V. I.   Lenin

The Zemstvo Congress

Published: Proletary, No. 19, October 3 (September 20), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 301-306.
Translated: The Late Abraham Fineberg and Julius Katzer
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). 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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On Monday, September 12 (25), there opened in Moscow a Zemstvo and Municipal Congress, which discussed and finally determined the attitude to the Duma. Like previous Zemstvo congresses, this Congress marks a further step in the political development and political organisation of the Russian bourgeoisie. That is why every class-conscious worker must give attention to this birth of a bourgeois constitutional party. The political development of the proletariat as a class has always and everywhere proceeded hand in hand with the political development of the bourgeoisie as a class.

But besides this general significance, the Zemstvo Congress is also of tremendous importance in connection with the burning question of our attitude towards the Duma. A compromise between the bourgeoisie and tsarism, or the former’s more resolute struggle against the latter—such is the gist of this question, which, as is known, is giving rise to differences on Social-Democracy’s tactics too.

To begin with, let us remind the reader that at-their preceding Congress the Zemstvo people roundly condemned the Bulygin Duma, and accepted the well-known Osvobozhdeniye draft constitution (a monarchy and a two-chamber system). The question of boycotting the Duma was at first decided in the affirmative by the majority, but later it was reconsidered and deferred until the next congress, which was to be called immediately following the promulgation of the State Duma Act—there was even talk of calling it by telegraph. In fact, the Congress was not called for a long time. At first, as we noted in Proletary, No. 14, rumour had it that the Zemstvos had cancelled the Congress. Later, the public learned of the negotiations between Mr. Golovin and Durnovo, which we described and appraised in the   preceding issue of Proletary,[1] and which resulted in the police permitting the Congress. The Congress was therefore held under conditions entirely different from the preceding, which had been banned by the police, who had threatened to disperse it, had made out a report and, after the Congress, ordered a Senate investigation. This time the Zemstvos and the police came to terms and reached an agreement in advance.

To give the reader a better idea of the significance of the difference between “then” and “now”, let us remind him of the statement that appeared in the latest issue of Osvobozhdeniye. Mr. “Independent” (probably, independent of the police?) wrote the following in No. 76, in full accord with the author of the leading article in that issue: “There should be no question of any sort of compromise whatever. As be fore, liberty must be won and not begged for.... We should not—and this is in the highest degree important—for a moment renounce either the former methods of struggle or the positions that have already been won. If compromises are possible here too, then that possibility must be removed immediately and in good earnest. All that has till now been done to organise the forces of emancipation must also be done in the future.... The activities of the congresses, unions, and assemblies should continue in the same spirit and in the same direction as hitherto.”

It is impossible to express oneself more clearly. After August 6, the organ of the Zemstvo or “Constitutional Democratic” Party resolutely and unconditionally expresses itself against renouncing the former methods of struggle. How ever, the gist of the false stand taken by the liberal bourgeoisie lies in the fact that, along with a desire for liberty, they no less ardently desire a deal with tsarism. That is why they say one thing and do another. In order “not to renounce the former methods of struggle”, they should be boycotting the Duma. After renouncing the boycott, it was logically inevitable for them to renounce some of the “former methods of struggle”. Osvobozhdeniye began to fulminate against compromises at the very moment Golovin was making a compromise with Durnovo. Osvobozhdeniye began to vociferate, “we should not for a moment renounce”, just when the Zemstvo Congress renounced the former freedom of its sessions. On   the occasion of the “granting” of a Duma, that purported inception of liberty, the Zemstvos agreed to confer less freely.

And indeed: 1) the programme for the Congress was cut down by Mr. Durnovo, i.e., by the police; 2) the chairman promised to adjourn the Congress in the event of a discussion on questions not on the agenda authorised by the police; 3) the Congress consented to hold its sittings in the presence of a police agent—sent by Durnovo (chef de cabinet)— who was empowered to close the Congress if the “terms” of the agreement between Mr. Golovin and Mr. Durnovo were infringed; 4) also on pain of closure of the Congress, police forbade all “seditious outcries” (according to a wire from the special correspondent of the conservative paper Le Temps, who added that all these terms were faithfully observed).

