[Marxism] Re: A sectarian approach

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Nov 13 19:28:52 MST 2005

Well, I think Louis misses my point, partly because he doesn't
understand my point, partly because I didn't understand my own point
until he led his reply.

Louis says that the debate over the membership issue was the debate over
the membership issue.  While Lenin makes strong, and I think reasonable
(not the same as right for all times and seasons), arguments on this, I
don't think he ever says that this was the issue.  The key for him was
the debate with the Economists, the course the party had been on in his

The issue was to relaunch the RSDLP as a true socialist, working class
political party and not just a satellite of trade unionism -- "giving
the economic struggle itself a political character," as the Economist
journal put it.

Lenin, who never dreamed -- never dreamed or considered for a moment the
possibility of splitting over the membership provision -- might very
well have split if those who feared his leadership as a challenge to the
older generation had blocked with the Economists against his stand on
that issue.

But they didn't.  They blocked with him.  As far as he was concerned,
this obviated the need for a split over ANY issue.  There was basic
agreement on the political course to be followed or so it seemed, and,
to some extent, really was.

Would Lenin have split if the vote had gone against him on the Editorial
Board.  I doubt it.  He wanted a more efficient, smaller, more effective
in-his-view board.
But the vote went for him.  If he simply retreated in the face of that,
what would the conference decision amount to.  Nothing.  Any
dissatisfied individual with some prestige could simply overturn them.

And the others split over THIS, despite their agreement with Lenin -- or
so everyone of them believed at the time on the issues of political

The real difference in organization conception was laid out by those who
split, not by Lenin in the end.  They wanted a party where the older
generation leaders would have a veto, whether they won or lost the vote.

Lenin was stuck in what he knew was an unfortunate position.  But the
revolt against his emergence as a central leader of the party had forced
the issue.  Would the conference decisions matter?  He felt he had to
stick with it and not compromise.  And they saw that he was not just
rejecting the Economists programmatically, in theory, but was aiming at
a kind of party where the older generation -- accompanied to having
their way personally -- would be subject to the decisions of an
organization, even if not a super-disciplined one, and this definitely

Lenin put the political line first, but he got stuck in an
organizational split despite this.  I think he probably would have put
Martov on the board if he had believed this would happen but he didn't
and the issue blew up in his face by surprise, I believe. The first sign
that political issues MIGHT be involved was the decision of Martov,
Plekhanov, etc. that they could live with the Economists and Bundists to
make an effective -- if not official -- majority in the RSDLP.

Lenin's horror at being abandoned by his early political advocate
Plekhanov is described in the emotionally upset article "How The Spark
[Iskra] was nearly extinguished."

Even then, of course, the differences developed slowly.  Trotsky, who
supported the minority at the editorial board and joined in the yelling
at the dictator Lenin who felt he had no choice but to stick with the
majority decision without undermining the whole course that had been
taken, did not separate clearly from the Menshevik faction until the
runup to 1905.

For Lenin, the membership question was very important but it in no sense
justified any split at all.  Nor, in his opinion, did the membership in
the Editorial Board.  Although Lenin did not face this question, I think
conference endorsement or conciliation of the Economist line might well
have been a different matter.
Fred Feldman 

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