54) Bolshevism and Menshevism

The other debates served to underline the rightward drift of the Mensheviks. For example, they now opposed the slogan of arming the masses, and got their view adopted by Congress. Irrespective of the question of the appropriateness of armed struggle at the given moment, the Menshevik position clearly represented the abandonment of the revolutionary struggle in favor of reformist parliamentarism and class collaborationist politics, as shown by their position on the agrarian question and attitude to the Cadets. Trotsky later described the change in the attitude of the Mensheviks:

The Mensheviks, who a mere few weeks back had stood for a semi-boycott of the Duma, now transferred their hopes from the revolutionary struggle to constitutional conquests. At the time of the Stockholm Congress, the support of the liberals seemed to them the most important task of the Social Democracy.318

In his report on the Duma, Axelrod admitted that most Menshevik activists in Russia had initially supported boycott, but complained that this was leaving the field open to other parties. It was time to change the line. He undoubtedly had a point. But in politics it is possible to be right for the wrong reasons. At bottom, the Menshevik position amounted to a permanent striving for a deal with the Cadets. By contrast, the Bolsheviks proposed to take advantage of conflict between the Duma and the regime to deepen revolutionary crisis, while at the same time striving to expose the Cadets by implacable criticism and winning over the peasant representatives—the Trudoviks—to “firm them up” and drive a wedge between them and the Cadets. While Lenin, in every article and every speech at this time, waged a relentless war against parliamentary cretinism, the Mensheviks placed all their hopes on the Duma. However, when Lenin spoke, while ridiculing Axelrod for his exaggerated expectations in the Duma, he made no mention of the boycott tactic itself. This is significant. Evidently, he maintained his earlier reservations, but felt constrained by factional ties, from expressing his views openly. It was left to Krassin to put the case for boycott to the delegates. But the Mensheviks used their majority to good use. Finally, the Congress voted to agree to allowing the party to participate in the elections to the Duma.

However, the Bolsheviks had their own problems. They took an incorrect position on the Duma, opposing the setting up of a Social Democratic parliamentary fraction. In this detail we already perceive the ultraleft trend in Bolshevism—antiparliamentary cretinism—which was really the mirror image of parliamentary and legalistic illusions of the Mensheviks. Contrary to the accusations usually levelled at Lenin for his alleged “sectarianism” and propensity for splitting, he consistently defended the unity of the party. When in the course of the Congress Lenin was accused of stating that it was impossible for Bolsheviks and Mensheviks to work together in one party, he indignantly rejected the accusation:

It is not true that I “supported” comrade Vorobyov’s statement that the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks cannot work together in one party. I did not in any way “support” such an assertion, and do not share that opinion at all.319

In general, it must be said that the Bolsheviks behaved far better as a minority than the Martovites had done at the Second Congress. In contrast to the Martovites in 1903, Lenin loyally accepted the position of minority on the CC, which was completely dominated by Mensheviks. A novel aspect of the new CC was the presence of the representatives of the national Social Democratic organizations for the first time: the Poles, represented by Warski and Dzerzhinsky; the Letts, by Danishevsky; and the Bundists, by Abramovich and Kremer. Thus, albeit temporarily, the Mensheviks scored a victory at this Congress, held in conditions of gathering reaction. There were some small victories. On the Party statutes, Lenin’s draft of the first paragraph of the Rules was accepted, and essentially the principles of democratic centralism adopted. This was really not a controversial question, but regarded as self-evident, not only by the Bolsheviks but also by the Mensheviks (who were in the majority!). There were some differences on organizational issues, but they did not lead to any serious problems. The Bolsheviks insisted that the two-center system (the parallel existence of a central committee and central organ) had outlived its usefulness. But the Mensheviks succeeded in maintaining it, and made sure they had complete control of the editorial board, which was made up exclusively of Mensheviks (Martov, Martynov, Maslov, Dan, and Potresov), while graciously allowing the Bolshevik minority three places on the Central Committee.

In some respects, the Fourth Congress did represent a step forward, notably in strengthening the Party with the inclusion of workers’ organizations from other nationalities. In his report back to the Congress, previously mentioned, Lenin states the following:

Summing up the work of the Congress and the effect it has had upon our party, we must draw the following main conclusions. An important practical result of the Congress is the proposed (partly already achieved) amalgamation with the national social democratic parties. This amalgamation will strengthen the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. It will help to efface the last traces of the old circle habits. It will infuse a new spirit into the work of the party. It will greatly strengthen the proletariat among all the peoples of Russia.

And he added:

Another important practical result was the amalgamation of the minority and majority groups. The split has been stopped. The Social Democratic proletariat and its Party must be united. Disagreements on organization have been almost entirely eliminated.320

The Polish and Lithuanian Social Democrats joined the RSDLP, and conditions were drawn up for unity with the Latvian (Lettish) Social Democrats. The conditions for the Bund’s joining the Party were also established, but the congress firmly rejected any idea of organizing the working class on national lines. Later in the year (in August) the Bund also voted to join the RSDLP. Lenin commented that

the RSDLP has become, at last, really all-Russian and united. The number of members of our party is now more than 100,000. 31,000 were represented at the Unity Congress, then in addition about 26,000 Polish Social Democrats, about 14,000 Lettish, and 33,000 Jewish.

