A. Badayev

The Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma


Chapter IV
The Opening of the Duma

Strike on the Opening Day of the Duma – The Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks on the Strike – The First Sitting of the Fourth Duma – The Social-Democratic Fraction and the Election of the Duma Presidium – The Government Declaration – The Reply of the Social-Democrats – The “omissions” of Malinovsky

A WAVE of strikes accompanied the beginning of the work of the new State Duma. The working class had fully grasped the importance of the strike weapon and made extensive use of it in the struggles against the tsarist government and the bourgeoisie.

Immediately before the opening of the Duma, which had been fixed for November 15, 1912, a meeting was held in St. Petersburg to protest against the death sentences which had been passed on a number of sailors of the Black Sea fleet. A naval court martial in Sebastopol had condemned seventeen sailors to death and 106 to penal servitude for conspiring to prepare a revolt. In reply, mass strikes were organised, which quickly spread from St. Petersburg to other regions of Russia. Within a week more than 60,000 workers, i.e. about one-fourth of the St. Petersburg workers, took part in one-day strikes. In the whole of Russia about a quarter of a million men participated in this protest strike. At some of the St. Petersburg works demonstrations were organised and the workers marched through the streets carrying red flags and singing revolutionary songs.

The strike movement called forth by the naval court-martial sentence continued until the opening of the Duma and was then transformed into a political strike, timed to coincide with the first sitting of the Duma. This latter strike was declared as a protest against the law of June 3 and the reactionary Duma, and as a demonstration in support of the Social-Democratic deputies. At the same time the strikers protested once more against the death sentence passed on the sailors and against the brutal treatment of political prisoners in the Algachinsky and Kutomarsky prisons.

The strikes and demonstrations were organised by three groups of St. Petersburg Social-Democrats. The proclamation issued three days before the Duma opened bore the following signatures: “The St. Petersburg central Social-Democratic group of trade union organisers,” “A group of Social-Democrats,” “A group of revolutionary Social-Democrats.” Neither the Bolshevik St. Petersburg Committee nor the Organising Bureau of the Mensheviks had anything to do with the publication of the proclamation or the organisation of the strike. The initiators of the strike did not even notify their appeal to the Party committees or the editors of the two papers (Pravda and Luch) or our Duma fraction, which had already been in existence for two weeks.

Such guerrilla action by separate groups, taking the initiative into their own hands, was the result of inadequate organisation of the revolutionary movement. But it can also be partly accounted for by the difficulty of establishing relations with the leading Party committees, which were continually persecuted and hunted by the secret police and which therefore had to keep their whereabouts very secret.

These circumstances determined the character of such actions: they all lacked a clearly defined and firm Party line. Their usual slogans were “non-factional spirit” and “unity” and they possessed that vagueness and indefiniteness which was later characteristic of the future mezhraiontsi. [1]

Both Bolshevik and Menshevik slogans appeared in the proclamation issued by these groups. It called for the confiscation of landlords’ estates,” “freedom of association,” “genuine representation of the people “ and “a struggle for a democratic republic,” etc. It was distributed at the factories three days previous to November 15, and at the same time the organisers of the strike carried on oral agitation among the workers. Thus both our fraction and the St. Petersburg Party centres were confronted with an accomplished fact.

A conference was at once called, attended by the Bolshevik and Menshevik deputies, who by that time had arrived in St. Petersburg, and representatives of the St. Petersburg Committee, the Menshevik Committee, and the editorial boards of both papers, Pravda and Luch. The Mensheviks were completely opposed to both the strike and the demonstration, which they regarded as a waste of forces, and they considered that it was necessary to check the proposed action. “The strike fever,” “incitement to rioting,” such were the terms applied by the Liquidators to the ever more frequent strikes and the militancy of the working class. We Bolsheviks regarded this attitude towards the proposed strike as inadmissible. Although the strike had been prepared in an unorganised way, and not as it should have been prepared, nevertheless, since the appeal to strike had evoked sympathetic response from the workers, we regarded it as wrong to oppose their action.

At the instance of the Menshevik majority, however, a communication was issued in the name of the fraction to the effect that, according to the information of the fraction, the proclamation distributed at the factories “does not emanate from any of the authoritative St. Petersburg Social-Democratic groups.”

