Trying days set in for us when we got back to Geneva after the congress. First of all, Russian emigrants came pouring in from other Russian emigrant colonies abroad. League members came, asking: "What happened at the congress? What was the trouble about? Over what was the split?"
Plekhanov was fed up with these questions and one day he related: "X arrived. Kept asking me questions and repeating: 'I am like Buridan's ass.' I asked him: 'What has Buridan got to do with it?' "
People began to arrive from Russia too. Among them was Yerema from St. Petersburg, in whose name Vladimir Ilyich had addressed his letter to the St. Petersburg organization the year before. He promptly sided with the Mensheviks, and called on us. He put on an air of deep tragedy when he came in and turned to Vladimir Ilyich, exclaiming: "I am Yerema!" Then he began to talk about the Mensheviks being right. I remember another man, a member of the Kiev Committee, who was anxious to know what changes in technique had led to the split at the Congress. I just stared at him – baffled by such a primitive understanding of the correlation between "basis" and superstructure." I never thought it could exist.
People who had been assisting the cause with money or by offering their apartments for secret rendezvous and so forth, withdrew this help under the influence of Menshevik agitation. I remember an old acquaintance of mine coming with her mother to Geneva, where she had a sister. When we were children we had played together at such thrilling games of travellers and savages living up in the trees that I was overjoyed to hear she had come. She was a not-so-young girl now and quite a stranger. The subject of the assistance that their family had always rendered the Social-Democrats was mentioned. "We cannot give you our apartment now for secret rendezvous," she said. "We highly disapprove of this split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. These personal squabbles are very bad for the cause." Ilyich and I had some strong things to say about these "sympathizers" who belonged to no organization and imagined that their accommodation and paltry donations could influence the course of events in our proletarian Party!
Vladimir Ilyich wrote at once to Clair and Kurz in Russia, telling them what had happened. Beyond expressing their astonishment, they were unable to give any helpful advice, and seriously suggested recalling Martov to Russia and hiding him away in some remote corner to write popular pamphlets. It was decided to bring Kurz over from Russia.
After the congress Vladimir Ilyich did not object when Glebov suggested co-opting the old editorial board – better to rough it the old way than to have a split. But the Mensheviks refused. In Geneva Vladimir Ilyich tried to make it up with Martov, and wrote to Potresov, reassuring him that they had nothing to quarrel about. He also wrote to Kalmykova (Auntie) about the split, and told her how matters stood. He could not believe that there was no way out. Obstructing the decisions of the congress, staking the work in Russia and the efficacy of the newly formed Party struck him as sheer madness, something unbelievable. At times he saw clearly that a rupture was unavoidable. He started a letter to Clair once, saying that the latter simply could not imagine the present situation, that one had to realize that the old relations had radically changed, that the old friendship with Martov was at an end; old friendships were to be forgotten, and the fight was starting. Vladimir Ilyich did not finish that letter or post it. It was very hard for him to have to break with Martov. Their work together in St. Petersburg and on the old Iskra had drawn them close together. Extremely sensitive, Martov in those days had been very quick at grasping Ilyich's thoughts and developing them in a talented manner. Afterwards Vladimir Ilyich had fiercely fought the Mensheviks, but whenever Martov's line showed a tendency to right itself, his old attitude towards him revived. Such was the case, for example, in Paris in 1910, when Vladimir Ilyich and Martov worked together on the editorial board of Sotsial-Demokrat (Social-Democrat). Coming home from the office, Vladimir Ilyich often used to tell me in a pleased tone that Martov was taking a correct line and even coming out against Dan. Afterward, in Russia, Vladimir Ilyich was very pleased with Martov's stand during the July days, not because it was any good to the Bolsheviks, but because Martov bore himself as behooves a revolutionary.
Vladimir Ilyich was already seriously ill when he said to me once sadly: "They say Martov is dying too." Most of the congress delegates (Bolsheviks) went back to Russia to work. Some of the Mensheviks remained, though, and were even joined by Dan. Their supporters abroad grew in number.
