V. I.   Lenin

The Boycott of the Bulygin Duma, and Insurrection

Published: Proletary, No. 12, August 16 (3), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 179-187.
Translated: The Late Abraham Fineberg and Julius Katzer
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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At present the political situation in Russia is as follows: the Bulygin Duma may soon be convened—a consultative assembly of representatives of the landlords and the big bourgeoisie, elected under the supervision and with the assistance of the autocratic government’s servants on the basis of an electoral system so indirect, so blatantly based on property and social-estate qualifications, that it is sheer mockery of the idea of popular representation. What should our attitude towards this Duma be? The liberal democrats give two replies to this question. The Left wing, represented by the “Union of Unions”—mostly representatives of the bourgeois intelligentsia—is in favour of boycotting this Duma, of abstaining from participation in the elections, and of taking advantage of the opportunity for increased agitation for a democratic constitution on the basis of universal suffrage. The Right wing, as represented by the Zemstvo and Municipal Congress of July, or, to be more correct, by a certain section of that Congress, is opposed to a boycott and favours participation in the elections and getting as many of its candidates as possible elected to the Duma. True, the Congress has not yet passed any resolution on this question and has postponed the matter until the next Congress which is to be convened by telegraph following promulgation of the Bulygin “constitution”. However, the opinion of liberal democracy’s Right wing has already taken shape.

Revolutionary democracy, i.e., in the main, the proletariat, and Social-Democracy, the vehicle of its conscious expression, is, by and large, fully in favour of insurrection.   This difference in tactics has been correctly appraised by Osvobozhdeniye, organ of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie. Its latest issue (No. 74), on the one hand roundly condemns “open advocacy of insurrection” as “insane and criminal”; on the other hand it criticises the idea of a boycott as “fruitless for practical purposes” and expresses the conviction that not only the Zemstvo section of the Constitutional-“Democratic” (read: Monarchist) Party but the Union of Unions, too, will “pass their state examination”, i.e., abandon the idea of a boycott.

The question arises: what attitude should the party of the class-conscious proletariat take towards the idea of a boycott, and what tactical slogan should it bring into the foreground for the masses of the people? For a reply to this question we must first of all call to mind the essence and radical significance of the Bulygin “constitution”. It is, in fact, tsarism’s deal with the landlords and big bourgeoisie, who, in return for innocent, pseudo-constitutional sops that are quite innocuous to the autocracy, are to be gradually drawn away from the revolutions i.e., from the fighting people, and reconciled with the autocracy. The possibility of such a deal cannot be doubted, since all our Constitutional-“Democratic” Party is eager to preserve the monarchy and the upper chamber (i.e., in advance to secure for the moneyed “upper ten thousand” political privileges and political domination in the country’s system of state). Moreover, such a deal is sooner or later inevitable in one form or another, at least with a section of the bourgeoisie, for it is prescribed by the very class position of the bourgeoisie in the capitalist system. The only question is when and how this deal will take place. The task confronting the party of the proletariat is to delay conclusion of this deal for as long as possible, to split up the bourgeoisie as much as possible, to derive from the bourgeoisie’s temporary appeals to the people the greatest possible advantage for the revolution, and meanwhile to prepare the forces of the revolutionary people (the proletariat and the peasantry) for the forcible overthrow of the autocracy and for the alienation, the neutralisation of the treacherous bourgeoisie.

In fact, the gist of the bourgeoisie’s political position is, as we have frequently pointed out, that it stands between   the tsar and the people, and would play the part of the “honest broker” and steal into power behind the back of the militant people. That is why the bourgeoisie appeals to the tsar one day, and to the people the next, making “serious” and “business-like” proposals for a political deal to the former, and addressing empty phrases about liberty (Mr. I. Petrunkevich’s speeches at the July Congress) to the latter. It is to our advantage that the bourgeoisie should appeal to the people, for by doing so it provides material that will help to rouse and enlighten politically those huge backward masses of people to reach whom through Social- Democratic agitation would be sheer utopianism for the time being Let the bourgeoisie stir up those that are most backward; let it break the soil here and there; we shall untiringly sow the seeds of Social-Democracy in that soil. Everywhere in the West, in its struggle against autocracy the bourgeoisie was compelled to rouse the people’s political consciousness, while at the same time striving to sow the seeds of bourgeois theories among the working class. It is for us to take advantage of the bourgeoisie’s work of destroying the autocracy and systematically enlighten the working class concerning its socialist aims and the irreconcilable antagonism between its interests and those of the bourgeoisie.

Hence it is clear that our tactics at present should first of all consist in support for the idea of a boycott. The very question of a boycott lies within the bounds of bourgeois democracy. The working class is not directly interested in it, but it is definitely interested in supporting that section of bourgeois democracy which is more revolutionary; it is interested in extending and intensifying political agitation. A boycott of the Duma means a more vigorous appeal to the people by the bourgeoisie, a development of its agitation, a greater number of opportunities for our agitation, and a more intense political crisis, which is the source of the revolutionary movement. The participation of the liberal bourgeoisie in the Duma means a slackening in its agitation at the present time, its appealing more to the tsar than to the people, and the approach of a counter-revolutionary deal between the tsar and the bourgeoisie.

