Building the Bolshevik Party


Some organisational aspects

Brian Pearce

In discussions about the best form of organisation for a Marxist workers’ party, reference is often made, in one spirit or another to the experience of Russia. Sometimes such reference is made confusedly. Three distinct entities are mixed up: the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party of 1903-1911, within which various factions strove for ascendancy, the Bolshevik faction in that “Party”, and the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) formed in 1912. Often misunderstood, also, are the two fundamental presuppositions made by Bolsheviks in their approach to organisational problems.

The first of these was that the working class would have to undertake a struggle for power in which both legal and illegal activity would be involved, a struggle in which all kinds of persecution by the ruling class would have to be faced, a struggle which must culminate in the forcible seizure of power and the forcible defence of the power thus seized against counter-attack. In a word, the Bolsheviks saw before them, and before the workers of every country the prospect of revolution, and therefore the need for a party capable of preparing the carrying through of a revolution. The special features of Tsarist Russia in the early 20th century were not decisive in relation to this point: in any case, these features fluctuated and changed, and the Bolsheviks’ concrete ideas about party organisation in Russia were modified accordingly, but without the fundamental principle being affected.

The second presupposition was that the working class everywhere needs not less but much more “party organisation” in order to conquer power than was needed by the bourgeoisie in its great revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries. Trotsky (who arrived late at an understanding of this point but thereafter defended the Bolshevik position most staunchly) put it thus in his Lessons of October (1924): “the part played in bourgeois revolutions by the economic power of the bourgeoisie, by its education, by its municipalities and universities, is a part which can be played in a proletarian revolution only by the party of the proletariat”. That is to say, the bourgeoisie while still an oppressed class acquires wealth, and important footholds in the institutions of the old regime, but the working class lacks these advantages and has to compensate by intense organisation of those forces which it does possess. In Lenin’s words, “in its struggle for power the proletariat has no other weapon but organisation”.

When the Russian Marxists were still operating through the rudimentary forms of study circles, living separate lives in the principal cities, and just beginning to apply themselves to study of the detailed problems of their actual setting and to intervention through leaflets in the current struggles of the Russian workers, Lenin raised (in 1894) the question of working towards the formation of a “socialist workers’ party”. The first coming together of representatives of local Leagues of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, at Minsk in 1898, the so-called First Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, achieved nothing in the organisational sphere and was followed by arrests and police repressions of a devastating character. Preparations for another, similar gathering, led to further arrests, and drew from Lenin in 1900 the observation that “congresses inside autocratic Russia are a luxury we can’t afford”. Instead, he and his associates got down to the publication outside Russia of a newspaper, Iskra, to be smuggled into the country and serve as the means to prepare for another congress. Around the work for this paper, cadres of revolutionaries organized themselves in an all-Russia network, and through this paper a clarifying discussion was carried on for two years about the political tasks and functions of the party to be created.

Already, before the Second Congress met, Lenin had outlined. particularly in A Letter to a Comrade on Our Organisational Tasks (1902), as well as in the more famous What Is To Be Done? his conception of what a revolutionary party must be like. Its dominant characteristic should be centralism, the concentration in the hands of a stable, continuing leadership of all the resources of the Marxist movement, so that the most rational and expedient use might be made of these resources. Party membership must be strictly defined so that the leadership knew exactly who was who and what forces they possessed at any given moment. In the then existing conditions there could be little democracy in the party, desirable as this was, without over-simplifying the task of the police. The local “committees” of the party would have to be appointed from above and consist entirely of professional revolutionaries, and each of the party organisations in the factories and elsewhere (“every factory must be our fortress”) would operate under the instructions of the local committee, conveyed through one of the committee members who would be the organisation’s only contact, for security reasons.