The Bolsheviks who remained in Geneva met periodically. Plekhanov took a very firm stand at these meetings. He cracked jokes and cheered people up.
At last Central Committee member Kurz, alias Vasilyev (Lengnik) arrived. The squabbles which he found raging in Geneva had a very depressing effect upon him. He was kept pretty busy settling disputes, sending people to Russia, and so forth.
The Mensheviks made a hit with people abroad and decided to challenge the Bolsheviks by calling a congress of the League of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad at which the League's delegate to the Second Congress – Lenin – was to report back. The management board of the League at the time consisted of Deutsch, Litvinov and myself. Deutsch pressed for the congress, but Litvinov and I were against it. We knew only too well that under the prevailing conditions the congress would degenerate into a downright brawl. Deutsch thereupon reminded himself that two other members of the management board were Vecheslov, who lived in Berlin, and Leiteisen, who lived in Paris. Although they had lately taken no part in the board's activities, they had not officially resigned from it. They were called upon to vote, and plumped for the congress.
Just before the League congress, Vladimir Ilyich, letting his thoughts wander, ran into a tramcar while out cycling and very nearly had his eye knocked out. He came to the congress pale and bandaged. The Mensheviks attacked him with bitter hatred. I remember one shocking scene when Dan, Krokhmal and others with furious faces leapt to their feet and banged the tops of their desks.
The Mensheviks were numerically stronger than the Bolsheviks at the League congress. Besides, the Mensheviks had more "generals" on their side. They adopted League Rules which turned the League into a Menshevik stronghold, gave them publishing facilities, and made the League independent of the Central Committee. Kurz (Vasilyev) on behalf of the C.C. then demanded that the Rules should be modified, and as the League resisted this, he declared it dissolved.
The uproar raised by the Mensheviks was too much for Plekhanov's nerves. He declared: "I can't shoot at my own side."
At the meeting of the Bolsheviks Plekhanov said we ought to compromise. "There are moments," he said, "when even the autocracy is obliged to make concessions." "That's when we say it vacillates," Liza Knuniants threw in. Plekhanov glared at her.
In order, as he said, to preserve peace in the Party Plekhanov decided to co-opt the old Iskra editorial board. Vladimir Ilyich resigned from the board, saying that he would no longer collaborate and did not insist even on his resignation being reported. Plekhanov could try and make peace if he wanted; he, Lenin, would not stand in the way of peace within the Party. Not long before this he had written to Kalmykova, saying: "Quitting the job is a dead end." In resigning from the editorial board, that was what he was letting himself in for, and he realized it. The opposition further demanded that their representatives should be co-opted on the C.C., that two seats should be given them on the Council, and that the decisions of the League congress should be recognized as valid. The Central Committee agreed to co-opt two members of the opposition, to give them one seat on the Council, and to gradually reorganize the League. But peace there was none. Plekhanov's concession had encouraged the opposition. Plekhanov insisted on the second representative at the C.C. Rou (alias Horse, whose real name was Galperin) standing down from the Council in favour of a Menshevik. Vladimir Ilyich hesitated long before agreeing to this new concession. I remember the three of us – Vladimir Ilyich, Rou and I – standing on the shore of Geneva Lake, which was in a turbulent mood that evening. Rou urged Vladimir Ilyich to agree to his resignation. At last Vladimir Ilyich gave in, and went to Plekhanov to tell him that Rou would stand down.
Martov put out a pamphlet State of Siege, full of the wildest accusations. Trotsky also wrote a pamphlet entitled Report of the Siberian Delegation, in which events were depicted quite in the Martov strain, Plekhanov being represented as a pawn in the hands of Lenin, and so forth. Vladimir Ilyich sat down to write his reply to Martov – his pamphlet One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, in which he gave a detailed analysis of what took place at the congress.