Even if it is not prevented from meeting, the Bulygin Duma must of necessity give rise to political conflicts that   the proletariat should not fail to take advantage of—but that is a matter for the future. It would be ridiculous to renounce utilising this bourgeois-bureaucratic Duma for purposes of agitation and struggle, but at the moment that is not the point. At present the Left wing of bourgeois democracy itself has raised the issue of waging a direct and immediate struggle against the Duma by means of a boycott, and we must exert all our efforts to support this more deter mined onslaught. We must take the bourgeois democrats, the Osvobozhdeniye people, at their word, give the widest publicity to their “Petrunkevich-like” phrases about an appeal to the people, expose them to the people, and show that the first and least real test of these phrases was the question of whether we should boycott the Duma (i.e., turn in protest to the people) or accept the Duma (i.e. abstain from protesting, go once more to the tsar, and accept this travesty of popular representation).

Secondly, we must exert every effort to make the boycott of real use in extending and intensifying agitation, so that it shall not be reduced to mere passive abstention from voting. If we are not mistaken this idea is already fairly widespread among the comrades working in Russia, who express it in the words: an active boycott. As distinct from passive abstention, an active boycott should imply in creasing agitation tenfold, organising meetings everywhere, taking advantage of election meetings, even if we have to force our way into them, holding demonstrations, political strikes, and so on and so forth. It goes without saying that to further agitation and struggle in this connection, temporary agreements with various groups of revolutionary bourgeois democrats, generally permitted by a number of our Party resolutions, are especially expedient. But here we must, on the one hand, steadfastly preserve the class individuality of the party of the proletariat, and must not for a single moment abandon our Social-Democratic criticism of our bourgeois allies; on the other hand, we should be failing in our duty as the party of the advanced class if in our agitation we failed to produce an advanced revolutionary slogan at the present stage of the democratic revolution.

That is our third direct and immediate political task. As we have already said, “an active boycott” means agitation,   recruiting, organising revolutionary forces on a larger scale, with redoubled energy, and bringing redoubled pressure to bear. Such work, however, is unthinkable without a clear, precise, and immediate slogan. Only an armed uprising can be that slogan. The government’s convocation of a crudely faked “popular” representative body provides excellent opportunities for agitation for a truly popular representative body, for making the broadest masses of the people understand that at present (after the tsar’s frauds and his mockery of the people) only a provisional revolutionary government can convene a truly representative body, and that to establish such a government the victory of an insurrection and the actual overthrow of tsarist rule are necessary. It would be hard to imagine a better time for widespread agitation for an uprising and in order to conduct that agitation full clarity regarding the programme of a provisional revolutionary government is also necessary. This programme should consist of the six points which we have indicated previously (see Proletary, No.7, “The Revolutionary Army and the Revolutionary Government”[1] ): 1) convocation of a popular constituent assembly; 2) arming of the people; 3) political freedom—the immediate repeal of all laws that contradict it; 4) complete cultural and political freedom for all oppressed and disfranchised nationalities—the Russian people cannot win liberty for themselves without fighting for the liberty of the other nationalities; 5) an eight-hour working day; 6) the establishment of peasant committees for the support and implementation of all democratic reforms, among them agrarian reforms, up to and including the confiscation of the landlords’ land.

To sum up: the most energetic support for the idea of a boycott; exposure of the Right wing of bourgeois democracy, which rejects the boycott, as traitors; making the boycott an active one, i.e., building up a most widespread agitation; advocating an insurrection and calling for the immediate organisation of combat squads and contingents of a revolutionary army for the overthrow of the autocracy and the establishment of a provisional revolutionary government; spreading and popularising the fundamental and absolutely   obligatory programme of this provisional revolutionary government, a programme which is to serve as the banner of the uprising and as a model for all future repetitions of the Odessa events.

Such should be the tactics of the party of the class- conscious proletariat. In order to make this tactics perfectly clear and to achieve unity we must also deal with Iskra’s tactics. It is set forth in No. 106 of that paper in an article entitled “Defence or Attack”. We shall not take up the minor and partial differences, which will dissolve at the first attempts to take action; we shall deal only with the fundamental difference. While quite correctly condemning a passive boycott, the Iskra contraposes to it the idea of the immediate “organisation of revolutionary self-government bodies”, as a “possible prologue to an uprising”. In Iskra’s opinion we must “seize the right to carry on agitation in the election campaign by establishing workers’ agitation committees”. These committees “must set themselves the aim of organising popular elections of revolutionary deputies by going outside the ’legal’ limits which will be established by Ministerial Bills”, we must “cover the country with a network of revolutionary self-government bodies”.

