A. Badayev

The Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma


Chapter XIV
The Bolshevik Fraction

The First Acts of the Fraction – Sabotage by the “Seven” – Reinforcing Duma Work – The Eight-Hour Bill – The Disintegration of the Menshevik Fraction

The “six” had, in reality, existed as an independent fraction since the first day of the autumn session of 1913, when, after presenting our demands to the Mensheviks, we refused to carry on joint work. From that day forward, the “six” and the “seven” held separate meetings and on only a couple of occasions combined to discuss the appointing of official speakers for the fraction in the Duma. At the end of October we formally announced the creation of an independent Bolshevik fraction.

At the first meeting of the fraction, officials were elected and questions of organisation settled. Malinovsky was elected chairman, Petrovsky vice-chairman, Samoylov treasurer, and Rozmirovich secretary. The “six” assumed the name “Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Fraction,” stressing the word “Workers’” which distinguished them from the Mensheviks.

Until premises could be secured, the fraction held its meetings and received visitors at my apartment in Shpalernaya Street. Later on special premises were rented; we obtained some furniture, engaged an attendant, published the address in the newspaper and from then on received our visitors and did other business there. All expenses connected with the fraction were equally borne by the “six”; each of us paid monthly about twenty-five to thirty rubles.

The Presidium of the Duma tried in every possible way to prevent the formation of the Bolshevik fraction. And since official registration was necessary in order to obtain the same rights as the other Duma fractions (to receive papers and send representatives to the commissions, etc.), Rodzyanko attempted to postpone registration as long as he could. He declared: “There cannot be two Social-Democratic fractions in the State Duma, therefore the six workers’ deputies will be registered as ‘independent’ – i.e. non-fraction.”

The other members of the Presidium supported their chairman, referring to the practice of foreign parliaments where, they asserted, there was no such precedent. But according to the Duma rules any group of deputies was entitled to form a fraction, and therefore after some procrastination the Duma was forced to recognise us.

Meanwhile the Menshevik “seven” did all that they could to hamper our work. As soon as we left the fraction they announced officially in the Duma that any interpellation or declaration which was not signed by Chkheidze or his deputy did not emanate from Social Democrats. The “seven” would hear of no joint action. On leaving the fraction, we proposed to the Mensheviks to arrange jointly in future our representation on commissions and any other Duma work. This offer was made to meet the wishes of those groups of workers who believed that in face of the Black Hundred Duma, the “six” and “seven” should combine on certain questions. The Mensheviks, however, who until then had shouted so volubly about unity, absolutely refused to make any sort of agreement.

Our personal relations with the “seven” became strained to the point of hostility; we no longer greeted or spoke to them for some time. Chkheidze, in the name of the “seven,” declared that they would treat us like any other Duma fraction and would add their signatures to our interpellations on the same basis as they did for the Cadets, Trudoviks, etc. Eventually it turned out that they treated us worse than they did their neighbours on the Right.

At the request of the fraction, I collected signatures for one of our first interpellations – I believe it was on the question of workers’ insurance in State enterprises. I had already obtained several signatures from the Trudoviks and even from the Cadets when I asked Chkheidze and he refused. The other members of the “seven” did likewise.

Professing to act in the name of fourteen Social-Democratic deputies, the “seven” had sent representatives to three newly-formed Duma commissions dealing with the press, the police and public meetings. They had also refused to divide with us the representation on the budget commission. The time had come, however, when the Mensheviks were forced to offer to come to terms on the question of participation in commissions. Before the closing of the Duma for the Christmas recess, several new commissions were formed on which the Mensheviks were unable to obtain representation, because by that time our fraction was formally registered and only fractions of more than ten members were entitled to be represented.

The Mensheviks then requested us to send joint representatives to these commissions. Naturally enough, we declined this offer and agreed to negotiate only on condition that the “seven” divided with us the seats that they had previously captured. To make terms with the Mensheviks only when it suited them meant to revert to the state of things which existed before the split. The Mensheviks replied that they declined on principle to open any general negotiations with us and absolutely refused to consider the reappointment of representatives on the Duma commissions.