The Liquidators were not satisfied with this declaration and started in Luch a campaign for smashing the strike, contemptibly insinuating that “the appeal to strike is an attempt made by unknown persons to abuse the enthusiasm of the workers,” that “this renders its origin very suspicious,” etc. However, although they were unable to paralyse or to frustrate the strike altogether, they succeeded in considerably hampering its development.

The behaviour of the Mensheviks aroused violent protests from the groups which had organised the strike. This made the position of the Bolshevik section of the fraction very difficult. But while the unorganised character of the strike, its precipitate and incorrect preparation made it difficult for the Bolshevik deputies to define their attitude, the Liquidators cleverly took advantage of the situation and conducted their anti-strike campaign. It was necessary to clarify the position and to ascertain all the circumstances of the case. The question was first discussed in the St. Petersburg Committee, which then made a report to the fraction, insisting on the necessity of investigating the case jointly with representatives from those groups which had declared the strike. For this purpose the fraction set up a commission in which Skobelev represented the Mensheviks, and I the Bolsheviks. Late at night, on the premises of a printing-shop, we held a meeting with the groups’ representatives and with members of the St. Petersburg Committee. All the circumstances concerning the declaration of the strike and the publication of the proclamations were examined (it transpired, in particular, that most of the strike organisers were Bolsheviks). The results of these negotiations were reported to a meeting of the fraction. Finally the conflict was settled and the Mensheviks had to acknowledge that their course of action had been incorrect. [C]

According to the estimate of the secret police, about 30,000 St. Petersburg workers took part in the one-day strike on November 15. The secret police report to the director of the police department describes the events which took place in the streets of St. Petersburg on that day in the following words:

“From 11 a.m., small groups of workers were noticed moving along the sidewalks in the neighbourhood of the Taurida Palace, and at about 3 p.m. a number of university students and intellectuals appeared at the same place. For a long time the crowd walked round the Taurida gardens, but the police prevented them from gathering together and they gradually dispersed.

“At about 3.30 p.m. a crowd formed of these workers and students appeared in Kirochnaya Street. Singing revolutionary songs, and carrying a red flag, about the size of a handkerchief, bearing the legend ‘Down with Autocracy,’ they came out to Liteyny Prospect and went towards Nevsky Prospect. At the corner of Liteyny Prospect and Basseynaya and Simeonovskaya Streets, the ordinary police dispersed the demonstrators, picked up the flag from the sidewalk where the crowd had gathered and arrested the flag-bearer.

“At 3 p.m., a similar crowd of about 100 people from among those who were near the Taurida Palace walked from the other end of Kirochnaya Street, without any demonstrations, along the Surorov Prospect towards the Nevsky Prospect. At the corner of the Sixth Rozhdestvenskaya Street they were dispersed by the police.

“Then, also at 3 p.m. in Ligovskaya Street near Znamenskaya Square, a small crowd of workers assembled and tried to proceed along the right side of Ligovskaya Street towards the Obvodny canal, but this crowd was soon broken up by the police. About 15 to 20 people, apparently a remnant of this crowd, came up to the candy factory of Bligken and Robinson, which is situated at No. 52 Ligovskaya Street, and forced their way through the gateway, guarded by a watchman, into the courtyard of the factory. They intended to enter the factory in order to induce the workers there to leave work, but a police patrol arrived in time to prevent them realising this intention. Some of the participants in these disorders managed to climb over the hedge and conceal themselves on the railway lines of the Nikolaievskaya Railway, but seven were arrested and will be prosecuted in accordance with the regulations in force.”

The well-informed secret police, however, somewhat toned down the events in its report. For example, it failed to report that one of the demonstrations was dispersed by the police with drawn swords; that those workers who entered the courtyard of the Bligken and Robinson factory did not get there of their own free will, but were driven there by the police, who attacked them savagely with poles and iron bars; also no information is given of other clashes with the demonstrators.

During the demonstration several people were arrested, including a number of trade union organisers, and the searches and arrests continued even on the eve of the opening of the Duma. The police were particularly anxious to find Bolsheviks and ignored the Mensheviks. After a search, Comrade Baturin (N. Zmayatin) was arrested, but Comrade Molotov, who was specially hunted for by the police, managed to escape.

Thus, the Fourth State Duma opened in an environment typical of the tsarist regime. The workers came to welcome their deputies and the police greeted the workers with the usual crop of searches, arrests and beatings-up.