It goes without saying that since we derive our information from foreign newspapers we cannot vouch for the absolute accuracy or the exhaustive nature of this information. But there are no grounds for doubting that on the whole it is accurate. On the contrary, Mr. Golovin (who certainly did not intend his negotiations with Durnovo to become known to the public!) most likely promised the police even more regarding the loyal behaviour of the Zemstvos!

The undeniable fact is that Osvobozhdeniye’s words are utterly at variance with the deeds of its adherents. Osvobozhdeniye’s journalists harangue against the police, while the wirepullers most amicably arrange matters with the police. The beginning of the Zemstvo campaign for the Duma elections coincided with the beginning of agreement between the Zemstvo bourgeoisie and the autocracy.

Foreign correspondents speak unanimously of the peaceful nature of this Zemstvo Congress as compared with the preceding. Only one speaker, or according to other information two, favoured boycotting the Duma. The majority stood for participation (we stated in No. 12[2] of Proletary, even before the Duma Act was promulgated, that the Zemstvo Right wing had already made up its mind on this question). The majority considered that non-participation in the elections would be a “sign of timidity”—a view fully shared, as we know, by Parvus and the new Iskra. On the other hand,   our Zemstvos displayed their boldness... by coming to terms with the police....

The Congress adopted a resolution which, instead of condemning the Duma, merely states (we are at a loss to say whether timidly or boldly) that the “Duma will not be a popular representative body in the literal sense of the term”. Russian citizens are invited to unite on the programmes adopted at previous Zemstvo Congresses and to carry on their struggle on the basis of the Duma. The resolution does not say a single word about fighting outside the Duma and apart from the Duma: that is what the Osvobozhdeniye writer, who is “independent” of the police, calls “not for a moment renouncing the former methods of struggle....”

Moderating their formerly excessive “revolutionary” zeal, the Zemstvos are applying their efforts to “constructive” work in connection with the Duma. They have drawn up a detailed political programme (we are not yet in possession of its complete text); they have endeavoured to cover up their retreat from democracy by reiterating the main points of moderate constitutionalism; they have dealt in detail with the question of the election campaign, the organisation of local and central election committees, drawing up lists of candidates, etc.

After all this is it still not clear what the landlord and merchant liberalism of the Zemstvos and Osvobozhdeniye League is driving at?

What they want is: to start discarding, one by one, the militant demands of democracy, everything that guarantees the rights of the revolutionary people, that develops and extends the struggle for liberty (while maintaining silence in the resolution about the struggle apart from the Duma, etc.); to start clinching all such demands of democracy that secure power for the bourgeoisie alone (snug berths in the Duma above all)! Less agitation among the people and more activity in the Duma!

As William Stead, that “liberal” who but yesterday was an admirer of the autocracy, so aptly put it (see his letter to The Times of September 26), external peace called for peace within the country, peace between the tsar and the liberal bourgeoisie, such as was proclaimed by the Law of August 6! By their behaviour the Zemstvos are proving   that they are willing to make peace, although, of course, by no means immediately or in all respects. “Mr. Mikhail Stakhovich, a friend and colleague of Shipov’s,” wrote the Temps correspondent on September 27, “is counting on the creation of a party of the centre, which would favour the autocracy and a consultative Duma; he asserts that many members of the extreme parties” (!! what aspersion on the Osvobozhdeniye supporters—Editors ofProletary”) “are prepared to join this party.” Mr. Stakhovich’s assertion is confirmed not only by the statements of many legally published news papers, but even more so by the Zemstvo gentlemen’s deeds. The Times correspondent informs us on September 26 that Mr. M. Stakhovich was present at the Congress. “The last named is still a strong believer in the victory of the moderate elements, indeed, the almost total absence of the usual fiery denunciations of the government, except casual [!!] references to the horrors of the Caucasus, rather confirms his forecast.” The same correspondent of this conservative British paper writes: “The temper of the Assembly offers a singular contrast to the sentiment dominating the July Congress, when a large number of delegates advocated a boycott of the government [Duma] scheme.”