After the formation of an independent fraction, the work of our “six” became much wider in its scope. The break with the “seven” greatly increased our tasks and every workers’ deputy was required to display greater energy. We were only able to accomplish our duties because of the support which we received from the majority of the workers, and this support was forthcoming. The very split called forth a strong tide which brushed aside the Mensheviks and greatly strengthened the Bolshevik deputies. The greater activity of our fraction after the split attracted to us still more support from the workers. This was a period of great working-class activity and all branches of our work both inside and outside the Duma were invigorated and enlivened. Money streamed in for revolutionary objects and there was a considerable increase in the number of visitors to the fraction and to the editorial offices of the newspaper. The scope of the Duma work became different too.

The autumn session of the State Duma was very short, lasting only six weeks. Even during that period, however, in spite of the fact that we had to devote considerable time and energy to fighting the “seven” and to internal Party matters, we got through an enormous amount of work. During the six weeks we introduced the following thirteen interpellations: (1) on the press, (2) on the use of agents-provocateurs to secure the arrest of the Social-Democratic fraction in the Second Duma, (3) on strikes, (4) on trade unions, (5) on insurance questions, (6) on the arrest of workers’ representatives, (7) on the press (second interpellation), (8) on strikes (second time), (9) on the fine imposed upon me by the city governor, (10) on strikes at the Obukhov works, (11) on the non-insurance of workers in State undertakings, (12) on mining disasters, (13) on measures for combating the plague.

Most of these questions were introduced independently by our fraction after the formal split had occurred. In addition the “six” made speeches in every important debate during the twenty-four sittings.

The intolerance of the Black Hundred Duma majority towards our speeches and interpellations still further increased after the split. Purishkevich complained that the workers’ deputies were overwhelming the Duma with interpellations and the Duma invariably denied the urgency of our questions and turned them over to commissions to be buried. The Black Hundreds were determined to prevent us making use of the Duma tribune. With the close collaboration of the Cadet, Maklakov, they drew up new regulations under which speeches on interpellations were limited to ten minutes, also restricting the right to introduce such interpellations as it was obvious that the Duma would not accept. These new regulations were designed expressly against the “six,” since our interpellations were only introduced for the purpose of revolutionary agitation.

Our fraction frequently met representatives of the St. Petersburg workers to discuss all aspects of Duma work. They formed for this purpose a “workers’ commission” which regularly held joint meetings with the fraction. Although this regularity was often interrupted by the arrest of visitors to the fraction’s rooms, new comrades came forward to replace them. The workers’ commission did not restrict its activities to the discussion of Duma questions; it became the vehicle for the transmission of Party instructions to the illegal organisations.

The workers’ commission met for the first time at the end of January 1914, when the winter session opened; various sub-committees were formed to discuss the different bills and interpellations. Animated discussions took place on every point; bills were discussed both from the aspect of their significance under the tsarist regime and of how the question would be dealt with after the revolution. Were it possible to re-establish now all the details of the meetings of the commission, it would be found that many proposals and resolutions discussed then are now realised in the form of laws.

The eight-hours bill, which was of special importance in our Duma work, was drafted with the aid of the “workers’ commission.” Was this so-called “positive legislative work” to which our Party was definitely opposed? Most decidedly not. In the first place, the eight-hour day was not one of those partial demands which the Liquidators considered could be realised through the Duma; it was one of the three fundamental slogans under which the Party mobilised the workers for the struggle. The introduction of the bill into the Duma provided an opportunity for the proclamation of one of our fighting revolutionary slogans from the Duma tribune itself. The bill had nothing to do with “positive work,” since there was not the slightest chance that it would be accepted by the Black Hundred majority. On the other hand, the very failure of the bill could be made the occasion of further revolutionary agitation.