Lenin’s figures were confirmed by the left Cadet newspaper Tovarishch which estimated the total number of members enrolled in the RSDLP at about 70,000 in October 1906. This figure includes both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. To this must be added a further 33,000 for the Bund, plus 28,000 for the Polish Social Democrats and 13,000 for the Letts.321

However, the impressive membership figures cited above do not reveal the whole story. The growth in membership tells us something about the advanced layers of the workers and youth, but not the masses. The December defeat was a turning point for the working class. In reality, although the RSDLP continued to grow, its influence in the masses was beginning to decline. Exhaustion bred moods of apathy and pessimism. Although for a time the movement continued, borne along by its own momentum, Lenin’s hopes for an early recovery of the revolutionary movement did not correspond to the real situation. Trotsky explains:

It [the RSDLP] continued to grow in membership. But its influence on the masses declined. A hundred Social Democrats were no longer able to lead as many workers into the streets as ten Social Democrats had led the year before.322

Footnotes

318 Trotsky, Stalin, 72.

319 LCW, Unity Congress of RSDLP, Written Statement at the Twenty-sixth Session of the Congress, vol. 10, 309.

320 LCW, Report on the Unity Congress of the RSDLP, vol. 10, 376.

321 See L. Schapiro, History of the CPSU, 72, footnote.

322 Trotsky, Stalin, 88.

55) The Peasants’ Revolt

The center of revolutionary activity passed from the town to the village. In April, 47 cases of peasant disturbances were registered; in May, 160; but by June the figure increased to 739. This was close to the highest figure for autumn 1905. Half of European Russia, especially the Volga area, where the tradition of Stenka Razin and Pugachov still burned in the memory of the muzhik, the central Black Earth zone, the Ukraine, Poland, Tambov, and other regions all were engulfed by the flame of revolt. Landlords fled their estates as strike committees were formed in villages by rebellious agricultural laborers. An inevitable consequence of peasant revolution was the upsurge in guerrilla actions—the classical mode of struggle of the peasantry. Such activities were particularly common in Latvia (the “forest brotherhood”) and Georgia (the “Red Hundreds”). This situation posed a mortal danger for the tsarist regime, which found its principal point of support in the class of feudal landowners, the main target of the concentrated rage and hatred of the dispossessed masses. There was yet another reason to fear the revolt in the villages. Immediately, the peasant revolution had an echo in the army, where the truculent mood of the troops, demoralized by defeat and aroused by the example of the workers in the towns, expressed itself in a new wave of mutinies and uprisings.

Under these conditions, the military policy of the Party still had a key role to play, and still more so its agrarian policy, as Lenin clearly understood. About 50 RSDLP committees had special military organizations and groups. On the party’s military organization in Moscow, Piatnitsky writes:

A military technical bureau was attached to the Moscow Committee; this bureau was responsible for the invention, testing and production in great quantities, whenever necessary, of simple arms, including bombs; and with this the bureau was occupied all the time. The military technical bureau was completely isolated from the Moscow organization, and was connected with the Moscow Committee only through the secretary of the committee.323

The strongest of the military organizations, however, was in Petersburg. According to Leonard Schapiro, the Party still “maintained a wide network of organizations among the soldiers, and published some 20 illegal soldiers’ periodicals and newspapers.”324 Some agitation was carried out in the army and navy with special publications like Kazarma (Barracks) and Soldatskaya Zhizn’ (Soldiers’ Life). The party conducted an energetic campaign among the army recruits, asking them not to fire on their brothers, but to come over to the side of the workers, bringing their arms with them. March 1906 saw the first Conference of Military and Fighting Organizations. But on the first day all the delegates were arrested. The first real conference took place on November 16, 1906, in the relative safety of Tammerfors in Finland. Although Lenin certainly hoped that the movement in the villages might provide the spark that would reignite the revolution, he nevertheless argued continually for caution, against undue haste, against adventurism, seeing the dangers involved in premature and ill-prepared action. Lenin’s revolutionary optimism was always tempered with a healthy dose of realism, based upon a sober-minded appraisal of the situation. It would never have crossed his mind to launch the slogan of guerrilla war by a minority, as later became the fashion and led to defeat after defeat, especially in Latin America.