Meanwhile, a struggle was going on in Russia too. The Bolshevik delegates reported back on the congress. The programme and most of the resolutions adopted at the congress were hailed with great satisfaction by the local organizations. All the more puzzling to them was the position of the Mensheviks. Resolutions were passed demanding submission to the congress decisions. One of the most energetic of our delegates at the time was Uncle (Lydia Knipovich), who, being an old revolutionary, could simply not understand how the congress decisions could be flouted in such a way. She and other comrades wrote encouraging letters from Russia. The local committees sided with the Bolsheviks one after another.
Clair arrived. He had no idea what a barrier had arisen between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks and thought it was still possible to reconcile them. He went to see Plekhanov only to convince himself that a reconciliation was absolutely impossible. He went back in a depressed mood. Vladimir Ilyich was gloomier than ever.
Early in 1904 Celia Zelikson, Baron (Essen), a representative of the St. Petersburg organization, and the worker Makar, arrived in Geneva. All were Bolshevik supporters. Vladimir Ilyich saw them often. They talked about the work in Russia and the quarrel with the Mensheviks. Baron, who was quite a young man at the time, was enthusiastic about the St. Petersburg work. "Our organization is being run on collective lines now," he said. "We have separate bodies working – a propagandists' group, an agitators' group, and an organizers' group." Vladimir Ilyich heard him out, then asked: "How many people have you in the propagandists' group?" Baron was a bit put out, and answered: "I'm the only one so far." "Not many," observed Ilyich. "And how many have you in the agitators' group?" Baron reddened to the roots of his hair and said: "I'm the only one so far." Ilyich held his sides with laughter. Baron laughed too. Ilyich always had the knack, by means of one or two probing questions, of putting his finger on the weakest spot, and sifting the real facts from the husk of fine schemes and spectacular reports.
Afterwards Olminsky (M. S. Alexandrov), who joined the Bolsheviks, and Beast, who had escaped from remote exile, arrived.
After her escape front exile Beast was full of cheerful energy, which communicated itself to all around her. Not a shadow of doubt or indecision weighed on her mind. She made fun of everyone who had the blues and moped over the split. All these emigrant squabbles did not seem to affect her. At that time we had started holding weekly "at homes" in Séchéron to bring the Bolsheviks closer together. We never got down to any "real" talk at these gatherings, but at least they helped to dispel the gloom cast upon us by all these squabbles with the Mensheviks. It was excellent fun to hear Beast strike up a rollicking Song about "Vanka," and bald-headed Yegor, a worker, join in the chorus. Yegor had gone to have a heart-to-heart talk with Plekhanov, and had even put on a starched collar for the occasion. But he had come away disappointed and saddened. "Cheer up, Yegor. We'll win the day. Come on, let's get on with 'Vanka'!" Beast said. Ilyich would cheer up too – this boisterous gaiety dispelled gloomy thoughts.
Bogdanov appeared upon the scene. Vladimir Ilyich was not very familiar with his philosophical works at the time, and did not know him at all personally. Plainly, though, he was a man of calibre as far as the Party was concerned. He was on a temporary visit, and had extensive connections in Russia. The period of distressing squabbles was coming to an end.
Hardest of all was it for Vladimir Ilyich to break with Plekhanov.
In the spring Ilyich made the acquaintance of the old Narodopravets revolutionary Natanson and his wife. Natanson was a splendid organizer of the old type. He knew lots of people, was very good at sizing up a man, and could tell what he was capable of and what job he was best suited for. What struck Vladimir Ilyich about him was the fact that he was perfectly familiar with the personnel of both his own and our Social-Democratic organizations, which he knew better than many of our own Central Committee members. Natanson had lived in Baku, and knew Krasin, Postolovsky and others. Vladimir Ilyich thought that Natanson could be persuaded into becoming a Social-Democrat. He was very close to the Social-Democratic stand-point. We heard afterwards that that old revolutionary had sobbed when, for the first time in his life, he had seen an imposing demonstration in Baku. On one point Vladimir Ilyich and he could not see eye to eye: Natanson disagreed with the Social-Democrats' approach to the peasantry. The wooing of Natanson lasted a fort-night. Natanson was on familiar and even intimate terms with Plekhanov. Vladimir Ilyich fell into conversation with him about our Party affairs and the split with the Mensheviks. Natanson offered to talk things over with Plekhanov. He came away from Plekhanov in a state of perplexity. We would have to compromise, he said.