When at last the Second Congress met, in 1903 (at first in Brussels, later moving to London), and got down to settling organisational at well as political problems, the political differences among the Russian Marxists arising from their different estimates of the course of development and relationship of class forces1 at once found reflection in the sphere of organisation, although not in a clear-cut way, there being at this stage much cross-voting. Lenin and Martov confronted each other with their opposing formulation for Rule One, defining what constituted Party membership. Lenin wanted a tight definition obliging members not merely to acceptance of the Party program and the giving of financial support, but also to “personal participation in one of the Party’s organisations”, whereas the Congress agreed with Martov that “the rendering of personal assistance under the direction of one of the Party’s organs” was sufficient. In Lenin’s difference with Martov on this point was expressed Lenin’s conviction that “the party, as the vanguard of the class, should be as organised as possible, should admit to its ranks only such elements as lend themselves to at least a minimum of organisation”, because, “the stronger the party organs consisting of real Social-Democrats are, the less instability there is within the party. the greater will be its influence on the masses around it”. Connected with the divergence of views about what should constitute party membership was a more fundamental difference which was to emerge more and more clearly in subsequent years – about the character of the party structure. Lenin’s conception was one of “building the party from the top downwards”, starting from the party congress and the bodies set up by it, which should be possessed of full powers, with “subordination of lower party bodies to higher party bodies”. Martov revealed already at this stage a conception of each party organisation as being “autonomous”. On the internal political life of the party Lenin’s view was that “a struggle of shades is inevitable and essential as long as it does not lead to anarchy and splits, as long as it is confined within bounds approved by the common consent of all party members” (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (1904).

In spite of the defeat on Rule One, Lenin and his associates carried the majority with them in the voting on the main political questions (as a result of which they thereafter enjoyed the advantage in the party of the nickname of Bolshevik or majority), but the deep divergences which had revealed themselves were reflected in the Congress decisions on the central party bodies. A sort of dual power was set up, equal authority being accorded to the editorial board of the party paper, Iskra, residing abroad, and to the Central Committee, operating underground inside Russia. A Party Council, empowered to arbitrate in any disputes that might arise between these two centres of authority, was to consist of two members representing the editorial board, two from the Central Committee, and one elected directly by the party congress. At first the Bolsheviks appeared to dominate both editorial board and Central Committee, but very soon after the Second Congress a shift of allegiance by a few of the leaders of what was then a very small group of people enabled the Mensheviks (“minority”) to turn the tables. The Bolsheviks mustered their forces into a faction. set up a “Bureau of the Committees of the Majority” to lead it, produced a faction paper, Vperyod, and conducted a campaign within the party for the convening of a fresh, Third Congress. By early 1905 they had the majority of the local Committees on record in favour of such a congress, and according to the party rules adopted in 1903 the Party Council should thereupon have convened the congress, but the Mensheviks in control of that body found pretexts not to do so. Accordingly the Bureau of the Committees of the Majority went ahead and convened the Third Congress on its own initiative.

This purely Bolshevik gathering decided to abolish the “bi-centrism” established in 1903. The editorial board of the party paper had proved to be unstable, while the party organisations inside Russia had grown and become strong. A central committee with full, exclusive powers, including the power to appoint the editorial board, was elected. All party organisations were instructed henceforth to submit fortnightly reports to the central committee: “later on it will be seen how enormously important it is to acquire the habit of regular organisational communication”. As regards the Mensheviks, their right and that of all minorities to publish their own literature within the party was recognised, but they must submit to the discipline of the Congress and the Central Committee elected by it. A special resolution charged all party members to “wage an energetic ideological struggle” against Menshevism, while at the same time acknowledging that the latter’s adherents could “participate in party organisations provided they recognise party congresses and the party rules and submit to party discipline”. Party organisations where Mensheviks were predominant were to be expelled only if they were “unwilling to submit to party discipline”.

The Mensheviks refused to recognise the authenticity of the Third Congress and held a parallel congress of their own, which set up a rival leading body called the Organisational Committee. To this they accorded only vague and limited powers, and they introduced some ultra-democratic provisions into party life, such as that every member of a local organisation was to be asked to express an opinion on every decision of the appropriate local committee before this could be put into force.

