Th. Rothstein 1907

Russian Elections


Source: Justice, 23 February 1907, p. 6;
Transcribed: Ted Crawford,
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


The Russian elections present a spectacle which is probably unique in the political history of modern times. Here we have an electoral law, in comparison with which even the famous electoral law of the Prussian Landtag, apostrophised by its own author Bismarck as “the most shameful in the world,” appears as purest democracy. The franchise is only possessed by a small fraction of the people, belonging to certain classes qualified by property, residence, payment of rates and certain taxes, and by workmen working in factories, where not less than 50 persons are employed. Then the value of the franchise differs in different classes and the mode of exercising it is indirect. The deputies are chosen not by the population, but by electors, and the electors themselves are chosen by one or two or more stages according to the class of voters. The large landowners, that is those whose landed property reaches a certain size, fixed for each province separately, as well as the “burghers” possessing the franchise, elect their electors by one stage: the former meet for the purpose at their election assemblies in the chief town of the district (part of a province) where they reside, and the latter vote in the usual way at the polling stations. The petty landowners, however, the workmen and the peasants elect their electors through delegates. The petty landowners assemble at the chief towns of their respective districts and choose as many delegates as the aggregate property of those attending would produce properties of the size fixed for the qualification of a large landowner in the given province. The workmen qualified to vote (as above) likewise meet at an election assembly and choose one delegate for the first thousand or less (but not less than 50) and one addition, al delegate for every further complete thousand of workmen employed in the town or district and qualified as above. Last, the peasants first choose one representative for every ten households in the village and these representatives, at the parish election assemblies, choose two delegates for each parish. So far we have in these classes only delegates. Now comes the election of the electors. The workmen’s delegates and the peasants’ delegates elect them separately in their own colleges; but the delegates of the petty landowners have to meet the large landowners in the district towns and choose the electors together with them. We thus arrive at the last stage—that of electing the deputies. For that purpose all the electors of all classes—of the landowners, large and petty, the burghers, the peasants and the workmen—assemble in the chief towns of their respective provinces; the peasants’ electors elect, first, a deputy of their own (that is, one for each province), and then all the electors together elect the required number of deputies for the province. Thus, the Russian constituency is a province constituency, with the exception of 26 larger towns which enjoy a separate representation of their own, that is, elect their own electors who, without mixing up with the electors of the province, choose a specified number of electors.

It is not necessary to enter into details, but anyone who takes the trouble to wade through the complicated procedure sketched out above, will see that if ever an electoral law has been devised to frustrate all the efforts of a democracy and to distort the will and the opinions of a nation, it is this electoral concoction of the Russian bureaucracy. We must not forget that the arithmetic of this electoral law is quite on a par with its geometry. The workmen, for instance, are allowed a number of electors which is quite insignificant in comparison with the total number of electors in the province, with whom they have conjointly to choose the deputies. Likewise, the electors of the burghers form but a small proportion of the total number of electors of the provincial assemblies. On the other hand, the large landowners are given an overwhelming majority of electors in the landowners’ college, while the peasants, who have been regarded as the most backward element of all, enjoy a large number of electors, who, besides, return one deputy per province directly.

But even this is not all. Taught by the experience of the first Duma, the Government, by a series of soi-disant legal interpretations through the Senate, has removed 1 from the voters’ lists hundreds of thousands of workmen and peasants. Workmen, for instance, who are qualified to vote in the workmen’s college, lose their qualification as householders. Likewise railway servants as State “officials,” may no longer vote. Peasants, too, who are not residents in the villages are no longer qualified to vote, etc. In this way the franchise has been further restricted, giving additional advantage to the more reactionary classes of voters.

Now, let anyone imagine such a remarkable electoral law existing, say, in France, what would be the result of the elections? Certainly, a large reactionary majority. And if in addition to the above, he were told that all the progressive parties have been declared illegal, their agitation illegal, their polling cards illegal, their canvassing illegal, and their most prominent men are being continually either struck off the register or arrested on some fictitious charge—sometimes on the very eve of the elections—that the revolutionary parties dare not even declare the names of their nominees either or electors or deputies, that the administration, beginning with the Governors-General and ending with the police, are continuously, and in the most terroristic fashion, interfering in the elections, threatening with arrests and pogroms—if he were told that and many similar, almost incredible things besides, what would he then say? Why, he would say that anyone entertaining the slightest doubt as to the result of such elections is fit for a lunatic asylum.

