First Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party

First Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party

 

a congress held illegally in Minsk on Mar. 1–3 (13–15), 1898. It was called on the initiative of the St. Petersburg Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, headed by V. I. Lenin. As early as December 1895, Lenin, while in prison, drafted a program for a Social Democratic party and insisted that a congress be called (see N. K. Krupskaia, Lenin i partiia, 1963, p. 53). But continuing mass arrests of Social Democrats in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and other cities of Central Russia made it impossible at that time to carry out the practical work of preparing for a party congress. Soon the idea of convening a congress was taken up by the Kiev Social Democrats, whose organization had survived police repression.

In March 1897 a precongress conference of representatives from the Social Democratic organizations of Kiev and St. Petersburg was held. A decision was made to begin preparations for a congress and to arrange for the publication of a country-wide Social Democratic newspaper, Rabochaia gazeta. The first issue appeared in Kiev in August 1897, and the second in December. The newspaper discussed the workers’ movement in Russia and called upon local Social Democratic circles to close ranks in a single proletarian party.

An important part in the ideological preparations for the congress was played by Lenin’s pamphlet The Tasks of the Russian Social Democrats (1897), which highlighted the problem of uniting the uncoordinated Social Democratic organizations in the country and coordinating their activity. The organizers faced considerable difficulties.

In the late 1890’s the first signs of the opportunist tendency of economism appeared in the ranks of the Russian Social Democratic movement. In familiarizing certain local Social Democratic organizations with the proposed agenda for the congress, the supporters of Rabochaia gazeta strove to maintain the principled position worked out by Lenin’s Union of Struggle and by other unions. As a result, the Social Democrats who published the newspaper Rabochaia mysl’ in St. Petersburg and representatives of the Odessa and Nikolaev Social Democratic groups were not admitted to the congress on the grounds that they were not sufficiently reliable and covert groups. The Union of Russian Social Democrats Abroad was also not invited to the congress for fear that its delegates, being unfamiliar with the conditions in Russia, would not be able to observe the necessary conditions of secrecy. The Kharkov Social Democratic group refused to participate in the congress, declaring the time was not right for founding a party. The Lithuanian Social Democratic Party agreed to send a delegate to the congress but subsequently refused to do so.

The congress was held in the apartment of the Social Democrat P. V. Rumiantsev, a railroad employee, in a building on Zakhar’evskaia Street, on the outskirts of Minsk. (During the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, the building was burned down by the fascist German invaders but was completely restored and is now the Museum of the First Congress of the RSDLP on Lenin Prospect.) The congress was attended by nine delegates, representing the largest Social Democratic organizations in Russia—the St. Petersburg, Moscow, Ekaterinoslav, and Kiev Unions of Struggle, as well as the Rabochaia gazeta supporters, and the Bund. There were six sessions in all. For purposes of secrecy, no minutes were kept and only the resolutions were noted down.

The main issue was the formation of the party. The congress proclaimed the establishment of a Marxist workers’ party and passed a resolution naming it the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, a party representing the proletariat of all the nationalities of Russia. A unanimously adopted resolution stated that all the organizations represented at the congress “were merging into a single organization called the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party” (KPSS v rezoliutsiakh…, 8th ed., vol. 1, 1970, p. 16). The congress elected the Central Committee of the RSDLP consisting of three members: S. I. Radchenko from the St. Petersburg Union of Struggle, B. L. Eidel’man from the Rabochaia gazeta group, and A. I. Kremer from the Bund. Rabochaia gazeta was proclaimed the party’s official organ. The Union of Russian Social Democrats Abroad was recognized as a unit of the party and its representative abroad. The congress instructed the Central Committee members to draft a manifesto of the Russian Social Democratic labor party, stating the party’s immediate political tasks. The manifesto and resolutions of the congress, which were printed in leaflet form, were regarded by revolutionary Social Democrats in Russia as documents of historic importance and met with Lenin’s approval. After the congress, the Social Democratic organizations and unions were designated committees of the RSDLP.

Although the First Congress of the RSDLP constituted a milestone in the history of the creation of a Marxist party of the Russian proletariat, it did not succeed in overcoming the ideological and organizational fragmentation of the Social Democratic movement. It did not produce a program or party rules. The situation was further aggravated when many party organizations were broken up by the police immediately after the congress, and the majority of congress delegates, including the Central Committee members, were arrested. In addition, the third issue of Rabochaia gazeta, about to be printed, was seized by the police along with the printing press. The Social Democratic movement in Russia entered a period of “disunity and vacillation,” during which the dominant influence of the opportunist “economists” made the party amateurish and cliquish (see V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 9, p. 51; and vol. 16, p. 100). It took no less than five years (1899–1903) of stubborn struggle against the Russian and foreign opportunists by Lenin and his supporters before a party could be established and consolidated on revolutionary Marxist principles, and before the basis for its ideological and organizational unity could be laid. In July 1903, at the Second Congress of the RSDLP, called by the editorial board of Iskra, the process of uniting the revolutionary Marxist organizations was completed and the party of the Russian working class was founded—a new type of proletarian party, the great Bolshevik Party of Lenin (see “O 70-letii II s”ezda RSDRP,” Postanovlenie TsK KPSS ot 4 apr. 1973, 1973, p. 3).

REFERENCES

Lenin, V. I. “Proekt i ob”iasnenie programmy sotsial-demokraticheskoi partii.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 2.
Lenin, V. I. “Zadachi russkikh sotsial-demokratov.” Ibid., vol. 2.
Lenin, V. I. “Zaiavlenie redaktsii ‘Iskry.’” Ibid., vol. 4. (See also index volume, part 1, p. 272.)
Pervyi s”ezd RSDRP: Dokumenty i materialy. Moscow, 1958.
KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh i resheniiakh s”ezdov, konferentsii i plenumov TsK, 8th ed., vol. 1. Moscow, 1970.
Istoriia KPSS, vol. 1, Moscow, 1964.

A. F. KOSTIN

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