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The 120th Anniversary of Bolshevism

Vadim Grebennicov

Aug 2, 2023

This month 120 years ago, the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party began its work. During the work of this congress, extremely important decisions were made. They largely determined the future of the Russian social democratic movement, as well as the fate of Russia and all mankind. In this article dedicated to the anniversary of Bolshevism, which, as we know, 'has existed as a current of political thought and as a political party since 1903,' I would like, first of all, to recall the conditions under which this momentous congress took place, its results, and its fundamental significance.

To start with, the First Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was held in Minsk in 1898. Despite announcing the formation of the party, it was not actually created. Moreover, the members of the Central Committee elected at that congress were arrested, and the party was not restored with the same composition.

After the congress, ideological disarray became noticeable in various Marxist organizations due to the fact that whole masses of revolutionary-minded young people joined them, and unfortunately, their theoretical training was very poor. Therefore, the main opportunistic trend in Russian social-democracy at that time was undoubtedly 'Economism,' the essence of which Lenin precisely defined in his pamphlet "Socialism and War": "its political essence was summed up in the programme: ‘for the workers – the economic struggle; for the liberals – the political struggle’."

During that period, there was also a considerable increase in the labor movement, and the proximity of revolution became obvious. It is apparent that those conditions dictated the need for a united and centralized political party of the working class. However, in Lenin's opinion, which was not shared by everyone at that time, before fulfilling that task, it was necessary to clearly define the objectives of the future party, begin to widely propagate the views of revolutionary social democracy, and draw a clear line of demarcation between themselves and the ‘Economists’.

Lenin and his supporters' decisive victory over their opponents during the Second Congress was largely caused by the fact that in the years preceding the Congress, Lenin resolved a number of exceedingly important issues. First of all, the all-Russia political newspaper Iskra was created, which, as Lenin later noted, 'waged a victorious struggle against 'Economism' for the principles of revolutionary Social-Democracy.' Secondly, Lenin worked out a plan for creating the party and determined what its character and role should be in relation to the working class. He believed that the future party should become the vanguard of the proletariat, and its main task at the moment should be 'to develop the political consciousness of the workers (to the level of Social-Democratic political consciousness).'

In his book "What is to be Done?" Lenin presented his vision of the party of the working class and revealed all the vices and shortcomings of the opportunist philosophy of 'Economism,' proving that they mislead the working class and betray its interests, and, in fact, represent a party not of revolutionaries but of reformists.

So, by July 1903, Lenin and his supporters had a clear idea of what the party of the proletariat that was to be created should be. In addition, Lenin made a complete ideological rout of 'Economism,' and thanks to the wide dissemination of his work "What is to be Done?" by the time of the opening of the Second Congress of the RSDLP, most party workers perceived the nickname "economist" as an insult.

Meanwhile, the newspaper Iskra, created by Lenin at the turn of the century, had already become the main exponent of the revolutionary tasks of the new revolutionary era and was actively fighting for the creation of a unified revolutionary party of the proletariat.

In his book "What is to be Done?" Lenin presented his vision of the party of the working class, as well as revealed all the vices and shortcomings of the opportunistic philosophy of the ‘Economists’, proving that they misled the working class and betrayed its interests and, in fact, represented a party not of revolutionaries but of reformists.

So, by July 1903, Lenin and his supporters had a clear idea of what the party of the proletariat that was to be created should represent. In addition, Lenin brought about a complete ideological rout of ‘Economism,’ and thanks to the wide dissemination of his work "What is to be Done?" by the time of the opening of the Second Congress of the RSDLP, most party workers perceived the nickname "economist" as an insult. Meanwhile, the newspaper Iskra, created by Lenin at the turn of the century, had already become the main representative of the tasks of the new revolutionary era and was actively used in the fight for the creation of a united revolutionary party of the proletariat.

On July 17 (30), 1903, the Second Congress of the RSDLP opened, bringing together several dozen delegates representing 26 organizations. Its main task, as Lenin would later say in his work "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back," was ‘to create a real party on the basis of the principles and organizational ideas that had been advanced and elaborated by Iskra.’

A significant number of fundamental issues were discussed at the congress, and the future of the Russian labor movement was being decided. Therefore, Lenin attached great importance to it and experienced incredible nervous tension throughout its work. His wife N. Krupskaya later recalled the following details: ‘His nerves had been keyed up from the very beginning of the congress. The Belgian woman worker with whom we lodged in Brussels was very upset at Vladimir Ilyich not eating the lovely radishes and Dutch cheese which she served up for breakfast every morning. He was too worried to be able to eat anything. In London, he worried so much that he stopped sleeping altogether.’