Like any other tactic, guerrilla war was always strictly subordinated to the needs of the mass movement of the working class. This did not mean that the Bolsheviks neglected work among other layers, such as the students and the peasants. On the contrary. The RSDLP attempted to conduct work among the peasants. Piatnitsky reports that in only eight months in 1906 the party’s illegal printing press in Moscow published four leaflets directed at the peasants with a total run of 140,000 copies, in addition to a further 20,000 copies of the party’s agrarian program. The goal was still armed insurrection:

“In 1906 and the first half of 1907,” writes Piatnitsky, “the entire work of the Moscow organization was carried on with the approaching mass proletarian and peasant movement which would culminate in an armed struggle against tsarism.”325

Nevertheless, the Party’s influence among the peasants remained weak. Social Democratic propaganda found only a feeble echo among the peasants right up to 1917. The great majority of peasants, insofar as they possessed any political allegiance, looked to one or other of the “Narodnik” parties—either the SRs, or, to an even greater extent, the Trudoviks. It was this layer that the autocracy was attempting to ensnare with promises of an agrarian reform. The First Congress of the Social Revolutionaries was held from December 29, 1905, to January 4, 1906. The political line was the usual eclectic mixture of utopian socialism (the idealization of the peasant commune, the obshchina which would allegedly allow Russia to bypass capitalism and establish “socialism in one country” in defiance of the laws of social and economic development) and ultraleftism. The SRs had the illusion that the peasant commune could serve as the basis for socialism in Russia, not realizing that it was the basis of tsarist autocracy, as the Trudovik Kerensky points out:

In demanding the “nationalization” or “socialization” of the land, the Narodniks had been certain that the peasants would easily shift from the communal to the cooperative system of land tenure. In actual fact, however, the peasant commune of that time had very little in common with the ideal commune as imagined by the Slavophiles and Narodniks. From the administrative standpoint, the commune was very convenient for police control—as Witte put it, for keeping the peasants under surveillance like little children—and also for collecting taxes, since defaulters were paid for by the rest of the commune on a pro rata basis. The authorities turned the commune into a bulwark of economic backwardness and gradually drained it of its vitality. Furthermore, compulsory membership in the commune was always a sore point among the peasants themselves.326

The tactical questions that concentrated the attention of Lenin and his collaborators at the time—boycott of elections, guerrilla warfare, etc.—were closely linked to the perspective for a revival of the revolution, and the possibility that the peasant movement might give an impulse to the movement of the workers in the cities. The apparently theoretical discussions at the Fourth Congress on the agrarian question were but a pale reflection of a stark reality. The peasants’ rebellion was on the upswing. Month by month the violent outbursts in the villages increased in number and intensity. For all these reasons, the agrarian question inevitably occupied a central importance in the activities of the State Duma.

In order to bring about the complete liquidation of the revolutionary movement, tsarism combined murderous repression with deceit, by offering a new electoral law which slightly increased the franchise, while still excluding more than 50 percent of the adult population—women, all under 25 years, those in military service, workers in small factories, landless peasants, etc. On April 23, the new electoral norms were published. The franchise was blatantly rigged in favor of the landlords. In the curiae, there was one landlord elector for every 2,000 population, while the ratio for the peasants was 1:7,000, and for the workers 1:90,000. In Perm province, for example, one landlord vote was equivalent to that of 28 peasants and 56 workers. The voting system was also indirect, with a complicated system of voting commissions (curiae) set up to “represent” the different social estates—workers, peasants, landlords—voting for “electors,” who would then elect the members of the State Duma. In his memoirs, Kerensky says this about the electoral laws:

The new electoral law was complex, and it violated every canon of democratic procedure. Deputies were elected by provincial colleges consisting of delegates chosen separately by four groups (curias): landowners, the urban population, peasants, and, in a few districts, factory workers. One mandatory delegate to the Duma was elected by each curia, and the rest of the deputies were elected by the provincial college as a whole.327

While the feudal landlords ruled the roost, the peasants were given a relatively privileged position vis-à-vis the workers. In typical Bonapartist fashion, the regime tried to lean on the peasantry (especially the rich, or “strong” peasant) against the working class. The peasant representation in the Duma was therefore relatively high: around 45 percent of the seats. This reflected the autocracy’s awareness of its own social isolation, and its overwhelming desire to gain a solid base of mass support in the more conservative layers of the rural population. For as long as anyone could remember, the tsar had posed as the “Little Father”—the Batyushka—of the People, an illusion which was traditionally shared by the Russian muzhik, who, in his hour of need, would sigh; “Bog vysoko; tsar’ daleko” (“God is in heaven, and the tsar is far away”). The diaries of Nicholas II show that he himself was convinced that the “People” (i.e., the peasants) adored him—right up to the moment when they overthrew him and his dynasty. January 9, 1905, drew a line of blood between the autocracy and the urban working class. The dream of erecting an impregnable bulwark around the monarchy in the shape of a loyal class of small peasant proprietors persisted and formed the very soul and substance of the Stolypin reaction. But by giving a voice—however distorted and tremulous—to the peasantry in the Duma, the autocracy unwittingly created a stick for its own back and provided a lever for the revolutionary socialist wing to exploit.

In addition to a rigged franchise, the rights of the Duma were severely restricted. Parts of the budget could not be discussed. Loans and currency were exclusively the competence of the Minister of Finance. The army and navy, of course, were under the personal control of the tsar. The Council of Ministers, hitherto nominated by the monarch, was broadened to include an equal number of elected ministers, and, under the title of senate, was turned into an upper chamber with equal rights to the Duma! This gigantic swindle was the handiwork of Count Witte, who further displayed his usefulness to the tsar by negotiating a sizeable loan from France.