While the police in the streets of St. Petersburg were demonstrating to the workers the Russian constitution “in actual practice,” the Duma was solemnly and ceremoniously opened within the walls of the Taurida Palace. After a number of prayers had been recited, the aged tsarist Secretary of State, Golubev, read the “all-highest ukase,’’ greeted by a loud hurrah from the people’s representatives. In order to remind the opposition that, even if it was admitted to the Duma, it must be silent and offer no obstruction, Golubev refused to allow the Social-Democrats and the Trudoviks to speak and explain their reasons for refusing to take part in the election of a chairman. The first sitting was wound up by the speech of the chairman-elect, M.K. Rodzyanko, who, in a stentorian voice, swore that “the Duma was steadfastly and firmly devoted to its crowned head.” The Fourth State Duma had begun its work.

The 442 deputies in the Duma were divided among the following parties: 65 Rights, 120 Nationalists and moderate Rights, 98 Octobrists, 48 Progressives, 59 Cadets, 21 National Groups (Poles, White Russians, Mohammedans), 10 Trudoviks, 14 Social-Democrats and 7 Independents. The electoral system, established by the law of June 3, had naturally given a majority to the landlords and nobles, bitter enemies of the working class and the peasantry. The Black Hundred Duma, though it was divided into various parties and groups, was in reality a reliable bulwark of tsarism. While Purishkevich, Markov and other “diehards” expressed their devotion to the existing regime by loud hurrahs, Milyukov, not to mention the Octobrists, only covered up that devotion by liberal phrases. The Octobrist-Cadet opposition was a sham; at the least scolding by tsarist ministers they immediately forgot their grandiloquent words and revealed their counter-revolutionary character.

The Cadets displayed their true sympathies at the opening sitting by voting for the Octobrist, Rodzyanko, as chairman of the Duma. Rodzyanko, gentleman-in-waiting at the Imperial Court and a big landowner in the Vekaterinoslav Gubernia, possessed a stentorian voice, was very tall and had a commanding presence. Moreover, the new chairman had other qualities; he had gained the reputation of being a faithful servant of the tsar and had proved his mettle in the preceding Duma, where he had dealt very efficiently with the deputies of the Left, whom he gagged and persecuted in every way.

While supporting the candidature of Rodzyanko, the Cadets tried to persuade the Trudoviks and our Social-Democratic fraction to participate in the election of the chairman. The Trudoviks wavered at first and their leader, Dzyubinsky, even opened negotiations on this matter. Finally, however, they overcame the vacillations and waverings so typical of the representatives of the lower middle-class and refused to take part in the election of the Duma Presidium.

For our fraction, the question of taking part in the election of the Duma Presidium was perfectly clear. We categorically rejected the offer of the Cadets. It was absolutely immaterial to us who was the chairman of the Duma. Participation in the election of the chairman would have meant assuming a certain degree of responsibility for the work of the Duma majority, which, as was perfectly well known, was hostile to the working class. The principle underlying our attitude towards Duma work was emphasised by our fraction in a declaration handed in at the opening of the Duma which, as I stated above, the Secretary of State, Golubev, would not allow us to read. This declaration ran as follows:

The chairman has always to carry out the will and desire of the State Duma. It is obvious, therefore, that whoever takes part in the election of the chairman, thereby assumes responsibility for the activity of the Duma. For this reason, the SocialDemocratic fraction in the preceding Duma abstained during the election of the chairman, refusing to be associated with the Third Duma, the Duma of the coup d’état, the Duma of the master classes, the Duma called upon to struggle against all the essential interests of the people. We know that the chairman of such a Duma would systematically attack members of the Social-Democratic fraction, whenever the latter spoke from the Duma rostrum in defence of the interests of the masses. We can boldly assert that the Social-Democratic fraction emerged victorious from that struggle; in spite of all efforts their voice was not silenced but was heard by the workers. We are sure that we shall be equally successful in the Fourth Duma, whether the chairman be elected from the moderate Khvostovists or the rabid Markovists, from the once moderate and now less moderate Right of the Gololobovists or from the former supporters of Gutchkov. [2] Despite all combinations and schemes, we shall say what we intend and shall not forget for a moment that the place we occupy has been obtained at the price of the blood of the people. We shall maintain here freedom of speech in spite of the recent judicial decision of the Senate rendering members liable to prosecution for speeches delivered in the Duma. We shall not allow our rights to express our views freely to be curtailed, although the Duma majority consists of the nominees of the Sablers, Makarovs, etc. [3]

You are welcome to choose a chairman acceptable to the majority; we shall use the rostrum in the interests of the people.

