Iskra, No. 35, March 1, 1903.
Published according to the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 6, pages 348-353.
Translated: ??? ???
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
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The autocracy is wavering. The autocrat himself publicly admits this to the people. That is the enormous significance of the tsar’s Manifesto of February 26, and no amount of conventional phrases, none of the reservations or subterfuges the Manifesto abounds in, can alter the historic importance of the step that has been taken.
The tsar begins in the old way—as yet in the old way: “by the grace of God”... and concludes with a half-cowardly, half-hypocritical appeal for help addressed to people invested with public confidence. The tsar himself already feels that the days when government in Russia could maintain itself by the grace of God are passing never to return and that henceforth the only stable government Russia can have is government by the will of the people.
The tsar reaffirms his sacred vow to safeguard the age-old pillars of the Russian Empire. Translated into Russian from the language of officialdom, this means: to safeguard the autocracy. Alexander III once declared that openly and without circumlocution (in the Manifesto of April 29, 1881), when the revolutionary movement was receding and dwindling. Today, when the battle-cry “Down with the autocracy” is resounding ever more loudly and impressively, Nicholas II prefers to cover his declaration with a small fig-leaf and to make a modest reference to his unforgettable progenitor. A senseless and contemptible stratagem I The question of whether or not the autocracy is to be has been raised point-blank and carried into the streets. And every promise of “reforms”—if they may be called “reforms”!— that begins with a promise to preserve the autocracy is a glaring lie, a mockery of the Russian people. But there is nothing that could serve to expose the government in the eyes of the whole people better than this governmental appeal to the people with hypocritical and false promises.
The tsar speaks (again using a fig-leaf) about the revolutionary movement, complaining that “sedition” interferes with the work of improving public welfare, agitates minds, tears the people away from productive labour, ruins forces dear to the heart of the tsar, ruins the youthful forces indispensable to the fatherland. And so, since the ruined participants in the revolutionary movement are dear to the tsar’s heart, there lore he at once promises to ruthlessly suppress every deviation from the normal course of social life, i.e., to brutally persecute free speech, workers’ strikes, and popular demonstrations.
That is enough, more than enough. This Jesuitical speech speaks for itself. We merely make so bold as to express the conviction that by being spread throughout the length and breadth of Russia this “tsarist pledge” will act as most splendid propaganda in favour of revolutionary demands. There is only one answer that this pledge of the tsar’s can evoke from anyone who has the least spark of honour left in him: the demand for the immediate and unconditional release of all persons who have been imprisoned, exiled or arrested—with or without trial, before or after sentence has been passed—for political or religious considerations, or because of strike activities or resistance to the authorities.
We have seen the hypocrisy of the tsar’s speech. Let us now see what he speaks about.
He speaks mainly about three things. First, about tolerance. Our fundamental laws which guarantee freedom of worship for all faiths are to be confirmed and upheld. But the Russian Orthodox Church shall remain dominant. Secondly, the tsar speaks about a revision of legislation relating to rural affairs, about people who enjoy public confidence taking part in this revision, and about joint efforts on the part of all his subjects to raise moral standards in the family, the school, and public life. Thirdly, about making it easier for the peasants to leave their village communes, about releasing the peasants from the restrictions of collective liability.
In answer to Nicholas II’s three declarations, promises, and proposals, Russian Social-Democracy replies with three demands which it long ago raised, and has always defended and popularised to the best of its ability, and which we must now reaffirm most emphatically in connection with the tsar’s Manifesto and in answer to it.
First, we demand the immediate and unconditional recognition by law of the freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and an amnesty for all “political prisoners” and members of religious sects. Until that is done, all talk about tolerance and freedom of worship will remain a miserable pretence and a discreditable lie. Until freedom of assembly, speech, and the press is proclaimed, there will be no end to the shameful Russian inquisition, which hounds the profession of officially unsanctioned faiths, opinions, and doctrines. Down with the censorship! Down with police and gendarme protection of the “established” church! For these demands the class-conscious proletariat of Russia will fight to the last drop of blood.
Secondly, we demand the convocation of a national Constituent Assembly which will be elected by all citizens without exception and will establish an elective form of government in Russia. Enough of this game of conferences of local people, of landlords’ parliaments under the governors, of representative government by the Marshals (and perhaps by the delegates as well?) of the Nobility! Enough of this cat-and-mouse game which the all-powerful officialdom has been playing with all kinds of Zemstvos, now letting them go, now stroking them with its velvet paws! Until a national assembly of deputies is called, all talk of public confidence and moral standards in public life will be a pack of lies. Until then the Russian working class will not abate its revolutionary struggle against the Russian autocracy.
Thirdly, we demand the immediate and unconditional recognition by law of the full equality of the peasants with all other social-estates, and the convocation of peasant committees for the abolition of all remnants of serfdom in the countryside and the adoption of serious measures to improve the conditions of the peasantry.
