Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party


held from July 17 (30) to Aug. 10 (23), 1903. Until July 24 (Aug. 6) the congress met in Brussels, but the Belgian police forced the delegates to leave the country; the congress transferred its meeting to London. A total of 37 sessions were held (13 in Brussels and 24 in London). The calling of the congress was a result of the tremendous work toward unification of Russian revolutionary social democracy carried out by the editorial board and organization of Iskra under the leadership of V. I. Lenin. A total of 26 organizations were represented at the congress: the group Liberation of Labor, the Russian organization of Iskra, the St. Petersburg Committee, the St. Petersburg Workers’ Organization, the Moscow Committee, the Kharkov Committee, the Kiev Committee, the Odessa Committee, the Nikolaev Committee, the Crimean Union, the Don Committee, the Union of Mining and Metallurgical Workers, the Ekaterinoslav Committee, the Saratov Committee, the Tiflis Committee, the Baku Committee, the Batumi Committee, the Ufa Committee, the Northern Workers’ Union, the Siberian Union, the Tula Committee, the Bund Committee Abroad, the Central Committee of the Bund, the League of Russian Revolutionary Social Democracy Abroad, the Union of Russian Social Democrats Abroad, and the Southern Workers’ Group. The congress was attended by a total of 43 delegates with 51 deciding votes and 14 delegates with an advisory vote, representing several thousand Party members. The chief task of the congress, which was held in conditions of a bitter struggle between revolutionary Marxists and opportunists was “to create a real Party on the basis of the principles and organizational ideas that had been advanced and elaborated by Iskra” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 8, p. 193).

The congress opened with an introductory speech by G. V. Plekhanov. The agenda consisted of the following: (1) The constitution of the congress. Election of the bureau. Establishment of the regulations and the agenda of the congress. Report of the Organizing Committee, speaker V. N. Rozanov (Popov); report of the committee on credentials and the determination of the composition of the congress, B. A. Ginzburg (Kol’tsov). (2) The place of the Bund in the RSDLP, speaker Liber (M. I. Gol’dman), cospeaker L. Martov (lu. O. Tsederbaum). (3) The Party program. (4) The Central Organ of the Party. (5) Reports of delegates. (6) The organization of the Party (discussion of the organizational rules of the Party), speaker V. I. Lenin. (7) Regional and national organizations, speaker from the rules committee, V. A. Noskov (Glebov). (8) Separate Party groups, introductory speech by V. I. Lenin. (9) The national question. (10) The economic struggle and the trade-union movement. (11) The May Day celebration. (12) The International Socialist Congress of 1904 in Amsterdam. (13) Demonstrations and uprisings. (14) Terrorism. (15) Internal problems of Party work: (a) organization of propaganda, (b) organization of agitation, (c) organization of Party literature, (d) organization of work among the peasants, (e) organization of work in the army, (f) organization of work among students, and (g) organization of work among members of sects. (16) The attitude of the RSDLP toward the Socialist Revolutionaries. (17) The attitude of the RSDLP towards the Russian liberal movements. (18) Elections of the Central Committee and the editorial board of the Central Organ of the Party. (19) Election of the Party Council. (20) Procedures for spreading the decisions and protocols of the congress as well as procedures for assuming the exercise of duties by elected officials and institutions. The question of Party rules was discussed under point 6 of the agenda.

V. I. Lenin was elected to the bureau of the congress, chaired several sessions, spoke on almost all questions, and was a member of the program, organizational, and credentials committees.

The most important task of the congress was to adopt a Party program; it was discussed at nine sessions. In the summer of 1901 the editorial board of Iskra and Zaria began the preparation of a draft program of the Party. The draft incorporating almost all the corrections and amendments introduced by Lenin to two draft programs by Plekhanov was presented to the congress. Lenin insisted that the final version of the draft clearly formulate the basic thesis of Marxism on the dictatorship of the proletariat (Plekhanov vacillated on this question) and on hegemony of the proletariat in the revolutionary struggle and that it emphasize the proletarian character of the Party and its leading role in the liberation movement in Russia. Lenin wrote the agrarian part of the program. A bitter struggle broke out at the congress during the discussion of the draft program. Akimov (V. P. Makhnovets), Pikker (A. S. Martynov), and the Bundist Liber op-posed the inclusion in the program of the point on the dictatorship of the proletariat on the grounds that the programs of Western European Social Democratic parties did not contain such a point. L. D. Trotsky declared that the dictator-ship of the proletariat would be realized only when the proletariat became the majority in the “nation” and when the Party and the working class “would be closest to identification”—that is, when they merged. Characterizing the views of the opportunists as social reformists, Lenin said that “they went so far as … to dispute the dictatorship of the proletariat” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 7, p. 271). Lenin vigorously opposed the attempts of the “economists” Martynov and Akimov to introduce a number of “correctiqns” into the program surreptitiously (Akimov alone proposed 21 of them) in the spirit of the “theory of spontaneity” and of denying the importance of introducing socialist consciousness into the labor movement and of the leading role of the revolutionary party in it.

There were also fundamental differences during the discussion of the agrarian part of the program. The opportunists, not believing in the revolutionary potential of the peasantry, essentially opposed an alliance of the working class and the peasantry. Lenin demonstrated the importance of the peasantry as an ally of the proletariat and substantiated the revolutionary demands of returning the otrezki (cut-off lands) as a means of destroying one of the vestiges of serfdom, and showed the need for differentiating the demands of the agrarian program during the bourgeois democratic and socialist revolutions. A struggle with the opportunists also broke out on the national question—that is, the right of nations to self-determination. This right was opposed by the Polish Social Democrats and by the Bundists. The Polish Social Democrats erroneously believed that this point would play into the hands of the Polish nationalists. The Bundists adopted the anti-Marxist position of cultural national autonomy. The struggle against the opportunists on questions of the program ended with the victory of the supporters of Iskra.