Pravda published the text of the bill and stated:

Of course we do not for a moment expect that the Fourth Duma will pass this bill. The eight-hour day is one of the fundamental demands of the workers in the present period. When this question is raised in the Duma the other parties will be forced to declare their attitude towards it and this will assist our struggle for the eight-hour day outside the Duma. We appeal to all workers to endorse the bill. Let it be introduced not only in the name of a group of deputies, but in the name of tens of thousands of workers!

To-day all the provisions of the bill seem commonplace enough, but it was very different under tsarism. The working class devoted immense efforts to the struggle for the eight-hour day, which they were unable to obtain until they had overthrown and destroyed the entire autocratic regime. The sacrifices made by the Russian, proletariat during the revolution were also made for the right to work not more than eight hours a day.

In order to understand the enormous impression which the publication of this bill made on the workers, it is necessary to visualise the conditions of that time. The workers of St. Petersburg and other cities overwhelmed our fraction and the editors of Pravda with resolutions, warmly welcoming the introduction of the bill. The following is characteristic: it bore 319 signatures.

We, a group of workers from various shops at the Putilov works, warmly thank our six workers’ deputies of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Fraction for the bill which they have drafted and placed on the agenda of the State Duma to establish a maximum working-day of eight hours. We all endorse this bill and wholeheartedly support the deputies elected from the workers’ electoral colleges.

The introduction of this bill further increased the sympathy hetween the workers and our “six” and lessened that between them and the Mcnsheviks. The “seven” were rapidly losing the last vestiges of their influence and very soon became altogether divorced from the workers. The demands, needs and requests of the workers were addressed to our fraction and the Mensheviks were ignored. The members of the “seven” made their usual speeches in the Duma, but they were compelled to admit among themselves that they had entirely lost the support of the working class.

In the archives of the police department there is a document describing a meeting of the Menshevik “seven” held at the end of January 1914, which reveals clearly that the Mensheviks had already begun to realise where their policy had landed them. Chkhenkeli reproached his fraction because

“it had lost all influence, deserted the political life of the country, broken its connections with the workers and finally forced the most active members to leave the fraction and consequently brought the work of the fraction to a standstill.”

Tulyakov spoke in a similar strain:

“The fraction calls itself Social-Democratic but it does not reflect the life and aspirations of the workers either in the State Duma or in the press. The fraction has, for political, police and ethical considerations, abandoned the workers and landed itself in a state of ‘splendid isolation.’”

It is quite possible that the reports of the secret police do not correctly reproduce the words of the Menshevik deputies, but in any case it is beyond dispute that the “seven” began to disintegrate immediately after the split. Early in January, the deputy Buryanov left the Menshevik fraction. He regarded himself as a Plekhanovist and during the Christmas recess he visited Plekhanov in order to learn more precisely his views on the split. He sent the following letter to Chkheidze on his return:

Of course I understand, as you probably do too, that the causes of the split in the Duma fraction lie outside of the Duma. In these circumstances the complete unity of Social-Democrats in the Duma will be achieved only when there is unity among the advanced elements of the Russian class-conscious workers. Whilst striving for this complete unity in the future, I consider that united action on the part of Social-Democratic deputies is imperative at the present moment. This can only be obtained on the basis of equality between the Social-Democratic Fraction and the Social-Democratic Workers’ Fraction. Up to now we have unfortunately rejected this method of avoiding a split in the fraction. I hope that, since my leaving the Social-Democratic Fraction will equalise the two wings numerically, you will revise your views as to the possibility of joint work on a basis of equality.

Buryanov did not proceed further with his protest but adopted a middle position, declaring that he would support both fractions in any activity which was “consistent with a Marxist line of policy.”

Soon afterwards the Mensheviks lost another member when they were forced to expel Mankov for too obvious deviations to the Right. Thus while the Mensheviks disintegrated and lost the confidence of the workers, the influence of our “six” increased and we were enthusiastically supported by the revolutionary proletariat.

Last updated on 14.9.2011