From the discussion on this question it has become quite clear that major differences of opinion on tactics divide the various trends within the Social-Democratic Party. Who would have thought that, under such circumstances, the proposal would be made to remove all questions of principle from the Congress agenda? And what sophistic arguments were indulged in here in defence of removing these questions of principle—allegedly for the sake of being practical and business-like!
Let me remind you that the R.S.D.L.P. was long ago confronted with the question of the tasks of the proletariat in the bourgeois-democratic revolution. This question was discussed as far back as the beginning of 1905, before the revolution, both at the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P., that is, of its Bolshevik section, and at the Geneva Conference of the Mensheviks, which was held simultaneously. At the time, the Mensheviks themselves placed questions involving general principles on the agenda of their congress.
At the time, they themselves discussed the principles underlying the tactics of the proletariat in the bourgeois revolution, and adopted studied decisions on this score. The fact that it is now proposed to throw out such questions is the result of a sense of despondency, and we must fight against this frame of mind, not succumb to it!
Mention was made of the experience of the West-European Social-Democratic parties and their business-like congresses, but I must tell you that at their congresses the Germans frequently discussed questions that were more abstract and more theoretical than those dealing with an appraisal of the revolution taking place in our country, and the tasks of the proletariat in this revolution. We must not take from the experience of other parties things that bring us down to the level of some period of everyday routine. We must take that which brings us up to the level of general questions, of the tasks of the entire revolutionary struggle of the entire proletariat. We must learn from the best examples, and not from the worst.
We are told—“Serious tactical questions cannot be decided by the majority vote of a dozen”. What is this but sophistry? What is this but a helpless shift from adherence to principle to lack of principle?
A solution of the problem is never achieved through voting. For several years now we have been deciding questions of the Marxist appraisal of our revolution. For several years now we have been putting our theoretical views and general tactical decisions to the acid test of experience of our revolution. And we are now being told that it is not yet time to sum up this Party activity! It is not right, they say, to decide on the fundamental principles underlying our tactics; instead it is necessary to follow in the wake of events, making decisions from occasion to occasion....
Just recall the Stockholm Congress. At that congress the Mensheviks, who had gained the upper hand, withdrew their own resolution appraising the given period, withdrew their own resolution on the attitude towards the bourgeois parties. What was the outcome? It led to the Central Committee having no grounds of principle for the solution of problems confronting it; it led to the Central Committee being at a loss for a whole year, with no policy whatever. One day it was in favour of a constituent assembly, the next day it hurriedly advocated a Duma ministry, and the following day “the Duma as an organ of power for the convocation of a constituent assembly”; now it was a Duma with full legislative authority, then blocs with the Cadets.... Is this what you call a consistent proletarian policy? (Applause from the Centre and from the Bolshevik benches.)
We are told: “For the sake of peace in the Party, for the sake of practical work let us avoid general questions”. This is sophistry. Such questions must not be evaded; such evasion will not result in peace, but only in blinder and hence more irate and less fruitful Party strife.
Such questions cannot be evaded. They force their way into everything. Recall Plekhanov’s words at the opening of the congress: ... Since our revolution was bourgeois, he reasoned, we had to make particular haste to attract allies from among the bourgeoisie. I maintain that the principles underlying this line of reasoning are erroneous. I maintain that unless you analyse these principles you are condemning the Party to endless practical mistakes.
In this same speech Plekhanov stated that opportunism was feeble in the Russian Social-Democratic Party. This may be so if one considers the works of Plekhanov himself feeble! (Applause from the Bolshevik benches.) But I am of the opinion that opportunism manifests itself in our Party in the very fact that, at the first really general Party congress, the desire is expressed that general questions concerning the principles underlying our tactics in the bourgeois revolution should be removed from the agenda. We must not remove theoretical questions from the agenda, but raise all the practical work of our Party, to the level of theoretical clarification of the tasks of a workers’ party. (Applause from the Bolsheviks.)