards tactics and as regards the personal composition of the central institutions of the party.”
Lenin; “Account of 2nd Congress”; Volume 7; p. 20-21.

    So when the Bund and the Economists and the Marsh voted en bloc - together with the “soft” Iskra-ists, this created a crucial majority. The leaders of the Economists acknowledged that they voted to support Iskra “softs” against Lenin’s “hards”. This meant that a clear third of the Congress was relied on to vote against Iskra policies:

“The desperately acute conflict of principle that arose from a "trifling" cause is quite explicable and inevitable. Since a struggle between the Iskra-ists and the anti-Iskra-ists went on all the time at our Congress, since between them stood unstable elements, and since the latter, together with the anti-Iskra-ists, controlled one-third of the votes (8 + 10 = 18, out of 51, according to my calculation, an approximate one, of course), it is perfectly clear and natural that any falling away from the "Iskra "-ists of even a small minority created the possibility of a victory for the anti-Iskra trend and therefore evoked a "frenzied" struggle. …. In all, there were during the Congress three major cases of a small number of Iskra-ists falling away from the majority -- over the equality of languages question, over Paragraph 1 of the Rules, and over the elections -- and in all three cases a fierce struggle ensued, finally leading to the severe crisis we have in the Party today.”
Lenin; V.I; “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back”; Ibid; Vol. 7, p.228

    Nonetheless, in the first part of the Congress, the Iskra grouping voted together to win principled positions. They defeated the Bund’s demands on language rights and their claim to a “federal” status for the Bund; they passed the Programme; and endorsed the principle of the Central Organ of the Party. This last was Iskra, and when the Economists objected that it was impossible to vote for this without knowing who constituted the members – Martov argued that this was not a matter of personality- that it was a matter of the Iskra trend:

“Martov took the floor and explained that was being submitted for endorsement was the Iskra trend, irrespective of persons, and that this would in now way pre-determine the composition of the editorial board, for the election of the central institutions would follow.”
Lenin, Vladimir I.; “Account of Second Congress of RSDLP”; Ibid; p. 27.

    The sharpest and most famous controversy at the congress arose around the first clause of the rules, defining what was meant by the term “member of the party”.  In accordance with the principles he had been putting forward for some time in “Iskra”, Lenin proposed the following wording for Clause 1 of the Rules of the RSDLP:

“A member of the R.S.D.L.P. is one who recognizes its programme and supports the Party materially as well as by personal participation in one of the organisations of the Party

    But Martov now repudiating his previous editorial agreements, moved to substitute instead the following words:

“Working under the control and guidance of one of the organisations of the Party”.

    The discussion revolved around the meaning of the term “Party” and the definitions of “party member”. Krupskaya described the intense debates:

“In such an atmosphere, the dispute over the first paragraph of the Rules assumed an extremely acrimonious character. Lenin and Martov… had often disagreed before, but such differences had then been confined to narrow limits and had soon been sunk. .. everyone who had had a grudge against Iskra, against Plekhanov and Lenin, went out of his way to fan it up into a disagreement on a fundamental issue. Lenin was attacked for his article Where to Begin? and his pamphlet What Is To Be Done? and accused of being ambitious, and so on.”
Krupskaya, Nadezhda: “Reminiscences of Lenin”; -The Second Congress; July-August 1903; 

    Lenin's case against Martov’s formulation was that:

1)     It would be impossible to maintain effective “control and guidance” over Party members who did not personally participate in one of the organisations of the Party; 
     It reflected the outlook, not of the working class, which is not shy of organisation and discipline, but of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia, individualistic and shy of organisation and discipline;
     It would widen Party membership to include supporters of the Party, and would abolish the essential dividing line between the working class and its organised, disciplined vanguard; it would, therefore dissolve the vanguard in the working class as a whole and so would serve the interests of the class enemies of the working class.

sided with Martov, and the Bund and the Economists, voting for Martov’s  formulation which was adopted by 28 votes to 22 with 1 abstention. Soon to come were the elections. Lenin had already proposed that a board of three members should replace the editorial board of “Iskra” (originally six members). Originally Martov had agreed to this, and had talked to delegates indicating full agreement with this viewpoint. But various forces including Trotsky persuaded him to take up arms against this notion. Martov changed his position with the consequences of the split becoming more inevitable, as the Martov-ites descended into opportunist maneuvers:

“The congress had endorsed the Iskra line, but the Iskra editorial board had still to be elected..   Vladimir Illyich moved that the editorial board of Iskra should consist of three members. He had told Martov and Potresov about this proposal beforehand. .. Martov had supported the idea of three editors as being the most expedient. He realized then that the three-man proposal was aimed chiefly against Plekhanov. When Vladimir Illyich handed Plekhanov his draft proposal for an editorial board of three, Plekhanov had read it and put it in his pocket without saying a word. He understood what it was about, and agreed to it. Once there was a Party, practical work was necessary.  Martov mixed more with the members of the Organizing Committee than anyone else on Iskra did. It did not take long to persuade him that the three-man idea was directed against him, and that if he joined it he would be betraying  Zasulich, Potresov and Axelrod. Axelrod and Zasulich were greatly upset.”
Krupskaya: “Reminiscences of Lenin”; -The Second Congress; July-August 1903;

    At an internal Iskra meeting a compromise was suggested. But the Martov-ites voted even against this proposal, but lost. In reality they were relying on the Bund and the Economist votes at the full Congress to vote for the full Martov-ite slate. Correspondingly, the number of Iskra “hards” began to grow, because the circulated list of the Martov slate proved to be composed of people who at the congress had proven to be “paltering, inconsistent, and tactless”. But as Lenin had been defeated previously, the Iskra ‘softs’ continued to expect that the same would occur in the elections.

In the interim, the Rules of the RSDLP were accepted and voted on by all delegates, except for one postponed matter - the Rules of the Bund. On this, the Bund was already  exposed, and all the delegates of Iskra – including the Martov-ites – voted down the Bund. But quite unexpectedly, the Bund now simply walked out, taking their 5 votes with them. Soon after the Economists did the same with their 2 votes. The allies of the Martov-ites had walked away with Martov’s votes:

“The Rules as a whole were endorsed by all the Iskra-ists and by the entire Congress. But after the general Rules, the Congress passed onto the Rules of the Bund and by an overwhelming majority rejected the Bund’s proposal (to recognize the Bund as the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat in the Party). I think on this issue the Bund stood alone in practically the whole Congress. Thereupon the Bundists withdrew from the Congress, announcing their withdrawal from the Party. The Martov-ites had lost five of their faithful allies! Then the Rabcheye Delo-ists too withdrew, after the League of Russian Revolutionary Social-Democratic Abroad was recognised as the sole Party organisation abroad. The Martov-ites had lost another two of their faithful allies! The total number of votes at the Congress was now forty-four (51-7), of which the majority were those of consistent Iskra-ists; the coalition of the Martov-ites with the Yuzhny Rabochy-ists and the “Marsh” resulted in only twenty votes”;
Lenin; “Account of Second Congress of the RSDLP”; Volume 7; Ibid; p. 29-31.

    As Lenin points out, previously the consistent Iskra-ites had accepted the will of the Congress when they had been out-voted with the aid of the Bund going to the Martov-ites. But now, the Martov-ites were unwilling to concede to the majority of Iskra. They continued to insist on forcing their own views. The matter of the old editorial board was from the perspective of the emotive softs and Trotsky, one mainly of personality. There were however much harsher realties. The board needed to be more responsive to the requirements of practical work, and it needed to be made efficient. The old board could not continue in the same way, and to call for that was bound to “provoke a row”:

“One had to be actuated by resentment and pique and to lose one’s head after the struggle at the Congress to proceed after the event to attack the trio as incident and ineffectual. The old board of six was so ineffectual that it never once in all its three years did it meet in full force. That may seem incredible, but it is fact. Not one of the 45 issues of Iskra was made up (in the editorial and technical sense) by anyone but Martov or Lenin. And never once was any major theoretical issue raised by anyone but Plekhanov. Axelrod did not work at all (he contributed literally nothing to Zarya and only 3 or 4 articles to all the 45 issues of Iskra). Zasulich and Starover only contributed and advised, they never did any actual editorial work. Who ought to be elevated to the political leadership, to the center, was as clear as daylight to every delegate to the Congress, after the month it had been in session. To propose at the Congress to endorse the old editorial board was a stupid attempt to provoke a row…”
Lenin; “Account of Second Congress”; Ibid; p. 31.