The romance with Natanson was broken off. Vladimir Ilyich was annoyed with himself for having discussed Social-Democratic affairs with a man of another party, who had acted as a sort of go-between. He was annoyed with Natanson as well as with himself.
Meanwhile, in Russia, the Central Committee was pursuing a double-faced conciliatory policy, while the local committees backed the Bolsheviks. It was necessary to convene a new congress based on Russia.
In protest against the July declaration of the Central Committee, which prevented him from defending his point of view and communicating with Russia, Vladimir Ilyich resigned from the C.C., and the Bolshevik group, numbering twenty-two, passed a resolution calling for a Third Congress.
Vladimir Ilyich and I took our rucksacks and went out hiking in the mountains for a month. Beast joined us, but soon gave it up, saying: "You people like to go to places where there isn't even a living cat, but I must have human society." Indeed, we always chose the loneliest trails that led into the wilds, away from any people. We tramped about for a month, not knowing today where we would be tomorrow. After a weary day we would throw ourselves on our beds dead-tired and fall asleep instantaneously.
We had very little money, and lived mostly on cold food such as eggs and cheese, washed down with wine or water from a spring; we rarely had a proper dinner. At one little inn patronized by Social-Democrats a worker gave us a good tip. "Don't dine with the tourists, but with the coachmen, chauffeurs and labourers – it's twice as cheap and more filling." We took his advice. The civil servants and shopkeepers who ape the bourgeoisie would sooner stop going out altogether than sit down at the same table with a servant. This middle-class snobbery is very widespread in Europe. They talk a lot about democracy there, but to sit down at the same table with the servants – not at home, but in a smart hotel – is more than any snob trying to make his way in the world can stomach. It gave Vladimir Ilyich special pleasure, therefore, to sit down in the common room to have his meal. He ate there with a keener relish and was full of praise for the cheap but satisfying food. After that we would sling on our rucksacks and continue on our way. The rucksacks were pretty heavy. Vladimir Ilyich had a fat French dictionary in his, while I had in mine a no less heavy French book which I had just received for translation. Neither the dictionary nor the book, however, had once been opened during our trip. It was not at dictionaries we looked, but at the snow-capped everlasting mountains, at blue lakes and turbulent waterfalls.
A month of this restored Vladimir Ilyich's nerves to normal. It was as if he had bathed in a mountain stream and washed off all the cobwebs of sordid intrigue. We spent August with Bogdanov, Olminsky and Pervukhin in a remote village by the shore of Lac de Bré. The plan of work was arranged with Bogdanov, who proposed enlisting the cooperation of Lunacharsky, Stepanov and Bazarov. Plans were made to publish our own organ abroad and develop agitation for a congress in Russia.
Ilyich became his cheerful old self again. His return from a visit to the Bogdanovs in the evening was always announced by a furious barking from the chained dog outside, whom he teased in passing.
We went back to Geneva in the autumn and moved from the suburbs nearer to the centre. Vladimir Ilyich joined the Société de lecture, where there was a vast library and excellent facilities for work. They received lots of newspapers and magazines there in French, German and English. It was a very convenient place to study in. The members of the society – for the most part old professors – seldom visited the library, and Ilyich had the room to himself there, where he could write, pace up and down, think over his articles, and take down any book he wanted from the shelves. He could rest assured that no Russian comrade would come there and start telling him about the Mensheviks having said this and that or played a dirty trick in such-and-such a place. He could think there without having his thoughts diverted. And there was plenty to think about.