With the revolutionary events of 1905, the situation in and around the party changed very rapidly. Great numbers of workers joined its ranks, the opportunities for party work became greater and more diverse and de facto civil liberty expanded, enabling the party to show itself more openly. Lenin led the way in carrying through a reorganisation of the party on more democratic lines, so as to meet and profit by the new situation. Larger and looser party organisations were to be created, and the elective principle was introduced in place of the old tutelage by committees of professionals. Such changes were possible, Lenin stressed, only because of the work done in the preceding phase. “The working class is instinctively, spontaneously, social-democratic2, and the more than 10 years of work put in by the social democrats has done a great deal to transform this spontaneity into class consciousness”. (The latter part of this sentence, from Lenin’s article on The Reorganisation of The Party (November 1905), is sometimes omitted when it is quoted by unscrupulous anti-Leninists.) There need be no fear that the mass of new members would dilute the party, because they would find themselves under the influence of the “steadfast. solid core” of party members forged in those previous 10 years. At the same time, there could be no question of liquidating the secret apparatus the party prepared for illegality; and in general, Lenin warned, it was necessary to “reckon with the possibility of new attempts on the part of the expiring autocracy to withdraw the promised liberties, to attack the revolutionary workers and especially their leaders”. It was to the important but carefully considered changes made at this time that Lenin was mainly referring when he wrote in 1913 (How Vera Zasulich Slays Liquidationism) that, organisationally, the party, “while retaining its fundamental character, has known how to adapt its form to changing conditions, to change this form in accordance with the demands of the moment”.

The newly recruited worker-members showed themselves somewhat more resistant to the guiding influence of the old cadres than Lenin had hoped and, unable to grasp what all the “fuss” was about between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, brought strong pressure to bear for immediate reunification of the party. The very successes achieved by the revolution, with such comparative ease, caused many workers to see the Bolsheviks as gloomy, peculiar folk obsessed with non-existent problems. Zinoviev recalls in his lectures on party history how there was a period in those days when Bolshevik speakers found it hard to get a hearing in the Petersburg factory district called “the Vyborg side” of the River Neva) which was to become a Bolshevik stronghold in 1917. It proved impossible not to yield to the pressure from below for “unity”, in spite of prophetic misgivings. A joint central committee was set up, composed of both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. and proceeded to convene a new party congress.

This congress, the Fourth, or “Unity” congress, held at Stockholm, was elected more democratically than its predecessors, full advantage being taken of the easier conditions for open activity. Thirty-six thousand members took part in the election of the delegates, and one delegate was elected for every 250-300 members – really elected by the rank and file, not, as on previous occasions, chosen by the local committees of professionals. As a result, the Mensheviks found themselves with a majority on the most important political questions — although they were obliged to accept Lenin’s formulation of the rule regarding party membership, which they had successfully voted down in 1903! A central committee consisting of six Mensheviks and three Bolsheviks was elected.

Following the Congress, those delegates “who belonged to the ‘Bolshevik’ faction”, issued (May 1906) an appeal to the party membership, in which they declared: “We must and shall fight ideologically against those decisions of the Congress which we regard as erroneous. But at the same time we declare that we are opposed to a split of any kind”. To work for another congress with a Bolshevik majority, Lenin and his associates formed a secret factional centre — what Zinoviev called “an organisation which was doubly illegal: in relation to the Tsarist regime and in relation to the Mensheviks”. Those local party committees which had Bolshevik majorities sponsored a paper called Proletary, and the editorial board of this paper functioned as the leadership of the Bolshevik “double underground”.