Footnotes

323 O. Piatnitsky, Zapiski Bol’shevika, 104.

324 Schapiro, History of the CPSU, 99.

325 O. Piatnitsky, Zapiski Bol’shevika, 106.

326 Kerensky, Memoirs, 96.

327 Ibid., 84.

56) To Boycott, or Not to Boycott?

At the Tammerfors Conference of the Bolsheviks, which took place while the Moscow uprising was reaching its bloody dénouement, the Bolshevik leaders had debated their attitude to the forthcoming elections to the Duma. The general mood was overwhelmingly in favor of a boycott. Yet Lenin struck a note of caution. When it came to the vote, two votes were cast against the boycott proposal—Lenin and Gorev. This provoked an outburst of indignation by the other delegates, which compelled Lenin to abandon his opposition. Not for the first or last time, he was forced to take into account the mood of the leading layer against his better judgment. His new stance was greeted by stormy applause, although, as he ruefully quipped, he was “retreating in full military order”.328

The boycottists were strongest among that layer of committeemen, including Stalin, who was attending his first party meeting abroad, who considered that their practical knowledge of the situation in Russia was sufficient to place them on a superior plane to the party theoreticians, even to Lenin himself. In another session, the Tammerfors Conference voted for the reunification of the RSDLP. A fourth Party Congress should be convened, and preliminary measures should begin forthwith to unite the two factions on the basis of parity. Local committees should combine their activities, and committees should everywhere be elected from below and should be accountable to the lower echelons. However, democratic centralism should be applied and, once elected, the committees should be accorded “the entire fullness of power in the matter of ideological and practical leadership.”329

Immediately after, meetings were held between the representatives of both tendencies, attended by both Lenin and Martov, to hammer out the obstacles to unity and convene the Fourth Party Congress. On the issue of boycotting the Duma, the Mensheviks gave way to the case for boycott, insistently put by the Bolsheviks. They were still under the impact of the recent events, and, anyway, were themselves suspicious of the Duma. However, by the time the Congress came around, they were already cooling off. After the December defeat, it was undoubtedly necessary to revise the party’s tactics to take account of the new situation. Having failed to take the enemies’ positions by direct assault, it was necessary to resort to siege tactics, making use of all legal possibilities to rally the workers around the revolutionary program. To boycott parliament in such circumstances was a serious mistake. Trotsky points out that

It is permissible to boycott representative assemblies only in the event that the mass movement is sufficiently strong either to overthrow them or to ignore them. But when the masses are in retreat the tactic of boycott loses its revolutionary meaning.330

There were heated internal discussions on tactics in relation to the boycott question. This debate throws into sharp focus the gulf separating Bolshevism and Menshevism. The Mensheviks with their customary inclination towards opportunism rapidly drew the conclusion that the revolution was over and that it was time to turn to the parliamentary arena. However, they faced considerable difficulty in persuading the party rank and file. They also originally refused to participate in elections, but then changed their position to one of a “semiboycott,” linked to the confused and essentially meaningless slogan of “revolutionary self-government.” Lenin scornfully denounced their vacillations. “They do not believe in the revolution and they do not believe in the Duma,” he commented. Plekhanov, now on the right wing of the Mensheviks, advocated participation without more ado.

In spite of the increasingly ferocious repression, the Party was still able to function. Meetings still took place, in which tactical questions were hotly debated. The general mood of the Party members was still strongly against participating in elections to the Duma at this stage. On February 11, at a Petersburg united Party conference, including both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, Lenin led off on the party’s attitude to the Duma. Dan and Martov, representing the Mensheviks, spoke against. A second Conference approved Lenin’s position of “active boycott.” In later years Lenin honestly admitted that this position was a mistake, but at the time it undoubtedly reflected the prevailing mood of the activists. The reactionary nature of the Duma was evident, not only to the Bolsheviks, but to the majority of Social Democrats. The mood of the majority of Social Democrats throughout the country seems to have been strongly inclined to boycott. The lava of revolution had not yet cooled, so that not only the Bolsheviks, but also the Polish and Latvian Social Democrats, the Lithuanian and even the normally conservative Bund favored the boycott tactic. Even many Mensheviks were ambivalent. But this mood of the party activists was out of step with the mood of the masses.

On the dispute over participation in the Duma elections in 1906, Eva Broido recalls how the RSDLP, in effect, stumbled into the Duma, almost unexpectedly:

The Bolsheviks were against, the Mensheviks for participation. In the end they agreed that the party should participate only in the first stage of the elections—that of the electoral colleges (there was no direct vote). In this way the party hoped to exploit the elections for the purposes of propaganda and agitation, particularly among the workers. In the event things turned out differently. Where the Mensheviks had a big majority, as in the Caucasus, the party went right through with the elections and returned several members to the Duma. In addition, several members who had been elected as independents now joined the Social Democrats. The party was thus represented in the Duma and had to define its attitude to current political events.