By our refusal to participate in the election of the chairman we demonstrated, on the first day of the Fourth Duma, that there could be no question of “parliamentary” work for us, that the working class only used the Duma for the greater consolidation and strengthening of the revolutionary struggle in the country. A similar attitude determined the nature of our relations with the Duma majority. No joint work, but a sustained struggle against the Rights, the Octobrists and the Cadets, and their exposure in the eyes of the workers; this was the task of the workers’ deputies in the Duma of landlords and nobles.

Despite their failure on the question of the chairman, within the next few days the Cadets made another attempt to draw the Social-Democratic fraction into some agreement. They invited our fraction to a joint meeting of the “united opposition” to discuss certain bills which were being drafted by the Cadet fraction. In reply to this invitation the Social-Democratic fraction passed a resolution stating that they would undertake no joint work with the Cadets, that the Cadets were essentially counter-revolutionary and that no friendly relations were possible between them and the party of the working class. During the election campaign, our fraction declared, the Social-Democrats fought the party of the liberal bourgeoisie and the same policy would be followed in the Duma itself. Pravda commented on this resolution as follows: “We welcome this decision of the Social-Democratic fraction; it is the only correct one and reflects the will of Social-Democrats outside the Duma.”

The only fraction with which the Social Democrats maintained more or less close relations was that of the Trudoviks. Notwithstanding its “Left” tendencies, this group was very unstable and vacillated from the Social-Democrats on the one side to the Cadets and Progressives on the other. Precisely for this reason we thought it necessary to establish closer relations with the Trudoviks [D] in order to win them over from the Cadets and bring them more under our own influence. We arranged joint meetings with them for the purpose of discussing various aspects of Duma work, and sometimes we visited their fraction meetings and invited them to attend ours.

The government declaration of policy read in the Duma a few days after its opening, presented all the Duma fractions with an opportunity to declare their policies. The debate which follows the announcement of the government’s policy is considered most important in all parliaments. These are the “great days” of parliamentary life, when the parties do not deal with individual bills, but formulate their criticism or approval of the government’s policy as a whole. On the basis of their statements in this debate on general policy, the electorate can judge the entire activities of the parliamentary parties. Consequently the contributions of the various parties to these debates are carefully prepared beforehand.

The government declaration in the Fourth Duma was read by Kokovtsev, the president of the Council of Ministers, on December 5, 1912. The ministerial box was full. The parade was completed by the full attendance of the Duma presidium, big crowds in the public boxes and galleries and the presence of foreign ambassadors with their suites, etc.

Kokovtsev started by praising the Third Duma which, in five years, had passed 2,500 laws of various kinds. This praiseworthy behaviour of the preceding Duma was held up as an example to the Fourth Duma, from which the government obviously expected a similar aptitude for the legislative farce. Then the president of the Council of Ministers proceeded to enumerate the reforms by which the government proposed to render the country happy and prosperous. In all spheres of administration the government promised to carry out “important measures of reorganisation”: strengthening and improving the police administration, as a contribution towards the improvement of local government; fewer passport formalities, and the introduction of a stricter law concerning the press in the sphere of guaranteeing the “inviolability of the person”; assistance and material support for the church parish-schools and more careful school inspection, as far as popular education was concerned, etc. Kokovtsev concluded his speech by appealing to the Duma to discuss bills submitted to it “without party prejudice, all agreeing to work in harmony for the welfare of the fatherland, equally dear to us all.” Translated into plain language this meant that the Duma was invited to accept all the proposals of the tsarist government and not to hinder it in any way.

The debate on the government’s declaration began on December 7 and continued throughout several sittings. Our reply was read on the first day.