The absence of rights for the peasantry, which constitutes nine-tenths of the population of Russia, cannot be tolerated a day longer. The entire working class and the entire country are suffering from this absence of rights; it is on this that all the Asiatic backwardness in Russian life rests; it is owing to this absence of rights that all the various conferences and commissions produce no results (or are injurious to the peasants). Now, too, the tsar wants to escape by invoking the former “conferences” of bureaucrats and noblemen; he even speaks of “strong government” to guide the efforts of the local forces. The peasants know full well from the example of the rural superintendents what this “strong government” means. Not in vain have the peasants endured forty years of poverty, want and constant starvation after the benefactions bestowed on them by the committees of nobles. Now the peasants will understand that all “reforms” and improvements will re main a sham if they are not put into effect by the peasants themselves. The peasants will understand—and we shall help them to understand—that only peasant committees are capable of really abolishing not only collective liability but all survivals of the corvée system and serfdom, which are still oppressing tens of millions of people right into the twentieth century. Freedom of assembly and freedom of the press are quite enough for the urban workers: we shall be able to make good use of these liberties!! But for the peasants, scattered in out-of-the-way places, and cowed and reduced to a state of barbarism, this is not enough—and the workers must help them, must explain to them that they will unavoidably and inescapably remain miserable slaves until they take their destiny into their own hands, until they take their first and most important step and achieve the establishment of peasant committees for real and not sham emancipation of the peasantry.
Intelligent and experienced people have long observed that there. is no more precarious moment for a government in a revolutionary period than the beginning of concessions, the beginning of waverings. Russian political life of the last few years has brilliantly confirmed this. The government began to waver on the question of the working-class movement, giving a free hand to Zubatovism—and made a laughing-stock of itself, playing splendidly into the hands of revolutionary agitation The government wanted to make concessions on the student question—and made a laughing stock of itself, advancing the revolutionisation of the students by seven-league strides. The government is now repeating on a large scale the very same method with regard to all questions of home policy—and it will inevitably make a laughing-stock of itself, inevitably facilitate, strengthen and add impetus to the revolutionary onslaught on the autocracy!
There is still another question we must deal with, and that is the practical question of how to use the tsar’s Manifesto of February 26 for purposes of agitation. The Russian Social-Democrats long ago answered the question as to the means of struggle by saying: organisation and agitation; neither were they put out by the jeers of naive people who considered this “indefinite,” and held that the only “definite” means were pistol shots. And now, at a moment like the present, when such a welcome cue for conducting agitation on a nation-wide scale unexpectedly presents itself, one which so urgently demands the exertion of our every effort—at such a moment, a deficiency, the old self-same deficiency in organisation, in ability rapidly to set our agitation going, makes itself felt more keenly than ever.
But we shall yet make up for lost time, make up for it many times over!
First of all, we must reply to the Manifesto of February 26 with leaflets published by central and local Party organisations. Whereas hitherto leaflets were issued in tens of thousands for all Russia, they should now be distributed in millions, so that the whole people may learn of the answer of the class-conscious Russian proletariat to the tsar’s appeal to the people. so that all may see our definite, practical demands in juxtaposition with the speech of the tsar on the same subject.
Further. We must not allow reverential raptures of legal meetings of well-intentioned Zemstvoists and noblemen, merchants and professors, etc., etc., to be the only reply to the Manifesto of February 26. Nor will the replies that Social-Democratic organisations will give in their leaflets prove sufficient. Let every study circle, every meeting of workers draw up its own answer and ratify formally and solemnly the demands of Social-Democracy. Let the decisions of these workers’ meetings (and, if possible, also of peasants’ meetings) be published in local leaflets and reported in our press. Let all know that we consider answers from the workers and peasants themselves the only answer from the people. And let all study circles begin to prepare immediately to back up our fundamental demands with force.
Moreover, we must not allow messages of gratitude to the tsar to be drawn up at all sorts of meetings, without counteraction. Our liberals have falsified Russian public opinion long enough! Long enough have they lied, saying not what they themselves think, or what the entire reasoning and militant section of the people thinks! We must endeavour to get into their meetings, declare our opinion there, too, as widely, publicly and openly as possible, voice our protest against servile gratitude, give our real answer to the tsar, and declare it by distributing leaflets as well as by speaking publicly, whenever possible, at all such meetings (even though the chairmen will try to stop such speeches).
Finally, we must try to bring the answer of the workers out on to the street, to broadcast our demands through demonstrations, and to show publicly the numbers and strength of the workers, their class-consciousness and determination. Let the coming May Day celebration be not only a general declaration of our proletarian demands, but also a special and definite answer to the Manifesto of February 26!