This was an extremely difficult period for the Bolsheviks in the party, but they were saved from it by the development of events in Russia in general, and among the Mensheviks in particular, in ways which they had foreseen. Evidence accumulated that political progress was not, after all, going to proceed as smoothly as the Mensheviks had claimed, while at the same time some of the Menshevik leaders came out more and more openly as people who were ready to destroy the independence of the party and even the party itself for the sake of a coalition with bourgeois liberals. Already, before 1906 was out, proposals began to be canvassed in Menshevik circles for dissolving the RSDLP in a “broad Labour congress” modelled on the British Labour Party of that time – a loose, comprehensive body which would embrace the trade unions, the co-operatives, petty-bourgeois radical groups, etc. In Petersburg the local Mensheviks defied the views of their Bolshevik comrades in the “united” party organisations and linked up electorally with the liberals. Lenin’s reply to this was to publish a pamphlet attacking the Mensheviks for treason to the common cause. Summoned before a party court on a charge of violating discipline, he showed himself quite unrepentant and aggressive. There was no real unity in the party, he said, and a de facto split had taken place. “What is impermissible among members of a united party is permissible and obligatory for the parts of a party that has been split.” The Mensheviks of the party court had better think carefully before coming to a decision to expel him: “Your judgement will determine whether the shaken unity of the RSDLP will be weakened or strengthened.” Lenin was not expelled.

The balance of support within the party was now moving slowly but steadily towards the Bolsheviks again, as fair-weather members dropped away and the more stable of the new members learned from experience, observed the conduct of the Menshevik leaders and absorbed the influence of the old cadres. The Fifth (London) Congress, held in 1907, and elected no less democratically than the Fourth, proved to have a small pro-Bolshevik majority. It was at this congress that the party adopted as Rule Two of its organisational statute: “All party organisations are built on the principles of democratic centralism.” A number of decisions in the direction of further democratisation were taken: a congress was to be held every year, with one delegate for every 1000 members, and an all-Russia conference every three months, with one delegate for every 5000 members.

No congress could in fact be held thereafter until 1917, owing to the onset of reaction. Only two days after the close of the Fifth Congress came the Tsarist coup d’etat of June 3, 1907, and a more severe reign of terror than ever began. The central committee elected by the Congress, although predominantly pro-Bolshevik, was very mixed, and the Bolshevik faction decided to keep its secret. leading centre in being.

In the second half of 1907 Lenin prepared for publication a collection of his writings to be titled Twelve Years. Only one and a half of the three projected volumes were actually published, and these were seized by the police. (A few copies circulated illegally, but not until 1918 did Twelve Years appear again, in full and openly.) The preface which Lenin wrote for this collection, in September 1907, is often referred to by opponents of Leninism as proof that at this time (the opening of the period of blackest reaction!) Lenin repudiated the ideas on party organisation which he had expounded in 1902 in What Is To Be Done? and elsewhere. To show the mendacity of this allegation and to present Lenin’s own estimation of the balance sheet of the “twelve years” from the organisational standpoint, here is a lengthy quotation from the preface in question:

