A. Badayev

The Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma


Chapter I
The Elections to the Fourth Duma

Why the Social-Democrats took part in the Elections – Electoral Programme of the Bolsheviks – Workers’ Suffrage – The Elections in the Large Towns – How the Government Prepared the Elections – The Bolsheviks on Blocs with other Parties – The Role of Pravda in the Election Campaign

The Third State Duma, which was the first Duma to complete the full legal period of five years, was dissolved in the middle of the summer of 1912. It had a majority of nobles and landlords, and proved an obedient tool in the hands of the government. The fractions of the Social-Democrats and the bourgeois democrats (Trudoviks) were small in number and were of course unable to prevent the Duma from passing all the bills submitted to it by the government. The Cadets, the party of the liberal bourgeoisie, although professedly in opposition to the government, were afraid of resolute words and deeds. Under the slogan of “saving the Duma,” the Cadets and the Progressives, a group akin to them, were quiet and submissive, allowing the majority on the Right to do as they pleased. The Third Duma gave the government all that it desired, it was a “law-abiding and efficient” people’s representation.

In a survey of the five years’ work of the Third State Duma, on the day after its dissolution, Pravda wrote as follows:

The entire activity of the State Duma was directed towards the preservation of the class interests of its majority. Therefore these five years of an “efficient” Duma did not in any way assist in the solution of a series of urgent questions which are of enormous importance to the country. All attempts made by the Left Parties, by means of interpellations, to shed light on the dark aspects of Russian life and to draw to them the attention of the country were frustrated by the votes of the dominant majority ... A good riddance.

With these words Pravda took farewell of the Third Duma, expressing thereby the general attitude of the workers and peasants.

The Fourth Duma was to follow in the footsteps of the Third. The electoral law remained the same, and therefore the majority in the new Duma was bound to be as Black Hundred as before. There was no doubt that the activities of the Fourth Duma would also be directed against the workers and that its legislation would be of no use either to the workers or the peasantry.

In spite of these considerations the Social-Democratic Party decided to take an active part in the elections as it had done in those for the Second and Third Dumas. The experience of the preceding years had shown the great importance of an election campaign from the standpoint of agitation, and the important role played by Social-Democratic fractions in the Duma. Our fractions, while refusing to take part in the so-called “positive” work of legislation, used the Duma rostrum for revolutionary agitation. The work of the Social-Democratic fractions outside the Duma was still more important; they were becoming the organising centres of Party work in Russia. Therefore our Party decided that active participation in the campaign was necessary.

Thus, while there was no difference of opinion within the ranks of the Social-Democratic Party with regard to participation in the elections, there was a sharp clash between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks over the electoral tactics and over the role of the future Duma fraction.

The problem of the Fourth State Duma was only one of the problems of current Party work, but it reflected all the differences between the two factions of the Russian Social-Democracy. As early as January 1912, six months before the dissolution of the Third Duma, the Prague Conference of the Party framed the programme for the forthcoming election campaign. The Conference recognised that “the task to which all other tasks should be subordinated was socialist propaganda on class lines and the organisation of the working class.” The tactical line of the Party at the elections was defined as follows:

... the Party must wage a merciless war against the tsarist autocracy and the parties of landlords and capitalists that support it, persistently exposing at the same time the counter-revolutionary views and false democracy of the bourgeois liberals (with the Cadet party at their head). Special attention should be paid in the election campaign to maintaining the independence of the party of the proletariat from all the non-proletarian parties, to revealing the petty bourgeois nature of the pseudo-socialism of the democratic groups (mainly the Trudoviks, the Narodniks, and the Socialist-Revolutionaries), and to exposing the harm done to the cause of democracy by their vacillations on questions of mass revolutionary struggle.

The Bolsheviks regarded the election campaign to the State Duma as an opportunity for far-reaching agitation and propaganda and as one of the means of organising the masses. By attempting to secure the election of their own candidates, the Bolsheviks did not transform the campaign into a mere struggle for a few seats in the Duma. The activity of the Duma fraction both within and outside the Duma had great revolutionary importance. But the election campaign itself was of no less importance and throughout its course the revolutionary position of Social-Democracy had to be preserved in all its purity, without being toned down or retouched for any secondary considerations.

What were the arguments of the Menshevik-Liquidators? Their estimate of the coming election campaign to the Fourth Duma proceeded from the assumption that only two camps would tight: the reactionaries and the Black Hundreds on the one hand, and the Liberals on the other (a bloc was expected to be formed of the Cadets, the Progressives, and the Left Octobrists). Proceeding from this estimate, they proclaimed as the slogan for the campaign the necessity of “striving to oust reaction from its position in the Duma,” of “wresting the Duma from the hands of reaction,” etc. In its essence this position of the Mensheviks meant that the election campaign would be conducted hand in glove with the Liberals.