Such a slogan is absolutely useless. Viewed in the light of the political tasks in general it is a jumble, while in the light of the immediate political situation it brings grist to the mill of the Osvobozhdeniye trend. The organisation of revolutionary self-government, the election of their own deputies by the people is not the prologue to an uprising, but its epilogue. To attempt to bring about this organisation now, before an uprising and apart from an uprising, means setting oneself absurd aims and causing confusion in the minds of the revolutionary proletariat. It is first of all necessary to win the victory in an uprising (if only in a single city) and to establish a provisional revolutionary government, so that the latter, as the organ of the uprising and the recognised leader of the revolutionary people, should be able to get down to the organisation of revolutionary self- government. To obscure the slogan of insurrection or relegate it into the background by proposing a slogan demanding the organisation of a revolutionary self-government is some thing like giving advice that the fly should first be caught and   then stuck on the fly-paper. If during the celebrated Odessa events our Odessa comrades had been advised to organise not a revolutionary army, but the election of deputies by the people of Odessa as a prologue to an uprising, those comrades would undoubtedly have laughed such advice to scorn. Iskra is repeating the mistake made by the Economists, who wished to see in the “struggle for rights” a prologue to the struggle against the autocracy. Iskra is reverting to the misadventure of the unfortunate “plan of the Zemstvo campaign”, which obscured the slogan of insurrection with the theory of a “higher type of .demonstration”.

This is not the place to dwell on the origin of Iskra’s tactical blunder. We shall refer the interested reader to N. Lenin’s pamphlet Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. It is more important here to point out how the slogan of the new Iskra lapses into that of Osvobozhdeniye. In actual practice attempts to organise popular elections of deputies before the uprising is victorious would only play into the hands of the Osvobozhdeniye people with the result that the Social-Democrats would be trailing behind them. Until replaced by a provisional revolutionary government the autocracy will not permit the workers and the people to conduct any elections that can in any way be called popular (and Social-Democrats will not agree to a travesty of “popular” elections under the autocracy); but the Osvobozhdeniye League, Zemstvo members and the municipal councillors will conduct elections and blatantly pass them off as “popular”, and as an expression of “revolutionary self-government”. The line now taken by the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie consists in trying to avert an uprising, compel the autocracy to recognise the Zemstvo elections as popular elections without the people’s victory over tsarism.and convert the Zemstvo and municipal self-government bodies into organs of “revolutionary” (in the Petrunkevich sense) “self-government”, without a real revolution. An excellent expression of this line is to be found in No. 74 of Osvobozhdeniye. It would be hard to imagine anything more disgusting than this ideologist of the cowardly bourgeoisie, who asserts that advocacy of insurrection “demoralises” both the army and the people! And this is said at   a time when even the blind can see that it is only through an uprising that the ordinary Russian citizen and soldier can save himself from utter demoralisation and vindicate his right to citizenship! The bourgeois Manilov pictures to himself an Arcadian idyll in which the mere pressure of “public opinion” alone “will compel the government to make concession after concession, until finally it can go no further and will have to hand over the power to a constituent assembly elected on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, direct elections, and a secret ballot, as is demanded by society ..." (! with an upper chamber?). “There is nothing at all improbable in this peaceful [!! I transition of power from the present government to a national constituent assembly, which will organise state and governmental power on a new basis.” And this masterly philosophy of the cringing bourgeoisie is rounded off with the advice that the army, particularly the officers, should be won over; that a people’s militia be established “without official authorisation”, and that local self-government bodies (read: of land lords and capitalists) should be set up as “elements of a future provisional government”.

There is method in this muddle. What the bourgeoisie wants is to be given power “peacefully”, without a popular uprising, which may prove victorious, win a republic and genuine liberty, arm the proletariat, and rouse millions of peasants. To obscure the slogan of insurrection, to abandon it and make others follow suit, to advise the immediate establishment, by way of a “prologue”, of popular self-government (to which only the Trubetskois, Petrunkeviches, Fyodorovs, and the like will be admitted)—that is what the bourgeoisie needs in order to betray the revolution and strike a bargain with the tsar (a monarchy with an upper chamber) against the “mob”. Liberal Manilovism, there fore, voices the innermost thoughts of the money-bags, their most profound interests.

Iskra’s Social-Democratic Manilovism expressed merely the thoughtlessness of a section of the Social-Democrats, their departure from the proletariat’s only revolutionary tactics, viz., ruthless exposure of the bourgeois-opportunist illusions that peaceful concessions from tsarism are possible, that popular self-government can be instituted without   the autocracy being overthrown, and that election of deputies by the people is possible as a prologue to an uprising. No, we must clearly and resolutely show the necessity of an insurrection in the present state of affairs; we must issue a direct call for an uprising (without, of course, fixing the date beforehand) and call for the immediate organisation of a revolutionary army. Only the boldest and most widespread organisation of such an army can be the prologue to an uprising. Only an uprising can actually guarantee the victory of the revolution; of course, those who know the local conditions will always caution against attempts at a premature uprising. The real organisation of real people’s self-government can take place only as the epilogue of a victorious uprising.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 8, pp. 565-66.—Ed.

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