V. I.   Lenin

The Constitutional Market-Place

Published: Vperyod, No. 16, April 30 (17), 1905. Signed: K#8212;v. Published according to the text in Vperyod.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 351-355.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Isidor Lasker
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). 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.
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Bulygin, as the St. Petersburg aristocratic circles justly remark, is now playing for time. He is trying to postpone the reforms promised by the tsar as long as possible, and to reduce them to trifles that will in no way diminish the power of the autocratic tsar and of autocratic officialdom. In place of a constitution, he is preparing, as we pointed out once before in Vperyod,[1] a consultative body enjoying no rights whatever. Now we have confirmation of what we said, namely, the text of Bulygin’s project published in the German liberal newspaper Vossische Zeitung. According to that news paper, Bulygin, Yermolov, Shcherbatov, Meshchersky, Count Sheremetyev, and Prince Urusov have been mentioned as authors of the project, which in substance is as follows:

For the discussion (no more than that!) and the drafting of all bills, two bodies shall be set up: (1) a State Council, and (2) a State Assembly. Bills may be introduced by any member of the State Council or by no fewer than twenty members of the Assembly. Bills are discussed and passed by the Assembly, after which they go to the Council and finally to the tsar for his approval. The tsar decides the form in which bills shall become law, or he vetoes them altogether.

Thus, the Bulygin “constitution” does not limit the autocratic regime at all but merely introduces two exclusively consultative bodies: an Upper House and a Lower House! The Upper House, or State Council, is to consist of 60 members elected by the Assemblies of the Nobles of 60 gubernias (including the Polish gubernias), as well as of members appointed by the tsar from among the officials and   officers. The total number of members is not to exceed 120. The term of office of the elected members is three years. The sessions of the Council may be open to the public or closed, at the discretion of the Council.

The Lower House, or State Assembly, is to consist of elective members only (Ministers and heads of departments may sit ex officio in both Houses), namely: 10 representatives from each of the 34 Zemstvo gubernias (a total of 340); 8 representatives from each of the three gubernias having Zemstvo institutions but no institutions of the nobility (a total of 24); 8 from each of the nine North-Western gubernias (72); 5 from each of the 10 Polish gubernias (50); 5 from each of the three Baltic gubernias (15); 30 from Siberia; 30 from the Caucasus; 15 from Central Asia and the Transcaspian region; 32 from Finland; 20 from the big cities (St. Petersburg, 6; Moscow, 5; Warsaw, 3; Odessa, 2; Lodz, Kiev, Riga, and Kliarkov, I each); 10 from the Greek Orthodox clergy; I each from the Catholics, Lutherans, Armenians, Mohammedans, and Jews. That makes a total of 643 members. This Assembly is to elect an Executive Committee consisting of a chairman, two vice-chairmen, and 15 members. Their term of office will be three years. The Executive Committee is to be a permanent institution; the Assembly is to meet only twice a year: February-March and October-November. The sessions may be open or closed at the discretion of the Assembly. During their term of office the members of the Assembly will enjoy personal immunity. Only Russian subjects not under 25 years of age, with the ability to read and write Russian, will be eligible. They will receive a salary of 3,000 rubles a year.

Elections shall be held as follows: in each of the 34 Zemstvo gubernias, two members will be elected by the Assembly of the Nobles, three by the gubernia Zemstvo Assembly, one from the towns through special electors, three from the peasants through special electors, and one from the merchants, also through electors. The deputies from the non-Zemstvo gubernias are to be elected on a similar basis; we shall not enumerate all these absurd bureaucratic and police institutions. To illustrate the proposed method of indirect election, we shall instance the procedure for the election of peasant representatives in the Zemstvo gubernias,

Every volost elects three electors. These meet at the uyezd centre, the Marshal of the Nobility presiding (!), and choose three electors of the second degree. These electors meet at the gubernia capital, the gubernia Marshal of the Nobility presiding, and elect the three representatives of the peasantry, who must themselves be peasants. Thus the elections go through three stages!

