Sixth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party Bolshevik
Sixth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (Bolshevik)
a congress held from July 26 to Aug. 3 (Aug. 8–16), 1917, in Petrograd. The congress was attended by 157 voting delegates and 110 delegates with observer status. More than 176,000 of the 240,000 party members were represented at the congress.
The agenda included a number of reports. Ia. M. Sverdlov delivered the report of the Organizational Bureau. The Central Committee’s political report was given by J. V. Stalin; its organizational report, by Sverdlov; and its financial report, by I. T. Smilga. In addition to regional reports, the congress heard reports on current problems: N. I. Bukharin spoke on the war and the international situation, and Stalin and V. P. Miliutin apprised the congress of the country’s political economic situation. Also on the agenda was the discussion of various issues, among them the revision of the party program, organizational questions, the Constituent Assembly elections, the International (this point was withdrawn at the 15th session), party unification, and the trade union movement. Finally, the agenda included elections and miscellaneous matters.
A number of questions on the agenda were sent to sections for further study (the results of the sections’ work were discussed at plenary sessions of congresses). M. M. Kharitonov reported to the congress for the organizational section, N. P. Glebov-Avilov, for the trade union section, and R. S. Zemliachka, for the propaganda and agitation section. The congress heard V. N. Podbel’skii’s report from the section that studied revision of the party program, as well as that of B. Z. Shumiatskii from the section that examined the issue of the Constituent Assembly elections. Kharitonov delivered a report for the subsection that reviewed the question of youth organizations, and Smilga read a supplementary report from the subsection. The report on the work of the military section was published in the newspaper Rabochii i soldat on August 6 (19).
Meeting after the July Days of 1917, the congress began its sessions in a “semilegal” status; that is, the press reported its convocation but did not reveal its location. Beginning on July 29 (August 11), threatened with the arrest of its delegates, the congress conducted its business illegally. On that day, 21 members and 10 candidate members were elected to the Central Committee of the RSDLP(B). V. I. Lenin directed the work of the congress from the locality of Razliv, where he was in hiding. He sent his theses on the political situation to the congress and maintained constant communication with the body’s presidium.
One of the first issues discussed at the congress was whether Lenin should appear in court to answer a summons issued by the Provisional Government for his arrest and to confront the slanderous campaign against the Bolshevik party and its leader. The congress decided unanimously that Lenin should not appear and expressed its protest against the government’s harassment of the leader of the proletariat.
The political report noted that the Central Committee was following the path of socialist revolution adopted by the Seventh (April) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP(B) under the slogan “All power to the soviets!” It was adhering as well to the positions of worker control of production and distribution .confiscation of the lands of the pomeshchiki (landowning gentry) and the transfer of those lands to the peasants, and withdrawal from the imperialist war. An account was given of the party tactics during the June and July crises and of the leading role the Bolsheviks were playing in the struggle against counterrevolution. The organizational report of the Central Committee reviewed the principal forms and methods of leadership of local party organizations, the distribution of party forces in the country, and the role of the Central Committee’s central organ, the newspaper Pravda.
The congress devoted special attention to a review of current problems and to the development of a new political course for the party. The report on the war and the international situation presented a broad picture of foreign political conditions contributing to the development of the revolution. The speaker, however, made fundamental errors in his assessment of the revolution’s driving forces and of its prospects. He asserted that the peasants were unified with the bourgeoisie and would not follow the working class. Bukharin did not agree with Lenin’s conclusion that a socialist revolution could be victorious in one country alone; rather, he believed that the mission of Russian revolution was to “kindle the flames of world socialist revolution.” Looking upon the Russian revolution as merely a “stimulus” to revolution in the West, he denied in essence the possibility of achieving a revolutionary victory in Russia without the aid of proletarian revolutions in Western Europe. The congress rejected Bukharin’s erroneous statements and those of E. A. Preobrazhenskii, who supported him.
The congress clearly defined in a resolution the domestic and foreign conditions necessary for the Russian proletariat to carry out its struggle. It was noted that international imperialism was acting in concert with the Russian counterrevolution. The course of development of the revolution and the positions of the classes and parties in the political crises experienced by the country were analyzed, and it was pointed out that compromising with the policies of the Provisional Government and supporting the offensive at the front had inevitably placed the Menshevik and SR (Socialist Revolutionary) parties on the side of counterrevolution. It was also noted that, with the end of dual power, the soviets headed by the Mensheviks and the SR’s were no longer agencies of power, for that power was now concentrated in the hands of the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie.