And she adds:

Moreover—and this was contrary to Bolshevik predictions—the Duma at once became a focus of public interest and concern, even among the working class. It was no longer possible simply to ignore the Duma—and we Mensheviks were convinced that we ought to make the fullest possible use of this opportunity of publicly proclaiming our socialist message to the whole country.331

In the spring of 1906, elections were held for the first Duma. Given the relatively wide franchise offered by the October Manifesto, there was the potential for a successful campaign by the Social Democrats. Under this system, as we have seen, the workers voted separately through the system of electoral commissions known as “curiae,” which elected representatives in the following way. The elections were held in three stages: first, the workers elected representatives at a factory level; the latter then elected the “electors”; and finally the “electors” elected the Duma deputies. Factories employing from 50 to 1,000 workers elected one representative. Bigger factories elected one for every 1,000 workers, and factories with fewer than 50 workers were excluded from voting. Paradoxically, the fact that the elections were indirect, which in itself was an undemocratic feature, also gave the Social Democrats an opening which they would not have had under a more normal system of voting, since they could concentrate their energies in a campaign in the workers’ curiae, their “natural constituency.”

The Bolshevik position was based on the expectation of an imminent new revolutionary upturn. But that was a misreading of the situation. The more advanced workers felt the need for a revolutionary party, but the masses were increasingly falling into apathy and passivity. It is a well-established fact that the mood of the most active and militant layer of workers can often be at variance with that of the rest of the class. The advanced guard can move too far ahead of the class. This is as bad a mistake in the class struggle as would be the analogous mistake in military tactics. If the advanced guard moves too far ahead and loses contact with the rear, it becomes seriously exposed and runs the risk of being chopped to pieces. This is equally true when the most militant layer, out of impatience, misjudges the mood of the workers, or confuses its own level of understanding with that of the majority. So it was in this case.

The Bolsheviks had misread the situation, and failed to appreciate that the revolution was in retreat. As in war, so in a revolution or even a strike, it is necessary to be able to retreat in good order when the situation demands it. To sound the advance when objective conditions demand a retreat is a recipe for disaster. In the event, the tactic of the active boycott failed to have any effect. The real nature of the Duma was by no means evident to the masses. Constitutional illusions were especially strong among the peasants, who believed they could get land. But the victory of the counterrevolution and the ebbing of the mass movement meant that, for broad layers of urban petty bourgeois masses, and the peasantry, and even a layer of the working class, the Duma remained the only hope, however tenuous, for some prospect of amelioration. The fact that such hopes were devoid of any rational basis did not make them any less persistent.

So long as Lenin continued to believe in the imminence of a new revolutionary upturn, he placed all his emphasis on the goal of armed insurrection:

“The revolutionary Social Democracy,” he wrote in October 1906, “must be the first to take its place in the most resolute and the most direct struggle and the last to resort to the most roundabout methods of struggle.”

In other words, his attitude to participation in even the most reactionary of parliaments was dictated, not by abstract principles or dogmatism, but by the demands of the revolution. For the whole period from 1906 to the outbreak of the First World War, the question of whether the Social Democrats should participate in the elections to the tsarist Duma, elected on the basis of what Lenin described as the most reactionary electoral law in Europe, was at the heart of the controversies on tactics and strategy that agitated the Party. Years later, in his classic “Left Wing” Communism, Lenin explained his position at that time:

When, in August 1905, the tsar proclaimed the convocation of a consultative “parliament,” the Bolsheviks called for its boycott, in the teeth of all the opposition parties and the Mensheviks, and the “parliament” was in fact swept away by the revolution of October 1905. The boycott proved correct at the time, not because nonparticipation in reactionary parliaments is correct in general, but because we accurately appraised the objective situation, which was leading to the rapid development of the mass strikes first into a political strike, then into a revolutionary strike, and finally into an uprising. Moreover, the struggle centered at that time on the question of whether the convocation of the first representative assembly should be left to the tsar, or an attempt should be made to wrest its convocation from the old regime. When there was not, and could not be, any certainty that the objective situation was of a similar kind, and when there was no certainty of a similar trend and the same rate of development, the boycott was no longer correct.

The Bolsheviks’ boycott of “parliament” in 1905 enriched the revolutionary proletariat with highly valuable political experience and showed that, when legal and illegal, parliamentary and nonparliamentary forms of struggle are combined, it is sometimes useful and even essential to reject parliamentary forms. It would, however, be highly erroneous to apply this experience blindly, imitatively, and uncritically to other conditions and other situations. The Bolsheviks’ boycott of the Duma in 1906 was a mistake, although a minor and easily remediable one. The boycott of the Duma in 1907, 1908, and subsequent years was a most serious error and difficult to remedy, because, on the one hand, a very rapid rise of the revolutionary tide and its conversion into an uprising was not to be expected, and, on the other hand, the entire historical situation attendant upon the renovation of the bourgeois monarchy called for legal and illegal activities being combined.332

The same point was made by Trotsky:

“The boycott is a declaration of outright war against the old government, a direct attack against it. Barring a widespread revolutionary revival . . . there can be no talk of the boycott’s success.” Much later, in 1920, he wrote: “It was an error . . . for the Bolsheviks to have boycotted the Duma in 1906.” And Trotsky adds: “It was an error, because after the December defeat it was impossible to expect a revolutionary attack in the near future; it was therefore senseless to spurn the Duma’s tribune for mobilizing the revolutionary ranks.”333

Hanging over all this discussion on the Duma was the far more fundamental question of the attitude of the workers’ party to the liberals. In the aftermath of the December events, there were clear indications of a shift in the mood of the contending classes. The workers were thrown onto the defensive everywhere. The December events also marked a decisive shift in the attitude of the liberals. The Cadets had already turned their backs on the revolution in October 1905. The Moscow uprising finally eradicated any last lingering sympathies they might have entertained for the revolutionary proletariat. Now they emerged in their true colors. The bourgeoisie to a man (and woman) united in opposition to December “madness.” It was, of course, not the first time in history that we have seen such a phenomenon. Exactly the same thing occurred in the 1848 revolution, as Marx and Engels explained.

The typical style of the liberals in the period of reaction was to appeal for reform to prevent revolution, calling on the state to “save itself.” Needless to say, such well-meaning advice was met by contemptuous guffaws from the Octobrist benches. The hypocritical whining of the liberals about the “excesses” of the counterrevolution were merely intended as friendly advice to the autocracy on the best method of strangling the revolution. Quite clearly, it is far better to strangle a person in such a way that he or she makes the least possible noise and fuss. But on the need for the strangling to be carried out, there could be no two opinions! This, in essence, was the difference between the two counterrevolutionary bourgeois blocs. The Cadets began to call themselves the “party of the people’s freedom.” The better to deceive the people and put an end to the revolution which had terrified them. The attitude to the Cadets constituted the fundamental dividing line between the Social Democrats, the Mensheviks advocating blocs and agreements with the Cadets in the Duma, while Lenin reserved his most bitter invective for these counterrevolutionary liberals.

The counterrevolutionary conduct of the liberals was no accident. The weak Russian bourgeoisie was tied by a thousand threads to the feudal aristocracy, by marriage, social origin, or direct ownership of land. According to a contemporary study by N. A. Borodin, The State Duma in Figures, out of the 153 Cadets in the First Duma, 92 were of the nobility. Of these, three owned landed estates between 5,000 and 10,000 dessyatines; eight owned estates from 1,000 to 2,000 dessyatines; and 30 owned estates from 500 to 1,000 dessyatines. Thus, about one-third of the Cadet deputies were actually big landowners.334 How could such people offer a solution to the most pressing problem facing Russia—the agrarian question? Despite their “progressive” protestations, on all the basic issues, the liberals in the Duma were far closer to the tsarist regime than to the workers and peasants.

The bourgeois liberals effectively split into two camps in the Duma, represented by the Right “Octobrists” and the “Left” (Constitutional Democrats, or Cadets as they became popularly known). But although they were formally opposed as “reactionaries” and “liberals,” the differences between them were more apparent than real. In relation to the revolutionary proletariat and peasantry, they stood firmly united in a single counterrevolutionary bloc representing the interests of order and property. While enthusiastically supporting the smashing of the revolution, the latter were not averse to leaning on the mass movement to put pressure on the regime to grant concessions. But not when the masses looked like challenging them for power. The bourgeois liberals who had already sold their soul to the autocracy (alleging that it had been miraculously transformed into a “Constitutional Monarchy”) immediately took their rightful place in the camp of “parliamentary” reaction, where they remained as His Majesty’s loyal opposition, a mere fig leaf for the counterrevolution. The question of the attitude of the Social Democracy to the bourgeois parties from this point on became the central question for the revolutionaries.

Footnotes

328 Quoted in Robert Service, Lenin, a Political Life, 149.

329 KPSS v rezoluitsiakh, vol. 1, 136.

330 Trotsky, Stalin, 98.

331 E. Broido, Memoirs, 130–1.

332 LCW, “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder, vol. 31, 35–36.

333 Trotsky, Stalin, 93.

334 See LCW, vol. 12, 532, note.

57) Parliamentary Illusions

On April 27 (May 10), 1906, a hot summer’s day, the first State Duma opened its doors in the magnificent Tauride Palace, the former palace of Catherine the Great’s favorite, Potemkin. In a stately hall, flanked by dukes and courtiers in full regalia, the elected representatives of the people listened respectfully to the opening speech of Tsar Nicholas. A colorful and somewhat incongruous spectacle greeted the eyes of one English observer who captured it for posterity:

Peasants in their long black coats, some of them wearing military medals and crosses; popes (i.e., priests), Tartars, Poles, men in every kind of dress except uniform . . . You see dignified old men in frock coats, aggressively democratic-looking “intelligents,” with long hair and pince-nez; a Polish bishop dressed in purple, who looks like the Pope; men without collars; members of the proletariat, men in loose Russian shirts with belts; men dressed by Davies or Poole, and men dressed in the costume of two centuries ago . . . There is a Polish member who is dressed in light blue tights, a short Eton jacket and Hessian boots. He has curly hair, and looks exactly like the hero of the Cavalleria Rusticana. There is another Polish member who is dressed in a long white flannel coat reaching to his knees . . . There are some socialists who wear no collars and there is, of course, every kind of headdress you can conceive.335

