I A Rubanovich speech at the 1st SR party congress, arguing against the project for a "People's Socialist Party"
Translator's note: One of the most contentious issues discussed at the
1st congress of the SR Party at the end of 1905 was the question of abandoning
underground work and armed struggle and establishing a legal, open party.
At issue were not only different perspectives on the likely future development
of the Russian revolution and prospects for legal activity, but also ideological
orientation of the SRs. The call for a legal, open party was particularly
associated with those on the right wing of the party whose socialism shaded
into liberalism. For the other side to this argument, expressed a few
months later, see the document on this site by V A Myakotin.
I A Rubanovich (1859-1922) was a veteran narodnik, who from 1904 onwards
was the SR party's permanent representative at the Socialist International.
Speech by Il'ya Adol'fovich Rubanovich ("comrade Sevich") at the 1st congress of the Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries, evening session, 30 December 1905
I think that this proposal to create a new party could only be made on the basis of the assumption that we do not have a programme. We are socialist-revolutionaries, we are a fighting organisation, with achievements to our credit, but for some reason people do not recognise us as a party, maybe because we do not have a definite, formally adopted and confirmed programme. Yes, in that banal sense of the word, we do not have a programme, but in fact we do have one, as is shown not only by the activity of the SR party over the past five years in Russia, but also by its position in the ranks of international socialism. We should not confuse programmatic certainty with the existence of a formally adopted short text. I will state that I am against turning our party into some kind of open party. Our party is the party which is organising a people's revolution, and we can come out when we, so to speak, crystallise into an open party once we have the necessary political freedoms. It has been suggested here that if we have the chance to create a parallel open organisation, then for a time there will be no discipline within it. That would be a mistake. What sort of party is it which, even temporarily, has no discipline? Its open character would be no reason for that. Of the 24 countries represented in the International, Russia is the only one with underground parties; in the other 23 all parties are strictly organised and disciplined, and even submit themselves to international discipline, as the Jaurès party showed in France. It has been suggested that the most diverse elements, currently standing aside, might join an open party. That is a misunderstanding. If we permit it, we shall kill off our existing organisation without having created anything new or lasting, and then the space we have vacated will be occupied solely by the social-democrats. If we are talking about people of our own tendency who clearly feel that socialist discipline is burdensome, well, they can exist as a literary current, without creating a new party. Any speaker or writer can be enormously influential, they do not need a party for that... In the speeches of the comrades who spoke I discerned one more tendency against which I protest. I consider it demeaning for the party to have to point out that the class struggle is the essential starting point for any socialist party. I declare that it is a mistake to point not to the 35 years of our past activity, but to the period of Catherine II and Radishchev. The campaign of going to the people came from Bakunin, Marx and the International, the basic principle of which was the class struggle. [From members of the "group": "What about Lavrov? What about Zhelyabov?"] Lavrov used to say that before he write his "Historical Letters" he was confused, and it was only after he became acquainted with Varlin and Marx that he worked out the true basis for a committed person - the class struggle. At the first congress of the International in 1889 in Paris, Lavrov concluded his report with the words: "May the name of Marx be sacred for all generations of Russian socialists!" And Zhelyabov at his trial spoke of that brilliant period of his life when he was active among workers, and his activity was based on the class struggle, as we all know. I think it is desirable that the cadres of our party should be wider, that our access to the working masses should widen and that this should happen naturally, that our party cadres should be better, that our programme should be clearer, that we should go into the working masses as the bearers of working-class socialism, and we should consider a set of party rules which gives strength to the party's representatives. Everyone present here is a centre [of a party organisation], therefore you should elaborate a set of rules which flow from the long-term goals of the SR party. If the rulebook needs changing, then change it, if the elective principle can be brought in somewhere or other, that will only strengthen the organisation. Retain the underground organisation, but never forget that we are a party of class struggle, and not some kind of "people's" party or some kind of diffuse mass. [Applause]