The Social-Democratic fraction had spent a great deal of time in framing its statement, having begun on this work as soon as the fraction was formed, before the Duma opened. It was a very important and responsible task because the statement had to explain the fundamental demands of the working class and to expound the programme of the vanguard of the workers – the Social-Democratic Party. It was quite natural that during the discussion of the draft reply, clashes should occur between the Menshevik and Bolshevik sections of the fraction. The fraction acted in the name of the Party as a whole, but the contradictions in the programmes of the two sections were very acute. Under such conditions the framing of a united declaration of the fraction presented enormous difficulties and led to intense struggles between our Bolshevik group and the Menshevik deputies.

During the discussion the Bolshevik section of the fraction held firmly to the decisions of the Prague Conference which had defined the three “unabridged” demands of the working class (an eight-hour day, confiscation of landlords’ estates, and a democratic republic). The Mensheviks, on the other hand, stood on the platform of the “August bloc” with its programme of freedom of working men’s associations under the autocracy, cultural autonomy for the national minorities, etc.

We resolutely opposed the Mensheviks and insisted on including the Bolshevik demands in the declaration. Disputes arose not only over the main points, but over every phrase, every expression. In fact, two separate drafts were discussed and were finally merged into one text. In addition to the deputies. Party leaders of both sections took part in the drafting of the statement. Comrade Stalin, representing the Bolshevik Central Committee, was very active in pressing for the inclusion of our three demands, while the Mensheviks mobilised Levitsky, Lezhnov and Mayevsky and many other publicists of Luch. After a long and stubborn struggle, we contrived at fast to have all the basic demands of the Bolsheviks included in the declaration. [E]

On the initiative of the Mensheviks, Malinovsky, the vice-chairman of the fraction, was appointed to read the declaration. This was a tactical move on the part of the Mensheviks, who thought that, in return for allowing a Bolshevik to read the declaration, the text of which had been decided in detail beforehand, they would be more than compensated in some other direction.

The declaration as read by Malinovsky did not completely correspond with the text as framed by the fraction. Although he was reading the written statement, Malinovsky omitted a passage of considerable length criticising the State Duma and demanding the sovereignty of the people.

When questioned with regard to this, Malinovsky replied that he himself did not know how it had occurred, that he failed to understand how he had omitted one of the most important points of the declaration. We accounted for it by the great agitation experienced by Malinovsky in making his first speech in the Duma. It appeared that he had felt the antagonistic atmosphere of the Duma and had been affected by the conduct of the chairman and the hostile shouting of the Rights. This explanation seemed quite plausible to us then, the more so since we knew from our own experience the difficulties of speaking for the first time in the Duma.

The truth was learned subsequently when the role of Malinovsky as an agent-provocateur was revealed and established by documentary proof. Then it was discovered that he had previously shown the declaration to Byeletsky, the director of the police department, who in his turn had informed Makarov, the Minister of the Interior. Malinovsky was asked to introduce a number of amendments in order to soften the tone of the declaration, but being afraid of arousing suspicions as to his true role, he refused and finally consented to omit the passage on the “people’s sovereignty,” about which the police were particularly concerned.

While he was reading from the rostrum, Malinovsky took advantage of the fact that, just before he came to the passage in question, Rodzyanko uttered one of his usual reprimands. As if in a flurry, due to the chairman’s reprimand, Malinovsky turned over the pages lying in front of him and omitted the whole passage. Malinovsky had also been instructed by the police to behave in a most provocative way to the chairman so as to be cut short by the latter. Malinovsky, however, did not manage this and Rodzyanko failed to understand his signal when, in reply to repeated warnings by the chairman, he shouted “Well, stop me!” The declaration, though with omissions, was read to the end.

The speech was fully reported in Pravda, which was permitted by law to publish the stenographic reports of the Duma sittings. In this way the text of the declaration was widely circulated among the masses to whom it was, in fact, addressed. Thus the demands incorporated in the declaration, its criticism of the Black Hundred regime and of the tsarist government, assisted and intensified the struggle of the workers against tsarism.


1. Members of the so-called “ Inter-district Organisation of United Social-Democrats,” which originated some time before the war, and embraced some “non-fraction” Social-Democrats. It led a separate existence up to the summer of 1917, when it joined the Party. – Ed.

2. Khvostov, Markov and Gololobov were Rights and Nationalists. Gutchkov was the leader of the Octobrists.

3. V.K. Sabler was the chief procurator of the Synod and head of the State ecclesiastical department. A.A. Makarov was Minister of the Interior.

Last updated on 14.9.2011