The extremely heterogeneous composition of the Duma is here vividly conveyed. Here at last was a genuine cross section of Russian society all together under one roof, ready to solve the problems of society through democratic discussion and good will! But beneath the glitter and ceremony there was an invisible fault line. The tsar’s mother suffered such a shock at the sight of the great unwashed that for several days she was unable to compose herself. “They looked on us as so many enemies,” she later confided to the Minister of Finance, “and I could not stop myself from looking at certain faces, so much did they seem to reflect a strange hatred for us all.”336 The right-wing parties did not do well in the elections, and only 12 Octobrists (right-wing liberals) were returned. The Cadets benefitted from the boycott of the Social Democrats. Posing as the only left alternative, they won 184 seats. Confusion on the attitude to the Duma elections cost the Social Democrats dear. The RSDLP had attempted to boycott the elections, and then, when it became clear that the masses were participating, did a hasty about-face, but too late to recover lost ground. In effect, they had helped the Cadets. If the Social Democrats and SRs had put up candidates, the Cadet result would have been nothing like this, as was later shown in the following elections.

The mistaken tactic of the Social Democrats handed the Cadets effective control of the Duma on a plate. Puffed up with their own importance, they immediately put forward the proposal that a government should be formed that would be answerable to the Duma, as opposed to the accepted system whereby the tsar appointed the government, which was answerable to him alone. This was, in effect, a demand that power should pass to the Cadets. True to their parliamentary illusions, the Mensheviks supported the Liberals’ demand, while the Bolsheviks opposed it as playing with parliament. Even from a purely democratic point of view, this was not a demand that could be supported by a revolutionary party worthy of the name. So long as there was no equal, direct, and universal suffrage in Russia, the Duma was not representative of the people. To support the parliamentary maneuvers of the Cadets would be to create illusions in the minds of the people that such a government would be better than the undemocratic tsarist governments that had gone before. But this was not the case. The bourgeoisie wanted only to strike a bargain with the monarchy, while the revolutionary party of the working class wanted to sweep it away and replace it with a genuinely democratic government. The two aims were incompatible and that expressed itself in antagonistic tactics. The conflict over Duma tactics immediately split the RSDLP into two wings. “For or against the government of the Constitutional Democrats?” That was the question which was put to a party referendum.

In the course of the campaign around the referendum, the Menshevik Eva Broido describes a meeting at the Baltic Shipbuilding Wharf in Petersburg, a Menshevik stronghold, where Lenin spoke:

Declaring the meeting open I gave Lenin the floor. He spoke very well and with great elation. His speech was often interrupted by applause. And to my surprise he did not once attack the Mensheviks.337

Lenin lost the vote by a big majority, 50 to 13, but this shows his style in party polemics, especially when dealing with workers. Broido confessed her astonishment. Was this the same Lenin that had so sharply broken with Martov and Plekhanov? Yet in a debate before the workers who are under Menshevik influence, “he did not once attack the Mensheviks.” This tells us a lot about Lenin’s method of argument.

Although the text of Lenin’s speech at the shipyards has not been preserved, it is not hard to imagine its content. He would have attacked, not the Menshevik leaders, but the main enemy—the landlords and capitalists and the tsarist regime; he would have explained that the so-called liberals in the Duma, the Cadets, had turned their backs on the revolution and were striving for a deal with tsarism; he would have called upon the workers to rely only on their own strength, not to get entangled with alliances and deals with the treacherous liberals; and he would have demanded that the RSDLP—the workers’ party—stick firmly to a policy of class independence. Lenin always relied upon the strength of his case—facts, figures, and arguments—in order to convince his audience. Only by such means did he eventually win over the majority, first of the active layers, then of the working class as a whole. The same methods were used in 1917, when Lenin directed the Bolshevik Party to win the masses with the famous slogan “Patiently explain!”

Although the Duma was dominated by the Cadets, they were not the largest parliamentary group. There was, for reasons explained already, a sizeable bloc of peasant deputies—200 in all. Some thought that this would be a factor for stability. The illusion of the god-fearing, pro-tsarist muzhik was still strong in upper-class circles: “Thank heaven!” exclaimed Count Witte, “the Duma will be predominantly peasant.” But this optimism was premature. The muzhik was becoming conscious of his interests. A big section of the peasant deputies organized themselves as the “Labor Group” (the “Trudovaya Gruppa” or “Trudoviks” as they became known). Lenin immediately grasped the significance of this. The peasants had sent their representatives to the Duma, not to make speeches but to get the land. They would soon discover in practice that the Duma was powerless to solve their most pressing needs. In the meantime, the Social Democrats must try by all means to establish a firm link with the peasant deputies, whose contradictory psychology was described by Lenin thus:

[The typical Trudovik is a peasant who] is not averse to a compromise with the monarchy, to settling down quietly on his own plot of land under the bourgeois system; but at the present time his main efforts are concentrated on the fight against the landlords for land, on the fight against the feudal state, and for democracy.338

The Bolsheviks’ tactic consisted in trying to win away the Trudoviks from the influence of the Cadets. But such a tactic necessarily entailed the skillful utilization of parliament. The boycott tactic had failed. It was necessary to adapt the Party’s tactics to the prevailing conditions if it was not to be reduced to an impotent sect cut off from the masses. By skillfully combining legal and illegal work, it would be possible to get the best of both worlds. Revolutionaries could make use of such legal openings that were still available, and supplement this work with illegal activities. What could not be said in the pages of the legal press and from the tribune of the Duma, could be printed in the underground papers. The work of the Social Democratic deputies in the Duma could be publicized in legal papers such as Volna, Vperyod, and Ekho, which exposed the fraudulent character of this pseudoparliament and the sellouts of the liberals.

For the Mensheviks the Duma became the center of all attention. This reformist deviation was immediately noticeable in the declaration of the Social Democratic Duma Fraction of July 16, which asserted that the Duma “can become the center of the movement of the entire people against the autocratic police state.”339 There began an uninterrupted series of clashes between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks over the issue of the attitude to the Duma. The Menshevik-dominated Central Committee sent out a circular to all RSDLP branches asking them to support all steps taken by the Duma (that is, the Cadets) to change Goremykin, the chairman of the Council of Ministers, for a Cadet. The Bolsheviks immediately protested against this tail-ending of the liberals in the Duma. To this the Mensheviks replied that it was necessary to support the progressive bourgeoisie (i.e., the Cadets) against the Ministry. Lenin answered that the Party’s parliamentary representatives must maintain complete independence from all other parties, especially the bourgeois liberals. “Rely on your own strength,” he said to them. “Only in this way can we win over lower, oppressed strata of revolutionary petty bourgeoisie (Trudoviks), and split them away from the Liberals (Cadets).”

The Cadets’ ministerial ambitions, and their burning desire to save the autocracy from itself, soon brought them into collision with the ruling Ministry. In effect, they were saying to the tsar:

See, your ministers cannot be relied on to defend the old order. You need new men, people who enjoy the trust of the masses. Only we can keep the masses in check. But you must move over and share power with us.

But by now the powers-that-be had recovered from their initial alarm. They were getting the situation under control with the aid of the bullet and the noose. The services of the liberals were no longer required. Determined to eradicate the last vestiges of the gains of the revolution, the court clique went onto the offensive. Even the timid resistance of the Duma was too much for Nicholas to tolerate.

On May 13, 1906, the government rejected the demands of the Cadet Duma stated in its Address. In reply the Duma passed a resolution expressing “no confidence” in the Ministry and insisting on its resignation. The Menshevik CC of the RSDLP circulated to the Party organizations a resolution proposing to support the Cadet Duma’s demand for a Duma—that is a Cadet—ministry. The opportunism of the Mensheviks in the Duma was too much for the Party members to stomach. The Bolsheviks succeeded in getting the Party to condemn Milyukov’s Duma tactics. In Petersburg the Party organization voted 1760 for the Bolsheviks, 952 for the Mensheviks on this issue. At its July Conference, the Petersburg party organizations confirmed this position. After a debate in which Lenin spoke for the Bolsheviks and Dan for the Mensheviks, the Petersburg Social Democrats specifically rejected the call for a Duma Ministry. Despite this, the Social Democratic parliamentary fraction continued its conciliationist stance by supporting a Cadet resolution on the agrarian question.

Lenin poured scorn on the liberals’ Duma antics:

“The Duma is powerless,” he wrote. “It is powerless not only because it lacks the bayonets and machine guns that the government has at its command, but also because, as a whole, it is not revolutionary, and is incapable of waging a resolute struggle.”340

Lenin was soon shown to be correct. The Duma foundered precisely on the land question. Far from being a solid basis for reaction, the Trudovik peasants used their position in the Duma to agitate for peasants’ rights. The question of taking over the landlords’ estates was raised in the Duma, to the horror of the tsar. “What belongs to the landlord belongs to him,” was his angry comment. It spelled the end for the first Duma. Irritated by the radical-sounding speeches emanating from the halls of the Tauride palace, the tsar had already decided to put an end to this circus.

Footnotes

335 M. Baring, A Year in Russia, London, 191–92, 202. Quoted by L. Kochan, Russia in Revolution, 121.

336 Quoted in O. Figes, A People’s Tragedy, 214.

337 Eva Broido, Memoirs, 132.

338 LCW, An Attempt at a Classification of the Political Parties of Russia, vol. 11, 229.

339 Quoted in the Istoria KPSS, vol. 2, 202.

340 LCW, Resolution (II) of the St. Petersburg Committee of the RSDLP on the Attitude Towards the State Duma, vol. 10, 481.