The report on the political situation revealed the current alignment of class forces and outlined ways to intensify the revolution. Analysis of the preceding period showed that had the soviets decided to take power before the July political crisis there would have been no one to oppose them. Since the counterrevolution had organized and strengthened itself during the July events, however, the soviets could no longer take power peacefully. Following Lenin’s instructions, Stalin argued for a temporary retreat from the slogan “All power to the soviets!” At the same time, he emphasized the need to use the soviets as agencies of the revolutionary mobilization of the masses. Recording in a resolution that a painless transition of power to the soviets had become impossible, the congress temporarily withdrew the slogan. The resolution asserted that “the right slogan at the present time can only be the complete abolition of the dictatorship of the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie” [Shestoi s”ezd RSDLP(b): Protokoly, 1958, p. 256]. The congress chose the path of an armed uprising and of preparing the masses for a nationwide crisis and a profound revolutionary upsurge, which together would create the conditions for victory.
The report on the economic situation pointed out that the country was on the brink of disaster as a result of the ruling class’s policies, which were detrimental to the people’s interests. A resolution emphasized that a socialist revolution was the only way out of economic devastation and the imperialist war and would guarantee preservation of Russia’s national independence and self-reliance. The resolution substantiated the party’s economic program and defined the prerequisites for renewal of the country’s economic life on a socialist foundation.
The congress gave its support to the decisions of the April Conference of the RSDLP(B), including the decision to call a special congress for the purpose of revising the party program. The congress also adopted new party Rules.
In the resolution On Unification of the Party, the congress advanced a “revolutionary class slogan calling for unity of all internationalists who have broken with the Menshevik imperialists” (ibid., p. 269). In addition, the congress approved the admission of the Mezhraiontsy to the party.
On the issue of the trade union movement, the congress urged the trade unions of Russia to take the initiative in reestablishing an international organization of the trade unions that rejected the imperialist war and supported the class struggle. The congress pointed to the need to bolster party influence in the trade unions in order to transform them into fighting organizations of the working class in the struggle for communism.
Methods and techniques for working among the masses and a program to prepare the party for the decisive battles ahead were formulated in the recommendation of the military section, in the resolution On Propaganda, and in the resolutions pertaining to the tasks of the party in the trade union movement, to youth leagues, and to the election campaign for the Constituent Assembly. Special attention was devoted to setting up socialist class organizations of young people—the forerunners of the Lenin Komsomol—and to work among the soldiers and sailors. The great importance of agitation among toiling peasants was also pointed out.
The decisions of the congress were aimed at developing revolutionary initiative and independent action among the popular masses and were permeated with the Leninist idea that an alliance between the working class and the poor peasants would be a deciding factor in the victory of the socialist revolution. These decisions are a model of creative Marxism and of the development of revolutionary strategy and tactics in a concrete historical situation.
The congress demonstrated the readiness of the Bolshevik party to lead the masses in the assault on capitalism and in the struggle to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. Commissioned by the congress, and on its behalf, the Central Committee of the RSDLP(B) issued a manifesto to “all the working people and to all workers, soldiers, and peasants of Russia.” Its concluding lines rang out a powerful appeal: “A new movement is approaching and the hour of death for the old world will come. Prepare for new battles, our fighting comrades! Steadfastly, courageously, and calmly, not giving in to provocation, collect your strength and form fighting columns! Proletarians and soldiers, gather under the banner of the party! Oppressed villages, gather under our banner!” (ibid., p. 276).
REFERENCESLenin, V. I. “Materialy po peresmotru partiinoi programmy.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 32.
Lenin, V. I. “Politicheskoe polozhenie (chetyre tezisa).” Ibid., vol. 34.
Lenin, V. I. “K lozungam.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Uroki revoliutsii.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Proekt rezoliutsii o sovremennom politicheskom momente.” Ibid.
Shestois”ezd RSDLP(b): Protokoly. Moscow, 1958.
KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh i resheniiakh s”ezdov, konferentsii i plenumov TsK, 8th ed., vol. 1. Moscow, 1970.
Istoriia KPSS, vol. 3, book 1. Moscow, 1967.
A. M. SOVOKIN