Mr. Bulygin does not work at all badly. He gets his salary from the tsar for services rendered. His constitution, as the reader can see, is a downright travesty of popular representation. The power of the autocracy, as we have shown, is not in the least restricted. Both Houses are purely consultative, while the tsar alone has the power to decide. The whole thing is simply a fine promise never meant to be kept. In the first place, it is a “representation” specifically of the nobility, of the landlords. The nobility has half the votes in the Upper House and close to half in the Lower (of the ten representatives from each Zemstvo gubernia, two are from the nobility direct and three from the Zemstvo Assemblies, which to all intents and purposes are assemblies of the nobility). The participation of the peasants in the elections is ludicrously remote. The three-stage system of elections makes sure that the common people are thoroughly sifted out before they get to the Assembly.

In the second place, one is struck by the complete exclusion of the workers. Representation in this sheep’s parliament is based entirely on the social-estate principle. There is no workers’ “estate”, and there cannot be. In the case of the townsfolk and the merchants, the elections are so manipulated that only the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie filter through the various gradations of electors, and it is extremely illuminating to see how this bourgeoisie is pushed well into the background as compared with the nobility. The tsar’s servants, it seems, do not much fear landlord liberalism; they are shrewd enough to perceive under this veneer of liberalism the profoundly conservative social nature of “The Wild Gentleman”.[2]

It would be serving a very useful purpose to make Bulygin’s constitution widely known among the workers and the peasants. One could hardly show up more plainly the real aspirations and the class basis of the tsarist power which   is supposed to stand above the classes. One could hardly conceive of better material for object lessons in universal, direct, and equal suffrage by secret ballot.

It is interesting also to view this skimpy “constitution” of landlords and bureaucrats in the light of the latest reports on the Russian political parties. Except for the extreme parties, the terrorists and the reactionaries, a certain English correspondent (who evidently mixes in “society” and therefore does not see common people such as the workers) counts three parties: (1) the conservative, or pan-Slavic, party (the “Slavophil” system: to the tsar, the power of authority; to his subjects, the power of opinion, viz., a representative assembly with consultative powers only); (2) the liberal, or “opportunist”, party (its leader, Shipov; its programme— like that of all opportunists—- “between two stools”); and (3) the radical, or (a very characteristic “or”!) constitutional party, which includes most of the Zemstvo people, professors “and students” (?). Its programme: universal suffrage by secret ballot.

The conservatives are said to be meeting now in St. Petersburg, the liberals will meet at the beginning of May in Moscow, and the radicals at the same time in St. Petersburg. Government circles are said to regard universal suffrage by secret ballot as equivalent to “the proclamation of the republic”. The “radicals” are the most numerous of all the parties.

Bulygin’s project is, to all appearances, the project of the conservative party. The project of the Osvobozhdeniye camp is very similar to the programme of the “radical or constitutional” party (in reality, not at all radical and but poorly constitutional). Finally, the “liberal”, or Shipov, party probably wants a little more than is offered by Bulygin and a little less than is demanded by the constitutionalists.

The market-place is having a great day .The bargaining is brisk. The fine gentlemen of society are standing out for a high price and so are the cunning gentlemen of the Court. Everything points to the two of them knocking a bit off and then—striking a bargain, before the workers and peasants step in.

The government is playing a deep game. It threatens the conservatives with the liberals; it threatens the liberals   with the Osvobozhdeniye “radicals”; it threatens the last-named with the spectre of a republic. Translated into the language of class interests, particularly of the chief interest— exploitation of the workers by the bourgeoisie— this game means: Let us come to terms, my dear landlords and merchants; let us divide the power peaceably, in bonds of harmony, before it is too late, before the real popular revolution sets in, before we have the rising of the whole proletariat and the whole peasantry, who will not swallow skimpy constitutions, indirect elections, or any other bureaucratic rubbish.

The class-conscious proletariat must have no illusions. The only pledge of Russia’s real emancipation from the entire serf-holding, absolutist system lies in it alone, in the proletariat supported by the peasantry, in the armed uprising of the two, in their desperate struggle under the slogan of “Death or freedom”.


[1] See p. 273 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] The Wild Gentleman—a character in Saltykov-Shchedrin’s fairy-tale under the same title.

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