Well, Russia is at the present moment rapidly qualifying herself for such an institution. A veritable miracle of miracles is taking place there—even greater than that of first Duma elections. Workmen, peasants, landowners, and burghers all vie with each other in returning men of the opposition as electors, and the Duma will be three-fourths an Opposition Duma. How is that possible? Take a concrete example—the election of electors in the landowners college in St. Petersburg district. That district is overwhelmingly reactionary, being ruled by large landowners belonging to the most aristocratic and the highest bureaucratic circles. They number 576. The petty landowners, who are mostly Radicals, have chosen 119 delegates, and these delegates, together with 574 reactionary large landowners, have to choose in a common college four electors. Can there be any doubt as to the result? But observe how it works out. The delegates of the petty landowners, being devoted to the cause of freedom, come to the assembly 109 strong. The grand seigneurs, however, are lazy, some preoccupied in hunting and other aristocratic pastimes—and do not take the trouble to appear at the assembly in any great force. Only 283 of them come to take part in the elections. Even as it is, however, they still possess the majority of votes. But as the 283 stalwarts, who come to discharge their civic duty, have also done so only because they are not of the lazy and reactionary sort, they soon come to an agreement with the delegates of the petty landowners, and all the four elector’s chosen turn out to the Radicals ! Could anything be more remarkable? Yet it happens almost everywhere to a greater or less extent. The reactionaries as reactionaries, that is men without political and civic ideals, largely stay at home (unless they are paid for the job, which sometimes happens), and that while the Progressives come forward and turn the scale of the elections in their favour. But there are certain classes of voters which contain scarcely any reactionaries at all. Such are, of course, the workmen who invariably elect Socialists, and are overwhelmingly Social-Democrats, and the peasants. The latter are simply a revelation. Bent upon getting land and hating the bureaucracy, they return as electors men of the most extreme views they can get hold of. “Ah,” they say, “our schoolmaster was in prison for propaganda, he is the right sort for us.” And vice versa: “This man is being canvassed for by the rural chief and the priest, we don’t want him.” And they choose Social-Democrats, Revolutionary Socialists, and Labour men (mostly under the guise of “non-party” men), of whom the latter are regarded as the most moderate of all. It is in a few backward districts—“darkest Russia”—that they have yielded to the pressure of the local authorities and have chosen the nominees of the Government parties. But it remains to be seen whether the Duma, when assembled, will not, as it did last time, find the electoral corruption there too great and order new elections.

It is difficult as yet to give a forecast of the state of the various parties in, the next Duma. The elections of the electors are not yet complete, a number of them resulting in opposition victories, have been arbitrarily quashed by the Government so as to give the reaction another chance, and the election of deputies only commenced on February 18. It is a dead certainty, however, that the parties of the Right will only form a minority, while the bulk will belong to the Constitutional Democrats and the Socialists. That the reactionaries will at all succeed in finding their way to the Duma will be due, chiefly, if not solely, to the tactics of the Constitutional Democrats who in many places have preferred to split the Opposition vote rather than to come to an agreement with the Socialist “bloc.” In St. Petersburg, for instance, where the proletariat forms the bulk of the progressive population and has borne upon its shoulders the entire burden of the revolution, the “Cadets” refused to give to the triple bloc of the Extreme Left more than two seats, indeed that they, the Constitutional Democrats, must have at least four. There is now, therefore, in St. Petersburg, a three-cornered fight, and the result may be the return of reactionaries. It is remarkable that having refused to the parties of the proletariat three seats, the Cadets have now taken upon their list three nominees of the parties even more moderate than the Cadets themselves. On the other hand, if the Socialists are not returned to the Duma in greater strength than is anticipated, it will of course be due to the electoral disqualification of the majority of the proletariat, to the small number of electors which the workmen’s college can return, to the fear on the part of the average elector in the towns to split the vote, to the dirty tactics of the Constitutional Democrats in such places as Moscow, to the ruthless suppression of the Socialist agitation and Socialist press, and to the wholesale arrests of the Socialist electors and nominees for deputies. Still there will be entire provinces and towns which will return only Socialists, and mostly Socialists.

The result of the elections will be a demonstration that the revolution is by no means dead. The proletariat has been vanquished in its great duel with the autocracy, but new ever widening circles of the population are being drawn into the fight, breaking d all the barriers, and demonstrating in teeth of the courts-martial, executions, deportations, arrests “black hundreds,” all the innumerable forces of suppression, oppression, and repression, an implacable hatred towards the autocracy. Probably the second Duma will be dissolved like the first, but the organisation of the masses for revolution will have made a further step. And who knows? Perhaps it may be sufficient to bring about the collapse of the vile Czardom by a new and final attack.

TH. ROTHSTEIN