    It was none other than Trotsky, who countered the proposal of a three person Editorial Board with a motion confirming the old editorial board in office. This was defeated by a majority of 2 votes; thereupon in a fit of further pique the anti-Leninists simply abstained from further voting.  Now the “softs” became openly vituperative. Martov then began to hurl accusations about a “state of siege in the party”- to which Lenin responded that Martov had both known all along and agreed (as had Trotsky) with the plans for a trio, and furthermore, that Martov had confused personality issues with the politics of Iskra’s practical needs (Speech at the Election of Editorial Board Iskra; Volume 6: Ibid; p. 505).

    In the elections, three anti-Leninists (Axelrod, Potresov and Vera Zasulich) were dropped from the board, leaving Lenin, Plekhanov and Martov. Furthermore, three supporters of Lenin were elected to form the Central Committee. As Krupskaya points out, some of the personal animosities originating with the Bund and the Economists had affected the atmosphere. Martov having been elected refused to take up his position. This un-revolutionary and petty stance was supported by Trotsky. The Party was now divided into two factions, those Party members who supported Lenin's political line were known as Bolsheviks (from 'bolshinstvo", majority) while those who opposed Lenin’s political line were known as Mensheviks (from "menshinstvo" minority).  The split was clear. Trotsky had acted as a fuel to the flames:

“Yet the congress was clearly divided. Many were inclined to blame Plekhanov's tactlessness, Lenin's "vehemence" and "ambition," .. the unfair  treatment of Zasulich and Axelrod--and they sided with those who had a grievance. They missed the substance through looking at personalities. Trotsky was one of them. He became a fierce opponent of Lenin. And the substance was this--that the comrades grouped around Lenin were far more seriously committed to principles, which they wanted to see applied at all cost and pervading all the practical work. The other group had more of the man-in-the-street mentality, were given to compromise and concessions in principle, and had more regard for persons.  The struggle during the elections was very sharp. . . “Glebov, Clair and Kurz were elected to the Central Committee, twenty out of the forty-four votes being abstentions. Plekhanov, Lenin and Martov were elected to the Central Organ. Martov refused to work on the editorial board. The split was obvious.”
Krupskaya: “Reminiscences of Lenin”; -The Second Congress; July-August 1903;

    After the Congress, the Mensheviks -- including Trotsky boycotted “Iskra” and in September 1903 they held a factional conference in Geneva. A shadow “central committee” was set up, consisting of Pavel Axelrod, Fedor Dan, Yuli Martov, Aleksandr Potresov and Trotsky, to direct the struggle against the Bolsheviks. They proceeded to take over Iskra, and re-named  it “New Iskra”.

  5) Lenin’s post-mortem: What Did the Second Congress Mean?

    Many alleged that the split was meaningless and over trivia, or that it reflected Lenin’s “Thirst for power and domination”. That included Trotsky. Very much later Trotsky admitted his error in opposing Party organisation. Trotsky confessed that his attitude was driven by personal reasons:

“How did I come to be with the “softs” at the Congress? Of the Iskra editors, my closest connections were with Martov, Zasulich and Axelrod. Their influence over me was unquestionable”;
Ibid; p. 161.

    Trotsky admited that despite the personal “froth”, underlying the debate were important and clear political differences:

“His behaviour seemed unpardonable to me, both horrible and outrageous.  And yet, politically, it was right and necessary, from the point of view of organisation. My break with Lenin occurred on what might be considered “moral” or even personal grounds.  But this was merely on the surface.  At bottom, the separation was of a political nature and merely expressed itself in the realm of organisational methods.  I thought of myself as a centralist.  But there is no doubt that at that at that time I did not fully realise what an intense and imperious centralism the revolutionary party would need to lead millions of people in a war against the old order  . . At  the time of the London Congress in 1903, revolution was still largely a theoretical abstraction to me.  Independently I still could not see Lenin's centralism as the logical conclusion of a clear revolutionary concept”.
Trotsky: Ibid; p. 162.