The divergences between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks were still more strikingly manifested in their respective political platforms advanced during the election campaign. In the resolution of the Prague Conference referred to above, the Bolsheviks defined the political platform to be advocated during the elections as follows:

The principal slogans of our Party at the coming elections should he the following: (1) a democratic republic, (2) an eight-hour day, (3) the confiscation of all landlords’ estates. During the whole of our election campaign these demands should be clearly explained on the basis of the experience of the Third Duma and the entire activity of the government in the sphere of both central and local administration. The rest of the Social-Democratic minimum programme, such as universal suffrage, freedom of association, popular election of judges and officials, the substitution of an armed people for a standing army, etc., is to he brought up in our propaganda and linked up with the above three slogans.

These three basic slogans of the Bolshevik Party, afterwards called the “three whales,” formulated the fundamental demands of the Russian workers and peasants. The slogan of a “democratic republic” directly raised the question of overthrowing tsarism, even though that tsarism was masked by an emasculated Duma, this slogan exposed the “constitutional illusions,” and showed the working class that the reforms passed by the State Duma would not help them in the least, and that there was no possibility of improving their lot under the existing form of government.

The other two “whales” expressed the main economic demands of the workers. The eight-hour day was the chief demand in the economic struggle of the working class. Nearly all the strikes, which were continually increasing in extent, were accompanied by the demand for an eight-hour day. The slogan of the confiscation of the landlords’ estates offered a revolutionary solution of the agrarian question and formulated the demands and aspirations of the hundred million Russian peasants.

The rest of the minimum programme was linked up with these three basic demands, i.e. the Bolsheviks emphasised that it could only be achieved after the basic demands of the revolutionary movement had been realised.

What was the Menshevik election programme? It was precisely those secondary demands, advanced by the Bolsheviks only in association with the main revolutionary slogans, that the Mensheviks put forward as independent demands.

The Menshevik platform presented the three basic slogans of the Bolsheviks in a weakened form. Instead of “a democratic republic” they demanded the “sovereignty of the people’s representatives”; instead of “the confiscation of the landlords’ estates” they asked vaguely for a “revision of the agrarian legislation,” etc.

The entire Menshevik platform involved the substitution of slogans and demands adapted to the contingencies of a legal movement for those on which the revolutionary struggle of the working class was proceeding.

The electoral law, passed by the government prior to the elections to the First Duma, was so drafted as to secure a majority for the bourgeoisie and the landlords. The voting was not direct but by a system of stages. Various classes of the population (the landlords, the big property-owners in the towns, the peasants, working men, etc.) had first to elect electors, who in turn elected the deputies from amongst themselves. For the peasants and working men the system was still more complicated; the workers, for example, first elected delegates, who in their turn elected electors, and only the latter took part in the Gubernia electoral colleges, which elected the deputies. In addition there were a number of property qualifications – for instance in the towns only householders (tenants of apartments) were entitled to vote.

The complicated electoral machinery devised by the government did not, however, yield the results desired by the latter in the elections to the First and Second Dumas. The majority in those Dumas was in opposition to the government, and both Dumas were dissolved before the expiration of their terms of office. After the dissolution of the Second Duma on June 3, 1907, a new electoral law was passed which still further curtailed the suffrage, and excluded large groups of the population. Special attention was paid to the workers, and the number of electors in the workers’ curiæ was greatly reduced. However, the framers of the new electoral law did not dare to go so far as to prevent the workers from having any representation in the Duma at all. The law provided that in six specified Gubernias (St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kharkov, Kostroma, Vladimir and Yekaterinoslav) the electoral colleges were to elect one deputy from the workers’ curiæ. But this provision was not extended to the large working class constituencies in the Urals, in Poland, in the Caucasus, etc.

But even this restricted suffrage was not enjoyed by all working men. Only workers who had worked at a given factory for not less than six months were entitled to take part in the election of delegates (the primary stage). On the one hand this provision opened a vast field for corrupt practices, and on the other it made it extremely difficult for the revolutionary parties to select candidates beforehand. A workman could be dismissed on the eve of the election and thus be disqualified from voting; even if he secured work at any other factory, he would not be entitled to vote or be elected because he would not have been employed at this place long enough to qualify.

Notwithstanding these obstacles, it was clear that the elections in the workers’ curiæ must result in a victory for the radical parties. It was obvious that the workers would not support even the Liberals, let alone the reactionaries.

The case was somewhat different during the elections in the towns, where the electors were divided into two categories: the first embracing the big bourgeoisie, and the second, householders (or occupiers of apartments), among whom there were many thousands of democratic electors, such as working men, artisans, minor officials, clerks, etc. The fight in the second curiæ virtually proceeded between the Cadets and the Social-Democrats.

Here, too, the government resorted to a number of tricks in order artificially to reduce the number of electors. One method was provided by the very system used for compiling the lists of electors. Although the law granted the suffrage to all householders who had reached the age of twenty-five, only those were entered on the lists who paid a special house-tax, i.e., those who occupied the large and expensive apartments. All other would-be electors could have their names entered on the lists only by making a special application to the electoral commission. But the electors who made such application had to pass through so many police obstacles as to make them lose all desire to participate in the elections. First of all, it was necessary to obtain a certificate from the police, who did their best to hamper the issue of such certificates. The electors were made to apply repeatedly in person to the chief officer of the appropriate police station; the certificates which they received were deliberately so worded, as to be later declared void by the election commissions, or the elector was told that he was already too late in making his application, and by the time he found out the truth, and established his rights, the period allowed for such application would actually have elapsed.