“The basic mistake which is made by people who nowadays polemicise against What Is To Be Done? consists in their completely detaching this work from its connection with a definite historical situation – a definite, and now already long-past period in the development of our party. This mistake was strikingly committed by Parvus, for example (not to mention innumerable Mensheviks), when he wrote, many years after the appearance of this pamphlet, about its incorrect or exaggerated ideas regarding the organisation of professional revolutionaries.
“At the present time such statements make a frankly comical impression. It is as though people want to brush aside a whole phase in the development of our party, to brush aside those conquests which in their day cost a struggle to achieve but which now have long since become consolidated and done their work. To argue today about Iskra‘s exaggerations (in 1901 and 1902!) of the idea of an organisation of professional revolutionaries is the same as though after the Russo-Japanese War, one were to reproach the Japanese for having exaggerated the strength of Russia’s armed forces, for having been exaggeratedly anxious about the war and the struggle against these forces. The Japanese had to summon up all their strength against the maximum possible power of Russia, so as to ensure victory. Unfortunately, many people judge our party from outside, without knowing what they are talking about, without seeing that now the idea of an organisation of professional revolutionaries has already won complete victory. But this victory would have been impossible unless this idea had been put in the forefront in its day, so as “exaggeratedly” to make those people grasp this idea who were hindering its realisation.
What Is To Be Done? is a summary of the Iskra group’s tactics and organisational policy in 1901 and 1902. Just a summary, no more and no less. Whoever will take the trouble to familiarise himself with the lskra of 1901 and 1902 will undoubtedly convince himself of that. And whoever judges this summary without knowledge of Iskra’s fight against the then predominant economism3 and without an understanding of this struggle is merely talking through his hat. Iskra fought for the creation of professional revolutionaries, fighting especially energetically in 1901 and 1902; overcame the economism which then predominated; created the organisation at last in 1903; upheld this organisation in spite of the subsequent split in the Iskra group, in spite of all the troubles of this period of storm and stress, upheld it during the whole of the Russian revolution, upheld and preserved it from 1901-02 through to 1907.
“And behold, now, when the fight for this organisation has long since been concluded, when the ground has been sown, when the grain has ripened and the harvest has been reaped, people appear and announce that there has been: ‘an exaggeration of the idea of an organisation of professional revolutionaries’! Isn’t it laughable?
“Take the entire pre-revolutionary period and the first two-and-a-half years of the revolution (1905-1907) as a whole. Compare for this period our Social-Democratic Party with the other parties, from the standpoint of cohesion, organised character, continuity of purpose. You will have to acknowledge from this standpoint the superiority of our party over all the others – the Cadets, the SRs and the rest – has been indubitable. The Social Democratic Party worked out before the revolution a program which was formally accepted by all members and, while making amendments to it, never broke away from this program. The Social-Democratic Party (in spite of the split from 1903 to 1907 (formally from 1905 to 1906), made public the fullest information about its internal situation, in the minutes of the Second (general) congress, the Third (Bolshevik) congress. and the Fourth or Stockholm (general) congress. The Social Democratic Party, in spite of the split, utilised the momentary gleam of freedom earlier than any of the other parties to introduce an ideal democratic structure for its open organisation, with an elective system and representation at congresses according to the number of organised members of the party. Neither the SRs nor the Cadets have done this yet – these almost-legal, very well organised bourgeois parties which possess incomparably greater financial resources, scope in use of the press and possibility of functioning openly, than ourselves. And did not the elections to the Second Duma, in which all parties took part, show graphically that the organisational cohesion of our party and our Duma group is higher than that of any other?
“The question arises – who achieved, who realised this greater cohesion, stability and staunchness of our party? This was done by the organisation of professional revolutionaries created above all with the participation of Iskra. Whoever knows the history of our party well, whoever has himself lived through the building of our party, needs only to take a simple glance at the composition of the delegation of any faction, let us say, at the London congress, to be convinced, to note at once the old basic nucleus which, more diligently than anybody else, cherished and reared the party. The basic condition for this success was, of course, the fact that the working class, the flower of which created the Social Democratic Party, is distinguished, owing to objective economic causes, from all other classes in capitalist society by its greater capacity for organisation. Without this condition the organisation of professional revolutionaries would have been a toy, an adventure, a meaningless signboard, and the pamphlet What Is To Be Done? stresses repeatedly that only in connexion with a ‘really revolutionary class which spontaneously rises in struggle’ does the organisation which this pamphlet defends make sense. But the objectively very great capacity of the proletariat to be organised is carried out by living people, is carried out not otherwise than in definite forms of organisation. And no other organisation than that put forward by Iskra could, in our historical circumstances, in the Russia of 1900-05, have created such a Social Democratic Workers’ Party as has now been created. The professional revolutionary has done his job in the history of Russian proletarian socialism. And no power will now disrupt the work which has long since outgrown the narrow limits of the ‘circles’; no belated complaints about exaggerations of the fighting tasks by those who in their day could only by struggle ensure a correct approach to the fulfilment of these tasks will shake the significance of the conquests which have already been achieved.”