Russia has started the Japanese War, which glaringly revealed all the rottenness of the tsarist monarchy. Not only the Bolsheviks, but the Mensheviks and even the liberals, too, were defeatists in this war. A storm of popular protest was rising. The working-class movement entered a new phase. News of mass public meetings held in defiance of the police, and of direct clashes between the workers and the police, reached us ever more often.
In face of the growing mass revolutionary movement petty factional squabbles did not worry us as much as they recently had. These squabbles, though, sometimes assumed ugly forms. The Bolshevik Vasilyev, for instance, arrived from the Caucasus and wanted to make a report on the situation in Russia. At the opening of the meeting, however, the Mensheviks demanded the election of a pre-siding committee, although it was just an ordinary report which any Party member could come and hear, and not an organizational meeting. The Mensheviks tried to turn every report or lecture into a kind of electoral fight, hoping in this way to stop the mouth of the Bolsheviks "by democratic means." Things very nearly came to a hand to hand scuffle, a fight, over the insurance fund. During the uproar Bogdanov's wife Natalia had her mantle torn, and someone got knocked down. But now it did not affect us half as much as it used to.
All our thoughts were now in Russia. One felt a tremendous responsibility in face of the workers movement that was growing out there – in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa and other places.
All parties – liberals and Socialist-Revolutionaries began to show themselves in their true colours. The Mensheviks, too, showed their real face. It became clear now what divided the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.
Vladimir Ilyich had implicit faith in the proletariat's class instinct, its creative powers, and historic mission. This faith had not come suddenly to Vladimir Ilyich, but had been hammered out during the years when he had studied and pondered Marx's theory of the class struggle, when he had studied Russian realities, and learnt, in fighting the ideas of the old revolutionaries, to offset the heroism of the solitary fighter by the strength and heroism of the class struggle. It was not just blind faith in an unknown force, but a deep-rooted belief in the strength of the proletariat and its tremendous role in the cause of working-class emancipation, a belief founded on a profound knowledge and thorough study of the facts of life. His work among the St. Petersburg proletariat had helped to identify this faith in the power of the working class with real live people.
At the end of December the Bolshevik newspaper Vperyod (Forward) began to appear. The editorial board, in addition to Ilyich, had Olminsky and Orlovsky on it. Shortly afterwards Lunacharsky arrived to lend a hand. His impassioned articles and speeches were consonant with the Bolsheviks' mood at the time.
The revolutionary movement in Russia was growing, and with it grew our correspondence with Russia. It soon reached a volume of three hundred letters a month, which was an enormous figure for those days. And what rich material it provided Ilyich with! He knew how to read workers' letters. I remember one from quarry workers in Odessa. It was a collective letter written in several uncultivated hands without subjects and predicates, stops and commas, but full of inexhaustible energy, a readiness to fight to the victorious end. That letter was colourful in every word, naive, but unshakable in its conviction. I do not remember what it was about but I remember how it looked – the paper and the watery ink. Ilyich read that letter over and over again, and paced up and down deep in thought. Not for nothing had the quarry workers of Odessa taken such pains when writing to Ilyich: they had written to the right man, one who could best understand them.
A few days after this letter, we received one from Tanya, a young Odessa propagandist, who gave a faithful and detailed report of a meeting of Odessa artisans. Ilyich read that letter, too, and sat down at once to answer Tanya. "Thank you for your letter. Write more often. We are tremendously interested in letters describing ordinary workaday activities. We get so few of them, worse luck."
Almost in every letter Ilyich asked the comrades in Russia to give us more contacts. "The strength of a revolutionary organization is in the number of its contacts," he wrote to Gusev, and asked him to put the Bolshevik centre abroad in touch with the youth. "Some of us have a kind of idiotic, philistine, Oblomov-like fear of the youth," he wrote. Ilyich wrote to Alexei Preobrazhensky, an old Samara friend, who was then living in the country, asking him to put him in touch with the peasants. He asked the St. Petersburg comrades to forward original workers' letters to the Centre abroad and not just extracts or resumes. These letters told Ilyich more clearly than anything else that the revolution was drawing near, was rising. Nineteen 'Five was on the threshold.