Can it be that Iskra will still refuse to abandon its erroneous opinion that those who favoured a boycott wanted passive abstention, whereas the Stakhoviches, who favour participation, want a serious struggle? Will it really continue even now to stand, together with Parvus, for an agreement with the Osvobozhdeniye adherents and support for them, after they have obviously begun to come to terms with the Durnovos?

P. S. In all fairness it must be said that more and more information keeps coming in showing that the Russian new Iskrists do not agree with the new Iskra. We have just received a leaflet issued by the St. Petersburg (Menshevik) group, entitled: “The State Duma or a Constituent Assembly.” Together with criticism of the Duma we find here the slogan “Down with the Duma !" The workers’ representatives are urged to tell the liberals “that they must not recognise the State Duma”, “that they must renounce their right [the print in the leaflet is not legible] of election to the Duma”, that they must help the workers “to arm for the struggle against the Black Hundreds and the State Duma”.   The St.. Petersburg Mensheviks have thus adopted the slogan of an active boycott. Here too, as in the well-known case of the “Zemstvo campaign plan”,[3] Iskra is at variance with its adherents in Russia. Only in one respect do the St. Peters burg Mensheviks come close to Iskra: they urge the workers immediately to elect “representatives in factories, work shops, and departments, just as they did for the Shidlovsky[4] Commission.... When they meet, let our representatives wage a struggle against the State Duma, just as our delegates in the Shidlovsky Commission fought against that cunning trap set by the autocracy.” This slogan is very similar to the Iskra slogan calling for “revolutionary self-government”, although the comrades of the St. Petersburg group do not, of course, use this inept and high-sounding phrase. We have no doubt but that the St. Petersburg workers will see the erroneousness of this slogan and a false analogy with the Shidlovsky Commission. At that time the workers were boycotting the Commission; now the Duma is boycotting the workers.

While the tsar retains power, revolutionary self-government can be only a fragment of the revolution (the decision of the Smolensk Municipal Council, etc.). Making it the main slogan of the revolutionary proletariat means sowing confusion and playing into the hands of the Osvobozhdeniye people. In developing, extending, strengthening, and spreading the organisation of the revolutionary forces of the proletariat and the peasantry, we must not confuse this organisation of war, this organisation of an uprising, with self-government. In purpose, manner of origin, and character, the organisation of an armed uprising, the organisation of a revolutionary army, is quite unlike the organisation of revolutionary self-government. The more zealously the liberal bourgeoisie, the Osvobozhdeniye gentry, endeavour to curtail, blur, and dock the consistent revolutionary-democratic slogans, the more clearly and directly must we bring forward such slogans—the convocation of a popular constituent assembly by a provisional revolutionary government, the organisation of an armed uprising, and a revolutionary army for the overthrow of tsarist rule.


[1] See pp. 253-61 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] See pp. 179-87 of this volume.—Ed.

[3] The reference is to the Mensheviks’ plan of support for the “Zemstvo campaign” which was conducted by bourgeois liberals between the autumn of 1904 and January 1905. The campaign consisted of a series of conferences, public meetings, and banquets arranged by Zemstvo leaders. At these affairs speeches were made and resolutions passed in support of moderate constitutionalist demands. Lenin sharply criticised the “plan of fire Zemstvo campaign” in an article entitled “The Zemstvo Campaign and Iskra’s Plan” (see present edition, Vol. 7, pp. 497-518).

[4] The Shidlovsky Commission, which was headed by Senator Shidlovsky, was set up by an imperial ukase of January 29 (February 11), 1905 ostensibly “to enquire without delay into the causes of discontent among the workers in the city of St. Petersburg and its suburbs”. The commission was made up of officials, the heads of government-owned factories, and factory owners. The intention was also to include elected representatives of the workers. The Bolsheviks, who considered this manoeuvre on the part of the tsarist regime an attempt to distract the workers from the revolutionary struggle, proposed that elections to the commission be used to p resent political demands to the tsar’s government (see the book Leaflets of the St. Petersburg Bolsheviks, Vol. 1, 1939, pp. 197-202). When the demands were rejected by the government the electors refused to nominate their representatives to the commission, and called upon the St. Petersburg workers to strike. On the following day mass political strikes began, and on February 20 (March 5) the authorities were obliged to abolish the commission.

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