With the advance of reaction and dissipation of the rosy illusions of 1905 the Bolshevik proportion in the ranks of the party continued to grow. At the party conference held in November 1907, the Bolsheviks were able to secure the passing of resolutions which subordinated the Social-Democratic group in the Duma to the Central Committee and forbade party members to contribute articles to the bourgeois press on inner-party questions. At the party conference held in December 1908, in view of the now intense police terror in Russia, the elective principle in organisation was sharply modified and the party regime of before 1905 was in the main restored. This conference also passed a resolution condemning “liquidationism” (advocacy of dissolving the party in a broad Labour Congress), a political disease now spreading very rapidly in the upper circles of the Menshevik faction.

While extreme right-wing tendencies grew among Mensheviks, an ultraleft tendency appeared in the ranks of the Bolsheviks under these conditions of reaction. This took the form of Otzovism (recallism), a system of ideas justifying withdrawal from all attempts to work in the Duma and other legal organisations and concentration of activity exclusively on underground work. At a meeting of the editorial board of Proletary (the secret Bolshevik faction leadership) in the summer of 1909 Otzovism was condemned as having nothing in common with Bolshevism, and members of the faction were called upon to fight against it. So far as the leading Otzovist, Bogdanov, was concerned, it was resolved that the fraction took no further responsibility for his doings (he had set up a “party school” at which he propounded his doctrines); but it is not correct to say that the Otzovists were expelled from the Bolshevik faction. On the contrary, the factional leadership stated that it aimed at avoiding an organisational split with the 0tzovists and would strive to win them back to Bolshevism. (They themselves broke away, trying to form a faction of their own around a paper they called Vperyod, after the Bolshevik factional paper of 1904; but this did not win much influence, and most of the Otzovists found their way back to Bolshevism in due course.)

At this same meeting a decision was taken against agitation for a separate Bolshevik congress to be convened at once, as advocated by some comrades indignant with the degeneration of the Mensheviks into “liquidationism”. The latter development had aroused misgivings among many of the Menshevik rank and file, who although they disagreed with the Bolsheviks on some important political points, shared with them the conviction that the workers must retain an independent party of their own, organised for illegal as well as legal activity. If the Bolsheviks played their cards properly they could win over a substantial section of this Menshevik rank and file; at this stage it would be wrong to take the initiative in splitting the party, although a split was inevitable in the not too distant future. A fight must be waged under the slogan of “preservation and consolidation of the RSDLP”.

One of the most influential Menshevik leaders, the veteran propagandist of Marxism, Plekhanov, came out against “liquidationism” and gathered around him these Mensheviks who regarded the continued existence of the party as sine qua non. With these “pro-party Mensheviks” Lenin formed an alliance for the specific purpose of fighting the “liquidators”. Plekhanov had played a negative role in 1904-1908 and was to return to that role later, but, in Zinoviev’s words, “during the difficult years 1909, 1910 and 1911 Plekhanov rendered invaluable services to the party”. Through his alliance with Plekhanov Lenin was able to make contact with wide sections of the Menshevik workers whom otherwise he could not have approached so easily.

The Bolsheviks’ striving to isolate and eliminate the liquidators was for a time complicated by the appearance in their own ranks of a “conciliationist” tendency which, demoralised by the shrinking in the size and influence of the RSDLP under the blows of reaction, and by the sneers of outsiders, including the spokesmen of the Second International, at the “faction-ridden” state of the Russian workers’ movement, wearily urged the dissolution of all factions, “mutual amnesty” and general brotherhood at the expense of all differences of principle. At a meeting of the Central Committee in January 1910, these “conciliationists” carried a resolution obliging everybody to dissolve their factions and close down their factional papers. The Bolsheviks fulfilled their obligations under this resolution, but the liquidators failed to do so. This open flouting of the party finally exposed the liquidators in the eyes of numerous Mensheviks, and Lenin and Plekhanov made the most of the situation. At the end of 1910 the Bolsheviks announced that they regarded themselves as released from the undertaking they had given in January, and launched a weekly paper, Zverzda, which was edited jointly with the pro-party Mensheviks.