The situation at the congress was incredibly difficult because it was the arena of a fierce struggle between Lenin and his supporters against opportunists of all stripes who disputed the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat in the party program and also opposed the provision on the introduction of socialist consciousness into the working-class movement by a Marxist party of a new type.

In his speeches at the congress, Lenin consistently defended the above-mentioned provision on the dictatorship of the proletariat, the inclusion of which in the party program could be considered a great victory for Lenin's supporters. This addition made the program of the proletarian party truly revolutionary. In addition, Lenin also justified the importance of the agrarian part of the program, convincingly proving that the peasantry could become the proletariat's ally: ‘it cannot be doubted that, under certain conditions, it is by no means impossible for one section or another of the working people to come over to the side of the proletariat. The important thing is to define these conditions correctly.’

Lenin considered that the socialists' main task was ‘to show the peasants where the revolutionary proletarian task of the peasant proletariat begins.’ Vladimir Lenin refuted the accusations of naivety coming from the delegates opposing him, who tried to prove that Lenin's hope for the peasants was absolutely unjustified. He also dealt a crushing blow to the objections that ‘the peasants will not be satisfied with our programme’ and ‘will go further,’ stating that ‘we are not afraid of that; we have our socialist programme for that eventuality, and consequently are not afraid even of a redistribution of the land.’

It's obvious that the dispute between Lenin and the opportunists on the peasant problem was based on the fact that the latter simply did not want a revolution and, therefore, expressed disdain for the proletariat's ally in the future revolution – the peasantry. Lenin, on the contrary, passionately desired the overthrow of the old state system and was absolutely convinced that in this struggle, the working class would certainly find an ally in the face of the peasantry. Finally, the agrarian part of the party's program, developed by Lenin, was included in the final document.

Lenin's principles on the national question were also supported by the Congress. In more detail, he expressed them in his article "The National Question in our Programme." In this work, he justified the need for ‘recognition of the right to self-determination for all nations forming part of the state,’ noting that ‘the Social-Democrats will always combat every attempt to influence national self-determination from without by violence or by any injustice.’ During the discussion of this issue, the Bundists and the Polish Social Democrats tried to object to Lenin. The further course of events once again proved that Lenin was completely right, since the recognition of the right of nations to self-determination up to secession made it possible to attract all nationalities oppressed by the tsarist regime to the side of the Bolsheviks and involve them in the common cause of building the most just state on the planet, based primarily on the principle of proletarian internationalism.

In the end, the Congress adopted the program developed by Iskra. This document defined both the immediate tasks of the proletariat to be fulfilled during the bourgeois-democratic revolution (minimum program) and its main tasks (maximum program): the implementation of the socialist revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Lenin and his supporters also received the support of most delegates on the issue of the organizational principles of party building. For example, the delegates from the Bund, who were present at the Congress, argued that their organization was the only representative of the Jewish proletariat in Russia, and therefore, it should be granted the right to join the party on a federal basis. Lenin tried to prove convincingly that a party of a new type should be based solely on the principles of internationalism. In other words, it couldn't be built on federal principles, as the Bundists proposed because it could split the party along national lines.

As for the party charter, Lenin and his supporters succeeded in defending the principle of centralism in building the party. We have covered the main issues discussed at that important congress, as well as the decisions that were taken during the voting. Now, I would like to move on to the most significant aspect: the fundamental significance of this congress for the Russian Social Democratic movement of the XX century and for us, the Communists of the XXI century.

Undoubtedly, the Second Congress of the RSDLP can be considered a turning point not only in the Russian labor movement but also in the world. A proletarian party of a new type was created at it, which played a decisive role in the Russian workers' victorious revolutionary struggle against the autocratic regime and the capitalist system.

Many years later, in the pamphlet ‘Socialism and War,’ Lenin precisely defined the significance of the party program approved at the congress: ‘For a number of years before the revolution, Social-Democracy advocated the most consistent and uncompromising program. Both the class struggle and the action of the masses during the 1905 revolution confirmed the correctness of this program.’

The Bolsheviks always relied on the program adopted at the Second Congress of the RSDLP. Therefore, they managed to come to power in 1917, realize the revolution in the countryside in 1918, and implement numerous socialist transformations in all areas of the country's life. In the 20-30s, the Bolsheviks carried out an unprecedented modernization of the country. In 1945, they led the Soviet people to victory in the Great Patriotic War, and then they organized the restoration of the national economy of the country and ensured its further development.

Without any doubt, this program deserves our attention because it was the main guiding document of the Bolshevik Party during several revolutions, during which they managed to confirm the correctness of its provisions and prove the possibility of its implementation. We should also deeply analyze the ideas and principles of Bolshevism, whose anniversary we are celebrating today because only in this way, armed with the theory tested in practice and the experience of our great predecessors, will we be able to come to the final establishment of a socialist system in Russia and other countries.

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