The congress adopted the Iskra program, which was com-posed of two parts—a maximum program and a minimum program. The maximum program dealt with the final goal of the Party—the organization of socialist society—and with the conditions of bringing about this goal, the socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The minimum program elucidated the immediate tasks of the Party: the overthrow of tsarist autocracy, the establishment of a democratic republic, the introduction of an eight-hour workday, the affirmation of full equality of all nations, the affirmation of the right to self-determination, the destruction of the vestiges of serfdom in the countryside, and the return to peasants of land that landlords had taken away from them (the otrezki). At a later time the Bolsheviks replaced the demand of the return of the otrezki by the principle of confiscation of all landlords’ lands (at the Third Congress of the RSDLP in 1905).

The congress adopted a Marxist program that was radically different from the programs of the Social Democratic parties in the Western European countries. It recognized the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat and set the task of fighting for it. The program provided the scientific foundation for the strategy and tactics of the revolutionary party of the the proletariat. The RSDLP, thanks to the program adopted by the congress, was the only political party in Russia whose activity wholly conformed to the interests of the country and of the revolutionary people. Guided by this program, the party of the Bolsheviks, the Communist Party, successfully fought for the victory of the bourgeois democratic and socialist revolutions in Russia.

The struggle at the congress became especially bitter during the discussion of the draft rules of the Party, which had been written by Lenin, especially of the first paragraph dealing with Party membership. Lenin proposed the following formulation: “A Party member is one who accepts its pro-gram and who supports the Party both financially and by personal participation in one of the Party organizations.” Martov and his followers believed that a Party member did not have to be a member of a Party organization or work in it—that is, that he did not have to accept Party discipline. According to Martov’s formulation, a Party member could be “one who accepts its program, supports the Party financially, and renders it regular personal assistance under the direction of one of its organizations.” The struggle essentially reflected different views of what the Party should be. The Leninists wanted a cohesive, militant, clearly organized, and disciplined proletarian party. The followers of Martov advocated a loose, heterogeneous, poorly formed, and essentially petit-bourgeois party. As a result of the alliance of all the opportunistic elements (Bundists, “economists,” centrists, and “soft” Iskra supporters), the congress adopted, with a majority of 28 votes against 22 and with one abstention, the first paragraph of the statutes in Martov’s formulation. Only at the Third Congress of the RSDLP (1905) was the mistake corrected and Lenin’s formulation of the first paragraph of the rules adopted.

All the remaining paragraphs of the rules were adopted by the Second Congress in Lenin’s formulation. This was of great importance in the struggle for the Iskra organizational plan, on the basis of which a revolutionary Marxist party in Russia arose and gathered strength. The congress set up the Party centers: the Central Organ, the Central Committee, and the Party Council. It was decided to do away with the abnormal situation abroad, where there were two social democratic organizations: the Iskra League of Russian Revolutionary Social Democracy Abroad and the “economist” Union of Russian Social Democrats Abroad. The Second Congress recognized the league as the only RSDLP organization abroad. In protest two representatives of the union left the congress. Five Bundists also left the congress after the congress refused to accept the Bund into the RSDLP on the basis of federalism and rejected the Bund ultimatum to recognize it as the only representative of the Jewish workers in Russia. The departure of seven anti-Iskra delegates from the congress changed the configuration offorces at the congress in favor of the consistent Iskra supporters.

In the election to the central Party institutions Lenin and his followers won a decisive victory. Lenin, Martov, and Plekhanov were elected to the editorial board of Iskra. But Martov refused to work on the editorial board. The congress elected G. M. Krzhizhanovskii, F. V. Lengnik (both in absentia), and V. A. Noskov, a delegate to the congress with an advisory vote, to the Party’s Central Committee. All three were followers of Lenin. Furthermore, Plekhanov was elected fifth member of the Party Council (the Party Council had five members: two from the editorial board of the Central Organ, two from the Central Committee, and the fifth member elected by the congress). From that time on Lenin’s followers, who received a majority in the election to the central Party institutions, were called Bolsheviks, and Lenin’s opponents, who received a minority, Mensheviks. Lenin wrote the drafts of most of the resolutions adopted by the congress: on the place of the Bund in the RSDLP, on the economic struggle, on May Day celebration, on the international congress, on demonstrations, on terrorism, on propaganda, on attitudes towards students, on Party literature, and on the distribution offerees. The congress also adopted decisions on several tactical questions, among them an attitude towards the liberal bourgeoisie and the Socialist Revolutionaries, on the trade-union struggle, and on demonstrations.

The Second Congress was a significant event in world his-tory. It was a turning point in the Russian and international labor movement. The major result of the congress was the formation in Russia of a revolutionary Marxist party, the party of the Bolsheviks. “Bolshevism,” Lenin pointed out, “has existed as a current of political thought and as a political party since 1903” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 41, p. 6).


Lenin, V.I. “II s“ezd RSDRP, 17(30)iiulia-10(23)avgusta 1903 g.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 7.
Lenin, V. I. “Rasskaz o II s“ezde RSDRP.” Ibid., vol. 8.
Lenin, V. I. “Shag vpered, dva shaga nazad.” Ibid.
KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh i resheniiakh s’’ezdov, konferentsii iplenumov TsK, 7th ed., part 1. [Moscow] 1954.
Vtorois’’ezdRSDRP, iiul’-avgust 1903g.:Protokoly. Moscow, 1959.
Istoriia KPSS, vol. 1. Moscow, 1964.
Krupskaia, N. K. Vospominaniia o Lenine. Moscow, 1957.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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