Zvezda functioned in the years 1910-12 as Iskra had functioned in 1900-03, as the organiser of a regrouping of political forces on a basis that it helped to clarify. The task, said Lenin was not to “reconcile certain given persons and groups, irrespective of their work and attitude”, but to organise people around a “definite party line”. “Unity is inseparable from its ideological foundation.” The Bolsheviks were aided in their work now by the revival of the working-class movement, which was beginning, favoured by the boom that had started in 1909. With less danger of unemployment – and with the paralysing shock of the reaction of 1907 somewhat worn off – the workers began to recover their militant spirit. Strikes increased, and in 1912 the shooting down of some strikers in the Lena goldfields was to enable the Bolsheviks to infuse political consciousness into this militancy on a large scale. Pressed between the increasingly restive working class on the one hand and the grim wall of Tsarism on the other, the liquidators were obliged to move ever faster and show their full intentions without dallying any longer. In June 1911, Martov and Dan, leading liquidators, resigned from the editorial board of the official organ of the RSDLP and declared the latter to be no longer existent so far as they were concerned.

The moment had come to carry out the reconstitution of the party on new lines. In December 1911 Lenin was in a position to record that the Bolsheviks and pro-party Mensheviks had formed an Organisation Committee to prepare for a special party conference; that in the course of joint work these two factions had practically fused in such key centres as Baku and Kiev; and that “for the first time after four years of ruin and disintegration”, a Social Democratic leading centre had met inside Russia, issued a leaflet to the party, and begun the work of re-establishing the underground organisations that had broken up under the combined action of police terror and liquidationist propaganda.

When the special party conference met in Prague in 1912 it was found to be the most representative party gathering since the Second Congress. Every faction in the RSDLP had been invited, but only the Bolsheviks and pro-party Mensheviks attended; the underground organisations on which the conference was based were now practically entirely in the hands of these two factions. The conference took to itself all the rights and functions of a party congress, and formally expelled the liquidators from the RSDLP. A new central committee was elected to replace the one elected in 1907, which had collapsed after the fiasco of 1910; this central committee was entirely Bolshevik in composition except for one pro-party Menshevik. The faction of pro-party Mensheviks disappeared soon afterwards; while Plekhanov and a few other leaders broke with the Bolsheviks, the bulk of the rank and file came over completely to the Bolshevik position, as Lenin had foreseen. Henceforth, until it changed its name to Communist Party in 1918, the party was the RSDLP (Bolsheviks), with the Petersburg daily Pravda as its central organ. The Bolshevik faction had at last completed its development into the Bolshevik party – the party that, after fusing in 1917 with Trotsky’s Mezhrayontsi (inter-ward group), led the great October proletarian revolution.

First published in Labour Review (Britain), 1960

Brian Pearce was one of the talented group of historians who formed the British Communist Party Historians Group, and who later left the CP en masse during the upheaval surrounding Krushchev’s secret speech and the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. The historians who left the CP also included E.P. Thompson.
Brian Pearce joined the British Trotskyist group led by Gerry Healy at a time when that group was oriented to the crisis in Stalinism and before its later degeneration into extreme sectarianism.
Pearce wrote an informative column, The Constant Reader, for the SLL’s magazine, The Newsletter, published by Peter Fryer. The Constant Reader offered commentary on a vast range of political, literary and historical matters. The SLL also had a theoretical magazine, Labour Review.
Pearce was a capable linguist and translated a number of important Marxist works from various languages into English.
This article provides an important insight into an often neglected aspect of the history of the Bolshevik Party. Pearce is also the author, along with Michael Woodhouse, of a book of essays on British communist and labour movement history, which achieved the unusual feat of first being published by the SLL’s New Park and later republished by the British SWP’s Bookmarx.


1. These political differences, which are largely outside the scope of this article, were largely concerned with relations with the bourgeois liberals.

2. Until 1918 the name social democrats was common to Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

3. The view that the activity of the party would be limited to “strike making” on immediate economic issues.


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