    But Trotsky’s immediate reaction to the Second congress, was to write his “Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. (“Report of the Siberian Delegation”) in 1903.  Here he defended his opposition to Lenin:

“Behind Lenin stood the new compact majority of the ‘hard’ ‘Iskra’ men, opposed to the ‘soft’ ‘Iskra’ men. We, the delegates of the Siberian Union, joined the ‘soft’ ones, and . . we do not think that we have thereby blotted our revolutionary record”.
Trotsky, Leon; “Report of the Siberian Delegation”; Geneva: 1903; p.21.

 At the Congress, declared Trotsky, Lenin had,

“With the energy and talent peculiar to him, assumed the role of the party’s disorganiser”.  L.Trotsky: ibid.;. p.11 

    and, like a new Robespierre, was trying to,

“..transform the modest Council of the Party into an omnipotent Committee of Public Safety”, L. Trotsky: ibid.; p.21;

    so preparing the ground for the “Thermidorians of Socialist opportunism". L. Trotsky: ibid; p.30.

    He added that Lenin resembled Robespierre, however, only as,

“a vulgar farce resembles historic tragedy”... (L.Trotsky: ibid.; p.33).

    But in reality, a huge, clear demarcation was made. The post-mortem conducted by Lenin in “One Steps Forward Two Steps Back”, insisted on the record. The inevitability of a struggle had been clear from the start of the Congress, as differing forces came:

“The Congress was so highly representative, the participants included organisations which had vigorously fought Iskra (the Bund and Rabocheye Dyelo) …Under these circumstances, the Congress could not but become an arena of struggle for the victory of the "Iskra " trend. Without an analysis of the political groupings, without having a picture of the Congress as a struggle between definite shades, the divergence between us cannot be understood at all. .. Even a priori, on the basis of the history of the Russian Social-Democratic movement before the Congress, three main groups are to be noted (for subsequent verification and detailed study): the Iskra-ists, the anti-Iskra-ists, and the unstable, vacillating, wavering elements.”
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (The Crisis In Our Party); 1904; Collected Works, Moscow, 1965 Vol. 7, pp. p. 209; 212;

    So the split was not purely about personality differences. Lenin conceded that  these had formed the “first crack”, but these were soluble. Lenin had offered potential points of retreat for all parties and compromise which were rejected by the Martov-ites. Lenin contended that the widening into a split, became inevitable given opportunism on critical matters of organizations. The choice was either organisation of a revolutionary party, or of a semi-anarchistic party with no discipline of its members. Later events - the take-over of Iskra (forming the so called “New Iskra”)  by the Martov and Trotsky faction made this clearer. As Lenin said:

“Analyses, which make up nine-tenths of my pamphlet, lead to the conclusion that the "majority" is the revolutionary, and the "minority" the opportunist wing of our Party; the disagreements that divide the two wings at the present time for the most part concern, not questions of programme or tactics, but only organisational questions; the new system of views that emerges the more clearly in the new Iskra the more it tries to lend profundity to its position, and the more that position becomes cleared of squabbles about co-optation, is opportunism in matters of organisation.“ One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (The Crisis In Our Party); Ibid, pp. 203-425.

The entire position of the opportunists in organisational questions already began to be revealed in the controversy over Paragraph 1: their advocacy of a diffuse, not strongly welded, Party organisation; their hostility to the idea (the "bureaucratic" idea) of building the Party from the top downwards, starting from the Party Congress and the bodies set up by it; their tendency to proceed from the bottom upwards, allowing every professor, every high school student and "every striker" to declare himself a member of the Party; their hostility to the "formalism" which demands that a Party member should belong to one of the organisations recognised by the Party; their leaning towards the mentality of the bourgeois intellectual, who is only prepared to "accept organisational relations platonically"; their penchant for opportunist profundity and for anarchistic phrases; their tendency towards autonomism as against centralism -- in a word, all that is now blossoming so luxuriantly in the new Iskra, and is helping more and more to reveal fully and graphically the initial error.“  “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (The Crisis In Our Party)”; Vol. 7, pp. 204-205; 


Trotsky and Stalin – were indeed diametrically opposed in their attitudes to the formation of the Russian Bolshevik party – the CPSU(B). Marxist-Leninists nowadays, need to understand how Lenin welded one party out of the fragmented splinters of the revolutionary movement.