Another method of restricting the number of electors was the famous “disqualifications,” based on an arbitrary interpretation of the law. Such “disqualifications” were issued by all kinds of authorities, and they were aimed not only against individual persons who were regarded with suspicion by the authorities, but against whole groups of the population. Thus, by one stroke of the pen, 95 per cent, of the Jews living beyond the “pale of settlement” were disfranchised. Each governor acted at his own discretion; each police officer interpreted the electoral law in his own way.

During the elections to the Fourth Duma, the tsarist government repeated the “successful” experiment it performed in the elections to the previous Duma.

Immediately after the dissolution of the Third Duma, a special election apparatus was set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs, for the purpose of drafting amendments and supplements to the electoral law with a view to securing a government majority. In some Gubernias, special curiæ for the clergy were formed, while in others the clergy were included in the landlords’ curiæ. The clergy generally played a large part in the elections, and there were a great number of deputies wearing the cassock in all the previous Dumas. The army of the clergy was commanded by the Synod, which instructed them not only how to catch the souls of the parishioners, but also how to catch their votes.

In the outlying regions, where the population consisted mainly of non-Russians, among whom anti-government sentiments prevailed, special Russian curiæ were set up, i.e., special Russian groups were formed consisting largely of government officials, who were frequently allotted a number of electors far exceeding that fixed for the native population of the region.

Under such a system of elections, Black Hundred candidates could easily secure election in the mixed city curiæ, which contained large masses of indifferent and politically unenlightened voters. Accordingly, the tactics the Social-Democratic Party adopted in the city curiæ were different from those adopted in the workers’ curia?

The Bolsheviks thought it necessary to put up candidates in all workers’ curiæ and would not tolerate any agreements with other parties and groups, including the Menshevik-Liquidators. They also considered it necessary to put up candidates in the so-called “second curiæ of city electors” (the first curiæ consisted of large property owners and democratic candidates had no chance there at all) and in the elections in the villages, because of the great agitational value of the campaign. But in order to safeguard against the possible victory of reactionary candidates, the Bolsheviks permitted agreements respectively with the bourgeois democrats (Trudoviks, etc.) against the Liberals, and with the Liberals against the government parties during the second ballot for the election of electors in the city curiæ. The five big towns (St. Petersburg, Moscow, Riga, Odessa and Kiev) had a direct system of elections with second ballot. In these towns the Social-Democrats put up independent lists of candidates, and as there was no danger of Black Hundred candidates being elected no agreements were entered into with the Liberal bourgeoisie. The resolutions of the Prague Party Conference, which established these tactics, emphasised that “election agreements must not involve the adoption of a platform, nor must the agreements bind the Social-Democratic candidates by any political obligations whatsoever, or prevent the Social-Democracy from resolutely criticising the counter-revolutionary nature of the Liberals and the half-heartedness and inconsistency of the bourgeois democrats.” Hence, the agreements entered into by the Bolsheviks in the second ballots were not in the nature of a bloc of political parties.

The main difficulty the Social-Democrats, had to contend with in the election campaigns was that our Party was illegal and was subjected to constant and direct attacks from the tsarist police. The election campaign had to be organised from underground, under the daily threat of prosecutions, arrests and exiles.

The Mensheviks were in a somewhat better position, both because they entered the fight with their demands cut down and adapted to the legal possibilities then in existence, and because they possessed more literary forces. The leaders of the Mensheviks – Dan, Potresov, etc. lived legally in St. Petersburg, and openly contributed to the press, while the whole of the Bolshevik leadership was either in exile, in prison or in emigration abroad. Still, it must be said that during the elections to the Fourth Duma, the Bolsheviks possessed a powerful weapon which they had not possessed in the previous campaigns. This weapon was provided by the paper Pravda, which began to be published a few months before the elections.

The role played by Pravda during the elections was enormous. The paper, acting as the mouthpiece of the advanced, revolutionary and class-conscious masses of the workers, at the same time fought against the Liquidators, against the influence of the Liberal bourgeoisie, and the amorphous “non-party” attitude which is so harmful to the labour movement.

Beginning with June 1912, the pages of Pravda were filled with articles, notes, correspondence, etc., bearing on the approaching elections. Pravda also conducted a great campaign against the absenteeism of the city democratic electors, calling upon them to safeguard their rights and to perform all the formalities required. Every issue of the paper reminded the electors to see to it that their names were not left out of the electoral lists and to make the requisite applications to the electoral commissions. Pravda called upon each of its readers to secure not less than three voters from among his comrades at the bench or his neighbours in the house where he lived.

Still greater was the role played by Pravda in the preparation for the elections in the workers’ curiæ. Whereas in the elections in the city curiæ importance attached to election meetings, which, of course, were subject to strong police surveillance, the elections in the workers’ curiæ had no electoral weapon. [A] The law prohibited any workers’ election meetings. Under such conditions the agitation of Pravda acquired especially great importance.

Last updated on 14.9.2011